We had heard so many amazing things about Munnar before we arrived. We had been told of it’s cool weather, lush green tea fields and aromatic air. But nothing could quite prepare us for the beauty of the surroundings, however, one thing we didn’t account for was it’s size. Munnar town itself isn’t a place that will take your breath away, the busy Indian hill station is the centre for trade and transport for the surrounding areas. It has a few good eateries and sells some delicious home made chocolate but apart from that you will want to spend most of your time in the Keralan states green, rolling hills.
Prices of accommodation go up as soon as you leave the busy town so finding a budget place with beautiful views and a private balcony tends to be pipe dream. Another thing to note is that even if your accommodation says it is in Munnar is can be anything from 5k to 30k away from the town so factor that into your travel plans and check on a map before you leave.
Two good provinces of Munnar are Devikulam and Peringal. Devikulam is only a 20 minute rickshaw drive away from the town which should cost you around 100/150 rupees. Alternatively you can catch a bus from the post office stop heading towards Thekkady. Accommodation ranges from high end private guest houses to the budget hostel chain Vedanta Wake Up.
Peringal is much the same but with slightly less of a community vibe. The guest houses and hotels are located upon a hill and all provide good local food. Spice Jungle is on the pricier range at around 1200 per room per night but its location tends to bring in the clientele even so. It's rooms are squeaky clean with satellite tv, attached bathroom, room service and some have balconies over looking the dense jungle.
Transportation wise this was our first encounter of the enigmatic yet extremely dangerous shared jeep. What would normally fit 6 people comfortably can be known to take up to 16 people employing techniques such as lap sitting, the floor as a comfy seat and roof riding. However this is the most efficient and cheapest way of getting around. As the tuk tuk drivers as always take no notice of the metre and buses although cheap aren't all that regular. Jeeps can be flagged down en route or be joined at any town.
Things not to miss are of course, the tea plantations. The broccoliesque tufts litter Munnar’s many hills in symmetrical patterns making beautiful emerald labyrinths. The Lockhart Tea Estate is one of the only remaining factories that have not been brought out by corporate giant Tata (evil). It offers tours of its working factory (which produces over 5 tons of tea a day), tea tasting, a tea museum and if you haven't had your fill of tea after all that your ticket doubles as a pass to allow you to wander around their vast plantations. Tickets are more expensive for foreigners but 400 rupees for so much tea related fun was a bargain if you ask me.
The undisputed highlight of Munnar are the sunrise treks. The trick is to organise one that leaves no later than 5am so you are up the mountain to watch the sunrise. Most guest houses and hostels will sort this for you, we however chose to use a tourist agency in Munnar town called 'Munnar Tourist Information Office' (original, I know). It is located a 2 minute walk up the hill from the main taxi stand. The 700 rupee ticket included a 4 hour trek, hot drinks, snacks of fruit and biscuits as well as a tuk tuk transfer to and from Munnar town. I must admit when the group gathered outside the doors of the agency in the cool morning air and all six of us where bundled into a single tuk tuk chai-less I wasn't best pleased. However, what I didn't realise was that the hot drinks and goodies where stashed away in our guides backpack, to enjoy when we reached the top of the hill while watching the sunrise over the misty mountains of Munnar.
We walked in single file in the dark through damp foliage, the dew settling upon our flushed cheeks, for around an hour listening to the sounds of the jungle wake up. At the top of the mountain as the burnt orange sun started to illuminate the rolling hills, the mist slowly fell from the sky creating moving blankets of what appeared the be soft cotton wool over the jungle. For a unknown amount of time we observed the earth change colour from deep blue, to lilac, to a brilliant shade of orange all while munching on delicious fresh fruit and sipping chai. It was the first time we watched the sunrise on our trip and the majesty of the scenery was awe inspiring, we have since sought out every sunrise we can. If that doesn't pursued you to go, hopefully the free chai and biscuits will.
Safe travels and enjoy the view,