THE HILLS OF MUNNAR: A LIFE-DEFINING JOURNEY

Author: Saumyaa Sinha

It came about the same time as my mind started shutting off, possibly and most probably even because of it. The incredible thing about college is it helps you lose all expectations, so clearly, I was expecting nothing out of my trip to Munnar.

The dark doom gloomy cynicism ceases to exist the second I agree for impulsive trips, sheer energy and no planning, I am aware, but sometimes the breeze shows you a direction and you follow it. Munnar is an underrated little hill station in the Idukki District in Kerala, obviously at the time I didn’t care for the geography as much as I did for the thrill factor. Brushing up on the knowledge came much later when my mind could perceive beyond the feeling of liberation. Getting into Kerala was the easy part, then came the real stuff, the gold dust, the je ne sais quoi. Spiralling to the top of the mountain with curves sharper than the ones in engineering graphs, we made it alive at 11pm.

The sunlight broke into my life, playing hide and seek with the curtains, and when I drew the curtains, I was drenched; in the warm soft glow of the sun, in complete awe, in overwhelming ecstasy. The balcony opened to the full frame of the Sun and the sky. Living in apartments and high-rise cities, I only ever got little pieces of the sky puzzle, but standing there, experiencing the sunrise, the sky as though finger painted with rich orange and yellow hues. A little bit of blue there, a tinge of red here. Everything was so close, I felt small and tremendously tall at the same time. I’d say it was as though tasting the whole universe at once. As though the wind was trying to slap me awake, as though in the grand scheme of events, little things moved us and became us.

The chaiwaala at the end of our guest house road believed in nothing else other than making people smile. He didn’t say much, brought us his speciality, adarak ki chai (ginger tea), and perhaps it was the strong force of the hot tea down my throat or the awakening by the ginger, that it finally hit me: happiness is where you want it to be. The wrinkles on the old man’s face spoke of years in front of a stove, the flames lapping up his youth, yet that smile…that smile melted all those years into a seamless journey of insights gained. Munnar is a chai-lover’s paradise. The smell of tea is everywhere, practically owing to the rows and rows of endless plantations. The entirety of Munnar spills out of a teaspoon, the whole hill station is a tea plantation and factory miracle, the leaves glow, they glint like pearls in the sunlight. Shy little leaves stay their ground, covering every patch of the hills seen by the eyes.

We hired a Safari jeep, especially to soak in the tea gardens, everything else we experienced was a plus. We were told to hold onto the frame bar tightly; I don’t think I realised how tightly I was supposed to hold it because the jeep rode over rocks and slopes and jagged cut hills and for the first fifteen seconds I was just tossing in the vehicle, dangerously close to propelling out. It felt like the last eighteen years of my life being described physically. But I found my hold, very proud to say, that I found my grip. We kept travelling uphill, the sun was throwing soft shadows and the dust danced a ballet like blown away dandelion petals. The closer we got to the top, the more women we saw between the tea shrubs, clad in a thick lower long skirt and a full sleeve wrap around, heads covered with the same thick and dull fabric, their backs bent with the endlessly long jute jholas, their skin tanned and smooth, glistening with sweat. Their work was tedious, plucking leaves, one at a time and filling up the jute bag up to the brim, they then walked the rest of the journey upwards and delivered these bags to the tea factory. The number of bags and their dedication both seemed too much to comprehend, I smiled at a woman, and she returned the warmest one I had ever seen.

The tea factory and museum weren’t the most extra-ordinary or awe-struck thing you’d see, but it was a place where you could enjoy the success of a tea-worker’s day vicariously. The simplicity was its charm. We were guided through the entire process of tea preparation, right from the plantation to the packaging, each process infused with the hard work of a thousand workers. Perhaps I dithered to think too much then, but I felt so much at once, sitting on an earthen chair, sipping chai, realising that the intricacy of life was so much more than work, projects and deadlines; it was simple things like tasting the journey of each tea leaf as the warm sips touched my lips.

We clambered onto a mountain peak, the jeep left us off at a wooden gate, we walked the rest of the way. A narrow path, only ascending with no railings at the height of 8661 ft above the sea level, made way for us into the breath-taking view of mountains, lush greenery, all hazily lying under a layer of thin misty fog. Maybe I had slumbered through the mellow ticking of time, but right then, that was all that mattered. It was too much to take in, standing there, one tiny homo sapien, looking onto a slice of this Earth, just handed out to the eyes. It was overwhelming, soul gratifying and completely numbing to the point where I couldn’t peel myself away from the peak. Everything felt right. That night in the guest house, when I lay down on the deck chair, I realised I loved the night as much as I loved the day. For the first time in my life I found clarity, both up there- the stars glistened playing lights out against the black buttery sky, and in my heart. The unfathomable thing was that our thoughts and the stars- both constitute of the same number.

To embark on a self-recovery and soul-searching journey, the go to place, most certainly is Munnar. The breeze will touch you deeply and the sunrise will move you. You’ll find yourself alright, but what you’ll also find is that the subtle beauty of travelling will change your perspective. With this new found drishtikon, fill up your backpack, pull up your socks and tie your laces- there is a long journey waiting, the hills of Munnar are calling, the world is screaming your name- keep moving forward.

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