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.

IMAG2712

From start…

IMAG2701

…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.

IMG_20170510_171634_870

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.

IMAG2704

Advertisements

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.

IMAG2106

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.