NATURAL BEAUTY IN MUNNAR 11/27/12 - 11/30/12
The approach to Munnar was simply magnificent. The landscape slowly became more lush and mountainous as we made our way through the countryside . My first glimpse of a tea plantation took my breath away. We turned around a corner in the road and suddenly the hillside ahead of us was covered with one uniform color and a smooth uniform surface. The color of the living tea plants was the richest, most lovely hue of green, and it shimmered as we turned and the angle of the light changed. Soon this became the dominant material of the landscape. The hotel turned out to be a beautiful group of cottages nestled in this sea of natural beauty. Later that day I got the most shocking illustration of just how much the American dollar is worth here. I was served an all-you-can-eat meal with rice, curries, and different other condiments and deserts for 100 INR, the US equivalent of $1.80. It was served on a banana leaf and I tried to eat it Indian style with my hand, but just felt uncomfortable doing it.
I woke up early to climb up on top of a boulder and watch the sun rise over the mountains. We left the hotel, embarking on one of the most beautiful drives of my life. As we wound our way through the undulating landscape, every view after turning a corner was more beautiful than the last. I sat in constant awe throughout the drive. One particularly special moment came when we drove to the top of a tall ridge and passed through a tunnel of branches from trees that reached over the road from either side. We were coming from an area with clear air, but after we passed through the trees, we found ourselves in a totally different climate, as we looked out onto a hazy landscape with many layers of green and gray mountains in the distance. We had a great culturally fascinating experience seeing Joe’s old school in Kuttikanam. When we arrived in the courtyard, all the kids flocked to us like we were movie stars from the US. The principal, a nice old nun, gave us a tour of the school, which gave me an idea of what Indian schools are like. I was surprised by how advanced the technology was. They had lots of computers and even a smart board. All the kids we saw smiled and waved at us, and Joe was as happy and giddy as a little kid as he pointed out things he remembered from his childhood. Later we found the abandoned winter palace of an old king that Joe had once heard about. A homeless man who was squatting in the palace invited us in and showed us around. Joe spoke to him in Malayalam and translated for us. Even in its decaying state, it was an impressive building, with a beautiful central courtyard overgrown with natural plants and the man’s clothes drying in the sun. I wish I could have spent the whole day there exploring the grounds, but we had to leave, so we exchanged some “namaste’s” with the friendly man, gave him some money for his kindness, and we were on our way to see more of Joe’s family.