From Alleppey we took a bus back to Kochi to get another bus to Munnar. Munnar is a little village at 1450 meters surrounded by hills full of tea plantations reaching 2200 meters of height, and making the landscape beautiful and unique.
The bus ride to Munnar was kind of uncomfortable. As the bus speeded his way up the mountains, on narrow roads, full of curves and holes, we literally jumped off the seat every two seconds and the only way to cope with it was to hold on tightly to our seat and hope to land on the same place. Never again will we seat at the back of the bus, straight above the wheel, after this experience, but I was happy and grateful we made it in one piece.
When we got to Munnar I told a rickshaw driver that the road to get there was really bad and I asked him if there were many accidents. He said “no madam, no accidents. All experienced drivers”. Ok, so no reason to worry then! And also, the landscape is definitely worth the nightmare trip.
The day after, we went on a seven hour trek on the Kennan Devan hills, among the tea plantations, with our guide, Velu.
Velu comes from a family of tea pickers, but because hard work was not his cup of tea (excuse the pun), several years ago, he bought a rickshaw and become a rickshaw driver. In the past 3 years, as a way to round up his income, he started to do these treks for tourists, working in cooperation with JJ Cottages, the hotel where we stayed.
During our trek, Velu took us to the tea plantations. He knew all the workers and some of them were his relatives. He explained us that the tea is picked normally by hand or with scissors, but the best was to pick by hand, because the scissors sometimes compromise the integrity of the leaves and the flavour of the final product. The tea picked there is sold in all India and exported all over the world.
The tea pickers start to work in the plantations normally around their 20’s and work up to their 55’s. After that, they do some government work, such as road maintenance works or other public works that are supposed to benefit the local community.
He also explained us, that even though a salary of a tea picker is not very high, they have several benefits, such as free home, free hospitals and health care, and free crèche and school for their children.
Most of the tea pickers are women. It seems they are better at this hard work. Some men also work in the tea plantations, but they work less hours and most of them have other jobs – most are rickshaw drivers.
Looking at the steep mountains, I couldn’t help wondering how those women could walk and work up there. Velu said that they were all very experienced and used to those tasks, but because the job can be tough on their bodies nonetheless, they stop working around 55.
It was really interesting to do this trek with Velu as we managed to explore the mountains and go to places we would never venture on our own. Velu was a brilliant guide and explained us a lot about the life of the tea pickers and their families.
Once on top of the hills, we could enjoy an amazing view, and the cloudy, misty weather, instead of being a hindrance to our photography, it made our shots look more dramatic and atmospheric. Plus we really loved the idea of being up in the clouds at 2200 meters.
At the end of the trek we were happy, but also wrecked! We could barely feel our legs – we are not that fit yet and those long walks can be a bit challenging.
The day after, we asked Velu to take us around in his rickshaw and do some sightseeing – he took us to some waterfalls and a spice garden (which was not worth the money, by the way).
Before we left Munnar, we visited Velu’s village and met some really nice people. A young girl, Priyanka, and her mother Saraswathi, invited us into their home and offered us a chai and some cookies. Though we had to rush, because we had to catch a bus, we still had the chance to take a couple of shots inside their home, with their family.
Though I was looking forward to meet a familiar face and meet a friends family in Thrissur (our next destination) I was not really looking forward to get the bus and do again the same scary road downhill. Fortunately, after many jumps and scary curves, we made it with no problems and we are still alive… and blogging 🙂