16 October 2013

Kumily/Thekkady to Munnar, India (24/25)

A torture chamber would most probably be a better option than the road to Munnar. Twists and turns, nausea inducing bends, never a straight line, it must be the worst road I have ever experienced - like a slippery, slithering snake it winds it's way through the forest - deadly in it's poison of perpetual motion sickness. Although the journey was only 140 km, I wished for a helicopter to airlift me up and away from this horrid feeling - bend after bend, U bend after U bend - it just goes on and on. Whoever built this road should be exhumed and submitted to excruciating terror for at least a month, if not more. The forest is green, the wild flowers sacred bells of beauty, the drivers manic, the curves never-ending and the villages along the way busy as in all of India.
Help me and get me out of here!
We passed many cardamom plantations where they have electric fences to keep out the wild elephants. There are also tree houses which they use to spot an approaching elephant - the guards then make loud noises in the hopes of chasing them away from the plantation. Unfortunately, we did not see any elephants on the road - this would at least have taken my mind off my motion sickness (despite 2 Sturgaron) The buses hurtle around the bends as if there is no tomorrow and we saw one that honestly looked like it was going to turn over at the next bend. Going very fast, basically on 2 wheels around every corner, it can only be called a "vomit factory on wheels"  One supposes that the locals are used to this crazy driving and don't get sick?
Tea Plantations, Munnar, Kerala, India
As we neared Munnar, the tea plantations started. The tea plant is actually a tree but is kept at very low height as they pick the new leaves very often. With roots firmly anchored into the soil, they are difficult even for elephants to pull out. Beautifully ordered in neat rows, they make interesting patterns on the hills. Every square inch is planted, some on very steep slopes. Very pretty and scenic and it makes it interesting for me, being such a total teapot!

There is a very narrow stretch of road where a van crashed into the wall and brought all the traffic to a standstill. We got out to see what the problem was and everybody wanted a photo with us as "whites" from South Africa. Lovely friendly people and honest. The driver left the car unlocked which naturally freaked me out but nobody interfered with anything even though our lap top bag and luggage was in full view. Amazing - in South Africa, the luggage would have vanished in a second, never to be seen again.
President Zuma, get your people to learn about honesty and integrity in order to make our country great. PLEASE?????
The impromptu shoot was good fun although I shudder to think what I looked like, all windblown and nauseous. Indian women are so pretty with their long black hair and the men are always game for a photo! Eventually, the traffic was cleared and we drove on.
Today is Buddha Holiday so the traffic is apparently much worse than normal as everybody wants to be out enjoying themselves. When we arrived in Munnar, it was crazy, traffic, traffic and more traffic. In a small place, this becomes even worse then Mumbai! The tuk-tuk's were all decorated with palm leaves and flowers, people everywhere enjoying their day off.
Our first touristy stop for the day was the Kannan Devon Tea Museum. Again, hundreds of Indians enjoying their own heritage and culture which is wonderful to see. We saw a 30 minute video on the history of Munnar and the start of the tea plantations. Amazing how the early pioneers discovered all these areas on horse-back to start up these tea plantations. There are many tea factories in Munnar but only one is open to the public. Tata joined forces with the British company, Finley but eventually the British sold out to Tata. Today the workers own most of this particular tea estate.
Tata, of course, has fingers in  many pies such a motor industry, tea plantations and numerous others. Being one of the 20 most richest men in the world is a substantial achievement!
Our hotel is way out of town so we had to brave the huge crowds in town again to get out. The traffic coming into town was still unbelievable, huge snake-like queues even though it was now late afternoon. The drive on muddy, pot-holed roads took us about 10 km's out of town up into the hills. We passed Blackberry Hills along the way, where we had asked to stay. Unfortunately, Munnar is very full and we have landed at a really crap hotel called Deshadan Mountain Resort.

Having booked and paid for 4* hotels, we are currently spitting blood!!!! The views are great but when you have no mattress protector, flat sheet, one chair for 2 people, no wi-fi, a dead bug on the wall, no decent lighting (how are we going to read?) a toilet that is so low down, I nearly fall flat on my face every time I venture to sit down,  the toilet cistern has a crack so every flush brings more water onto the floor, the shower curtain is hanging half on, half off so it's all a bit much. As they say, it's a long way to Tipperary, it's a long way to go - downhill and the bathroom smells!!!!! Yuck! 
Our driver, Aneesh, has phoned the tour operator who is "going to try his best" to move us. Sorry, NOT good enough. Why did he not inform us before we left that he had a problem getting a 4* hotel??? Not impressed!
Supper is buffet - fair do's it all looked pretty decent until a mother came in with a crying kid. Crying, crying, crying and she did nothing. Next thing, we have vomit all over the restaurant floor where we are sitting. Now if that's not enough to put one off one's food, then I don't know what is. So starving, we left the restaurant and  asked for our tea/coffee to be brought to the room. Luke warm tea was delivered just to add insult to injury. As they say, when one thing goes wrong, it all goes wrong and we are decidedly extremely fed-up with the Tour Desk at Panoramic Sea Resort for booking us into this crappy hotel without advising us of the shortage of accommodation in Munnar. Given the horrendous drive, to have to settle for this is just killing the great holiday that we have enjoyed so far.
Unless tomorrow brings really great sightseeing, I think Munnar is over-rated and not worth the hassle. Kumily/Tekkady - yes - a must see.
After a night of very little sleep as the sheet kept creeping up and exposing the mattress, we braved the breakfast!

As it only started at 8.00 hrs we had to wait. Enough said - let's move on and out.

Munnar lies at the confluence of 3 mountain streams and is situated 1600 m above sea level. This hill station was the summer resort of the British due to it's cooler climate and beautiful scenery. Rolling hills covered in tea plantations, natural forests and a very bustling town with hundreds of shops make for an interesting stay if one's agent had booked us into a decent hotel!
We checked out this morning so will have to cut out our sightseeing as we now have to get back to Alleppey. Most annoying, to say the least.
Our first stop was at a beautiful flower garden - loads of plants in pots or hanging baskets look very colourful. Most of the species are also found in South Africa. Entrance is IR 10 and it does not take very long to wander around. It is still a holiday in Kerala so everybody and their aunt are out in full force. Indians love to take photos of their family members in the places they visit so it is often stop and wait for the photo's to be taken. They don't just snap away, everything must be just right so sometimes this takes awhile. We do not mind as it's quite fun to watch this ritual.
Our excellent driver, Aneesh, stopped at a "honey tree" These are natural hives very high up. The honey must be harvested somehow as there are honey sellers on the road near this tree. Indians are very resourceful and will make a plan of some sort to earn a living. In Kerala, unemployment is very low as any unemployed persons can register with the authorities and a job will be found for them. There are many graduates doing work other than their field of expertise.
As Aneesh says, education is all about just that, education. It does not mean that one cannot branch out into another field and really enjoy the work.
Apparently, some very rich Indian families don't bother sending their kids to school as they have enough money not to have to work ever. Bad strategy and a very short-sighted vision. Money does not bring happiness and imagine not knowing anything about anything, just because you are wealthy?
With photo stops along the way, we headed towards Mattupetty. This is situated about 1700 m above sea level and is 13 km from Munnar. A large storage dam and lake are the main attractions. We decided to take a speed boat ride on the lake but what a long queue! The wait was very long and we had an elderly lady slightly ahead in the queue who kept coughing and then spitting. Huge blobs of spital - is that not totally gross??? Does she have TB  or something? In which case, don't come and infect everybody else, please.
Eventually our turn came for the ride. Life jackets are compulsory and mine was rather smelly! The ride was fast and fun although we did ask the driver not to do any rolling tricks! The roads are twisty enough without having a boat twist me around as well!
Next to Echo Point where it is alleged that one can hear your own echo. However, the road and entire area is jam-packed with stalls selling all sorts of goods.
Again, because of the Buddha holidays, the place is packed. Everybody is well behaved and walking around is no problem. Those souls who come to India to "find" themselves must have one hell of a task amongst thousands if Indians!
At Echo Point we turned around to to time constraints so we were unable to go to Top Station or Eravikulam National Park.
Traffic was basically 1st gear all the way back to Munnar as this holiday has brought out many large tour buses, the smaller Traveller buses, hundreds of cars but very few motor bikes. Indians love to get out and about as can be seen from the massive traffic jams. Honking horns around every corner are a must. I do remember my father hooting around every corner when we were driving over the mountain pass to Mossel Bay - strange that this memory has re-surfaced in India of all places! There is a move afoot to stop so much hooting and some buses and scooters now have stickers on them saying "Don't Hoot" The noise pollution is very high in India but I have my doubts if the honking will ever become a distant memory! Although the driving is crazy, the speed is low so there is usually room to pull over. Honking and driving here go hand in hand. If it keeps the roads safe, then so be it.
The road in Munnar and on the way to Alleppey was very bad. Being polite, I said to Aneesh that the roads were really bad. No he said, they are not bad, they are TERRIBLE! But it's all part if the Indian experience and even the traffic did not phase me - going slowly in India is par for the course as the roads are so twisty and turny. As I said before, slitthery, slippery, horrid snake!
There are some beautiful waterfalls in this area - there is no shortage of water in Kerala and one can see why.
The road was long...... and slow......with many towns along the way, selling their goods. Some towns have more modern shops, others are the normal, small stalls. We eventually got back to Alleppey at about 18.30 hrs. A long day for the driver and for us. Alleppey beach was packed, hundreds of cars and even more people, even though it was now dark. The holidays have certainly been enjoyed by all.
Panoramic Sea Resort welcomed us back with open arms, from the Manager, to the Reception Desk, to the waiters. It was like coming home with so many welcoming smiles.
A cold beer was a must and then to Dreamers for a light supper.
Thankfully, a decent bed tonight!

© Judelle Drake

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