We needed to go to Ernakulam, near Cochin, Kerala, to attend a Upanayanam (Sacred Thread Ceremony) for the son of a friend. We thought we would use a car and a driver, and return by way of Munnar and Kodaikanal, both places we wanted to see.
Here is a map of the route. all together the trip was 1170 km. This was five days of driving.
Before we started, our driver, Valen, did a short pooja for his car.
The first leg was easy, to Coimbatore. The roads were good, much of it was new highway (until about 40 km from Coimbatore). This leg of the trip was 327 KM, and took about 5:30 hours to drive (about what it said on Google Maps). Here is a picture, from Wikipedia Commons, of the new road between Salem and Coimbatore. Nice!
After an overnight stay in Coimbatore, we headed west towards Kerala. The route is through a low pass between Tamil Nadu and Kerala that surely has been a trade route for many centuries. We thought we would have an easy day. Google Maps showed 186 km, and less than 3 hours. It didn’t run out that way. Major highway construction is underway, upgrading NH 47 to a modern highway with two lanes in each direction. Be warned: This drive took twice as long due to construction delays. The construction will probably not be completed until 2015 or 2016.
Per Wikipedia, on traffic on this road:
The stretch between the Industrial city of Coimbatore and the Port city of Kochi is one of the busiest in the Indian Highway system. Most of the traffic in this stretch comprises trucks carrying consumer goods, construction materials, container lorries (bound for Kochi Port and Kochi International Container Transhipment Terminal) and passenger vehicles. During night, the highway experiences a huge volume of traffic. On an average, around 8,000 lorries use this highway to reach Coimbatore every night. … Fatal accidents frequently happen in this highway, mostly due to irresponsible bus drivers and over-speeding lorries colliding head on.
And it had been raining (common this time of year in Kerala), as you can see in the photo below.
Ahead is a truck, dumping a load of dirt.
The are making the roadway wider. Here they have to break through rock. Giant piles of rock line one side of the road.
Further along, a crew was hard at work, breaking rock.
In many places trees are being cut down. That is what always happens when you widen a road.
More machines at work on the road. I see many more machines in use here than in the project on the road to Tiruvannamalai. This is a different state, so maybe they do things differently in Kerala.
They must have already been working on this for some time. Here is a section where the road was widened some time ago. Now it waits for the laying of the roadbed. This area has so much rain, I hope they lay a roadbed with great drainage!
It rains while we drive.
The rain stopped and we kept on the drive, construction all around us.
We got to our destination about six hours after we left. We will have two days for this special ceremony, the Upanayanam (Sacred Thread Ceremony), for Advait, the son of our friend Ganesh. That post can be found here.
The next day after the Thread Ceremony, we left about 8 in the morning to head up the hills into Munnar. It was only 141 km, but Google Maps says that it will take four hours; the road is a small winding road through this Western Ghats. The actual travel time was an hour or so longer. It was very slow in the morning getting out of Ernakulam in the morning’s commute traffic.
Along the route there were waterfalls. Here is Richard, standing in front of one.
The road wound through the forested hills.
As we approached Munnar, we started to see tea gardens.
We were interested in Munnar, having heard of it as one of the most famous areas to visit in Kerala. It is famous for the tea estates growing high in the mountains, amidst the clouds that form from the winds from the Arabian Gulf. There are a number of fancy resorts in this area, and a range of activities, chief amongst which are tours of tea estates. Also worth visiting are many waterfalls, Rajamalai (Eravikulam) National Park, Kannan Devan Tea Museum, and Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. For the adventurous there are places like Fun Forest Adventure Park with things like high-rope courses and rock climbing, with special activities for the kids, too. I have heard of hang gliding here, too.
The famous mists of Munnar.
The city of Munnar is not at all a tourist town, rather it is a working town for the tea growing industry.
One feature of the town is a big mosque. There is also a Christian church and a Hindu temple.
The tea gardens are the main feature, though. There are three main varieties of the tea plant – China, Assam, and Cambodia. Assam tea is what is grown here. The Assam variety, a single-stem tree that when grown naturally grows from from 20 to 60 feet (6 to 18 meters) in height. Regular pruning, as is done in tea cultivation, keeps its height to a more manageable 3 to 5 feet tall. It has an economic life of 40 years with the regular pruning and plucking that the plant receives at a tea plantation. When grown at an altitude near that of Darjeeling or Munnar, it produces tea with fascinating flavors, that is highly sought after.
On the western side of Munnar, the tea plantations are planted with tall trees in them. Large rocks protrude above the tea plants here.
A new tea field, recently planted.
On the eastern side of Munnar are more large tea plantations.
Workers are in the field, plucking tea leaves.
Most workers are Tamil-speaking dalit (untouchable) migrants. In fact, migrant workers form the backbone of the tea plantation sector in the country. In good plantations, workers are paid the legal wage, and getting their statutory benefits. The wage though is 145 rupees per day. In US dollars, this is less than $2.50 per day.
One plantation, Kannan Devan, which was formed in 2005, these workers are second- and third-generation plantation workers, and see their futures linked with the plantations. They have their homes in the plantation housing colonies, and have benefitted from free medical care and primary education. However the situation is changing. Tata Tea created the Kannan Devan plantations as a worker-owned company, retaining just around 18 per cent of the shares. This action was symptomatic of the declining profits of the plantation sector in the country. There have been a number of plantations illegally abandoned by their owners. With tourism in the region came both opportunity of better wages and the necessity to earn more in the face of high inflation. Faced with financial crisis, many plantations cannot afford to provide adequate housing and healthcare benefits, and find it difficult to attract a workforce.
Women pluck newly grown leaves form the tops of the plants, to fill big bags, which they carry up and down the hills.
The tea plants are grown with spaces between them, and pruned to a low height so that each plant can be reached and the tea can be harvested.
The plantation extends about to the horizon.
Would you believe it, we did not stop and buy tea here! What dummies we are.
Lots of rain this time of year, so many waterfalls.
Now we are driving to Kodaikanal. This is another drive that is short in distance (140 km) but long in time, about 6 hours.
The misty mountains.
Finally we are approaching Kodaikanal, built at the tops of the hills. Houses climb up the side of the hills here.
Kodaikanal is the only hill station in India developed by the Americans. During 1821, Lieutenant B. S. Ward, a British surveyor, was the first European to visit Kodaikanal. He was on the lookout for a healthy place to live, for the foreign (mainly American) missionaries working in Madurai and the surrounding areas to escape from the summer heat and epidemics. Now, much of the local economy is based on the hospitality industry serving tourism.
The early visitors to Kodaikanal had to travel by horse, bullock cart or palanquin. In 1834, the Collector of Madurai climbed up from Devadanapatti and built a small bungalow at Kodaikanal. By the second half of the 19th century, churches and other colonial structures started popping up in and around Kodaikanal. Missionaries established church properties. Many of the ruling princes built summer holiday homes. Clubs, schools and hotels came up. Civic amenities were introduced. Kodaikanal developed slowly, but steadily. They also established the famous Kodaikanal International School, a renowned Indian International English Residential School, for children from their primary years through grade 12. This school was established in 1890 for the children of missionaries. Since then it has become a school that attracts both international as well as Indian students.
When I worked in the US, I had an Indian friend who was from Kodaikanal. His parents were teachers there. He said that he liked the San Francisco Bay area because it reminded him of Kodai; green hills surrounding a body of water. We had wanted to visit since we came to India, but this was our first opportunity to do so.
Kodai is popular with Indian tourists. Our Tamil friends told us that we should have a picnic when we were here. I never heard them talking about picnics before.
Though this is a famous tourist place, the city looks just like India. We had expected something different somehow.
In the center of the city is the famous lake. I like these benches, they give old people, like me, priority. Kodai Lika is a focal point of the city.
It is a very pretty lake.
It was man-made. The lake was created in 1863 by Sir Vere Hentry Levinge, who was the Collector of Madurai, retired and settled in Kodai. He constructed the bund to form a lake and stocked the lake with fish. He brought the first boat in from Tuticorin. In 1890, a boat club was formed and the members sailed in the boat.
The road around the lake is 5 km, and is a very popular walking route.
On the banks of the lake is a small Ganesh shrine.
It is well cared for, with fresh flowers and clothes for Ganesh every day.
There is still a boat house on the lake where you can rent rowboats and paddleboats.
Horses are also available for round-the-lake rides.
This is a typical view driving around the city; houses and apartment buildings on the side of a hill.
One famous attraction is Coaker’s Walk. This is a narrow pedestrian path, constructed by Lt. Coaker in 1872, a one-kilometer mountain path which runs along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai road, 1/2 km away from Kodai. The walk winding around Mt. Nebo provides a wide-angle spectacular view of the plains and other local landmarks (If you can see through the clouds).
We have started on the walk.
We can see through the mist to hills on the other side of a valley, but not past these hills because of the clouds.
Mount Perumalmalai rises above the hills in this photo.
We saw this colored board and stopped.
It was a shooting range, with pellet rifles.
We all took turns. Carol is a pretty good aim. She burst many colored balloons.
Woo Hoo, she exclaims, after another deadly shot.
Our driver, Valen, was pretty good as well.
Even I got into the act. I was shooting at the aluminum cans set on top of the target board. I hit some, too.
Here is our view of the plains, oops, the clouds. .
Stuffed animals for the kids. Really as props to photograph them.
Right next to the stuffed animals is a photo stand, complete with digital cameras and battery powered photo printers. So if you ask, they will take a snap and print it out on the spot.
We stopped for refreshment. I am holding up an RC (Royal Crown) Cola. I have not seen one of these since I left Oklahoma and Texas in 1952. But here was one in Kodaikanal. It makes me think that the missionaries here may have been from the south of the US (where this drink has been popular since about 1900).
As you find everywhere, there is a man with a cart serving fresh fruit.
Kodai Lake, from an overlooking hill.
Carol and Richard at the overlook for the Pillar Rocks. Today instead of seeing the magnificent 400 foot high Pillar rocks, we see clouds.
A sign telling us what we would have seen if the sky was clear.
Next to the Pillar Rock overlook, there is a a nice garden you can walk through.
In the overlook area is a slide.
Naturally Richard went down it. At the bottom is a puddle full of muddy water. Guess where he landed.
Now the next attraction is the Gunu Caves, previously called the Devil’s Kitchen.
We have to walk through the mist to get there, all very mysterious and spooky.
These caves are just fissures into the ground. There must be good caves below, because many bats fly out each evening. They are now closed to the public, after the deaths of 12 youths in 2001. The Guna Caves took their present name after it was turned into a romantic kidnapper’s lair for a Tamil movie, Guna. I heard yet another story about these caves, that some Guru went to these caves to die, and that because of this, for a long time people brought their dead children’s bodies here and left them in the cave. I have not seen this story in writing, so maybe it is just another Indian tale?
People climb up hills using the roots of trees, trying to get a better view.
On the road near the caves, many people were gathered, waiting for their buses. It was a holiday the day we visited, so there were many other people visiting all the sights.
The next view point was a monument for the building of the Coschen road
Here is the monument.
Carol and Valen stand by the wall, to see the grand view.
Here is our view today.
Monkeys abound here.
One monkey stole a bag of carrots from a visitor.
He carried it off, because too many other monkeys were around him where he was.
He found a place where he could sit and eat his carrots, uninterrupted.
Mother monkey and baby.
Vendors were set up on the approach to this spot.
One was selling bags of carrots.
We went into the town for lunch, at a place we saw that excited out American sensibilities, Domino’s Pizza.
Yum, it was good.
While eating we were joined by a young man from Finland who had been traveling in India for some months. He was staying a few miles from town, in some kind of camp with other young people. He talked of enjoyable evenings when he pulled out his guitar and the group would sing with him. Ah, the joys of youthful travel in India.
Kodaikanal is well known for two other things besides its sights and greenery – fruit and chocolate.
There are a number of stands as you enter or leave the town. Because of the altitude and climate they are able to grown many fruits and vegetables here that cannot be grown in other places in India.
These include pears, and whatever the red things are below. Does anyone know the name of the spikey red fruit?
They look good. Mango Truffles!
We bought some fruit. Not much, but more than 300 rupees’ worth. I think we got charged the Westerner price.
Kodaikanal, one last look on the way out of town.
We drove through winding tree-lined roads down the hills, out of town.
Mountains were all around us.
A big house in the hills.
Passing through a small settlement.
After about an hour of driving, we can start to see the flatland below.
The drive from Kodaikanal to Tiruvannamalai is 380 km, about 6 1/2 hours. Tonight we will sleep in our own bed.
The trip was good. There is so much to see in South India, and after the heat of the Tamil summer, it was so nice to be in the cool of the hills. It was a worthwhile trip.
Touring and Travel in India Our travels within India.