Treat yourself to traditional Kerala cuisine and discover hidden destinations in Munnar from the comfort and luxury of Ranger Woods…
The journey to Munnar started when Ernakulam was left far behind. Greeted with the sight of pepper, mats of it drying in the sun, groves of banana and fields of tapioca, interspersed with rubber estates, the climb to Munnar began after a fortifying breakfast of appam and nei meenkozhambu (seer fish curry) washed down by cups of ginger tea.
The beauty of this part of Kerala lay in the lush waterways and in the unbroken canopy of trees. At narrow bridges we had to wait our turn as vehicles could only go in a single line.
And then there was a dramatic change in the scenery. Sheer drops, valley upon valley and mountain ranges glittering under the morning sun, the twists and turns bordered with forests, a monkey leaping across the road and as the air became colder I realised I had almost reached the Mahindra Homestay's Rangers Wood, Munnar.
Just before Munnar town, the road branched out, to cross a little dam and we wound our way to a little bungalow — red roofed and grey stoned — hidden in a cardamom estate, with a spread of tea bushes below. My home-stay host Sunil and his mother welcomed with a tall glass of fresh orange juice and I was shown to my room — roomy and comfortable with solid wooden furniture, lavender-scented linen and a bowl of fruits.
A ramp, convenient for wheel chair users, was a thoughtful gesture and glory be, there was hot water 24 hours to combat the cold. Lunch was a traditional Kerala meal served on a banana leaf – Sadya – served and explained by Rajesh, the cook.
Meals had to be ordered early and there was a selected menu. But it was the homely puttu, appam and iddiyappam with the simple combination of banana and milk and a little sugar that won the day. Soups, more like wholesome broths, were comforting as the cold crept in with the dusk, and the hot food that came from the kitchen below was eagerly awaited as the cold does kindle hunger. Mealtimes were made special by conversations about anything and everything — lifestyle, food, recipes…
Copious amount of ginger tea was a favourite that made you smile with contentment as you sat in the balcony, listening to birdsong and the wind rustling through the trees, the book you brought to read lying forgotten in your lap. There was plump dusky Vellathai to pamper you by bringing trays of tea and snacks and Kumar who obligingly got rid of huge beetles that screeched like banshees. (The sound was produced when they rubbed their wings against their bodies and eventually “exploded” due to that very action.)
The trip to the Kollukumalai tea estate was nothing short of a dream, despite the bone-shaking bumpy ride that could be done only by tough jeeps and drivers who had to be given a prize for manoeuvring the vehicle through sharp hair-pin bends that overlooked steep precipices. But the silken spread of tea that carpeted the slopes of mountains and the high ranges stood like guardians over the valley and the sharp jagged peaks that tore into the blue of the sky — here was raw beauty unleashed.
Before reaching the tea factory, Misapuli Malai, the second highest peak in South India, had dizzying views of Kerala on one side and Bodinayakanur on the other. Two crosses were spotted on the peak and the locals described the pilgrimage to it on Good Friday. The tea factory that was established in the 1930s produced the world's highest grown orthodox tea. A guided tour around the tea factory, cups of tea and purchase of the ‘black gold' that cannot be got in this part of the world followed before we got ready for the ride back. The day ended with a massage and a medicated steam bath at the Swatic Ayur Care Centre that kneaded out all the knots and tense points of the body.
Getting back to the cocoon of Ranger's Wood, and giving in to the sheer luxury of stretching oneself on the cosy chairs and watching the milk delivered in jeeps and the fish man doing his business on his motorbike, the wafting fragrance of spice, you could only sigh blissfully and say “Ah! This is life indeed.”
Location: Idukki District, Kerala
Nearest airport:: Kochi International Airport -116 km
Nearest railway station: Aluva (115) km
Must-buys: Strawberry jam; Strawberry juice (just check that it's not coloured tomato juice)
Tea: there are special varieties that are not available in the common market
The best time to visit is after the monsoons (the waterfalls will be full then). Drink lots of water as the high altitude may make you dehydrated. Take light woollen sweaters, mufflers and scarves.
Contact: Toll free number: 1800 425 2737