Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ernakulam and Munnar (India)

Catching the overnight train from Goa to Kerala, a state even further south, was pleasant. Richard booked us into first class sleeper, which meant our two berths were in an air-conditioned cabin with its own sink and wardrobe. Turn down service converted the cushiony bench seat for daytime into a less comfortable bed for night time (go figure). The private cabin was appreciated though since the journey to Ernakulam station was over 14 hours long.

When arranging for a transfer from Ernakulam to our hotel near Munnar, we thought the cost was extortionate. However, we realized it was fair enough when we finally arrived at our destination over 4 hours later. Reminiscent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, most of the drive up towards Munnar winds through beautiful hills (mountains, really) with scenic viewpoints and the occasional waterfall. Also like the Parkway, the person who is driving should actually not be taking in the gorgeous landscape, lest the car end up tumbling down the mountain... with the added bonus of local buses seeming determined to make that so.

The real draw of the Munnar hills (and Richard's first true love) is tea. Tea plantations blanket the steep hillsides interspersed with native trees and cultivated eucalyptus. The tea museum, besides also sharing the history of the region, housed working tea processing machinery. Richard, of course, was delighted with the free sample of masala chai with entry.

Outside the town proper, our hotel overlooked lush forest and cardamom plantings. The location made a relaxed and peaceful setting, but the isolation sometimes could also be a burden. We were at the mercy of taxi drivers and the hotel's restaurant, whose small (and mediocre) menu appeared to shrink even more the longer we stayed. On a positive note, the monsoon rains were very picturesque, especially when viewed from the coziness of our private, covered veranda with a pot of - you guessed it - masala chai!

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