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Go on a tea trail in Munnar

For tea buffs it is a town steeped in tea history, and much of it still visible

Today there are some 13,000 hectares under tea cultivation in Munnar. (Istockphoto)

By Aravinda Anantharaman

LAST PUBLISHED 13.08.2022 |  09:00 AMIST

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There are three things about Munnar that I love. It’s cleaner than any hill station I have been to, it’s greener, and not just with tea—you can see the grasslands and the beautiful sholas. And the people are polite, ever ready to help.

I took a short trip there last week. Munnar has breathtaking views of hills of forests and grasslands and tea; one of the most important forests here is within the Eravikulam National Park, said to have the highest density of the Nilgiri tahr, an endangered wild goat species. For tea buffs, it is, of course, a town steeped in tea history, much of it still visible.

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There are two tea museums, one the Tea Museum on Nullatanni Road run by Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Co. Ltd (KDHP) and the other, the Lockhart Tea Museum, run by Harrisons Malayalam Ltd. They tell the journey of Munnar’s tea through the machines used over the years and introduce visitors to the process of tea-making.

History is everywhere. In town, you come across stores that are over a hundred years old, signboards reminding you of an old ropeway that was created to transport tea. The centre of town hosts the KDHP office: Once a railway station, its ground floor now houses the Chai Bazaar, where people can enjoy piping hot cups of teas.

Less famous cousins of the Nilgiri teas, Munnar’s teas don’t enjoy geographical indication tags in the way Darjeeling, Assam or Nilgiri teas do. Munnar is part of Idukki district, extending along the Western Ghats. Tea came to this area with the British in the late 19th century, when John Daniel Munro founded the North Travancore Land Planting and Agricultural Society.

Another piece of trivia connects it to the Nilgiris, and the larger Indian tea story: In 1877, Henry Turner and his half-brother arrived there from the Nilgiris and began tea planting. Turner asked John Ajoo, a Chinese tea maker who had arrived in India with Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist who brought tea saplings from China and was living in the Nilgiris, to come there. Ajoo eventually settled in Munnar, becoming a planter himself—his field, known locally as Chinaman’s field, is near the Talliar tea estate.

Today there are some 13,000 hectares under tea cultivation in this area, according to Indiatea.org. The bulk of it is CTC tea, with orthodox black tea, green tea, and even small volumes of white tea.

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Opt for a tea bungalow stay (Kdhptea.com/tea-bungalows, Harrisonsheritage.com, Teabungalows.com), visit a tea museum, watch tea-making at the Madupatty tea factory and don’t forget to shop for tea—KDHP’s Ripple Tea is easily available at their various outlets; Harrisons is also available as a retail brand.

Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.