After a vacation to a chilly hill station, every one comes back with an incident that they wouldn’t want others to know. Mine is: I mounted Sri Devi.
But give me a few seconds, there is an innocent and reasonable explanation to it. One is, as is it usually happens in such cases — here I can only speak for myself — I just gave in to a momentary urge. The other is, the Sri Devi in question was a 25-year-old elephant that I rode during my recent visit to the misty and monsoonish Munnar.
Elephants move at the speed of vehicles trapped in the traffic jam at Kathipara junction. Also, to sit on their enormous backs, you have to spread your legs more wide than when you are performing a ‘vertical split’ in kung fu. And when the elephant moves you will feel as comfortable as on a wooden block on a choppy sea. Quite simply, elephants, and I would also include some Air India flights to this list, are not exactly built for travel. But still we were queuing up to ride on them and that is because we were tourists, and when you are a tourist no silliness is beyond you.
And Munnar offers plenty of choices for the true tourist. For example: the ‘Echo Point’. It is a scenic location, nestled amidst a beguilingly placid lake and swathed by an impossible array of verdant trees. It is here when you shout loud, your own voice comes back to you as nature transforms you into, in an amazing instant, an Arnab Goswami.
But what words would you want the hills to echo? Shelley’s sonnets? Kamban’s verses? Just as I was wondering about this, stepped up a North Indian, with a young beautiful wife in tow, and he bellowed from the bottom of his heart what has to be true love’s lament: ‘Priyanka Chopra, you are beautiful’. A hush immediately fell over the hills even as flustered birds fluttered away from the scene.
And it is silence, in its primeval sense, which hovers over the high hills of Munnar, that brings the muscle-weary city-slickers in droves. With April and May being peak vacation season, we had smartly chosen to travel in June after schools had reopened and when we reached there we could see a bigger crowd that apparently had had the same brilliant brainwave as us. Every one, I have no doubt, was there looking for that one unique vacation experience that no one else was having. Every one, I am even more sure about this, was blaming others for making the place crowded.
Like all tourists, we also indulged in the hugely popular local pastime, which is to sit in a mist-kissed balcony of one of the cottages in one of those resorts that must have come up after uprooting quite a lot of trees and unselfconsciously crib about how they are spoiling the place by rampantly denuding the forests and building up eyesores of resorts.
But Munnar’s natural beauty is such that it can keep on giving. It is a place where you open your room window and moist mist glides in, like benevolence from heaven, and engulfs you and makes you proclaim that you would want to spend the rest of your life here come what may, no wait, not till they improve the blighted internet wi-fi in the hilly reaches. This is the problem with us city-dwellers we want virgin-pristine land of beauty unsullied by anything except the facilities that we are quite used to in our places, which, in a sense, too were beautiful till they started providing us those very same facilities.
Munnar, like most hilly vacation spots in India, offers plenty of special attractions, the recent and the most popular one being — every guide will take you there — the room that Sharukh Khan stayed in when shooting for Chennai Express. In a few years, it might make it to the UN Heritage list.
Munnar produces — aside from plenty of insufferable poetry from those urgently besotted by nature — tea and the entire area is sustained by its ecosystem of plantations and factories. It is a fascinating history, and here in one of the tea factories they screen a 15-minute film that crisply encapsulates the nearly 200-year story of tea plantations from the days when the Englishmen arrived in these parts, and braving enormous difficulties (hard it is to imagine as to how they managed without selfie-sticks then) and inhospitable weather, they started living here probably because weather back home was worse but, more importantly, the taste of food they make in England was basically abominable. Anyway, for the benefit of those who have not seen the film, let me further smartly encapsulate the whole point of that documentary film: ‘Munnar has been producing enormous quantity of tea since the 19th century.’
Next week, I’ll continue with my Kerala sojourn and tell you more about the quaint tea plantations, the scenic locations with a lot of history associated with them (it is where Chennai Express was shot) and the splendid stretch between Munnar and Thekkady which is as beautiful, if not more, as Sri Devi.