Tuesday, 26 July 2011
TEA TOTAL IN MUNNAR
So where were we? Oh yes scoring a lift from our Green View Homestay host across the Cardamon Mountains higher and higher up to the hill station of Munnar. Over 3 hours to get 102 clicks because the roads are in such appalling state of repair but the views, the valleys and mountains and jungle and waterfalls and amazing rivers and villages... it really was astoundingly beautiful. The driver was a quiet dude who didn;t utter a single word to us throughout (actually a nice change) the price was about 26quid which is awesome value.
Our Green View host had phoned his pal in Munnar before we left to score us a room at J & J Cottage Homestay (the guy there told us "No problem chose the style of room when you arrive price between 300 and 800 rupees) When we finally turned the corner and spied the old part of Munnar Town through torrential rain our hearts sank. We pulled up outside a tall thin pink house and clambered up some steep steps to a little glassed in area to wait for 40 mins whilst our room was being cleaned (Cleaned? In India? Yeah right!)
Turned out the only available room was the 800 rupee one right at the top of the building. It was bizarre, along a skinny corridor and all glass around it. The bedroom was draped with red/gold velour curtains around the glass walls and there was a weird sort of waiting room which was part of the deal, with cold floor and Indian rug, a sink and four office chairs!! Weird, cold and the rain lashing the window and flat roof! Grim! We went for a bit of a walk along the muddy street and found a multi-cuisine place (cooking for Jains, Veggies, Non Veggies, Halal etc) where we ate ridiculously good thali with about 6 dishes and a stack of naans and breads. Not an awful lot happening in the old town though and the weather was appalling. Simon decided to go and seek better accommodation whilst I shivered in the room.
Next thing I know we're zipping along (if 1 mile an hour over the moon's surface in a rickshaw can be called zipping!) towards a homestay out of town in the midst of tea plantations. In the torrential rain on crazy winding roads covered in water filled pot holes of indeterminate depth it was the most white knuckle ride I've ever been on at under two miles an hour. Not one to do without a good supportive brassiere I can tell you. As soon as we arrived I could Simon was already convinced that it was the place for us despite having not yet seen our room. The views and the location were second to none. Overlooking an enormous waterfall and across a valley and surrounding mountains covered in tea, forest and crags. We spent a cold shivery beer less night in J&Js (going to sleep about 7.30 from want of anything else to do)but happy in the knowledge that we would bale in the morning.
Next day we headed up to our new home. Once in there we realised the room had never been cleaned, the electrics where suspect and the place reeked of stale wet tobacco and drains. It was small and cramped and everything was damp. But Heh? We were in paradise so that was okay until we discovered that they didn't serve beer in their restaurant and the food was made with curry powder and microwaved and extortionate.
However we spent two and half great days walking round the tea plantations and talking to kids from little tea workers hamlets and taking photos which will no doubt be rubbish as it mainly rained and rained. It was a lot like wet days in Ambleside but around 5000 feet above sea level.
People are so lovely and friendly and are so keen to have their photo taken. To see people working in the emerald green plantations wearing bright colours and protection of coloured plastic over their heads and bare feet. I will always think about them whenever I have a brew in future. They are paid 120 rupees per day (about 1 pound 30!) The women have a truly appalling life. Up at 5am to start making the breads and the basis of supper, get the children up and to school, start work in plantations in all weathers at 8am and work until 6pm then home to house work, supper, washing, caring for the kids and this 6 days a week.
We also hopped a bus to see the bazaar and main area of the town. It was heaving down which made the adventure even more atmospheric really. All the rickshaws, buses and haulage trucks proclaim their various religious leanings with colourful paintings and stickers shouting out the names of Christian saints or Hindu deities. There are some quite amusing signs about like Infant Jesus Tyre Shop, Roshini Ladies Inner Wear, Lovedrops Hotel - Si has written some others down - there are loads of smirk worthy signs about. Had to laugh in spite of the rain when I saw a NO PARKING sign in town and right under it parked up an auto rickshaw bearing the windscreen sticker JESUS! It would have made a great postcard with a tag saying "Except for Himself!!"
We made the decision to bale early from Munnar because literally every item of clothing is soaked and cannot dry. Talking of dry we were also feeling a bit miz about the fact that we were stuck up in the hills with no decent food and no beer at all. The whole town seemed to be dry too. Pure luck had Simon spot a nice looking cafe where we ordered some great veg curries and as we sat down I noticed a sign outside saying "Brandy Shop" Simon duly left cafe and followed the clues that lead him to a Kerala State Beverage Control shop. This seems to be a big rip off where by the state says it needs to restrict the sale of alcohol to prevent drunkeness so it has 350 odd offices throughout the state where people can queue to buy whatever booze they can afford with the extortionate tax (we're talking 100% on spirits and 50% on beer) Anyway Our Man on a Booze mission returned to the cafe carrying a box with beers and a small plastic bottle of rather suspect looking rum. We then scored a bottle open and a load of crisps and Bombay mix and headed home for a rather enjoyable night in bed at 5pm with books and iPods and beers and snacks Haha! you can't keep a good boozer down Munnar!
It worked out that a taxi to Fort Cochin was about 22quid (no pound sign on the keyboard here hence all the quid words) Again a 4 hour drive down from the wet wet heights of tea to sea level, sunshine, backwaters, Chinese fishing nets, spice traders, Vasco de Gama and a chance to really make up for lack of booze and put Andrew's (THE WADDY ARMS) advice about ridding your beer of glycerine in to practice. More of that in next day or two as sitting in very hot internet place with the most dreadful Indian music ever playing in my ear- sounds like someone being garrotted!