Friday, April 1, 2011
Munnar - From Forest Preserves to Dreamy Tea Plantations
I expected a restless night. My bus left at 9:30PM from a street right across Bangalore Medical College. But there was chaos everywhere in Kalashipallyam, this bus depot area some 40 minutes from Brigade Road in Bangalore. I didn't read about Kalashipallyam in my Lonely Planet. That makes me nervous. I have become too dependent to LP and wikitravel.
The turnover of long distance buses was brisk, but the thought of hopping into the wrong bus was. But the people from SRS Travels were nothing less than cuddling, I felt like a child with their constant reminders. I am quite sure it's because I look different from the rest.
SEATING WITH VODKA BESIDE
I had a window seat (number 15). My seatmate stank of vodka or gin. This was a non-AC bus; Volvo wasn't available, and even KSTDC admitted to not booking rides to this hill station called Munnar. I didn't mind the wind - "air bus" is how they call them in Tamil Nadu. By 10:30PM, a Telugu movie was shown. Plump and obese leads dancing with protruding bellies, posturing like they were God's gift to mankind. I don't understand this practice, but it's their tradition, so be it! I drowned myself with mp3 music. Didn't take long before I was awash with sleepiness.
The next few hours were characterized by stupor and a half-conscious state. Whatever was happening, wherever we were making lazy stops in the wee hours, I didn't care. The air got chilly and I noticed Mr. Vodka shut the sliding glass window beside me. This trip to Munnar was to ply through Pollachi which I have no idea of. By 6AM, my consciousness returned. We stopped in a place called Udomalpet, somewhere in Tamil Nadu. The terrain was craggy, and dry, and dusty, and people stared from outside my window. At some point, arrows pointed to Amaravathidam (5.5 km) - and Munnar (72 km). Long way to go, but we sure were getting there.
THROUGH THE WILD FOREST
But little did I realize that this little bus journey would get me to places that other people pay hundreds of rupees for - just to get here. After a slew of mountain ranges, gracefully sloping and rising alternately, we came to a checkpoint - the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. For crying out loud, we were traipsing through a real forest reserve where tigers roam wild and free! At some point, the bus driver's assistant started to announce something in Mallayalam (the local dialect). After 15 minutes or so, I had to approach someone and asked what the assistant said!
"He said that elephants are expected in the area so flash photography is prohibited!" my bus-mate said. I was energized with wonder! True enough, some wild grey elephants were seen grazing through a meadow filled with overgrown bush. This is how Indians commute - through adventure-filled cheap buses that commune with the wild!
Another hour later, we entered another checkpoint. A soldier came in to check the people inside my bus, then he hopped off and on we went. this was another forest resrve! Welcome to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary! I saw an elevated observation deck and some stags hopping through overgrown bush. I didn't realize this bus ride was going to be such a treat. My 750 rupee bus ride was worth all this trouble after all.
By 8:15AM, we reached Marayoor. Our bus stopped beside a hotel, fronting the market. The security guard in front of a hotel called TVJ Inn and Hotel (isn't it redundant?) motioned that we were to have breakfast. It would be 1 1/2 hours more before we finally reach Munnar! I was not only hungry, I was so thirsty! It was foolhardy not to take a bottle of water for fear of the incessant need to go to the toilet. But I am surviving so far! I scoured the make shift stalls across the hotel until the bus driver had to call me. I bought breaded bananas (10 rupees each). Lunch, apparently! It was time to go!
The next one hour or so was a spectacular ride into paradise!
RIDING INTO A DREAM
We snaked through winding, curving roads that rise to more than 5,500 feet above sea level, but as we neared Munnar, the scene turned into picturesque, seemingly water-color sceneries of verdant greens, low hanging wisps of clouds and manicured plantations that could otherwise be coming from a dream. I remember Malaysia's Cameron Highlands, but it was not this extensive. The Tea Estates stretched on kilometer after kilometer.
Lonely Planet referenced the "Sound of Music" in relation to Munnar's inspiring scenery. I initially thought it would be nothing less than an over rated statement. But this isn't really far from facts!
Most beautiful place on Earth? Pokhara Nepal? Vang Vieng Laos? Palawan Philippines? Munnar won't be far from such list. And the mild mannered people would complete the equation! It is an amazing place - as I would further discover later in the day!
All the jubilation and I haven't even started my day in Munnar yet! Welcome to beauty!
This is the Eye in the Sky!
This photo only courtesy of Flickr's jonbrew. Photo above is courtesy of pukkattupadyonline.webs.com.