PictoJournal©: Misty Munnar

India's very own Switzerland.

Text by Anu (Arundhathi) and Photos by Suchit Nanda [http://photos.suchit.in/Travel]

Panoramic view of the tea gardens near Club Mahindra Resort at Munnar, India

Panoramic tea estates in Munnar, Kerala, India

One of Mumbai’s scorching and sultry days made us desperately seek an escapade to the mountains. I recall reading a while ago about a National Geographic traveler rating Kerala as the seventh among the fifty places to visit in a lifetime. That’s when it dawned on me that we must flee to God’s own country Kerala. To our ecstasy the decision was made to visit Kerala’s premium hill station – Munnar.

Until some Scottish planters discovered it, Munnar was once a sleepy little hamlet. Set at an altitude of 6,000 ft, Munnar was a favored summer resort of the erstwhile British rulers in the colonial days. Munnar derived its name from the Tamil and Malayalam words “munu” (three) and “aaru” (river) attributable to the town's strategic location at the confluence of the Muthirappuzha, Nallathanni, and Kundaly rivers. Till date, its lush green foliage covered in cool mist, revitalizing ambiance and its bracing air makes it an ideal vacationer’s destination in south India.

The two closest airports to Munnar are Kochi and Coimbatore. Munnar is just 135 Km. from the seashore of Kochi. The drive through the mountainous roads heading to Munnar from Kochi is a great way to flee the high-speed lanes of urban life into a serene expanse devoid of noise & pollution. The Coimbatore-Munnar route of 150 Km. is incredibly scenic and even if a bit longer is usually believed to be worth the extra time spent. We hired a car with a driver Ganesh from Coimbatore airport. As soon as we entered Kerala, we stopped to relish an authentic Kerala delicacy the Puttu and Vegetable. On the way we passed through thick forests and got to see some monkeys and wild elephants. Thirty kilometers before the city area of Munnar we started spotting the tea plantations on both sides of the road. By evening, we were at our resort on a mountain top with a 180 degrees of excellent view. After sunset from our room we could see few solitary lights from the houses scattered on the opposite hill and some faint outlines of electric poles and cell phone towers creating an interesting contrast with the silhouettes of the mountains in the background.

At day break, the clear blue sky beckoned me to step out of our room and inhale the energizing mountain air. Instantly my heart was overflowing with a profound sense of gratitude and wonder at the magnificence of Nature and God’s creation. Munnar is essentially a tea town and most tea plantations have now been taken over by the Tatas. All around, our eyes could see miles and miles of endless tea plantations that covered all the hillsides like bright green quilts as all the tea shrubs were trimmed to the same height and planted in straight rows. Even from a distance, we could see the women picking the tea leaves. This was an extraordinary view of an enormous manicured garden! After breakfast, Ganesh drove us up towards Top Station, the highest point in Munnar. En route to Top Station we paused at various spots to capture some images of the magnificent tiers of hills, the majority covered by tea gardens and the rest by woodlands, numerous tiny streams & water falls flowing amid the tea estates. On reaching the Top Station, first we got to see a couple of thatched-roof shops selling fruits and munchies and behind them was a mud road. A few steps up and we could see the valley on either side with wild flowers, shrubs and tall trees. We strolled ahead drawn by the whiff of teas coming from a small tea shop selling hot cups of tea. I still cannot forget the aroma of the hot cardamom tea and as I was sipping my tea, in a few moments I was enveloped by the clouds elevating me to a dreamy state. Moments later the jingles of the bells around the necks of a flock of sheep crossing us jiggled me out. After the masala chai it was time for a speedboat ride. It was thrilling but it was so cold in the lake that my nose instantly froze! Speaking of boating, there are quite a few places to go boating in Munnar. Choices are from peddle boats, speed boats to Kashmiri-Shikaras. For those who have not been to Kashmir, its a great opportunity to get a ride on the beautiful 'Kashmiri-Shikaras' for the most romantic experience. Before dusk, we reached Echo Point, a small lake set amidst rolling hills. Any loud sound made from a spot on the lake’s bank is returned manifold by the echoes from the surrounding hills.

Munnar being a small town is easily covered by foot but its easier to hop into an auto-rickshaw should one get a bit tired of walking. For out of town jaunts a rented bike or taxi is the best option. Moreover, many tour operators arrange an organized excursion to the outskirts.

Next morning we set out a bit early and drove towards Eravikulam (the Rajamalai National Park). At 2,695 Mts. Munnar’s highest peak Anamudi towers over in a majestic pride and is an ideal spot for campers who like to do some trekking. But only an expert can drive here as the roads are very narrow. Quite often we had to stop and direct other vehicles approaching from the opposite direction. Though I was holding my breath whilst Ganesh was maneuvering through those constricted edges, he managed it all pretty well. Due to low visibility, from my window all I could see was soft cottony clouds as if we were gliding in the clouds up to the sky. Wow! What an adventurous drive! We were told that the slopes of these hills have an abundance of extraordinary flora & fauna like the Atlas moth (the largest of its class in the world), the nilgiri langur, the lion-tailed macaque, leopards, tigers, etc. A guide told us that inside the national park an endangered species of mountain goats the nilgiri tahr can be observed at close quarters. We debated if we should be climbing up the high peak just to see some goats and if it was really worth all the effort. Although we didn’t see any goats, the walk along the park was very romantic and the view was out of this world! The prime exotic flora in the woods and grasslands here is the Neelakurinji, a blue flower which blooms only every twelve years. The last time it bloomed was in December 2006 and the next will be in 2018. So, want to plan 10 years ahead for a trip to Munnar? I just loved this place for I could walk in the clouds, trek to my hearts content while the clouds slowly descend upon us. The park is breathtakingly beautiful and is easily comparable to the best mountain ranges found anywhere in the world.

Our next destination was Mattupetty dam, which is located at a height of 1,700 Mts and the Mattupetty farm famed for its dedicated dairy farm and the Indo-Swiss live stock project. Over 100 varieties of high yielding cattle are reared here. Visitors are allowed into three of the eleven cattle sheds at the farm.

A hill station transcending excellence, Munnar is bordered by numerous rolling hills draped in the calming green of vast tea estates, mountain streams, valleys offering a wide array for tourists. It is an excellent base for trekking in the hills covered by lush rainforests, for picnicking alongside a crystal-clear mountain stream, for wildlife watching, or for simply getting the kinks out of a tired system.

As we left very early from Munnar, heavy fog had descended on the hills bringing down the visibility to barely 2 Mts. Ganesh didn't seem troubled by this at all and pretty much carried on driving at normal speed and soon we drove past a bend and the mist just vanished. Driving downhill was a pleasant experience as well with roads slicing through the canopy provided by trees and shrubs on either side. To catch our return flight we arrived at Coimbatore at 5 PM to bump into the indistinguishable rush of civilization (paradox intended) on the roads as we see in amchi Mumbai.

Munnar is called the ‘Switzerland of India’. It is undeniably the most awesome place I have ever set my eyes on. Unending expanse of tea plantations - pristine valleys and mountains - exotic species of flora & fauna in its wild sanctuaries and forests - aroma of spice scented cool air - Yes! Munnar has all these and more. It's the place you would love to visit - it's the place you would wish you never had to leave. So folks, if you are planning for a refreshing retreat, then Munnar is all set to embrace you with its charm.


~ Anu & Suchit Nanda, Feb, 2006
Many more pictures can be seen at: Munnar, India, Travel Images

Fact File:

Altitude & Temp:
• 1600 Mts. to 1800 Mts. Temperature - Min. 0 c - Max. 25 c.

• Warm Clothes and Rain Gear

Tourist Season:
• August to March

• Wide variety to choose from budget hotels to exclusive resorts. If you want to try something out of the ordinary then you can stay in one of the “Tree Houses”.

• The best things to buy are Tea, coffee and spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and pepper.

Food & Drinks:
• Besides a few exclusive restaurants housed in classy resorts the other popular joints are. Saravana Bhavan right in the heart of town is the most inexpensive places to eat great vegetarian food. This place serves delicious south Indian dishes on a Banana leaf. Mahavir Jain Restaurant serves authentic North-Indian and Gujarati meals.

Text copyright Arundhathi. All pictures copyright Suchit Nanda. All images shot on Nikon D70 with Nikkor 18-70 mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX, Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR, Cokin P-filters and Gitzo basalt tripod.

This article has been printed in Asian Photography Magazine August 2008 issue and can be seen here.