MUNNAR, 130km east of Kochi and 110km north (4hr 30min by bus) of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, is the centre of Kerala’s principal tea-growing region. A scruffy agglomeration of corrugated-iron-roofed cottages and tea factories, its centre on the valley floor fails to live up to its tourist-office billing as “hill station”, but there’s plenty to enthuse about in the surrounding mountains, whose lower slopes are carpeted with lush tea gardens and dotted with quaint old colonial bungalows. Above them, the grassy ridges and crags of the High Range – including peninsular India’s highest peak, Ana Mudi (2695m) – offer superlative trekking routes, many of which can be tackled in day-trips from the town.
It’s easy to see why the pioneering Scottish planters who developed this hidden valley in the 1870s and 1880s felt so at home here. At an altitude of around 1600m, Munnar enjoys a refreshing climate, with crisp mornings and sunny blue skies in the winter – though as with all of Kerala, torrential rains descend during the monsoons. Munnar’s greenery and cool air draw streams of well-heeled honeymooners and weekenders from south India’s cities. However, increasing numbers of foreign visitors are stopping for a few days too, enticed by the superbly scenic bus ride from Periyar, which takes you across the high ridges and lush tropical forests of the Cardamom Hills, or for the equally spectacular climb across the Ghats from Madurai.
Clustered around the confluence of three mountain streams, Munnar town is a typical hill bazaar of haphazard buildings and congested market streets, which you’ll probably want to escape at the first opportunity.