Munnar, the famed hill station of south India, is a romantic locale where natural beauty is everywhere to visit, explore and to enjoy. Munnar is situated at the confluence of three mountain streams – Muthirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala – and the word ‘Munnar’ means three rivers in Malayalam. Situated about 1600m above sea level, the hill station had been the summer resort of the British Government during the colonial era. Imprints of the colonial past stand tall in the Munnar town in the form of English country cottages. Virgin forests, savannah, rolling hills, scenic valleys, numerous streams, huge splashy waterfalls, sprawling tea plantations and winding walkways are all part of the great holiday experience on offer for a traveler to Munnar. Munnar is also known for Neelakurinji, a rare plant which flowers only once in twelve years. The ‘kurinji season’ in Munnar is a magnificent sight when the hills and valleys get bathed in the blue of the Neelakurinji blooms.
Its five past five in the morning. Atop a scenic hill in Munnar, surrounded by wild blooms in the brilliant shades of yellow and blue, a young couple is awaiting the sight of a lifetime. In the gentle silence a cool breeze came tousling their hairs and a little bird lazily flew out of the nearby woods to the swirling clouds… and finally…the magical moments arrived.Out in the horizon, the sun peeped through the clouds slowly revealing a vast landscape radiating in the golden rays. Everything around them, the mist-clad hills, valleys and the woods are enlivening up… the couple savors an amazing sight of nature at its very best mood. Every year thousands of travellers from around the world reach Munnar, the famed South Indian hill station, to enjoy their holidays in a magnificence called nature. Right from a glorious sunrise, holidaying is a refreshing experience in Munnar which would live in their memories for ever.
Munnar is part of the Idukki district in Kerala. The Munnar region is situated at an altitude of 1500 – 2500 m above sea level where the average rainfall is 275 cm. Anamudi, the highest peak in South India, with a height of 2,695 m is the pride of Munnar. Reaching MunnarThe State of Kerala, which boasts of three international airports, has good road and rail connections. The nearest airport to Munnar is the Cochin International Airport at a distance of around 119 km. International travellers, directly heading to Munnar, can prefer Ernakulam Town near to the Cochin International Airport as the starting point for their journey to Munnar. The nearest railhead is Ernakulam Junction, about 120 km away. Public transport services are available to Munnar from almost all major bus stations in the State.
The early history of Munnar is not perfectly known today. The early inhabitants of the region are members of the Muthuvan tribal community. However, it remained a wild and unexplored landscape till the later half of 19th century when ambitious planters from as far as Europe started plantations here. Plantation eraMunnar came to be known to the outside world in the 1870s with the visit of the British Resident of the then Travancore kingdom John Daniel Munro. Munro, who visited the place as part of settling the border dispute between Travancore and the nearby state of Madras literally fell for the beauty of the region. Though the Munnar region fell under the jurisdiction of the Travancore kingdom, it was the jenmam land of Poonjar royal family. Since it was a ‘jenmam land’ the royal family enjoyed absolute powers over the land as the landlord.Munro had a great interest in plantation. Of the several hills in the region, he found the Kanan Devan hills with high potential for plantation crops. Without wasting any time Munro visited the Poonjar Palace and met the then head of the royal family, Rohini Thirunal Kerala Varma Valiya Raja, fondly called as Kela Varma Raja. The entrepreneur in Munro won the confidence of Kela Varma Raja and he agreed to lease out Kanan Devan hills to Munro for a handsome payment.Thus in 1877, Poonjattil Koickal Rohini Thirunal Kerala Varma Valiya Raja leased out the Kanan Devan hills comprising about 1,36,600 acres of land to John Daniel Munro for an annual lease rent of Rs. 3,000 and a security deposit of Rs. 5,000.Munro formed the North Travancore Land Planting & Agricultural Society in 1879. Members of the society started cultivation of crops, including coffee, cardamom, cinchona and sisal in various parts of the region. However these crops were later abandoned when tea was found to be the ideal crop for the region. A.W. Turnor was the first to start cultivation. Interestingly, it was not Munro or Turnor who started tea cultivation in Munnar. The credit goes to A.H. Sharp, a European planter, in 1880. Sharp planted tea in around 50 acres of land at Parvathy, which is now part of the Seven Mallay estate. In 1895, Finlay Muir & Company (James Finlay and Company Limited) entered the scene and bought 33 independent estates. The Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company was formed in 1897 to manage these estates. Planters get a setbackIn 1924, the plantations of Munnar suffered a major setback in the form a disastrous monsoon. Heavy landslides and flooding literally redrew the landscape in several places. There was a heavy loss of property and life. Though it was hard for them, the inhabitants managed to bring back life to a normal in a few months. Large-scale replanting was carried out in several estates. Entry of TatasIn 1964, the Tata Group entered into collaboration with Finlay which resulted in the formation of the Tata-Finlay Group. Tata Tea Ltd. was formed in 1983. In 2005, the Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company Pvt. Ltd. was formed and Tata Tea transferred the ownership of its plantations to the new company. Employees of Tata Tea hold stake in the company. Tourism, the new hope of MunnarIf plantation industry ‘discovered’ Munnar in the 19th century, it was re-discovered by the tourism industry in the later half of the 20th century. The hill station, situated about 1600 m above the sea level, began to be flocked by travellers from around the world. The town, which still retains its colonial charm, has a large number of hotels to greet travellers. Virgin forests, savannahs, rolling hills, scenic valleys, numerous streams, waterfalls, sprawling tea plantations and winding walkways are attracting thousands every year. Poonjar Royal FamilyThe history of Munnar is never complete without a mention of the Poonjar royal family. Over a long period of history, this royal family had the privilege to be the custodians of the virgin hills of Munnar. The history of Poonjar Royal Family begins in Tamil Nadu from where they had to flee following a ruthless struggle for power. Long ago, the Madurai kingdom was ruled by Manavikrama, a mighty king of the Pandyan dynasty. Besides a powerful kingdom, Madurai had the distinction of being a centre of arts. The Pandyan kings had great reverence to the goddess Madurai Meenakshi. The artful sanctum sanctorum of the temple is believed to have been built during the reign of the Pandyas.Once Madurai came under the attack of the nearby Chola dynasty and after a fierce battle, the Pandyas recaptured their kingdom. The recapturing of Madurai was celebrated with spectacular festivities. But in the night, when everyone was asleep after the celebrations, Viswanatah Naicken a general of the Pandyas who had sided with the Cholas, opened the fort gates for the enemy. The Chola army unleashed a ruthless attack slaying the sleeping soldiers. A minister safely took Manavikrama and his immediate family out of the fort through a long secret tunnel. The family had managed to take a good portion of their fortune in the form of jewellery, gems and gold. The tunnel led them to a forest area from where they reached Palghatusserry (the present day Palghat). There they lived for a brief period in the house of a Brahmin. But when he came to know that his guest was King Manavikrama, the Brahmin family feared the displeasure of the Cholas and asked them to leave the place. From there, Manavikrama moved to Vanneri, which is part of the present day Thrissur. There he built a residence and after sometime some of his former subjects came to visit him. They were the poligars of Theni, Uthamapalayam and Kumbam. Though they extended support to their dear king to win back Madurai, Manavikrama had scant interest. Though the poligars returned, they didn’t loose hope in a come back of the King. They built a palace at Mele Goodalloor in anticipation of a change of mind of their dear king. As time passed by Manavikrama was racked with a feeling of insecurity at Vanneri and during this time he was approached by the king of Elangallur (present day Edappally). Both the royal heads soon struck a chord of friendship which resulted in Elangallur king marrying the daughter of Manavikrama. The Elangallur king, as a token of his love, gifted the Ernakulam region in his principality to the queen. Unfortunately, Manavikrama who found great solace in getting an affluent relative didn’t live for long. After Manavikrama’s death, his eldest son Kulasekhara took charge of family affairs. The prince was an ambitious gentleman who wanted to regain the glory of his family. He made arrangements to move to the Goodalloor palace and regroup the loyal Poligars.Fate was more generous than the young prince had thought. He came to know that the kingdom of Poonjar was for sale following the death of its chieftain. Poonjar lay opposite to the Goodalloor hill ranges and it was quite natural for the prince to have interest in the region. With the help of the fortune his family had brought from Madurai, the prince bought the Poonjar region from its custodians, the royal family of Thekkumkoor. Besides selling the land, Aditya Varma, the Thekumkoor King, installed Kulasekhara as the king of Poonjar. Kulasekhara was an ardent devotee of the goddess of Madurai Meenakshi temple and the first thing he did was to build a temple for the goddess on the banks of Meenachil river which flowed through Poonjar. A grand palace and fort was also built soon. It is said that the idol installed at the temple was the original idol of Madurai Meenakshi temple, which King Manavikrama had brought with him. The Pandya kings were generous rulers and had high regard for their subjects. Though their original title was Perumal, they adopted the title Raja for male members and Thampuratty for female members.
Munnar and Idukki, the district to which it belongs, grow a variety of spices. Kumily a plantation town near the famed Thekkady Wildlife Sanctuary is recommended for those who wish to buy farm-fresh spices. One can also visit the cardamom auction centre, where traders from different Indian states arrive to buy the ‘queen of spices’ in her exotic best.
The Tata Tea Museum in the Nallathanni Estate tells the eventful story of Munnar; its transformation from an uninhabited stretch of forest land to a plantation town. The highlights of the museum include old machineries used for tea processing, photographs and some other curious displays that throw light on the efforts of some adventurous planters who dared to conquer the wild with minimal equipment and little resource. Rotorvane, an old tea roller used in the CTC type tea processing, would be a wonder for even those associated with modern tea industry. There is a CTC tea manufacturing unit in the museum where visitors can get to now the old method of tea processing. However, the real treat here would be the tea tasting unit where one can savour a variety of flavours. And if you think that the displays are confined to just tea-making, you’re wrong. Like the ‘Pelton Wheel’, used at a power generation plant set up at the Kanniamallay Estate in 1920s, a variety of exhibits show the infrastructure development activities which have happened in Munnar in its journey towards becoming a major tea producing centre in the country.Another proud display of the museum is a large sundial made in 1913. Placed on a granite block, the sundial was made by Art Industrial School, Nazareth, Tamil Nadu. There is also a section featuring classic furniture belonging to colonial bungalows. The exhibits include wooden chairs, tables, decorative displays, magneto phone, iron ovens and a wooden bath tub. Office furniture of tea estates like typewriters, manual calculators and an EPABX dating from 1909 are also exhibited.A burial urn discovered from the Periakanal tea estate in Munnar is also displayed at the museum. The urn dates back to second century BC.The museum is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. on all days. Travellers are advised to contact the museum authorities prior to the visit.Contact address:Tata Tea MuseumNallathanni EstateMunnar, Idukki District
Behind the sprawling tea plantations of Munnar, lies an eventful story of some ambitious planters and the victory of their determination over challenges and adversities. There were ups and downs in the story and it wasn’t short of real downers. The Kundala Valley Railway, set up by the Kannan Devan Company for the transportation of tea, is one of them which was devastated in a deluge in 1924. Though stories of reconstruction are not rare in this hill country, this monorail goods carriage line was never rebuilt. Munnar is one of the first places to have a railway line in the country. Ironically, the hill station and the Idukki the district to which it belongs do not have rail connection even today. Travellers to Munnar can even today see its scattered remains. The building that acted as the main railway station is today the regional office of Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Company Private Limited (KDHP) (formerly Tata Tea). The beginningBy 1920s Tata Tea became a solely tea producing company with around 16 fully equipped factories. A major chunk of the produce was exported to UK via the Tuticorin port in the nearby State of Tamil Nadu. Quicker modes of transportation became inevitable and Mr. W. Mime, the then general manager of the company, set up a mono rail cart road connecting Munnar and Mattupetty with Top Station. Five-hundred bullocks were brought to the hill station and a veterinary surgeon and two assistants from England were assigned with the task of attending to the animals. The goods carriage consisted of a simple platform running on a small wheel over the rail and a larger one pulled by bullocks. From Top Station, where the mono rail ends, tea was carried on ropeway to Kottagudi, which is also called the Bottom Station. From Bottom Station it was transported to the lower country and then to Tuticorin. The containers used for packing were ‘Imperial Chests’ imported from the UK. In 1908, the monorail gave way to a light railway. Starting from the Munnar station, the service had two stations en route, at Mattupetty and Palaar, before ending the journey at Top Station. In 1924, Munnar was hit by the worst flooding ever seen in the area. Besides causing extensive damages to plantations, roads and dwellings, the rains and the flood washed away the lifeline of Tata Tea, the Kundala Railway. The rail was virtually washed away in most parts making reconstruction unthinkable. Soon afterwards Tata Tea opted for ropeways for the transportation between Munnar and Top Station. The remains of the railway and the ropeway still exist on the Kundala - Top Station route. Interested travellers can go on a trail into a significant past of Munnar which chugged out into oblivion. First among them is the main railway station building, which now serves as the regional office of Tata Tea. The platform in front of the building has been converted as a road. And you could have some unexpected sightings of the old rails like the one used as a support beam on the main gate.Next on the trail is the Aluminum Bridge near the Munnar town. The bridge, originally set up for the railway track, has been converted as a road. However, one can spot its similarity to a railway bridge at the very first sight. The Tea Museum in the Nallathanni Estate also has a memorabilia of the Kundala Railway. Displayed here is a rail engine wheel of the first and only railway in Munnar. The ropeway station in Munnar, which was once a hub of activities, is today a quaint location. The building here which was the starting point of the ropeway is today the store of Tata Tea.At Top Station, about 40 km away from Munnar town, the end point of the Kundala railway line, travellers can see the remains of the old railway station and the ropeway in the form of wheels, tracks, signboard etc.
The High Range Club, an elite planters’ club set in e one of the scenic locales of Munnar, is a careful preserve of the classical atmosphere of early 1900s. Started in 1905, the club admits only corporate planters of Munnar as members, but offers accommodation facility for travellers to Munnar. Guests to the club can try their hands on a well-maintained 9-hole golf course. Golf gear is provided by the club. Excellent facilities for billiards, tennis, squash and table tennis are also available at the club. Besides a cards room, the club also runs a well-equipped modern gymnasium. There is also a children’s park on the 6-acre campus. The club also maintains a library with a decent collection of fiction and periodicals. A classic dining experience evolved during the colonial era is another highlight of the club. Travellers can savour a variety of dishes in a classic ambience enhanced by period furniture.It was in 1934 that the club first gave membership to a person of Indian origin. The prestigious member was none other than the Dewan of Travancore. Diwali and Independence Day were celebrated at the club for the first time in 1972. Amenities for travellersThe club offers classic accommodation experience for travellers. Besides four deluxe cottages, there are five cozy period double rooms in the main building for offering a colonial ambience and modern comforts. The main lounge of the club is ideal for get-togethers and business meetings. Homely food is provided to the guests and there is also a cozy dining hall which would be perfect for dinner parties. Food, according to the dietary requirements of the guests, is also provided. The club has a strict dress code in its premises. Travellers are advised to contact the club authorities well in advance to know them. HistoryIn 1905, a group of planters formed a club named Gymkhana Club with the help of a loan from Tata Tea. The club had a modest beginning with a small pavilion set up on the grounds which today is a golf course. In 1909, the work of the club was started which was completed in a year. Formed as a residential club, the club was electrified and earned a telephone connection in 1916, which were luxuries at that time. In the floods of 1924, the golf course, grounds and tennis court of the club were destroyed. Deluge again played havoc with the club in 1952 when it lost a well-maintained library. Contact details:The Executive SecretaryHigh Range ClubMunnar, Kerala - 685612 Phone: + 91 4865 230253, 230724Website: www.highrangeclubmunnar.comEmail firstname.lastname@example.org