I woke before the sun had passed the horizon and looked out the window from our hotel in Munnar, high in the Western Ghats. The dark green shadows of a stirring countryside lay before me, nestled under a downy haze and the pale pink precipice of a precocious morning sky.
We had only spent one night here, having originally intended to spend two, but events have interceded and we rose with the plan to return to Kochi today. Vinod, the driver, was up to the task, and had some destinations in mind.
So after breakfast we gathered our overnight bags and climbed into the van for the journey home.
India is the world’s second largest producer of tea, and this is tea country. This region is one of the many regions here growing and processing significant amounts of tea. If you look at the relevant Wikipedia page, in fact, many of the photos are from this part of the country.
It is this tea production that has heavily influenced the countryside here. We experienced that for the first time yesterday, when we stopped at the Tata tea museum and viewed a video that how the British first brought tea production to the area. This involved them building the first railroads and damming rivers to support the processing and distribution.
Vinod knows this area well, and all of the best spots to visit, both for their incredible views of the sweeping hillsides, awash with supple shades of green, ululating sensuously and irresistibly, and for the landmarks they contain.
Including the Madupetty Dam, where the reservoir was overloaded, and the gates were held open in gaudy fountains of spray and mist to release some of the excess accumulated water.
It was then that we stopped for tea the first time. Vinod has learned in just one day that Prema likes her tea breaks, and in all truth, so do I. I never pass on the opportunity for tea time (unless it is for something unique like yesterday’s coconut water). Here, just a short walk down from the dam, we sat in a small ramshackle shed taking our tea with a slice of breaded and fried plantain.
We continued on our way, circling the picturesque peaks, the tea plantations lining the roadways, their bands sometimes painted in predictable and parallel fashion, or alternatively carved as tremulous lines drawn on the landscape in the form of irregular, unpredictable pieces of a massive puzzle.
Vinod brought us to a functioning tea factory this time, where they demonstrated how tea leaves are brought in freshly cut, then dried, and processed into black, green, and white tea, the latter of which is made from the single smallest and most tender leaf of each branch from the bush. Prema and I, naturally, sampled the local tea.
Here I noticed Vinod enjoying some of the sweets as well – he seems to have a bit of a sweet tooth.
A long drive ahead of us, Vinod finally directed the van back down the mountain and toward Kochi. Well after lunch, and after the land had drawn flat, Vinod pulled the car to the side of the road one final time at a fry stand, where Roopa bought some freshly made tapioca chips.
And Prema and I enjoyed just one more cup of tea.