A cloud of fog here, a ribbon of sunlight there… Lush tea plantations here, twittering birds there… Welcome to Munnar!
My heart is in my throat as the car winds its way around the mountains; the hairpin bends appear in scary regularity. In a matter of minutes we're shrouded in a veil of fog. A cool wind breezes through the car windows. And, then the clouds suddenly make way for a brilliant ribbon of sunlight. No wonder Munnar is called a misty haven! Over 2,000 mt above sea level, with conifers and pine trees dotting the landscape in a mystical setting, Munnar in Idukki district of Kerala weaves its magical spell on tourists.
The scent of tea leaves teases my nostrils as we drive past verdant rolling hills. On either side of the road are sprawling tea plantations where I notice people with baskets on their backs working briskly. When I get off the car for a few minutes with my children, the first thing that strikes me is the stillness — we hear only the sound of birds chirping and the occasional drone of a passing vehicle. Tea workers cutting and pruning the leaves with practised ease seem oblivious to our enthusiasm.
As our car approaches the town, the cackle of voices and blaring of horns greet us. The bus depot is crowded; and vehicular traffic moves at a snail's pace. By the time we reach our resort, 20 km past the town, we are weary and famished.
At the crack of dawn the next day, we head towards Mattupetty Dam that conserves water for hydroelectricity. During the drive, rows of stunted trees with stark branches on hills blanketed by the mist cast a strange spell on us. “It's like a scene from the Lord of the Rings!” my children declare.
When we reach the dam, the pristine beauty of the lake with mountains for a backdrop takes our breath away. We wait in a queue for the boat ride. With water spraying on my face and wind toying with my hair, I feel the years rolling back. When the boat swerves bringing me back to the present, my brief tryst with adventure ends.
When he sees us the enthusiastic lot, our driver recommends we head to the Eravikulam National Park. “You can see Anaimudi — the highest peak in south India at 8,842 ft,” he rattles off before switching gears on the bumpy road. “Home to the Nilgiri Tahr, this area is also famous for the neelakurinji flowers that bloom once in twelve years.”
Serpentine lines at the ticket counter and vehicles clamouring for parking space — chaotic scene at the park. “It will take two to three hours in this rush,” our driver shakes his head disappointed. We decide to visit Devikulam instead, the neighbouring hill station a few km from Munnar. With an outstanding panorama of lush valleys, lake and unique flora and fauna, Devikulam is a scenic paradise. Settling down on the meadow overlooking the lake, we take in the beautiful vista around us. That's when I notice a brown bird, perhaps the Nilgiri pipit, teetering cautiously behind a bush a few feet away. When it turns and gazes at me, I'm certain that in its eyes I see the same sense of wonder I feel.