An Abundance of Tea (#munnardiaries)

Our last day in Munnar was spent exploring the very essence (in a both figurative and literal sense) of what the popular hill-station stood for: tea.

I had spent the entirety of my stay surrounded and awed by the beautiful landscapes, my awe rocketing when I had come to the realisation that it was made up of tea plantations. It seemed like almost every turn around the corner sported a chaiwala or tiny stores selling varieties of tea leaves for excited tourists and locals alike.

I’ve been an avid consumer of tea since I was a kid. It started off with my obsession for Lipton in third grade, when afternoon snacks constituted of the famous Yellow Label bag and Rich Tea biscuits. I started exploring new flavors with ginger, cardamom and peppermint before settling on my constant go-to concoction of classic green tea now; healthy and soul nourishing.

But never had I stopped to question how the steaming cup of goodness actually came to be. Not until our last-day visit to the TATA Tea Museum at Munnar, that is.

The Tea Museum gave me a glimpse into just how much work goes into producing tea for us to happily consume. Machines of different kinds were spread out across the room, all serving their own purpose in the bigger process.

The first thing that greeted us in the room was a line of inter-connected machines with boards on each one reading ‘1st cut’ to ‘4th cut’. Raw, freshly picked tea leaves were put together into the first and we watched as the machines sifted, cut, and finely ground the leaves into tea dust at the end of the line.

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From start…

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…to finish.

But that wasn’t all.

Following the ‘cutting’ process, the minced tea leaves are left to dry in a huge, rather scary-looking machine that heats up to 104 degrees. Call me irrational but I didn’t step anywhere near that hunk of metal, happy enough to witness the magic from a safe distance away.

Around the room, there were informative posters on the benefits of consuming tea with a special focus on green tea. Highly informative but mostly disregarded by the people there who were more absorbed by the age-old machinery around us.

The connecting room to the exhibition had a small stall where people lined up to have a small cup of healthy green tea minus the sugar, honey, or sweet goodness they were used to. Mom, dad and I all got our own cups but having gotten used to the bitter taste, we didn’t so much as flinch while drinking it. It was amusing to see others, though, who were new to the taste make faces and cringe before discarding their cup, still half-full. One look and I knew they weren’t so keen on experimenting with green anymore.

The merchandise shop was filled with tourists, all stocking up on bags of tea leaves. There were so many varieties on the shelves with generous offers like ‘buy three and get two free’. And I watched happily as my mom tossed box after box of green tea leaves that would easily last us a year into our shopping cart before wheeling the way toward the till. Of course, we also got our fair share of other types as well.

What can I say? Indians are suckers for good offers.

And thus, our trip to Munnar came to a flourishing end.

We went back to the hotel, gathered up our things and had a final photo-shoot in the beautiful outdoor garden. I said my goodbyes to the hill-station with a smile on my face and bags of tea in the backseat. I had something to look forward to trying once I got back home after all.

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I’m not quite sure when my next trip will be. Life has got me booked for the rest of the year but I do hope adventure will come knocking at my door. Perhaps, another hill-station to explore like Coorg, or a thrill-ride with friends to WonderLa.

Until then, I have my memories preserved in these diaries to keep me happy and a whole lot of tea to give me company. I think this catchy slogan captures it all perfectly.

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Greater Heights (#munnardiaries)

We started off the next day, bright and early, with a number of places visit on our itinerary.

First stop – Mattupetty Dam. The infamous dam is known for being one of the most essential sources of power for the state of Kerala through its conservation of water for hydroelectricity. The tiny travel pamphlet I had on me also stated that it was a common visiting ground for elephants. Unfortunately, we didn’t bump into any at our time there but again, the view of the landscape and the large body of water proved its magnificence.

Next up was Top Station! The drive to the highest point on Munnar took a while but the cool air coupled with the nature that surrounded us made it a beautiful journey. Luckily for us, despite the telltale signs of rainfall in the sky, the view waiting for us at Top Point was not at all shrouded by the clouds.

1700 meters high, it felt close enough to touch the heavens. Sometimes, you visit places and see things that’ll never quite leave you. That’s what Top Station was like. It wasn’t just the spectacular view that etched a permanent picture in my mind but that feeling of being so faraway from…everything, far enough to liberate me from everything that was waiting down on Earth.

Mom, dad and I spent a good hour there before the growling of our stomachs got the better of us and we decided to head back to town to grab lunch.

On our way back, we made a brief stop at the infamous Echo Point. As its name would suggest, the river bank carries with it the natural phenomenon of an echo coming back to those who shout their lungs out at the spot. There was an abundance of greenery, as expected, with the lake in the middle and tall trees surrounding the forest on the other side.

It was crowded too, with families and kids standing near the edge of the bank and screaming their names, waiting with bated breath to hear their voice echo back to them. I wish I could say I’d shouted something too but I had settled for watching the others do it with a smile on my face.

And of course, without fail, we took a few more pictures there too.

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I think what I took away most from that day wasn’t just the hundreds of photographs or the aesthetic pleasure of witnessing nature at its finest. But the weightlessness of just being.

Living in the city, amidst the rush of life as a university student and surrounded by throngs of people that all have an agenda of their own, I am forced to move along with the crowd and toward a future that I am both excited and scared for. But at that moment, I didn’t feel any of that.

All I did was simply…exist. And sometimes, we need to take a step back and realize what a blessing that is in and of itself.

Kissed by Nature and God’s Mockery (#munnardiaries)

The climb to Munnar was surely a memorable one but what followed afterword was worth all the excitement that had built up. After checking into a hotel and freshening up real quick, we hit the road again. The first place on our itinerary (which was really just a list I’d made on my phone) was Hydel Park.

Hydel Park, often referred to as Blossom Park, was hosting a flower show during our visit. We saw boards advertising the show all over the place and thought it would be good to check it out earlier in the day. Having arrived at Munar around noon, it was the perfect time to soak up the promise of nature’s beauty.

The park, in itself, was rather small compared to Bangalore’s Lalbagh but beautiful nonetheless. We didn’t go on the boating ride or visit the aquarium (having seen our fair share of fish at the Isle of Wight) but we did have a look around at the flower show. It was probably our timing to visit Munnar, and the fact that it was raining on top of that once we got to the park, but the flower show wasn’t as spectacular as everyone had hyped it to be (and by everyone, I mean the Internet). In spite of that, I enjoyed myself there and made sure to take a lot of photos with my parents.

(And here, we have an elephant leaf-sculpture [my English is so pro today]. There’s not one flower show I’ve seen in India without one.)

An hour and couple ice-cream cones later, we were on our merry way to Pothamedu View Point – a super high point on Munnar that has an amazing view of the surrounding hills. However, fate was not on our side. Although it had stopped drizzling, the rain had brought in thick clouds of fog. By the time we got to the place, the entire view which many people had travelled to see (there were rows of cars parked together) was completely covered.

My mom, although she wouldn’t admit to it if you asked her, seemed somewhat relieved. She doesn’t fear heights but the various view points Munnar has to offer certainly didn’t bode well with her – causing a wave of dizziness, and a severe case of frowning. I couldn’t blame her – it was rather scary but for me, fascination took the place for fear. I mean even with the fog blocking the entire view and all.

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Here we have a lone tree, basking in the glory of mist.

None of the photos we took there turned out really well. But I did have a nice steaming cup of cardamom chai. The kind that makes you feel all fuzzy and warm on the inside. It was worth climbing the hill for the fog-view.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to see a waterfall…with no water in it. At this point, I was laughing. The pictures I’d seen on the Internet showcasing the majestic cascade of water flowing down the jutting rocks were imprinted in my mind when I stepped forward to the barren landmark. It was like the universe was mocking me.

You climbed a hill, had this whole movie-worthy monologue about beauty in the broken, only to see a barren waterfall that is basically symbolism for your dead social life at the moment. LAWL. ~ God

Thanks, God. I found it funny too. But of course, we took a few photos in front of it anyway.

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So hooray for empty waterfalls! May the monsoon bless you after our visit. Could you pass a few prayers on for my social life as well? I’m kidding (but not really).

The Climb (#munnardiaries)

When my parents said we’d be going to Munnar, a hill-station located in Kerala and only about four and a half hours away from home, I immediately thought of Kodaikanal – the first and only other hill-station I’d been to before. Boy, was I wrong to have expected it to be the same.

We started early in the morning with packed bags for a three day stay and anticipation for the much needed cool weather we were promised. Madurai was scorching, hitting above 40 degrees, and an escape from the heat was exactly the kind of release I needed. The hunger for breakfast I felt gnawing at the pits of my stomach was washed away by the excitement I felt to visit a new place. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d gone on a trip like this. It wasn’t just an escape from the heat, but a journey to a new setting I’d long desired.

And so it begun. Three hours were spent reaching the base of the mountain, most of which I spent singing along to music playing off my phone, jotting down bursts of inspiration and daydreaming for a good half of it. But the best part was when the ascent begun. I immediately realised Munnar was going to be nothing like Kodaikanal.

For one, the roads were incredibly narrow. Secondly, we weren’t just climbing one tall as heck mountain but several. As a result, the road went around in loops across several connected hills – the kinds that reminded me of a Snakes and Ladder game I used to play as a kid. I found myself rolling back and forth in my seat like an aimless potato with every twist and turn, nevertheless enjoying the view outside my window. And what a breath-taking view it was.

The higher up we went ventured, the chillier and, better yet, cleaner the air became. I could practically feel the air strip itself free from the dark, toxic particles of pollution and turn pure. For someone who has breathing problems, I relished the clean air I started to breathe in. Of course, Munnar remained true to its reputation and as we got closer and closer, the scent of tea leaves mingled in as well.

(Naturally, I had to take a picture amidst the tea leaves.)

As someone who loves her cup of steaming hot chai, I was enchanted by the thousands (I’m not kidding) of tea bushes that surrounded us  I could see women with baskets strapped to their backs, picking with skilled, nimble fingers at the leaves they knew would concoct that ideal cup of nature’s goodness and tossing it into their day’s collection. The people’s love for their land’s fruition was proven further by the several specialist shops we passed by selling all assortments of tea – cinnamon, ginger, mint, jasmine, chocolate (apparently that’s a thing?)

Everything about the climb up to our destination was enchanting – the chilly breeze blowing my hair back, the beautiful landscapes surrounding us, and of course, the company of my wonderful parents to share this journey with me. I started to tune out the music playing in the background as my mind wandered, as it often does at times like these.

The world is filled with so much ugliness, enough to taint us and make us feel smaller than we really are. But there are places like these too, fleeting moments we experience that show us that there is beauty in the broken.

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The climb showed me that if we choose to look up instead of down at the world around us, there just might be something worth living for.

The First of Many Infinities

The landing in Cairo had been a rather rocky one. I had literally bounced off of my seat as the plane shuddered and shook when the wheels touched Egyptian ground. I prefer landings to take-offs any day due to my (slight) claustrophobia. Being on the ground rather than confined in the limits of a plane’s structure was much more appealing. Another reason being that landings are fun, for me that is.

My parents disagreed on that thought, and so did apparently most of the other passengers. A man seated to my right clutched his arm rests tightly, muttering words of self-comfort (much like the rest)
while I on the other hand loved it.

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Any thoughts on our descent were soon tossed aside as the next half hour went by in a blur. From hurrying out the plane, through immigration and collecting our bags at the luggage ring – we kept ourselves occupied.

All through out, my gaze was fixed on the view outside the glass. I could hear the honking of cars in the distance, and the bustle of city life that awaited in the heart of the city. Visually, I could make out thick layers of what I mistook to be condensation but it wasn’t until we stepped out did I realize it was something entirely different. What I had initially perceived to be mist was toxic air. The city was polluted and the thick odour of smoke and dust that begun to cloud my sense of smell was proof of that.

Now, I know what you guys are thinking. Upon reading my lovely description, you must have been like this:

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But come on – what city isn’t polluted nowadays? Not that I want to turn this post into an environmental analysis of what our Earth has come to but let’s face it: the air ain’t 100% oxygen anywhere. Cairo just displays that in a more obvious fashion (and as a writer, I also tend to add a bit of dramatic flair to everything).

All the way to the hotel, I was very aware of what I was inhaling (and also very aware of how fast the driver was going). Living in England had spoiled me, even if it was for just a year and a half. It was a relief when we arrived at the hotel in one piece, and when I fell asleep that night the moment my head hit the pillow.

The interesting part comes next.

An observation on my part: everyone here is wearing sweaters. The sun is up, and yes, it does get a bit windy at night but it’s above 20-flipping-degrees. And yet…everyone is donning themselves with winter clothing. I would be too if I had never moved to England and bore witness to the colder, harsher and more dreadful winter that Europe has to offer. It’s December and the locals here find it quite chilly but me? I’ve got the A/C cranked up in my room, and one step out into the balcony has me perspiring. Exposure to colder climates has made me somewhat immune to the winter that Egypt has to offer.

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My sentiments exactly – I can’t seem to make up my mind what type of weather I actually enjoy.

The next morning, I’d opened up the curtains and this was the view I’d been greeted with:

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Disappointed? A little bit, yes. I’d been hoping for clearer skies and less smog-action. Cairo made up for it this weekend.

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With less pollution clouding up the skies, we were finally given the beautiful view we’d been promised by the hotel receptionist. Firstly, of the Nile.

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Secondly, the Saqqara pyramids on the left.

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The pyramids of Giza on the right.

I don’t have the world’s best camera to do the view justice but it was a good sight to wake up to and one I won’t be quick to forget.

Something about looking over this great, vast city strengthened me. It changed my perspective; or more accurately, gave me perspective. Not knowing how to feel about life doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It could just be a cooling-off period, before embarking upon something magnificent. After all, isn’t that what life is about?

It’s about discovering yourself and what you want to make of what you’re given…what you can make of it. Every second is a second worth living. I shouldn’t think of my stay in Egypt as a pointless pit-stop. I could but that’s not what I want to do anymore. It’s another opportunity given to me. To accomplish what exactly? I don’t know. But as my eyes settled on the skyline, I knew I didn’t want to limit my answer to just one thing.

I could do anything and everything. I’ve got the time and energy, I’ve got the support from two loving parents that I need, and I’m in an awe-inspiring country. I’m my only obstacle.

The infinite possibilities that stared back at me caused excitement to ripple through. Which infinity will I choose?

Turning A Page

When you’ve traveled around the world as much as I have, you eventually reach this point of indifference where the idea of migrating yet again leaves you feeling like this:

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(Only Ryan Gosling can make such a non-committal gesture and look so dang attractive in the process but that’s besides the point)

Some may say that this is unhealthy, and by some, I mean my very significant inner voice. To quote: 

‘How could you be so horrible? You owe it to your friends, and to yourself to feel the least bit sad! What about all the memories you’ve made here? Don’t you feel something; as small as that ‘something’ may be?’

But I didn’t listen. I didn’t even feel numb; just empty all through out the chilly (and may I add miserable) morning of the 9th of December as we “heave-hoed” our luggage out of the cramped Travelodge room and into the taxi. I could see it written on my parents’ faces too without having to ask; there’s not much they would miss about England either. The emotions they revealed were of weariness and dread at the thought of the stressful months that awaited us. I, on the other hand, had zero capacity left of my “feels” compartment to spare. This was simply going to be one among many pit-stops in my journey through life.

Fast-forward a couple hours

I’m seated in a plane moving along the runway, ear phones popped in, eyes fixed on the seat in front of me. At this point, I did start to feel human again but for a reason I wasn’t too happy about. The woman seated in front of me had already put her seat on push-back position – and may I inform you that this is not allowed. Airplane regulations are there for a reason, people!

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And for a person with long legs such as myself, it’s also additional torture. The urge to knee the backside of her seat was undeniable. Forgive me for I digress.

The point is that I didn’t have the least bit of interest to look out the window, and over England for the last time as we took off into the air. Amidst Ed Sheeran’s lovely voice singing and the music pumping through the ear phones, the irony of the situation sunk into me. I’d face-planted myself against the window a year and a half ago as we’d moved into England, excitement overflowing. Now? Nada.
Majority of the time on the flight was spent contemplating what lay ahead.

Cairo, Egypt was my destination. The land of the pharaohs, home to one of the greatest wonders of the world, and setting of possibly my favourite animated movie ever (that’s right, I’m talking ’bout ‘The Prince of Egypt’)

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That’s a more morbid picture than I was going for but still…WITNESS THE GLORY OF THIS MAGICAL CITY!

It won’t be my first time. I was returning to this country after nearly a decade. Most, if not all, of my memories of life in Cairo were obscure (granted I’d been nothing more than a child last I’d lived there). Yet, shouldn’t the thought of returning have sparked excitement? Cairo was where it all began.

And yet, throughout the five hour journey, the only thing that really grew was my irritation towards the (literally) laid-back passenger in front of me. I was aware of the foolishness of holding such feelings and with every second that ticked by, it begun to dawn upon me more clearly that I was directing my annoyance towards a complete stranger, as irrational a reason as I could find.

I was turning over a page to a new chapter in my life and I felt nothing. Perhaps, the source of my negativity was my blankness towards everything that was going on.

I was really just angry with the laid-back version of myself.