Nature's Zone, a retreat near Munnar, lives up to its name
It is not often that one gets to begin a holiday on a high, literally. But, I got to — from the dizzying height of 6,900 ft above sea level, looking out into the mist from a little bamboo hut, built high up on trees. It is dark outside, and the moon tip-toes its way into the balcony of the little tree house, lighting it up.
This is, indeed, Nature's Zone, as the retreat near Munnar is called. Standing in the balcony, I lose myself in the sounds of the night.
All I can see in the dark are just the shadowy outlines of the trees, sheltering the denizens of the night. My eyes, however, are looking out for any sign of the wild elephant that, I'm told, comes calling rather often. The caretakers fondly call the tusker Padayappa. “We let him be, and there is peaceful coexistence,” they say. I wait for him, but he doesn't turn up.
The owls hoot, and the clouds cover the moon. I try to sleep, and have dreams of Padayappa shaking my tree house with his trunk.
Sun, mist and more
Morning dawns, and the birds come calling. The sun birds, the bulbuls, the thrushes, and the pigeons are all active, singing away to the dawn. The langurs are busy exercising their limbs, while I still look for traces of Padayappa's visit the previous night.
As the sun filters through the forests, gently nudging the mist out of the hills, a Malabar giant squirrel comes to my balcony.
I see a sprawling green fabric of greenery, but I am not in a tea garden. Instead there are coffee and cardamom plantations amongst a canopy of trees. Little wonder tuskers such as Padayappa come visiting rather often.
Sipping hot tea, I look below and see the misty town and learn that Munnaar — mun (three) aar (river) refers to the confluence of three rivers — Muthirapuzha, Nalathanni and Kundaly.
As I'm lost high up on the hills, my driver tells me this is the highest point there. There are no roads to reach the place, and it takes a four-wheel drive to climb to this point.
The bumpy ride takes you through a dense carpet of green tea plantations, again a haunt of tuskers.
As a tourist, I am spoilt for choices. Waterfalls, wildlife parks, tea museum, view points, dams, fruit farms… all seem to fit into a short itinerary. The tea town, as Munnar is often referred to as, is also a haven for fresh fruits and vegetables. I pick up a few fresh strawberries and lose myself in the verdant greenery around. The mist comes calling again and I realise that I have a choice to make — to laze around, or explore.
For a change, I decide on the former.