Munnar – with its rolling countryside and spreading plantations, is best enjoyed by living in a homestay.
When the British planters clambered up the hills to the confluence of three streams running out of the Kannan Devan range carrying the first of the tea saplings, and in time, carpeting the favourable slopes with lush tracts of tea plantations, heralding the mushrooming of estate bungalows, little did they know. That, by the turn of the century, Munnar (literally, ‘three rivers’) would be rated one of the most popular hill stations of the Indian south. Apart from cups of tea—and showcasing the beverage’s fabled origin, recounted in a visit-worthy museum—this idyllic locale includes lush and rolling hillsides, langorous clouds, gurgling brooks and a nippy chill.
But the Munnar experience is incomplete without reliving the days of its old world charm—stacked sacks reminiscent of the spice trade, the influence of its colonial past on the charming real estate of today, although little remains, and the warmth of the Malayalis—when you happen to stay in one of the laid-back homestays. But don’t expect services and, with frequent power outages, be prepared for at least one candle-light evening. With impeccable hospitality, Royal Mist (Call 09495444123 email [email protected]) is a recommended option. The large terrace on the upper floor opens out into perhaps the best view, especially delightful for that morning cuppa. It is backed by three delightful rooms. A sumptuous breakfast comes with the room, but other meals are equally worth digging into. The host is always eager to lend his presence for a network of short walks around vanilla and pepper plants, imparting insights about the Munnar spice story. For women, there are always cooking lessons available from the hostess. And don’t call it a day without taking another short walk to see the mesmerizing sunset over the tea plantations.
If poor roads do not deter you, Rose Gardens, located about 14 km from Munnar proper, is another great stay option with large rooms amidst thick plantations and the aroma of spices. Opt for the rooms at the back on the upper fl oor and keep your budget a little flexible. This farmhouse-look homestay on the main Kochi Munnar highway sits in an idyllic two acres of plantation and here too the hosts are eager to share knowledge about home-grown species. Expect to be away from the idiot box. Instead, you might be exchanging travel tips with other guests.
Greenspaces prefers to call itself a homestead and it’s very high on character with wooden floors and ceilings and rustic in-betweens. The open deck outside the upper two rooms is a vantage point, where one can spend hours listening to the sorority of winged species. A pocket-friendly option, Greenspaces sits amid a swathe of lush natural cardamom deep in the woods. After sunset, the surroundings become pitch-dark and it is preferable to get in early from Munnar’s must-dos. You will be spoiled by the coal-fi red barbeque under the stars.
A couple of minutes’ uphill walk from town, easy on the pocket and with wi-fi for those who dare not live without it, Rheinberg homestay is another good choice. It overlooks the bustle of Munnar, yet is private enough, with flowers blooming in the small garden. The place has three spacious rooms, each named after a décor theme— Woody, Sky Blue and Bamboo. The caretaker can offer no more than tea and coffee but is more than willing to get food from restaurants around. Sarvana Bhawan, a popular South Indian eatery, is a short walk away.
By Air: Kochi (100 km) has the nearest airport. Taxis are available for Rs 2,500
By Rail: Angamaly (120 km) is the nearest railway station. Thrissur (132 km) has better connectivity with major metros across India. Taxis cost Rs 2,500
By Road: By road Munnar is approachable from Ernakulam (140 km). Taxis charge about Rs 3,000
Best Season: All year round, except June to August