The Tea Plantations

Posted by on 1, Apr 2024 in 2024 - An Indian Winter, Asia, India, Tilly the Tandem

The Tea Plantations

The town of Munnar isn’t much to write home about, but the hills surrounding it are covered in tea plantations. Almost every square inch is utilised and it’s incredibly beautiful.

We’d booked a hotel with a balcony facing the hills and loved watching the ladies picking the tea by hand with a pair of sheers.

We visited the tea museum which was fascinating and explained that all the plantations were planted under the British and prior to this the area was forested. 

Eventually one of the largest companies here remaining from British days was sold to the workers and is now a coop. The company prior to this sounded a really good employer, providing homes, schools and transport to it’s workers. It even trained people in new careers and it seems very appropriate that it continues today as a coop.  The coop only utilises around a third of the land they own, managing the rest for the wildlife and nature particularly the elephants. It was quite an uplifting visit.

After this we hired a tuk tuk for a drive around the hills.  The poor driver wanted to take us to dozens of ‘experinces’ and we weren’t having any of it. We just wanted a drive around, sometimes on the correct side of the road, to stop at the lakes and viewpoint and get some street food. But he was a great driver and we had a lovely couple of hours lazing about in the back of the tuk tuk.

We returned to town and ask him to take us to buy beer ..he took us to a caged off licence where you had to enter a queue to reach the counter lined with steel grating, ask for your booze and then leave along another steel fenced area..Thankfully our driver offered to go in and buy our 4 beers for us! It really was like a Mad Max world.

After this we asked to stop to get milk which again he nipped into a hive of shacks and came back with a couple of pints a few seconds later before dropping us off at our hotel.

The next day we had another roll down through spectacular scenery to our next hotel – The Grand Cliff, which, being idiots we should have figured out was on a Cliff and we’d have to cycle up to it.

The ride was simply amazing, a tiny road with hardly any traffic and plenty of stops to watch the women doing all the hard work picking the tea and  listening to the birds instead of hooting horns.. The ladies happily wave and smile at us and it was probably one of the nicest cycles (or rolls) we’ve even done in our lives.

We saw the hotel as we crested one of the hills and it did in fact perch on a cliff, taking full advantage of it’s magnificent location to layer it’s accomodation down the side of the cliff along with a fake waterfall and temple. We then rolled down the hillside to cross a stream and started back up the hill.

We got to the gate and had to get off and push up the hotel reception which was about 80m higher than the gate. It was a long hard push and we had to stop every 7 or 8 meters for a rest. Of course when we got to the top all the staff were waiting for us, having been told by the gate keeper that there were two crazy cyclists on their way up. And there were 2 golf carts parked there too. Presumably to come down to the gate to pick up the luggage we’d just pushed up the hill..

The hotel was only 6 weeks old and a real 5 star hotel. It was easily the best hotel we’ve stayed in here and probably one of the best we’ve ever stayed in anywhere.

And, as it was new it was doing a promotional video to try to attract international guests.

In true Indian fashion this involved the manager driving into Munnar the day before the shoot and asking westerners if they’d like a free stay at his hotel for 2 nights if they’d spend 2 days as his models!

He then asked us to join in for the afternoon fake wedding shoot which we did which was great fun and involved us becoming the grooms parents and two Israelis becoming bridesmaids, a russian violinist and an Australian groom.

We really enjoyed it but were grateful not to be part of the roped in models as they had to be up at 7am for a day of shooting, which for the two English ladies involved a lot of Bikini shots.

We booked a second night just to enjoy the amazing view and laze about and in the evening we were invited to watch the traditional Kerala masked dancing and sword fighting martial art, which is apparently the forerunner of Karate. 

Leaving the hotel, the ride down made me very glad I’d changed the break pads the day before we came up to Munaar. It’s not often we have both brakes on full but the descent was precipitous and half way down I had to adjust the rear brake lever to get more grip as the pads were wearing that quickly. It was, though extraordinary beautiful and once we reached the main road a much more sensible descent.  We sneaked off onto a other back road that rolled up and down on the side of the hills by a river and had a wonderful cycle to eventually reach out hotel for the night.

The receptionist was shocked we were on a tandem and asked if we had a guide, then asked if we were with a tour group and then looked even more shocked and said “But westerners never do this!”

Dinner here is eaten late, but we were able to chose our time so went for 6.30pm. again our poor receptionist was shocked and said, “But you’ll be hungry later” to which we replied, no,.. we’ll be asleep by 9pm!

The hotel was deserted but had a bar so a beer watered down with soda is our choice drink when available and the meal was again superb.  You could order the same food every meal for the whole trip and it would never be the same.  We’ve even ordered the same meal at the same restaurant 2 nights running and it’s nothing like the night before. I don’t know what Indians make of the chain restaurants in the UK and their identikit meals.

But after eating we went to walk back to our cottage and it was pouring, just like we would imagine the monsoon to be and the first rain we’ve seen since we arrived.

The scenery in Kerala is some of the most beautiful we’ve cycled in. It’s lush, despite there being little rain and very tropical. The lanes we cycle on have hardly any traffic and plenty of shade and wind their way through countryside and villages. It’s great cycling here but we’ve not cycled in mist before and after the previous nights downpour the humidty was so high you could see water droplets in our lights and my glasses quickly become covered. It was quite spooky. And very very sticky!

But it soon clears as the sun rockets up into the sky. None of that sun creeping half heartedly up into the sky you get in northern latitudes and we continued on back roads and quiet tracks following canals and rivers which was gorgeous, full of waving people and the ubiquitous selfie requests.

2 Comments

  1. But Jon, where ever is your tea pickers umbrella hat 🤔

  2. Jon, you look like you were gate crashing that wedding …. not wanting to get too close!!!
    The tandeming sounds amazing tho.
    Well done!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.