An exotic flower that bloomed every 12 years didn't surprise me... Read the full story
Idukki has, by now, thoroughly won me over. The sheer mass of vegetation seems daunting, but its imposing presence captures your heart eventually. We are greeted by people clearing out a tree, who request us to be patient for a while since the previous day’s rainfall has led to some of the smaller trees blocking the way. They enquire and guess correctly that we are tourists, with the yellow number plates being no less of a giveaway, and tell us that beyond the hill lie small shacks with some of the finest pepper in the area. Many of the people on the Kumily route are led here, with word about the quality of pepper plantations here having spread over the years. Nedumkandam is our destination and its produce is remarkably cheap, with the planters and farmers being more interested in the quality of their produce. They talk about their dependency on the rain, the way the first buses got here, and now how they hope someone will pick up and care for these parts like their ancestors taught them. A single whiff of the raw pepper seeds here lets you know its distinct flavour, its natural tinge so beautifully different from the store-bought variety. It astounds me that it took me close to 3 decades to truly understand what ‘fresh’ means.
Shanthanpara is the last pit stop before we enter Munnar. The descent is steep, but here lay the marvels that very few get the opportunity to experience. Bird watchers from the North, barely in their mid-20s, show us spots where they camp once a year to catch sight of many endemic species, including the Nilgiri Pipit, Flycatcher, pigeons, quails and even the Short Toed Snake Eagle. They consider this village area to be a hidden jewel in Munnar, because few make the 2-hour journey above from the Queen of the Hills. Local meat dishes are a must have, primarily due to the spices and produce being taken straight from the forest itself. M has a friend here who offers us packed mutton for free. M beams with joy at our delight and promises more such treats on the way back. We’re greeted by herds of goats and cattle, idling in enclosures designed and kept ever since the first settlers got to this place.
And then she arrives. The journey is only beginning, but now I know we have reached the heart of Munnar. I see more cameras, more resorts, more travel options, more trekking deals and most importantly, more tourists. Honeymooners, vacationers, nature enthusiasts or people who just needed time off to ogle at this divine creation seemed to have assembled in tandem at this mesmerising locale in the hills. Some have come for the rumours, this audacious belief that there does exist a retreat in the hills, untouched by the ravages of what we call urbanisation. Here, the rulers haven’t changed. Here, we are still the guests.
Originally, as we settled down for the day, I was rather convinced that the journey to Munnar had better visuals than the actual place. Our late afternoon arrival had dimmed a majority of the visuals, and as we munched down dinner at our audaciously high altitude resort, I was once again worried about the actual viewing.
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