Saturday, January 17, 2015

India 2015 Kolorful Kerala : Day 3 - Of Tahrs & Kalaripayattu

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India 2015 Kolorful Kerala : Day 3 - Of Tahrs & Kalaripayattu
Munnar - 8th January 2015
After a good kick-off day at Kerala - one of scenic tea valleys & spice gardens - we are looking forward to another exciting day at Munnar. Today we will be seeing the rare Tahr mountain goats at a national park, visit a tea factory and end the day with a bit of fighting!

This is page 2 of a 6-page blog, click on the respective titles below to go to other pages :
 - Kolorful Kerala Day 1 & 2 - Of Spices, Tea Valleys & Cool Hills.
Kolorful Kerala Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali.
Kolorful Kerala Day 5 - Of Kerala Backwaters Houseboats.
Kolorful Kerala Day 6 - Of Fishing Nets & Mosquitoes.
Kolorful Kerala Day 7 - A Dahl Shopping Day.

Still catching up with jet-lag, we woke up early at aroung 5:00am; Kuala Lumpur's time is 2-1/2 hours ahead of Kerala's time.
It was a good thing though as we were able to catch the pinkish sunrise...

... and admire the many beautiful flowers that dot the gardens of the Deshadan Mountain Resort.
To ease our tummies from the previous day's spicy lunch, we had continental breakfast at the resort's restaurant and then adjourned to get ready. Also we had requested Indian Panorama to change our driver as he was not fluent in English and we had some difficulty communicating our requests to him. We were lucky we did that as the replacement driver, Prakash, spoke perfect English, was very informative of our destinations and kept us entertained with little specks of local details for the balance of our stay in Kerala.

Today we will be touring several spots around 
Munnar - a high up national park, an echoing lake and learn something about tea production.

Starting off, we headed north for our first destination of the day - a national park with a ocky mountain. That mountain can be seen in the top left of the above photo.
Again, we drove pass scenic tea plantations but this time I note a difference; many of them had some sort of pine trees planted in regimental spacing in between the tea bushes. I don't think they are there to provide shading as they were not leafy and were to far apart. Probably their roots stabilize the hill slopes as the plantations here are on steeper slpes.

But first a short detour into Munnar town before going to the Eravikulam National Park. We went to the reservation counter of the Munnar Wild Life Division Information Centre, where we purchased "Reservation Coupons" for 50 rupees per person, then only did we head for the park.
At the park, the actual entrance tickets can be purchased at the "Welcome Centre" for 300 rupees per pax with another odd "User's Fee" of 50 rupees each (was that for using the toilets?). There are  additional "Still Camera" and "Video Camera" charges of 38 & 300 rupees respectively.
Eravikulam is a favourite destination for many locals and foreigners, so there is always a long queue at the ticketing counters. Our "Reservation Coupons" allowed us to line up at a special counter with a much shorter queue. Phew!

The Eravikulam National Park sitting at edge of the Western Ghats covers an area of 97 sq. km. Its high location over the Munnar valley affords a scenic view of the tea plantations below. Here visitors can see Nilgiri Tahr Mountain Goats which are quite used to being around people and do not run away.
A more rare sight will be when these hill slopes are covered with acres and acres of the Neelakurinji flowers. The purplish-blue colour of these flowers turn the slopes into carpets of blue (... click here to view images of blue slopes). Being able to catch sight of  these the Neelakurinji flowers is like striking a lottery - they only bloom once in twelve years!

From the "Welcome Centre" mini-buses ferry visitors to a point above and beyond the tea plantations; after this drop-off point no public vehicles are allowed. Along the way the Anamudi Peak sits above everything, its rocky face bare of any flora makes it an imposing sight.

From the drop-off point we walked upwards on a winding road skirting the Anamudi Peak, we were eager to see the mountain goats. But these goats were no where to be seen. Where are the goats? Baa.... baa....

So we just walked on and on, enjoying the scenery and the fresh clean air. It is only about 3 km. of walking further into the park that we start to see the goats. So if you don't see the goats, don't give up so easily just keep on walking on.

The Nilgiri Tahr Goats are a species of Tahr Goats that thrives in the mountains and grassland of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, they have short bristly hair.
Tahr Goats were introduced to New Zealand decades ago, but oddly over there they are considered a pest; during hunting season they are allowed to be hunted to keep their population in check.

Being mountain goats, the Tahr walk around agilely among the rocks and rocky face of the mountain. These young calf is already sure-footed, I can only hope that when I get older I will be able to walk as steadily as these creatures.

Both males and females of the species have horns; so how would one tell a female Tahress (Hah! That's a term that I just coined up) from the male. Perhaps it's from these beautiful eyes, perhaps the female have prettier eyes...
No.... it will be just easier to look out for the tits.... heh.... heh...

Ok... time to say tahr-tahr to the Tahrs, time to move on.

From the mountains we wend our way back down to Munnar to visit the Tea Museum there. The museum is housed in a couple of colonial buildings at the edge of town. Here there are artefacts from colonial tea planting days like old utensils, office equipment, photos, certificates, etc. Behind these buildings is a large double storey tea factory. After a quick view of the museum we joined a tour of the factory.

Let's take a quick look at the tea manufacturing process:
The tea manufacturing process starts at this room, the rolling & sifting room.
On the left are two semi-automatic machines used in earlier days, back then the leaves are added in manually. In the yellow one tea leaves are rolled in water to clean them, the water also lets heavy sand and grime settle to the bottom where they are drained off. Then the leaves are transferred to the silver horizontal spinner which spins the leaves dry; the holes in its walls let the water drain out while the whole tube is spun. These two orthodox machines give an idea on how the modern method works.
These days, the tea leaves (which are still hand plucked) are mechanically cleaned and sifted in another room above, and are then brought down through a duct to the yellow tray where visual inspection is then carried out. The examined tea leaves are then transported to next room via the chute on the bottom right.

In the next room, the leaves goes through a series of cutting machines like the one above.

They pass through four of these cutting machines, each one cutting the leaves into smaller and smaller sizes until the are the size of the shreds that we are familiar with.

The shredded leaves are then spun in this machine for forty minutes so that they are oxidized, after which they are discharged for drying...

... at these drying machine which blow hot air of 104 degrees through the shredded leaves.

And this is the end product - good looking tea!
They look familiar now don't they?
These are sent through conveyors to the packing section.

At the end of the tour is a sales section that sells all sorts of tea products.
Now, this is the section that the girls were most interested in.
While I took my time walking through the factory; they just breezed through, in a rush to get to the sales section.
Girls will be girls!

We were heading to Echo Point about nineteen kilometres away when suddenly Prakash slowed down and made a U-turn. Huh... what's happening are we on the wrong route?
Actually he wanted to show us a large tree; a tree that is not unique because it's large but special because there were many bee-hives hanging from its branches. There were almost fifty hives hanging from this tree, and the odd thing is that there were none hanging from the other trees nearby!
I asked Prakash why is this so? He replied that perhaps the tree is sweeter, or perhaps the gods like this tree.... perhaps. This seems like a very Hindu or Buddhist answer.

4:30pm - At Echo Point. This is a point at the upper arm of the Mattupetty Dam; it's so named because the hills on the other side echoes back shouts from this side.
Shout as I may I could not get an echo back! Truth to tell besides this, I found the place to be a bit of a disappointment as I had envisaged riding on a speedboat on the waters. The only boats I saw were those slow foot-paddling ones. The dam water looks beautiful from afar but don't look down to the near edge as they are rubbish there.
After checking the internet, I found that the real Echo Point is situated further up the road, at the dam we only made it halfway there. Are there two Echo points? Now wonder there were no echoes here!

Casting my disappointment aside, I spent more time at the souvenir shops above; where after a round of eager bargaining, I got a couple of fridge magnets for 100 rupees each.

We made it back in time to Munnar for the 7:00pm Kalaripayattu show at the Punarjani Traditional Village. While the girls went for a Ayurvedic massage, we guys wanted more action and went for this Indian martial arts show. Wanting to be close to the action, we sat at the premium seats for 300 rupees each.
It was a one hour show and seating close we could feel the robustness in which the fighters fought. It's a show with a few different rounds of fighting - with bare hands, sticks, swords, spears, etc. Their swords and spears were sharp, the shields heavy; the clashing of their weapons reverberate through our ears. The realistic fighting made us excited and our hearts beat fast, keeping pace with the vigorous fighting.

Now the interesting thing is that after the show, interested audience were invited to go down to the ring to pose with the fighters.... thank goodness we only posed for photos and did not have to fight!

We could even pose with each other.... er.... this lady seems to be trashing me... there's no holds barred when it comes to fighting, no concessions given irrespective of sex. Haha!

8:40pm - Wending through narrow, rural roads and going uphill we reached our stay for the night, the Dreamcatcher Resort. Hungry, we went straight for a in-house dinner before being led through dark pathways to our chalets which were built at the fringe of the jungle.
We knew this place was unique, but in the dark we could not really see how special it was. Perhaps, the following morning we shall...
In the meantime, we will just sleep and let the dreamcatcher catch nice dreams for us.


This is page 2 of a 6-page blog, click on the respective titles below to go to other pages :
 - Kolorful Kerala Day 1 & 2 - Of Spices, Tea Valleys & Cool Hills.
Kolorful Kerala Day 4 - Of Elephants & Kathakali.
Kolorful Kerala Day 5 - Of Kerala Backwaters Houseboats.
Kolorful Kerala Day 6 - Of Fishing Nets & Mosquitoes.
Kolorful Kerala Day 7 - A Dahl Shopping Day.

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You are at - Jotaro's Blog / Footsteps / India 2015 Kolorful Kerala / Day 3 - Of Tahrs & Kalaripayattu     | Jump to Day 1&2 / Day 4 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7
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