Munnar – Nature and Colonial History
Situated on the Western Ghats that run through Kerala’s Idukki district, Munnar is one of the state’s hill stations that is known for its gorgeous greenery and cool climate. Its location around 1600 kilometers above sea level made it a popular summer retreat of the British administration in South India during the colonial era. The town is placed at the confluence of three rivers, due to which it gets its name (mun meaning ‘three’ and aar meaning ‘river’ in the local language).
The heritage of the British planters is evident from the first sighting of the manicured hillsides laden with tea bushes, which gives the area its unique scenery. While the tea plantations, which were originally set up by the British, are now under Indian management of Tata Tea, it still retains a lot of its charm as can be seen in the colonial bungalows that were once residences of the plantation managers. Several of these have been converted into home stays, where guests can relive life on a tea plantation.
Besides this, the rolling hillside presents ample opportunity for treks, nature walks and scenic drives along the winding roads. Being a three to four-hour journey by car from Kochi, Munnar is perfect for a two or three-day trip. While there are many things to do and places to see, these should not be missed.
Eravikulam National Park
Around 15 kilometers from the Munnar town, this 92 sq.km national park is home to the endangered ibex species known as the Nilgiri Tahr. Spotting the majestic silhouette of this animal perched high on a hill is something to be treasured. The natural reserve forest in the area also provides for interesting treks. Anamudi peak, which at 2700 meters above sea level is the highest peak in south India, is located in the southern part of this park. The wildlife sanctuary also has several species of butterflies and birds that make it a nature lover’s paradise. A rare sighting can be had once in twelve years, when the kurinji flower blooms all over the mountainside bathing it in a lovely shade of blue (the last flowering year was in 2006, which makes 2018 the next year when the flowers are likely to bloom).
One of Munnar’s best view points, Top Station is located on the Munnar-Kodaikanal road, around 32km away from the town. While the drive through the greenery is enchanting, the spectacular view of the landscape across the border in Tamil Nadu is unbeatable. It’s also a great place to take in the panoramic view of the blue kurinji flower blooming over a vast area of the mountain range.
The site of Kerala’s first hydroelectric project, Pallivasal is around 13km away from Munnar town, a little beyond the Chithirapuram settlement. Besides the scenic views of the lush green manicured hillsides covered with tea, the tranquil spot is also a popular destination for picnics.
With a storage masonry dam and a lake where boating facilities can be arranged this tranquil spot around 13km from the town is also the venue of an Indo-Swiss livestock project. The lakeside is popular as a picnic spot. A drive to the nearby Kundala plantation and dam is also worth it.
While the legacy of the plantations that the British left behind can be seen on the mountainside and experienced in the bungalows throughout the area, for a bit of history, it’s best to visit the Tea Museum. Run by Tata Tea Ltd. and located on Nullatanni Estate, the museum has an interesting collection of machinery, photographs and relics. Visitors can learn about everything from the genesis of tea planting in the region to the modern day fully automated tea factory. There’s a mini tea manufacturing unit in the museum that helps visitors understand the different processes involved in producing and packaging tea.
Being in Munnar is like taking a journey back in time, where one leaves behind the noise and crowds of the cities, communes with nature and experiences the plantation way of life – all of which are perfect ingredients for a relaxed holiday.