India // Kerala //

Around Munnar

Several of the summits towering above the town may be reached on day-treks through the tea gardens. A good first stop for information is the Green View guesthouse, on the south side of town, whose owner, Deepak (t 04865/230940, w, heads a team of enthusiastic young guides. Rates range from Rs400–500 per person for soft treks to Rs500–800 for longer, more challenging outings, transport to and from the trailheads included. The Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC; w also runs guided treks around Munnar, ranging from the one-day walk (8am–5pm; Rs300) to longer routes involving nights under canvas (Rs1000–3000/head, including meals and camping). You should also budget for travel to and from the trailhead, which can also be arranged through KFDC. These walks are extremely popular and sell out quickly, so book as far in advance as possible through KFDC’s office in Munnar (t 04865/230332).

One of the most popular excursions from Munnar is the 34-kilometre climb through some of the Subcontinent’s highest tea estates to TOP STATION, a tiny hamlet on the Kerala–Tamil Nadu border which, at 1600m, is the highest point on the interstate road. The settlement takes its name from the old aerial ropeway that used to connect it with the valley floor, the ruins of which can still be seen in places. Apart from the marvellous views over the Tamil plains, Top Station is renowned for the very rare Neelakurunji plant (Strobilatanthes), which grows on the mountainsides but only flowers once every twelve years, when huge crowds climb up to admire the cascades of violet blossom spilling down the slopes (the next flowering is due in Oct/Nov 2018). You can get here by bus from Munnar (10 daily from 5.30am; 1hr 30min), and Jeep-taxis do the return trip for Rs900. Views are best before the mist builds at 9am.

Wildlife sanctuaries

Encompassing 100 square kilometres of moist evergreen forest and grassy hilltops in the Western Ghats, the Eravikulam National Park (daily 7am–6pm; Rs200 [Rs40]; w, 13km northeast of Munnar, is the last stronghold of one of the world’s rarest mountain goats, the Nilgiri tahr. Its innate friendliness made the tahr pathetically easy prey during the hunting frenzy of the colonial era. Today, however, numbers are healthy, and the animals have regained their tameness, largely thanks to the efforts of the American biologist Clifford Rice, who studied them here in the early 1980s. Unable to get close enough to observe the creatures properly, Rice followed the advice of locals and attracted them using salt, and soon entire herds were congregating around his camp. The tahrs’ salt addiction also explains why so many hang around the park gates at Vaguvarai, where visitors – despite advice from rangers – slip them salty snacks.

Although it borders Eravikulam, the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary (daily 6am–7pm; Rs100 [Rs10]; w is far less visited, not least because its entrance lies a two-hour drive from Munnar along 58km of winding mountain roads. The reserve, in the rain shadow of the High Range and thus much drier than its neighbour, is one of the best spots in the state for birdwatching, with 225 species recorded to date.