The state of Kerala is one of the most visited in India, and it is not surprising: it is green, cleaner than other areas and is of big interest for nature and beach lovers.
We leave Madurai by bus, where a young man seating next to us seems excited to have some foreigners present. His English is a bit limited, but we manage to communicate. He says that he comes from a poor family but thanks to some grant from the government of Tamil Nadu he has been able to study. He seems to greatly admire a woman in the state government, whose name we learn later is Jayalalithaa, also called Amma (mother). Her image is painted everywhere around the state in walls, pictured in signs, even in water bottles!
After reading a little about her, we learn that one of her political focuses has been empowering women and introducing as many of them as possible in state positions. It now makes sense why we saw so many female police guards around Tamil Nadu!
The temperatures are hot and Irene has her (very) Spanish fan at hand (red with white dots). When the bus stops for a break and we exit the bus to stretch our legs, a very poor young woman with her two small children look at Irene, with big smiles and curious about her. The boy timidly approaches and she plays giving him some air with the fan; he looks delighted and spend some time repeating the same game of coming back and forth, receiving some air, then “escaping” from it. It is incredible how people with so little can give back so much and make your day.
As Kerala is nearer, the air becomes fresher and the landscape greener. Suddenly, all houses along the way look more colorful and modern, and the first tea plantations appear, beautifully, all around us and extending for many kilometers. We are in Munnar!
Indian people drink lots of tea every day, so much that gigantic surfaces of land are needed to grow it. Although it is possible to walk among the plantations, this would require several days to gather an accurate impression of their extension. To explore the area we hire an autorickshaw for INR 700 that will take us around the entire day.
Our driver is very nice and was born here, so he is the perfect guide. As the tuc tuc climbs the hills, there are tons of different shades of green, water and many farms with workers (mostly women) plucking tea manually. Once they have harvested their leaves (about 30 kg), these are packed in bags and carried by foot to the factory.
The quality of the tea depends on how the leaves are, being the smallest and lightest in color, very young ones the best ones, and the darker and older, more at the bottom of the bush, of worse quality. When the tea bushes acquire certain height, they are trimmed so that they start growing back again. The tea grows all year long and, since it rains quite often in Munnar, only the rain pour is enough to maintain the plants. Additionally, there is a natural system used by which trees are planted around the tea plants, and their roots act like a water deposit that naturally and progressively distributes it to them. Don’t take my word for it, but if I understood correctly, to make 1 kg of tea 4 kg of leaves are needed.
The route includes other stops, including a tree where bees build honey panels (these are not collected by humans) and a small dam. In here, Irene places her foot on a hole and twists her ankle very clumsily, but we apply ice right away and after a couple of days it is as if nothing had happened.
Despite so many tourists all over Munnar and the “technical” stops without any interest to the non-souvenir-shoppers like us, the experience is nice in great part thanks to our driver’s kindness and to the green landscape.