If I were to pick one highlight from our travels through India, it would have to be hiking the lush tea plantations of Munnar in Kerala. There is something quite therapeutic about gazing over hill country where swirls of tea bushes create uniform patterns, almost as if stamping their own fingerprint on the landscape. At this altitude the temperature rarely exceeds 30 °C, the air is cool and perfect for hiking.
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An introduction to Munnar
Located in the southern state of Kerala, Munnar (pronounced ‘Moon-ar’) is south India’s largest tea growing region covering a whopping 215 sq miles. I’d recommend combining your trip with a visit to nearby Fort Kochi, filled with quaint shopping streets and colonial style hotels.
Getting to Munnar
Getting to Munnar isn’t the easiest for the budget conscious traveler as there are no trains and taxis are expensive. Local buses are the only option. Buses depart from the KSRTC Bus Stand in Ernakulam and will take approx. 5-6 hours. Ask your hotel to confirm the time for the government run AC bus, which will cost around 200 rupees (£2) – a bargain!
Where to stay in Munnar
A homestay is a good option if you’re looking for affordable accommodation in Munnar. Pick the right one and you’ll be rewarded with glorious views over the hills. Avoid staying in the town of Munnar itself as there is nothing pleasant about it, it is very much a commercial hub for locals. Be sure to consult a map of the area before booking to guarantee easy access to restaurants and shops, as many homestays are in the middle of nowhere.
You’ll need a car/tuktuk to visit many of the sites around Munnar as the attractions are spread among the hills. Tuktuks are plentiful and can be hired for as little as 1,500 Indian Rupees (£17) for an entire day of sightseeing.
Be sure to book a hiking guide
Much of the land in Munnar is private property and so avoid a hefty fine, be sure to book a government approved guide. We joined a full day 19km hike with Munnar Trekking Adventure (munnartrekkingadventure.com). It cost 1,200 Indian rupees (£13) per person including breakfast, lunch, water and snacks – not a bad deal!
Breakfast with 360° views – yes please!
We woke to a crisp fresh morning in the mountains. TIP: bring an extra layer of clothing for breezy tuktuk rides as temperatures drop overnight. After meeting our group, we trekked high into the surrounding tea plantations, passing through grasslands and forests. It was the most magical time of day as the sun rose over the hills causing the dew to evaporate from the tea leaves.
By mid morning we had landed on a rocky outcrop with 360° views, our spot for a super special breakfast. We tucked into a delicious Indian Sambar and Chapatti, freshly made by Sri’s wife.
After breakfast we passed plenty of spice farms as we descended into the neighbouring valley. Our guide Sri explained how cardamom, pepper, vanilla, chilies, cocoa beans and cloves were grown and harvested by local families. He was an incredibly knowledgeable guide having been employed by the region’s top hotels and guesthouses over the past 10+ years.
Trekking through the southern hills of India was an absolute dream compared to the chaotic north of the country. During the 9 hour trek we didn’t encounter a single tourist; alone in the wilderness at last.
Lunch was a welcome respite from the searing midday sun. Sri’s wife had cooked a delicious Biryani which has been delivered by tuktuk in the middle of what I would call nowhere – now that’s what I call service!