Munnar: Chilling in the Mountains
shared by Claire Algarme
In terms of weather and breathtaking mountain views, Munnar is probably the runaway winner in my charts. It was the only destination during our 15-day Kerala Blog Express Season 4 trip where I had to wear my jacket and sleep for two nights in non-air conditioned rooms, a welcome respite from the scorching heat and extreme humid state in the lowlands.
Munnar’s cool weather and amazing views were a bit relaxing, a great escape from the city heat and traffic.
Nestled in the mountainous part of the Indian state of Kerala, Munnar is still within the landlocked district of Idukki, where Thekkady and Kumily (READ: Thekkady and Kumily: A Blend of Wild and Spice) are also located. It is where the three rivers of Mudhirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundaly converge.
Munnar has mountains and rivers, which are attractive to travelers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Munnar is quite memorable for me — the views, the weather, the trek and the physical challenge that went with it, and the sense of fulfillment upon reaching the peak. But it was also that same experience where I saw the kindness of the people in the group who were at first complete strangers to me, yet they really got my back as if they have known me all my life.
Exploring the town proper on our own was also a fun thing to do. I am not surprised why locals head to this town for a vacation. If you, too, plan to travel to Munnar, here are the things I saw and experienced there that might be of interest to you. You can work your itinerary around what to see and do in Munnar.
Just outside Munnar, Idukki, we passed by this beautiful waterfalls along the highway.
1.) Camp and Enjoy a Bonfire
Our first adventure in Munnar was spending a night in a campsite in Suryanelli, about 40 Km from the Munnar town proper. We zigzagged through narrow winding roads, with tea plantations filling our landscape, while the sky was changing colors at sunset. Seeing the breathtaking view of the mountains at the horizon and the river down below, we had to make a brief stop just to capture the marvelous landscape.
Suryanelli is part of the Western Ghats, a mountain range that is considered as a UNESCO Heritage Site. And while in the mountains, the best way to enjoy the cool weather is to stay in a camp and warm the night with a bonfire. We stayed at the Kalypso Adventures camp, which has the basic facilities when it comes to sleeping with nature. They have large tents with beds and electric socket, small tents for an authentic camping experience, a common hall, a bonfire area, and toilet and bath area.
These are our tents at the campsite. It has beds and electric sockets.
As darkness envelopes the camp, lamps are lit (although we have lights in the tent) and a bonfire is set.
This is our campsite in Suryanelli and at the backdrop is Phantom Mountain, which we trekked.
When we trekked to the mountains, we could see our campsite from above.
2.) Trek to the Phantom Mountain
After sleeping in a tent, our group headed to a rock mountain that is visible from our campsite in Suryanelli. They called it Phantom Head or Phantom Mountain, a few hours trek from the camp. At first, we walked upward on a paved road until we reached the part where only a trail was discernible. The land became steeper and the soil on that part of the trail was covered with sandy attributes that it became a bit slippery to climb.
We spent the morning climbing that mountain.
As we went higher, the trail got more difficult. This one is the middle portion of the climb.
I had to hold on to grass, twigs or anything my hands could get hold on to (although this is not advisable as they could break and cause some accidents). I stayed at the end of the pack with our Kalypso Adventures guide, Francis. Good thing I was walking with Una-Minh of Before My Mam Dies from Ireland, my short-legged sister (that’s what we called ourselves as we bonded in this activity), all throughout the journey. We couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group and were struggling during the climb. Dan (from Canada) made walking sticks for us and he assisted me as we were reaching the peak, the more challenging part of the climb. (You can watch the video he made here and you’ll get a glimpse of me trying to catch my breath.)
The whole pack was ahead of us and we stayed at the back of the team.
Our reward for this exhausting activity was priceless. As we reached the top, the view of the river and the landscape below was really breathtaking. There, at the summit, a group was praying at a large cross. There were moves to remove it because the mountain is supposed to be open for everyone, to which I agree despite being a Christian myself. Whether there’s a cross or none, being there at the peak was like a spiritual experience for all of us. It was so serene there, with the majesty of nature surrounding me.
Reaching the peak, we found this group praying around the huge cross.
This breathtaking view made the difficult trek all worth it. Click on the photo for a closer look.
A few things to note when you go to activities like this. I can think of some tips when going on a trek:
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes – I wore a loose shirt, leggings and walking shoes (mySkechers GoWalk) for the climb, which was just right. I was thinking of wearing shorts but changed my mind the last minute. I realized there would be twigs, grasses and sharp rocks that might cause some scratch on my legs. Wearing leggings was a good choice for me. Also, make sure your shoes are sturdy enough to support your footing and balance.
- Bring a backpack and keep it light– I brought a sling bag, which I realized was quite a distraction while halfway through the climb. So, I innovated and turned my jacket as a backpack and placed all my stuff behind. I realized that a backpack can keep your hands free and help you balance, compared to a sling bag that kept bouncing to my sides. Also, bring only what is necessary and leave other stuff behind that will just weigh you down.
- Hydrate with water – bring some liquid to hydrate you during the trek. Don’t bring too much that might add weight. Just enough to keep you from getting parched.
- Protect your skin with sunblock, cap, shades – the sun is one of the elements you also have to battle during the trek. Make sure that your eyes and skin are protected. After the climb, many of us had sunburns because the weather was cool, we weren’t too mindful of the sun.
- Have a walking stick on hand – it was really a big help, especially on the steep portion and the slippery part of the climb. It helped me keep my balance while I struggled with my footing.
- Exercise before and after – it’s advisable to keep your body in good condition when you trek. I was running out of breath even at the initial stage of the ascent because I lack exercise. I realized the importance of doing physical activities to exercise my lungs and my muscles. I did a few before my trip to Kerala, India, so my muscles weren’t that aching compared to an easier trek I had early this year.
- Have a first-aid kit ready – I brought some plastic strips and handy isopropyl alcohol for emergency. One of our companions, Petrus, has a small first-aid kit, with bandage and such. Since this is a physical activity that will expose you to the rough, it is better to be prepared for any eventuality.
- Leave no trash – we do not own the mountains. We are just merely visitors. It is best that we keep it trash and pollution free. We made sure before we left the peak to bring our garbage with us so that we maintain the cleanliness of the place.
3.) Walk Through the Tea Plantation
There are over 50 tea estates in Munnar, covering the hill stations with the manicured, tea trees all over the vicinity. Each estate is estimated to be several thousands of acres wide, filling the vast slopes of Munnar and its nearby areas.
We had several opportunities of walking through tea plantations. When we ascended from Phantom Mountain, we passed through some of them along the way. It was a picturesque scenery and being there in the midst of so much green was a wonderful experience.
Tea pickers gather tea leaves in the estate. There’s a technique on how to choose the best kind.
Munnar is a tea plantation area. Hill stations are aplenty in this part of Kerala, India.
4.) Visit the Tea Museum
In the town proper of Munnar, visitors flock to the Tea Museum to know more about this industry. Apart from learning about the history of how planting of tea trees spread like wildfire in this part of Kerala, the Tea Museum features some antique items and old equipment that were then used by the locals years ago. But what is most interesting in the Tea Museum is the production line which shows how tea is processed to achieve its best quality and flavor. There was also a huge store selling various kinds of teas, some souvenir items and other food products.
It was an insightful experience knowing how tea became a hit in Munnar and seeing how they process the tea leaves.
The store inside the Tea Museum.
5.) Go to the Local Market
We had an afternoon all to ourselves and we decided to explore the town proper all by ourselves. Together with Indra Pradya (from Indonesia), Bernard Tan (from Singapore, and Dipanshu Goyal (from India), we walked from our hotel in Tea County KTDC down to the market, passing by some stores, an alcohol store (alcoholic beverages are strictly monitored in Kerala), and a public transport terminal until we reached a footbridge.
The footbridge led us to the local market where dresses, sarees, flowers, jewelries, street food and other items are sold. There was a fruit and vegetable market at the other side but we opted to explore the one with sarees as we looked for some traditional clothes to buy.
The view of the Munnar town proper.
Colorful sarees are sold in this store.
A vegetable vendor by the side of the street.
We also found this stall that sells flowers.
After we checked some stalls, we climbed the stairs leading to the Mount Carmel Church. Having been built in 1898, it is the first Catholic Church to be established in the High Range. Its historical records are posted at the façade of the church. Right behind the church, we can see the Islam Mosque at an elevated portion from a distance. Not far from there is the Pramanava Sree Subramaniya Swamy Temple, a Hindu temple. This is the beauty of Munnar: its diversity.
A Catholic church is seen at the left and a Muslim mosque at the right.
A Catholic shrine is found at the foot of the hill.
We needed to climb some steps to get to the Mount Carmel Church.
Behind the church is the view of the Masjid or the Muslim mosque.
Not far from the mosque is the Hindu temple. This was taken from the back of the church.
At the market, vendors do not hesitate to smile or pose in front of a camera whenever we gesture to them. But then again, we get the same kind of reception throughout Kerala. Children smile, men and women wave, or they move their head in delight whenever we greet them with a “Namaskaram!”
This article is part of the over-arching post First-time in Kerala: God’s Own Country where you will find the list of my blog posts related to this trip. Get updates on the Kerala Blog Express at thehttp://keralablogexpress.com/ and check #keralablogexpress #tripofalifetime and #liveinspired in social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.