Monday, October 31, 2011

Moving to Munnar

October 5th-6th, 2011

We said goodbye or more like “see you later” to Iftach and Iren last night as they were taking a short flight to Bangalore very early this morning followed by a train up to Hampi (a place I visited back in February). Naomi and I had had enough of Kochi so we decided to move to our next Kerala destination of Munnar, about 105 kilometres to the east.

On Tresa, the Om homestay’s owner’s suggestion, we took a rickshaw to the passenger ferry terminal for the boats from Fort Kochi over to Ernakalum. We paid a whopping 5 rupees (12 cents) fee for the both of us for a 10-15 minute boat ride. Another short tuk-tuk ride on the other side and we found ourselves at the city’s main bus terminal. Our traveling luck continued as the bus to Munnar left 5 minutes later and only cost us 160 rupees (less than $4) for the trip. The only drawback was that the bus takes 5 hours to travel the 105 kilometres!

Our ferry boat:

A dredging boat:

Big tanker:

Ernakulam’s “stunning” skyline:

The first hour of the trip involved just getting out of the busy suburb of Ernakalum. The busy storefronts seemed to go on for miles and miles with so many signs advertising products and services in Malayalam, Hindi and/or English. Finally we began to leave the city and start to climb the green hills inland. Munnar rests at about 1600 meters above sea level so the bus had some work to do.

On the bus, ready to go:

Busy traffic:

A fancy Toyota office building:

It looked like construction was just finishing:

Bus riders:

One of a few stops:

The guy beside me seemed to really want to use my shoulder to rest his head on as he slept (causing Naomi to giggle):

Naomi taking in the scenery:

Passing a nice waterfall:

Ridin’ in style!

Yet another stop...where I had to spend a rupee:

The mountains begin:

Now the tea plantations:

Great tea plantation action:

Women cutting leaves:

Arriving in the late afternoon in Munnar, we were surprised at the number of Indian tourists milling about. We soon found out that there was a Pooja happening (a celebration) and many people from the north were taking advantage of some holidays to travel to the south part of their country. So unfortunately for us, we soon found out that finding accommodation was not going to be an easy task. We started out at a tourist information spot and mentioned the name of a place that we had found online. I guess the guy there assumed we had a reservation and told us it was within walking distance, up a hill nearby. Once we got there we found out that they were full and returned to the tourist info where we were eventually put in a rickshaw with a guy named Raju who was tasked with finding a place for us.

Downtown Munnar:

Hunting for accommodation:

Crazy dancing as we rickshaw through Munnar:

Let me show you what I can do with this:

Look stylin’, that’s what:

The first spot we hit was a dingy one storey building with mould or fungus on the side of the drab blue paint of the outer walls. Naomi ventured in and returned with not one but two thumbs down due to its dankness. The next spot was just as bad. Nearly two hours later we were taken to a spot a few kilometres out of town in the darkened sky as night was falling. The rickshaw bounced and jostled us around as we inched our way up a rough road between the trimmed tea trees that hug the many of the hills around Munnar. We reached the gate of a small ranch and ventured in. We met 80 year old Joseph. A super kind, fit and gentle man who had lived here all his life. The room wasn’t super and the price was higher than we were used to (1000 rupees or $22 per night) but it was our only choice.

Heading to Zina Cottage:

We threw our bags into the room and on Joseph’s suggestion had Raju take us back into town to a restaurant called Surye Soma. The place was a bright diner that was packed with it must be good right? We joined a family at a large table and finally let out a big sigh that we’d finally settled in town. The meal was decent and afterwards we headed back to our room at Zina’s Cottage for a well deserved rest.

Naomi modelling her new toque we bought as it was a bit chilly:

Maybe mine’s a big tight:

The next morning, after a bit of a sleep in, Joseph welcomed us into his home for a cup of tea. He suggested a 10 kilometre walk and drew us a very detailed map (he loved drawing superfluous arrows showing our direction of travel). What a sweet old man.

Joseph’s strange living room wall with albums, locks, flashlights, fishing tackle, razors...almost any random thing you could think of:

Joseph pouring me tea...unfortunately we never got a photo of him:

Our happy neighbours:

You can’t see the two wheels and the end of his steering wheel...but cool homemade toy:

The hills near Zina Cottage:

A random cute girl:

We decided to first walk towards town to see if any cheaper rooms had become available and sure enough we found a cute, multicoloured, small and cozy room at a place called JJ’s Cottage. Raju happened to be there so after reserving the room he drove us back to Zina’s to collect our bags. Afterwards he drove us out to a bridge where the hike Joseph had drawn for us started off of the main road.

Crossing the bridge at the start of our hike:

Ready to hike:

Naomi, with a slight barbed wire fence sweater issue:

The hike was completely along a paved road but it went up and down as it curled around the contours of the mountain. The views of the valley below were stunning and we saw why the occasional fancy hotel or guesthouse charges 8-10,000 rupees a night. There were many cardamom plants in the forest and I had to try a little taste of the spice that is a staple in Indian cuisine.

The views are getting better and better:

The hikers:

Strangely shaped yellow flowers:

Lovely colourful flowers:

And they were everywhere:

Kids will play cricket anywhere:

And they love to play:

A goat train:

Nice view from this resort which was probably about 6000 rupees a night ($130):

A gorgeous purple flower:

Naomi snapped a pic of me taking a pic:

Cardamom plants were plentiful:

The bits used for the spice:

Tasting the Cardamom:

I think I’m giving it the thumbs up:

A prickly leaf:

The lush forest:

Lizard splat...don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be alright:

The skies were darkening:

Cute boy and girl in a small village:

Beautiful landscape:

Nice ridges:

For dinner we attempted Joseph’s other recommendation, a little place called Rapsy’s. We sat down down at a rigid booth like table in the bright, white eatery but upon trying to place our order, we found out that they were pretty much out of everything. We opted to try another venue which turned out to be a restaurant in a hotel called Silverspoons. The food turned out to be very spicy (even the yogurt like raitha that Naomi ordered to try and cool her mouth down with) and I found that I was at my spice tolerance limit and poor Naomi didn’t eat too much. Oh well, you win some and lose some.

JJ’s Cottage (the bright pink one):

Knuffle Bunny found a new friend between the sheets:

Naomi writing our order at Rapsy’s:

The new restaurant...not sure why she’s smiling so much, oh, because the food that she disliked hadn’t arrived yet: