Munnar, Kerala, India— “God’s Own Country”
I’ve just arrived back in Mumbai after visiting the beautiful southern state of Kerala in India. Kerala is known as “God’s Own Country,” and after the few days I was able to spend there, I would certainly agree with that statement. In this post I want to reflect on the town of Munnar, the culture, and why I think it’s a don’t miss if you’re visiting India.
The Natural Beauty
Half of the “fun” in getting to Munnar is the drive. I say “fun” because my poor motion sick prone stomach was put to the test on the twisty roads and crazy stick shift driving. We did make two incredible stops along our route to Munnar proper, the first being to a spice garden and an elephant ride. Besides the beautiful tea plantations, Munnar is known for its spices and ayurvedic medicines. We toured a small spice garden where a gentleman explained to us what each spice did in the ayurvedic medicinal sense. I’ll be honest with you, I was super skeptical when he made statements such as “if you take this extract at 30mLs for 90 days and you won’t need your glasses ever again,” but this more natural and holistic healing is prevalent throughout India. Most folks prefer natural remedies first over medications. Personal pro-tip to this point, if you’re having loose motions, drink lime juice instead of taking anti-diarrhea medicines first.
After my skeptical trip through the spice garden, I was more than a little nervous when I had to get in someone’s car to go to another location for our elephant ride. There’s a lot of trusting people that you don’t really know involved in traveling throughout India—namely getting in cars on steep mountain roads and praying you don’t fall off the ledge. Anyways, the elephant ride was a wonderful start to my trip to Munnar. It was short and sweet, just a walk down a hill, blessings from the river (also known as Rachel getting SOAKED), and back up the hill. But we got to feed the elephant some bananas and she made the most adorable slurping noise while eating. The animal activist in me did have a really hard time with the elephant ride thing, especially since I could see a chain around her ankle, so I’m still trying to rationalize it. But in comparison to another place where our driver wanted to take us with literally hundreds of people lined up for rides, I felt like this elephant was getting better treatment.
The second incredible stop we made was to a few waterfalls. It’s monsoon season here in India which means it rains pretty frequently, so it’s a perfect time to see the waterfalls in their full glory. These did not disappoint and neither did the one in Alleppey! The natural beauty of Munnar is breathtaking, and got even better once we got to the town proper.
Sitting in the Western Ghats mountain range, Munnar is full of lush greenery and picturesque tea plantations. We were able to tour a working tea factory in which the full process of making tea occurred—from the drying all the way to packing. The factory was a mostly automated facility, which our tour guide made a big point of saying, so that leads me to believe there are probably less automated factories still in existence. Picking of tea leaves is all done by hand, and it seemed at every turn through the countryside we could see folks dotting the hillside picking tea leaves during the day. We also, much to the dismay of one man, found a place to actually climb up into the tea fields for a pretty sweet view. And please, for the love of God, drink all the different types of tea you can find in Munnar. I thought I liked tea back in the States, but it has nothing on the tea in Munnar.
My boyfriend Emmanuel’s dad is from Kerala and as we were sitting waiting for the cultural dance to start, Emmanuel made a point of telling me that his mother used to threaten him that the Kathakalis would come if he didn’t eat all his food at dinner. So just let whatever image your mind created sit for a minute because Kathakalis still scare my 28 year old boyfriend. Kathakali is a classical Indian dance native to Kerala involving elaborate costumes, makeup, and mastery of specific hand and facial expressions. We saw Kathakali performed at a cultural center in the middle of Munnar. While learning the practice is dying out, this art form is of great pride to the people of Kerala, and definitely something you should not miss if you visit!
My final, and perhaps favorite, cultural aspect of Munnar was the way people eat food. In most of India, people use various types of bread—naan, dosa, and the like—to scoop their food. In Kerala, however, the accepted way to eat your food is to mash everything together into little balls and pop those into your mouth. This technique takes a lot of skill because ideally if you do it correctly you only use one hand to eat and your gravy and rice doesn’t go below the halfway mark on your fingers. Trying to learn how to eat in this most culturally accepted way is not only fun because who doesn’t like to eat with their hands sometimes, but also a great way to show the folks you are around how sensitive you are to their culture. I know it meant a lot to my boyfriend that I tried to eat the proper Kerala way and the look on his aunt’s face was priceless too.
If you’re looking for a town with lush green settings, wildlife a plenty (including a national park dedicated to the nilgiri tahr), unique culture, and killer food, look no further than Munnar in Kerala, India. It is a world unlike any other, especially if you’re coming from a city like Mumbai! I could’ve stayed in Munnar for a week and not gotten bored of the food or the view and the more relaxed lifestyle.
Have you been to Kerala or southern India? What’s your favorite destination there? I plan to be back soon!
In my own world,