The Offbeat side of Mystical Munnar

Monday, July 08, 2013

The route was deserted. It was pitch dark, pouring and the road ahead forked into two. One of them lead to Thekkady and one to somewhere else, I didn’t know. Neither did the driver, we had to reach Munnar, we were about 80kms away in the jungle somewhere and it was pouring. That’s how this year’s edition of me chasing monsoons started. 

Munnar Tea Gardens
The sprawling tea gardens of Munnar and Silver Oak through the window.

I was in Kerala two weekends ago. Hosted by the folks at Sterling Holidays, I was in Munnar to see what the charming hill station offered to the offbeat and adventure enthusiasts. I wasn’t disappointed. The winds were howling outside my room, a faint whistle caused by wind escaping through the tiny gap between the window panes was the lullaby as I drifted into a sound sleep every night. Trees swayed with such tenacity that the rustling cacophony sounded more like a raging waterfall. And when it rained, it only poured. Low-lying monsoon clouds engulfed the hills and the slopes in a white luminous blanket, far down below everything else that could be seen was fresh green. Occasionally I longed for the warmth of sun but soon the cold breeze, the rain-drenched greenery and the sweeping mist would remind me why I loved the monsoons in first place despite the lack of sunshine.

Munnar Tea Gardens
The beautiful roads around Munnar, the Mountains and the Mist!

My first visit to Munnar took me to places like Matupetty Dam, Top Station and such and it was safe to say I wasn’t really charmed. My second visit took me to Munnar on my cycle and I enjoyed the brilliant winding roads quite a lot but still I wasn’t charmed. It was only during my third visit, I got to experience the mystical side of Munnar, and what better time than the monsoons to be here. So without further ado, let me tell you what the offbeat side of Munnar is like! 

A hike to a lake steeped in legend – Sita Devi Lake

Munnar Sita Devi Lake Devikulam
Devikulam Lake, Chinnakanal, Munnar
Also known as Devikulam lake, this pristine sparkling water body is far away from all the crowd and the litter that comes with the reputation. It was a delight to walk along the unspoilt trail, soaking in the strong aroma of lemon grass and taking in views of sprawling tea gardens down below and unkempt wilderness above. Legend has it, that Sita devi bathed in this beautiful lake, which is why this lake is considered sacred by the locals. Going by the number of lakes that are known to involve Sita, I’d say she was quite the traveler! The British used to spend their weekends here fishing it seems. Surrounded by hills and tall trees, this lake was exactly how I had imagined hill stations to be, much before I ever visited any. I had imagined hill stations to be places of wild natural beauty without any shops lining the shore, without litter and without any people. As the mist rolled in and out, I could catch a glimpse of the Devikulam Tea Estate on the far end. Only me and my guide were there at the lake, while I was busy enjoying the lake and the rain, my guide kept a watchful eye on the surroundings, apparently the waterfall that originates from this lake is a big hit with the gentle giants! 

At a distance of 22kms from Munnar, a visit to this lake requires permission from Tata Tea Estate Officer. The hike starts from Chinnakanal and is an easy one hour effort, quite suitable for beginners. 

A sip of tea at the world’s highest tea garden – Kolukkumalai Tea Estate

Munnar Kolukkumalai Tea Estate
The view from Kolukkumalai Tea Estate overlooking Tamilnadu. 
I have to tell you, I am not a big fan of Tea Estates. All it does is to remind me of the dense wilderness that was cut down to make way for the estates. However, this particular tea estate managed to catch my interest. After all how many times have I seen a tea garden dwarfed by high mountains, dense wilderness right by the side of the plantations, rugged mountains and deep valleys? At 8000ft, this has to be the world’s highest tea estate. The backbreaking journey to reach the Kolukkumalai tea estate is totally worth the effort for the views are extraordinary. There is only a jeep trail to reach this estate and it is as bad as it can get. We climb over a mountain side and cross over to the other side at the top to reach Kolukkumalai. From here, we can see the mountains and villages in Tamilnadu. The tea factory here has been standing since 1930s and is still in use to produce tea in the orthodox seven step process. A tour of the entire tea making process at the factory can be availed. The sad part is almost all of the produce is exported. I had a cup of tea and it tasted divine, but considering the cold and the rain, any hot cup of tea would’ve delighted my taste buds.

At a distance of 32kms from Munnar, the last 10kms ride to through this estate is quite bumpy and backbreaking but the views totally make up for it. Strictly only 4 wheel drives can tread on this trail. Jeeps are available at the start of the trail to reach this estate. 

A humble moment with our ancestors – The Dolmens of Marayoor

Munnar Marayoor Ancient Dolmens Muniyaras
Ancient Dolmens at Marayoor.
To begin with, dolmens are prehistoric structures believed to ancient burial chambers. Characterized by four stones and a fifth cap stone on the top, these structures are found across the world but the origins and intentions of building these remain unclear till date. In Marayoor, these are locally known as Muniyaras and several dolmens can be seen on a stone hill to the left of the Pambar River. We reached Marayoor almost as the sun set, passing through the spectacular natural sandalwood reserve. A school is at the base of the hill and strewn all across the hill are ancient dolmens. As it rained intermittently, I walked barefoot on the cold stone to explore several of these fascinating yet dilapidated stone structures. Surrounded by high mountains on all sides, with crazy wind blowing and the constant drizzle, it was a mesmerizing evening, to be in presence of something built by our early ancestors belonging to Iron Age. A church prominently stood, brightly painted, amidst the greenery of Marayoor, the clouds were playing with the mountain tops, Pambar River was flowing down below and loud bhajans from a temple nearby filled my ears even as the winds howled. Just behind the mountain are primitive tribes who believe in animism resisting contact and fostering their own traditions and culture. Standing on the hill top, it was a magical heady mix of nature, beauty, religion and beliefs that transcended timelines. In short, that evening was spectacular. 

At a distance of 40kms from Munnar, Marayoor is a must visit for those interested in its rich ancient heritage and natural beauty. Without the context, the primitive stone structures and the rock paintings by the Pambar river might look ordinary but they are hardly so. 

So these were my offbeat experiences at Munnar. Have you been to any of these places? 
Do you have any more suggestions to go the off the beaten path at Munnar? 

I stayed at Sterling Holiday's Munnar Terrace Greens Resort at Chinnakanal [20kms from Munnar]. Far away from the crowd of Munnar, Chinnakanal is home to few resorts, offering scenic views surrounded by tea gardens, rocky mountains and pristine lakes. Any season is a good time to visit here, even monsoons as you can see. And I would like to specially mention Mr. Balu from Holiday Activities at the resort, he is quite knowledgeable of the many trek routes around Munnar, if you are up for a good trek, he can arrange for it.

*Note – I travelled to Munnar as a guest of Sterling Holidays

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60 comments

  1. Excellent article on the less trodden paths of Munnar!

    http://rajniranjandas.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Niranjan, as I discover lots more places there are waiting to be discovered!

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  2. Wow, beautiful places to visit! Superb post. Indeed, No doubt that Munnar is a sheer beautiful hill station in Kerala. but Neelima, I have also more informative and interesting blogs related to India travels, I' sure that you likes my blogs. if you are interested please follow my blogs, here are my main blogs

    http://travelagent-india.blogspot.com/
    http://travelagencyindia.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, Munnar is amazing, now I agree. :)
      Will check out your blogs too.

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  3. Absolutely stunning post...loved breathing in the cold winds and the drizzle through your writing...

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    1. Thanks Sangeeta, I am glad my words could virtually transport you to experience monsoons of Munnar.

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  4. amazing experience of monsoon. your clicks are just mind blowing. this is the reason i am planning for my vacation in monsoon as i live in abroad. nothing is as beautiful as the monsoon of south India. good luck keep writing, just love the way your blog is..

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    1. Thanks Haarish, I completely agree, monsoons here are just something else. I am a big fan of monsoons too. :)

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  5. You could have hiked to Meesapulimala, 2nd highest peak in South India, lying close to Kolukkumalai Estate and also a down trail from the estate to a hilly village called Kurangini and then to Bodi or Topstation.

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    1. I could have, only I didn't have time. So stopped with these. Had to stay content by just seeing the villages of Kurangani and Bodi and also Top Station from Kolukkumalai.

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  6. Great post Neelima. Beautiful pictures as well, especially the last two(stunning compositions). It's your pictures and writing that actually makes me wanna go to these places :).

    Thanks to you, I had a great trip. Shared similar experiences in the monsoon and got stunned on reaching Gurudongmar..

    Waiting for more pictures..

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    Replies
    1. Wow, that totally serves the purpose of me having this blog. :) Waiting to see the pictures from your Sikkim visit, I am sure Sikkim must have been spectacular!

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  7. Have been to Munnar. but never to any of these places you mentioned. Munnar during monsoon itself is feels exotic!

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    1. Anywhere green in the monsoons is exotic IMO! ;) Thanks Anu.

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  8. Beautiful photos esp first one...

    nice write-up...

    thanks

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  9. I have been to Munnar in the rains just once.. years ago... and just a day... all we did was soak in the rain and the fog after the rain stopped. reading this post makes me want to go again... and tho i cant even think of all this trekking, i would love to explore a bit more of the place...

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    1. You should go to Munnar again Anu, it is wonderful. And none of these places are treks, the lake is just an hour hike and rest all places can be reached in a vehicle. :)

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  10. Again a great story with beautiful pictures! (I just wanted to point out one thing that you should proofread your story once before publishing it - 'lake is considered scared by the locals')

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  11. Indeed Munnar Is One Of The Beautiful places I ever Visited.
    Beautiful Snaps.
    Specially The First One With Half Window Open, The Half Glass Increasing It's Beauty.

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  12. Following your blog from now onwards. Nice to meet another travel buff like me :)

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    Replies
    1. Havent been to Munnar. Thanks for the virtual darshan.

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    2. Wonderful, always a pleasure to connect with fellow travellers! :)

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  13. Wow Neelima...the shots are all so awesome! Loved them...

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    1. Well, they had to be, Munnar in the rains was that awesome! Thanks. :)

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  14. Sir.. Nice Blog.. These all routes and you can see these all places from Pollachi also. Pollachi to udumalpet to chinnar to Marayoor to Kandhaloor.
    in this we can see chinnar Elephant Sanctuary, Elephant Camp, Thoovanam Waterfalls, Eravikulam National Park, and also u can see Apple Estates in Kandhaloor too. from kandhaloor u can go Anamudi Peak by Jeep Safari.


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    1. Yeah, as I discovered there are way too many treks and routes around. Some day, hopefully. And, not Sir, it is Madam. :)

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  15. Wow, Amazing post with delightful pictures, Neelima! really, Munnar is one the most beautiful and fantastic tourist spot wheres natural beauty is awesome.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, I didn't have a very high opinion of Munnar until this trip, but the place has enough options for the tourist, the adventurer and the offbeat traveler too!

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  16. Beauty..such exotic locations exist in India..Unbelievable…And amazing clicks….

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  17. Replies
    1. It was Swati, monsoons bring out the best of greenery.

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  18. Munnar is a beautiful place and so is your post ....beautiful captures :)

    http://njoyeverymoment.wordpress.com

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  19. Hi. A nice one. This one made me want to go Munnar yet again!
    Vishal

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  20. Wow awesome clicks.. Thanks for posting very interesting information about munnar..

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  21. Wonderful pictures. The kolukkumalai pictures took me back to my trip to munnar with this bangalore based trekking club. The Jeep ride to the hilltop in the zig-zag road is simply amazing.

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    1. I swear, it was a crazy ride in the mist and the rain. Very adventurous and equally stunning. Thank you.

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  22. There's a fantastic trail that starts from the Kolukkumalai tea estate and takes you to Bodi.

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    1. I know! The guide told and showed me as well.

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  23. I have gone through your every blog, and the captures have surely stimulated me, to visit the respective places!!! and Munnar is just awesome!!

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    Replies
    1. Yes of course, Munnar and India, both are awesome! :)

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  24. Never seen such mesmerizing beautiful pictures. I have been to Munnar 2 times but never came across the above places. I really become your fan.

    I will look forward to above places if I happen to visit next time. And yes, before any trip, i will make a note to check the offbeat places at your blog around the destination.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  25. If you are still reading this comment - Can you tell me from where you need to get the permission for Devikulam lake? Thanks

    Praveen

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  26. Catching narration and suitable pictures. I used to read your blogs regularly.

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  27. Your site is informative and keeps the reader hook to it. Nice.

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  28. Very informative blog and suggestion for travelers to stay munnar hotels

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  29. Sita Devi Lake ~3km from Club Mahindra & Sterling Resort. I didn't take any permission to visit the lake from this route. The lake indeed is very beautiful.

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  30. Kerala is a famous State of India and is known for its eye-catching attractions from the years. This South Indian state is situated between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. With the number of natural beauties, this place attracts the people from all around the world. The soothing greenery of this place facilitates you to enjoy the nature along with providing you the clean and fresh air. No matter you are planning a vacation tour with your family or honeymoon with your partner, this place is the best choice for both the cases.

    The Kerala Tourism has a lot to offer to its visitors, which include long beaches, elegant rivers, foggy mountains and more. The beauty of the palm trees on the beach side (Kovalam and Varkala), the splendour of undulating hills (Munnar and Vagamon), the tranquillity of the backwaters (Kuttanad and Kumarakom) and the enthralling forests (Thekkady) will leave long lasting imprints on your mind. There are many other places to visit in the Kerala. Once you get there, this place will not let you feel short of the tourist attractions. The other attractions include Bekal Fort, Hill Palace of Kerala, Christ Church, Bastion Bungalow, St Angelo Fort and many others. For further guidance about places you can visit www.keralatravelpackages.com.

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  31. Great post ! Heading to munnar a second time, this post really helped a lot the first time over.
    For anybody going to munnar, the marayoor dolmens are eerie and beautiful.

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  32. Excellent post !! The photographs are extremely amazing !!
    Beautiful place to visit :)
    Keep up the good posts :)

    myholidaytrip.com

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  33. Surely it is rich in ancient heritage and natural beauty. The hills, tall trees, lake etc are something beyond what we had imagined of what hill stations to be.

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  34. Thanks for this informative post on Munnar. The name Munnar is believed to mean "three rivers",and there are many places to visit in Munnar. It is a calm and beautiful vacation spot in Kerala.

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  35. Lovely reading your blog post and pictures are beautifully weaved. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience in munnar.

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