A Week in God’s Own Country, Stop 2: Munnar

The driver arranged by my new Indian friend living in Moscow met us promptly at the train station in Cochin. We made directly for the mountains, after stopping for breakfast at the Royale County Hotel on the KRL Road in Tripunithura. The servers waited most attentively, and the South Indian-style buffet was quite satisfying; the coffee was the best we’d had yet.

Then on to Munnar, stopping first at the Kerela Farm described in A Week in God’s Own Country, Stop 1. I had read in a guide book that the primary reason to visit Munnar is the tea fields. Without my friend’s urging, I might have left it off the itinerary; I’m so glad I didn’t.

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The tea plantations are stunning, like driving through mile after mile of landscaped gardens. The carefully groomed hundred-year-old plants grow in tightly spaced rows, with tall eucalyptus trees at intervals like gangly adolescents, to provide shade. The sight of so much green, largely undefiled by litter and combined with the cool mountain air, was a balm to my spirits after the heat and bustle of Chennai.

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The Westwood Hotel had been a somewhat blind choice of lodging, based on its reasonable pricing, proximity to the city, and location beside the Muthirapuzha River. It turned out to be a good choice, with accommodating staff, Old-World-style wood interior …

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A sort of faux stairwell under a sky light, looking down from the fourth floor.

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Atrium painting on the fourth floor.

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a wide selection of good food …

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Sweet stuffed rice balls–kozhukatta (I think)

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Good ol’ American pancakes

a secluded garden …

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a touch of elegance …

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Decorative bath towel folding seems to be a feature of Indian hotels.

and a view off our balcony of not only the light of the town but two spreading hills covered with a tea plantation.

Westwood hotel from the rear (on left).

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View of town from our balcony.

Balconey view across the river

Balcony view across the river

We crossed the river and spent one morning exploring the tea fields.

Bridge from the Westwood (on the right)

Bridge from the Westwood (on the right)

In addition to the neatly groomed tea plants, we met with an array of plant and animal life including cows, butterflies, and a profusion of wildflowers.

These butterflies were congregated at the same spot on the path, both going and coming.

These butterflies were congregated at the same spot on the path, both going and coming.

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While we were walking a fog rolled in, and soon we were enveloped in a misty drizzle.

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A lot like Oregon, but warmer.

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Our walk took us up a hill to the Chokanad Tea Factory.

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According to an October 2010 article in one of India’s major newspapers, The Hindu, the Kenan Devan Hills Plantation (KDHP) company modernized the factory to produce the “premium” Chokanad Gold brand of tea in 2010. For more about KDHP, see the next post, on the Tea Musem.

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In addition to trekking excursions of various lengths (including a night safari) and ayurvedic massage, the Westwood offers coaching in at least a dozen different kinds of arts and crafts, all under the guidance of a Mathanlal, who is a definite asset to the establishment. He is responsible for the wall paintings in diverse styles adorning the fifth-floor community room. (See also the “God’s Own Country” painting above.)

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We engaged Mathan’s services after our tea garden expedition, little knowing that we would ultimately end up with two frame-able pieces of fabric art.

This was the second piece, a Kerala houseboat, which you’ll recognize in a later post.

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Mathan began by demonstrating paint mixing methods and painting the left half of the picture.

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He turned it over to Brianna for the right half of the scene.

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The co-artists, after Mathan blended the two halves and added some finishing touches. Note another of his murals in the background.

In addition to his artist talents, we appreciated visiting with Mathan. We learned a  great deal about his family, the tea plantations, and life in Kerala. Mathan’s parents are both tea planters, but his father recently wrote and published a non-fiction book for young people. Mathan and his brother do educational programs in villages for children.

We highly recommend the Westwood. It is both quiet and convenient, with an all-purpose store down the street, as well as a reasonably priced tourist shop for last-minute gifts. If you’re looking for a different kind of experience, though, there was a homestay just down the street from the Westwood. It stood side by side with two other houses featuring Christian motifs of some sort, ranging from Bible verses on their signage to the names on the gates:

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“Joy Villa”

“Emmanuel Cottage”

We stayed close to the hotel for the most part, but a visit to tea country didn’t seem complete without a stop at the Tea Museum. See the next post, A Week in God’s Country, Stop 3.

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