APTI, Day 10 – Munnar, Eravikulam, Top Station

I think we realized before we even met any of our other guides, that we had been spoiled by our guide in Cochin. She had been so articulate, enthusiastic and funny that any other guides would pale by comparison.

Certainly our next guide lived up to our expectations. While he was pleasant enough, his English was probably the weakest of any of the guides we had on the trip, so the information he conveyed tended to be rather “bare-bones” and when we asked him any questions, he usually answered an entirely different one. After a while, we just stopped asking.

After a short drive, the morning started off with a bus trip up to Erivikulam National Park and Mt. Anamudi, the tallest peak is Southern India. Unfortunately, the view was obscured by clouds most of the time we were up there. This was to be expected, given that we were travelling in monsoon season, but in fact, this would be one of only two times that the weather affected our sightseeing experience.

Panorama at Eravikulam

We strolled up a mountain path and took some pictures of what our guide helpfully referred to as “gots” (goats). Later, I realized that we had been taking pictures of the endangered species Nilgri Taur. This is just one example of how informative our guide was.

Sky and Mountain And one last shot of gots Mt. Anamudi

Mountain & Sky

Nilgiri Taur
AKA “got”

Very wet
Mt. Anamudi

As far as we could tell, the guide appeared to believe that his job consisted of taking us to a place, telling us its name (more or less), and then taking a group photo of us in front of the monument or vista. Boy, did he like taking group photos. Boy, are we not group photo people!

Our guide liked group photos And, of course, a group photo Did I mention our guide like to take group photos?

Can you

say

group photo?

When we had strolled a ways up the hill, a few drops of rain fell, and our guide began ushering us back down. For a guide, he was a most timid fellow, and we had “forgotten” to bring the umbrellas from the car, a move that flustered and amazed him. The umbrellas didn’t matter to us because we had rain coats; that’s why we left them behind, but he appeared to have no interest in getting wet. I also think he wasn’t too interested in climbing any more, although the road/trail we were walking on had a very gradual slope by any mountain standards.

From the park we headed off the “Tea Museum” a small-scale demonstration tea factory which included some exhibits and a brief one-sided video which explained the history of tea plantations in the area (fine) while extolling the virtues of the landlords over the years as environmentally conscious and concerned for their workers welfare (gimme a break).

We found this a consistent theme throughout our touring of India, the sugar-coating of history. Even our guide in Cochin, who had been quite blunt in certain matters, tried to assure us that the southern maharajahs had been quite decent people, unlike those wealth-grubbing maharajahs in the north. And our guide in Agra, actually tried to convince us that the Moghul kings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had ruled with justice and and a modicum of democracy. Yeah, right. That’s why Shah Jihan, who commissioned the Taj Mahal, cut off the hands of the architect who had done him the favour of designing it so that he could do no similar work for anyone else.

Tea is only grown on slopes of 30 to 45 degrees. Harvesting tea Tea plantations

Tea plantations

Harvesting tea

Tea plantations

But I’m getting ahead of myself. From the tea museum we moved on to tour a couple of small dams in the area which had been built by Canadian engineers. Our guide assured us the engineers had been “very polite.” I wanted to ask him how he knew this detail, but I was quite sure that my question would be misunderstood, which would have taken all the fun out of it, so I passed. At the larger of these dams, the guide more or less insisted that we take a boat ride, and we reluctantly agreed. For the locals, I’m sure these rides serve as quite a treat, but for a group of Canadians who have spent countless summers on or in the water, the appeal was minimal.

The boat ride redeemed itself, however, when we spotted some wild elephants grazing on the shore. The boat operator also pointed out a bull elephant farther up through the trees. While we couldn’t see him very well from the water, we were able to re-connect with him as we drove away from the dam. He was grazing about 100 m from the roadside, and I was able to get some quite decent footage of him with the video camera while Steven took stills.

Same elephants Proof we were there IMG_0301.JPG

Elephants

Group photo proves
we were there

Bull elephant

We were tempted to stay watching the elephant for a long time, especially since it made our guide, Mr. Timid, absolutely squirm. Apparently, he had been attacked by a bull elephant while on his motor cycle very recently, so he was particularly averse to being in the company of the beast. While I certainly understood that these animals demand respect, this old pachyderm was paying no attention to us whatsoever, so we filmed for five or ten minutes before moving on. I was amused however, to think of the bull elephant who had developed a distaste for motorcycles and who would charge them at will.

Bull Elephant Video

Our last stop was the highlight of the day, a trip to “Top Station.” a viewpoint at 5,577 ft. that provided some spectacular views. Top Station is the highest roadway point in southern India, and, historically, had been the highest point reached by small gauge railroad and the rope trolleys that the tea plantations had used to ferry goods up and down the mountain. The road took us one or two kilometers into the neighbouring state, Tamil Nadu. The roads immediately informed us when we had crossed the border. From the well-maintained, paved Keralan road, we dropped down onto a rocky, potholed path that led us the last distance. Irene likened it to travelling from Alberta to Saskatchewan

The views from Top Station were quite stunning, and the day had cleared off so that we could see many miles into Tamil Nadu. Perhaps most impressive was the view of the highest tea plantation in India, well over 7000 ft. The only access to the tea station was a foot path that wound its way up a rocky ridge through a series of incredibly steep switchbacks. All goods traveling in an out of the tea station had to be carried over this grunty little path. By the time we arrived at Top Station, the sun was already getting low, which made for some good photographic opportunities.

Highest tea plantation in India (top right) Zoomed in image of Tamil Nadu plains Skies and mountains

Highest tea plantation
in India

View to
Tamil Nadu

Mountains & Sky

After one last group photo, and a drive back to our hotel, we bid farewell to our odd little guide and called it a day.

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