I was back in India after my sojourn of 5 years in the middle eastern island of Bahrain. I quit my job as it was clearly not what I wanted in life. My life’s journey took me back to the country of my origin, India. On my way back home from Bahrain, I dropped by Sri Lanka which was a remarkable revelation to me. On this quest of what to do next in life, I set out on a one month South India tour. My first stop took me to a small town in the Western Ghats, Munnar, where I celebrated Christmas & Hanukkah of 2016. I understand Christmas but Hanukkah?? What the?
I felt like I was the last person to visit Munnar as a lot of people I knew had gone there already. Munnar maybe on the path of development and might be losing its old charm. But for me, it was a time for introspection. It was my first time in Munnar and as usual, I didn’t have any expectations. I was missing the great Himalayan mountains and was earnestly seeking to find some respite from the dusty city life. Moreover, Munnar is a mere 4 hours from Kochi. So why not?
It was a rainy Sunday morning, with my rucksack loaded, I boarded a local state transport bus to Munnar. It wasn’t the comfiest mode of transport but with the limited budgets I travel with, the bus is a luxury. The bus ticket from Ernakulam to Munnar cost me approximately Rs 100. 🙂 I know that’s really cheap. And it was just perfect.
- If you have a higher budget, you could get an air-conditioned low-floor bus from the Ernakulam KSRTC Bus Station for about Rs 242 to Munnar. You can also advance book your tickets here. Not bad, yeah? (Note: the advance booking is only for the a/c buses).
- And here’s a good website for you to check KSRTC/KURTC* bus timings in Kerala to plan your trips better if you travel by public transport.
- Ernakulam (Kochi) is the closest big city to Munnar and is well-connected by air, sea, and land.
*KSRTC-Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, KURTC-Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation
The Western Ghats
Within 4 hours the bus traveled about 130km and reached Munnar. This small hill town that is considered as the Kashmir of South India. Located at the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also one of the easiest accessible hillstations in the Western Ghats mountain range, a range that is older than the Himalayas.
The entire Western Ghats is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is named as one of the “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity in the world. Kerala, the state I hail from is blessed to have this within its geographical boundaries.
The journey from Ernakulam to Munnar on the National Highway 85, is filled with striking views as you ascend upwards and on a bus with wide open windows, the views are grand. The smooth curvy roads are a bliss! Once you cross the Periyar River, it is all forest all the way to the top. You’d be happy to feel the temperature drops a few centigrade as you enter the lush green forests of South India.
As you take in the pure oxygen rich air of the forest reserve 42 km into your journey, you will pass by the Cheeyappara Waterfalls. A seven step cascading waterfall just by the side of the road which also happens to be a trekking spot.
- Stopping at this spot is not possible when you are on the public bus but you could do that if you have a private car.
I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the place. Tea estates on rolling hills everywhere the eye can see. At once I felt that the backpacking trip wasn’t a bad idea at all. On reaching Munnar, I walked around the small town looking for a peaceful place to stay for the next few days. One of my friends had recommended a home stay with a name and number that I could call on. I did not make any advance bookings as I wanted to do this on the go.
Finding a place to stay
A quick call to the owner Eric and I was given the address to the home stay which was located a bit away from the town. I got a rickshaw and asked him to take me to the address that Eric had given me. A few turns and we were entirely off the main highway climbing rocky unpaved bumpy roads into the midst of a tea plantation. I really wished I could get a stay inside the plantations, I thought. And my stars were somehow aligned that day! The rickshaw stopped at a charming little cottage bang in the middle of a tea plantation. An old converted house away from the noise of vehicles and only the sounds of birds chirping away with a view that anyone would die for. For a few seconds, after getting off the rickshaw, I stood back aghast.
Zina Cottage it read in funky letters. After a bit of negotiating around, I got a clean, not so bad well-kept room with a brilliant view of the surrounding plantation. At Rs. 1500 for a night, this was quite steep for my budget. So I gave an option to the caretakers that I was open to sharing the room if need be to get a cheaper deal as it had two beds. It was peak season time. Luckily by evening, I found two others in need of a place to crash as well and it worked out well for me for Rs.500 per night. 😛
- Here’s a link to the Facebook page of the cottage.
- And here’s their page on Tripadvisor.
- Don’t look for luxury here. You have great views and a peaceful place to stay at some affordable prices.
- Perfect for backpackers.
Backpackers haven in Munnar
By afternoon, the cottage was filling in with tourists and travelers. I hung out at the patio with the free WiFi they offered I continued my work on the blog jotting down my post on how 2016 went for me. By evening the rooms at the cottage were sold out. There was a huge bunch of Israelis, a few Americans, Argentinians, a French couple and a few from Spain too. I almost felt like I was in a hostel in Europe as I was the only Indian amongst this group. All of this in my own state in India. Incredible India indeed!
As the sun set behind the green hills, I was joined by the entire group of people staying there. We sat together on the patio talking about our travels far and wide. Stories from the battlefield, Jew of India and so on. The Israelis were in huge numbers with around 10 of them making them the largest of communities at the small cottage. Israelis love to holiday in India after their compulsory military service experience. Something I like about them is that they have probably the strongest close-knit communities in the world. Everyone looks out for each other.
It was Christmas night, the weather was chilly outside. It was also the start of the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah. For those of you who don’t know what it is, Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting the Jewish candelabrum called the Menorah for 8 days, lighting one branch of the Menorah every evening. This was my first-hand experience witnessing a festival that I had read and loved for years. There was no menorah but the Israelis sourced in some candles. The celebrations continued with old Hebrew songs commemorating the festival.
We spent the night with some tea and south Indian snacks. I found it a rather pleasant experience to be a part of this great tradition. This combined with the fact that it was Christmas on a cold winter evening, was a perfect start to my trip. And for a long time to come, I won’t forget those wonderful evenings in Munnar.
Share some of your experiences of celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah.
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