The Tea Town
Picking tea leaves.
Tea leaves galore.
A tea plantation worker.
September 2, 2006
I had never even heard of this town before I was chatting with a few people in Alleppey. I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go
in Kerala in between Alleppey and Cochin. After hearing what locals had to say, I was between Varkala and Munnar…two towns that
were as different as night and day. Munnar was up in the mountains surrounded by tea estates. Varkala was on the coast. Since I had
just been living it up on the beach, I decided to go for a change of scenery (I also could not help but think that Varkala might be a bit of a
let-down after what I saw in the Maldives). Plus, I needed a break from the skeeters. I know places have mosquito nets but those little
rascals still are quite skilled at finding their way inside. I literally was standing up on the bed with the mosquito net surrounding me
trying to find the two or three sneaky little guys so I could squash them. I could not risk losing any more blood to them. I figured the
combination of that and possible malaria was a good reason to commit insect murder.
Moutain scenery. Fresh air. No mosquitoes. Munnar it was…
I made my way onto the public bus where I would spend my next five hours. I only experienced one unsettling moment. There was a
guy who got on the bus and sat next to me (since it was the only seat available). Once somebody else got off the bus, he changed seats to
the other open seat. Of course this would trigger me to do one thing: the smell check. I very casually lifted one arm and then the other
and took a whiff. I passed with flying colors. So why would he want to move away? More importantly, why was I having a problem with
this since I now had the whole seat to myself???
The end of the drive was beautiful. We passed waterfalls and the tea estates began to come into view. They were so nicely manicured
and in such perfect formation that it almost felt like driving through a wine valley. There was just something so beautiful about this
(though it is probably difficult to comprehend how eye-catching tea plants can be).
There was something else being sold in the town other than just tea and spices (as there are also spice farms in the area)…there was
homemade chocolate. They had several varieties – some dark chocolate with cashews (as that is the popular nut in the area), others
were a combination of white and dark chocolate. It did not really matter to me what the flavor combination was as I was just so excited
to see some decent non-candy-bar chocolate. I knew I was going to enjoy my next three nights up here…
The next day I went hiking through the tea plantations. I underestimated the altitude up here as every other step left me wheezing for
air. Now that I made it to the top of the hill I was climbing, I had views in every direction of tea plants arranged in their perfect little
patterns. As I continued to walk, I came across some tea plantation employees who were hard at work. I continued to walk and look.
And look and walk. Eventually I stumbled upon the Tea Museum. I decided to go in and give it a look. I read up a bit on the history of
the tea industry in Munnar. One thing that I thought was interesting was that they developed their own currency up here. This would
ensure that employees did not bail after getting paid. After the ‘informational’ part of the museum, I then moved on to how tea is made.
I saw the efforts of the tea workers (i.e. tea leaves) go into the machine and begin the process of being turned into tea. The leaves
started by getting cut up several times before being oxidized and then dried. And then…voila! Tea was made.
Later on I met up with Harriet, a girl from New Zealand that I met my first night here. She was a savior as the cold medicine that the
pharmacy gave me was not giving me any relief and it turned out that she had some Tylenol Sinus. She gave me some and I almost
instantly felt like my head decompressed. We ended up going to a restaurant that plops down a banana leaf when you sit down. It is on
this leaf that they serve your food. Kind of fun, huh? Though Harriet was leaving the next morning to catch a flight from Cochin, I am
hoping that I will get to see her while traveling through New Zealand early next year.
Yesterday I hired an auto-rickshaw to drive me out to see more of the mountain scenery. We would go about 35 kilometers away
(which is quite a bit for a little rickshaw). I wish there was some sort of warning that I sports-bra would be necessary for this ride. I
literally had my arm across my chest 75% of the time to hold everything in place.
When we got to our destination, time would prove to not be on my side as it started pouring within two minutes. Now I had to walk over
half of a kilometer uphill through wet dirt and puddles in my flip-flops. Add to the equation that I was soaking wet from head to toe...
And that I still had an over two-hour ride back to my hotel... And that the ride was in an open-air auto-rickshaw.
The rain subsided about halfway back – but this did not change the fact that my wet clothes were sticking to me. When I finally got
back, I could not get in the shower soon enough. A hot shower was all it took to erase the memories of just minutes earlier when I was
stuck in cold, damp clothes for over two hours. But when I went to empty out my bag, I realized that everything that was in there was
basically ruined…namely two things: the notepad of paper that I carry around (I know this does not sound like a big deal but paper is
not quite as abundant out here as it is at home) and my last travel roll of toilet paper (a really big deal as even my nice-and-clean-
hotels-with-televisions do not seem to provide this ‘luxury’).
This morning I have had to pack my stuff up and bid adieu to Munnar. It is now time for me to head to the bus station and make the
trip down to Cochin…