The earliest written record of the “The dark impenetrable forests of the High Range” now known as the Kannan Devan Hills dates to the year 1817 when Lt Benjamin Ward and Lt Eyre Connor had surveyed and mapped these vast unexplored expanses located on the border of modern-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Fifty years later Col Douglas Hamilton visited the area to explore the feasibility of a sanatoria for the British in South India. Then, in 1879 the Turner step-brothers, Henry and A W “Thambi” come up with clear plans to convert them into commercial plantations of coffee, tea and cinchona. None of these early pioneers could have imagined in their wildest dreams that their efforts will make these serene hills a global hotspot for Tea.
The journey up the Kannan Devan Hills takes you towards the picturesque hilltop town of Munnar, set amid 24000 hectares of tea estates and at the confluence of three rivers. The drive via many switchbacks cut into the tall hills, offers breathtaking views of vast rolling greens merging with cotton wool clouds and blue skies far on the horizon.
The charms of these hills are the incredible outdoor vistas. Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, situated at 7900 feet, is the highest tea estate in the world. It is a wonder of human conception and endurance. The narrow summit has sheer drops on all sides studded with tea bushes. Only the bravest tea pickers would dare to pick the tender tea leaves from these precariously perched bushes. From this summit, on a clear day, you will see the hill station of Kodaikanal, over a 150 km away.
Eravikulam National Park is home to the rare and hardy Niligiri Tahr, a type of Ibex. These shy creatures are an endangered species with less than three thousand remaining in the wild. The park also plays host to a rare botanical spectacle, the blooming of the Neelakurinji flowers. This phenomenon happens only once in twelve years with the next one due in 2030. For a fleeting few weeks, the landscape is a riot of bluish-purple.
To savour the essence of this location, its best to do it on foot. Book a guide and go on a trek to the summit of Lakshmi hills which offers expansive views of Munnar town and the beautiful surrounding region. Walking on the crooked pathways inside lush tea gardens, listening to bird song, feeling the light wind brushing your cheeks and inhaling the fragrance of hill vegetation during the five-hour trek is a magical and sublime experience. To add to the sense of adventure and thrill go on a speed boat ride in the deep blue waters of nearby Mattupetty dam, a reservoir that generates power for this region.
Other unique local experiences are – an authentic Ayurvedic massage; watching a Kathakali performance; visiting a tea museum; visiting a spice garden; watching Kalarippayattu- the ancient martial arts form; or simply, shopping for the finest teas and spices. There is something here for everyone.
The next time you get an urge to experience breathtaking landscapes and marvel at pioneering explorers, do not hesitate, dash to the Kannan Devan Hills.
All images sourced from Wikimedia commons