Situated at the confluence of three mountain streams – Muthirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala, and perched 1,600 m above sea level, this hill station was the summer resort of the erstwhile British administration in South India. The British resident, JD Munro, recognized the agricultural potential of the region, and on a hunting expedition in 1877, acquired about 581.12 sq km of land on concession from the Poonjar Raja. After experimenting with various crops such as coffee, cinchona, sisal and cardamom, he discovered that tea was best suited for the climate and topography of this area.
Now overrun with tea plantations, Munnar nevertheless retains its old colonial charm. With its sprawling estates, rolling hills, sparkling waterfalls, picture-postcard hamlets and undulating valleys, Munnar has the makings of an idyllic holiday destination. Nature walks and photography, golfing, trekking, boating and angling are some of the attractions. Kolukkumalai, India’s highest tea estate, and Eravikulam National Park, home to the endangered Nilgiri tahr, are located nearby.
The Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company houses only tea museum in a century-old tea estate. The memorabilia preserved include a burial urn from the coed century BC, an original 1905 tea roller, a rotor let II I m old CTC-type tea processing machine, the Pelton Wheel used in the power generation plant of the 1920s, and a rail engine wheel of the Kundala Valley Railway that shuttled between Munnar and Top Station during the first half of the last century. Other exhibits include photographs, curios and century-old relics. The tea tasting, processing and picking demonstrations are really interesting to watch.
Located on a hill in the centre of Old Munnar is the CSI Church, a black basalt building with a prominent nave and bell tower. Rather squat and blackened with time, it has an unimpressive exterior, but is charming once you step inside. Consecrated in 1910, the church still has its original 14 rows of polished rosewood pews and antique chandeliers, not to mention the brass plaques commemorating early tea planters. The adjoining cemetery predates the church.
Mount Carmel Church:
Established in 1898, this was the first Roman Catholic Church in the High Ranges. Like all places of worship, this one is also located at a vantage point. Records reveal that the church sheltered refugees during the 1924 floods that devastated the area. There is a chapel below, dedicated to St Anthony. Legend has it that the floodwater miraculously receded when they touched the basement of the chapel of the church.
Blossom International Park:
This park sprawls over 16 acres and boasts a garden with a profusion of flowers. There are many leisure activities for both adults and children. Boat rides along Munnar’s waterways is a must-do. There are also facilities for cycling, roller-skating, campfires and games.
At a height of 1,700 m, it is 13 km from Munnar, and the favourite haunt of weekend picnickers. The Mattupetty Lake (created by the small hydroelectric dam), flanked by steep wooded hills, is a tranquil picnic spot where boating is the big draw. A speedboat cruise to the far end of the lake invariably ensures a glimpse of wild elephants. Other nearby attractions are Echo Point and Kundala Lake.
The Sethuparvathipuram Dam and the stunning views around it make Kundala a must-visit. Boating in the lake and a visit to the Kundala Club for a game of golf or a cup of tea is highly recommended. The clubhouse and the sprawling grounds around it are reminiscent of India’s colonial past, and the posters adorning the walls of the clubhouse depict significant events from that period.
This fenced patch of dense greenery amid hilly terrain holds the only natural sandalwood forest in Kerala. Marayoor not only grows the finest sandalwood in the world, but is also a famous archaeological site. The caves found here, home to tribals, are also considered holy as sages are said to have meditated here in the distant past. Hence, the name, `Muniyaras’.
The drive along the winding road to Devikulam is a real treat. The lake here is said to be the highest in the region and is ideal for trout fishing. According to local folklore, Sita is believed to have taken a dip in the pond close by. Revered as a holy place, a small temple has been built here in her honor. In the middle of the lake is an island with a fishing lodge.
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