In the past centuries, they came as planters, denuding hills to plant tea. Now they come as pickers of tea, not as labourers but as tourists. So do not be astonished if you see foreigners picking tea on estates in Munnar. It is a slow change happening in the tourism sector here.
On an estate at Thalayar, tourists who come to savour the beauty of the landscape are given a chance to pick tea. That most of the tourists who grab this opportunity are from the U.K. is not lost on the local populace. It was the East India Company which started planting tea in the mountains in Idukki.
British-made historical monuments, such as hanging bridges, bungalows, remains of ropeways and a railway system in Munnar, all related to the plantation sector, remain in the district.
On the Thalayar estate, tourists can pick tea leaves in the morning and visit the factory in the evening. Again, an official says, it is the British who prefer the package.
The main crop grown on the estate is China tea. History has it that the East India Company brought four Chinese experts to plant Chinese tea in Munnar. Its specialities are a deep smell and small leaves. Though hybrid varieties were replanted in other areas, the major variety in the Thalayar estate is Chinese tea, said the official. The tourists are also provided with a guide who explains the entire processing of the tea and its grading.
In Munnar, there are tourists of the British desecendents who come for collecting the details of their forefathers and the life led by them there. All is connected to the tea industry there and the manual tea plucking has many takers especially from Britain, he said.
In the past, the British came to the High Ranges to plant tea. Now, they come as tourists to pick tea.