After a not-so-successful fortnight in Sri Lanka. we were thankfully flying back into Southern India. It felt like another home to us after spending a couple of weeks with family recently, so we were looking forward to seeing another part of Kerala, different to last time, Munnar – a hill station amongst tea plantations. There were no trains, just buses, so we jumped on the bus at the airport to take us to Ernakulum and link up with a bus to the mountains. Sounded simple enough, so when we were dropped off on a main road with no bus station in sight, we were a little stumped.
We got directions to a bus station and were told the next bus would be in 3 hours time, 11am. We were told the buses leave every 45mins from another bus stop so jumped in the tri-shaw and made our way there. No timetables, no buses and no one who could understand English. Hmmm. We found a travel agent and asked for a price of a one-way taxi to Munnar. After 15 minutes of trying to convince him we didn’t want a return taxi or a hotel, we got up and left. Apparently where we stood, the rickshaw drivers had a rule not to cross the intersection ,so we had to walk across and find the right rickshaw driver in the right area. When we did he took us to the our next choice, KRTC Station. The local bus company.
If you took the bathroom from the movie Saw and designed a whole building around it, you would be left with Ernakulan Town KRTC Bus Station. It looked ominous to say the least. But we walked in, found the station master who said the bus leaves at 10 from platform 6 and will be there shortly. Success! We bravely grabbed some breakfast from the food stalls and jumped on the bus to claim our seat.
The next five hours consisted of winding roads, overcrowding, spectacular views and the exciting challenge of running off the bus to use the over-used station bathrooms then running back to the bus before it left.
When we made it to Munnar, the temperature had dropped and the rain had began to fall. We checked into Green View, booked a half day trek with them through the plantations and confirmed our booking for the following afternoon for a cooking class with Nimi Pukar. As the light faded we wandered to the new town to grab dinner at Saravana Bhavan restaurant for some well deserved South Indian dinner.
As we said in previous blogs, the dosai is one of our favourite meals and I had spoken of the ultimate Dosai to try, the Ghee Masala Onion Rava Dosai. It can never be made, the locals said. It doesn’t exist we have been told. Well, as we were served by the happiest man in Munnar, my Dosai dream was there in text on the menu. It was ordered and it was incredible! The ultimate Dosai. Sufficiently sophonsified, we wandered on back to the guesthouse in preparation for the next days trek.
At 6am we woke, drank a cup of sugary masala chai and headed out to the tea plantations, past the koala-less eucalyptus trees. It is a beautiful place, so luscious and green, but with dashes of colour from the ladies working tirelessly picking tea leaves. Their outfits made even brighter by their smiling faces as they would ask where we are from.
We really enjoyed ourselves as we walked higher and higher to stop for a snack on a rock that overlooked the valley.
As we descended back down around the hill we spotted the largest and most colourful squirrel that we think we would ever see. A terrible photo but you get the idea.
We made it back in just enough time to walk down the road to Nimi’s Cooking Class. Nimi is great. We bonded over our love of food as she told us how she self published her cookbook and came third in the Gourmand International Cookbok Awards. We spoke for ages, getting distracted in between cooking traditional Keralan Dishes such as Uppuma (Semolina Stir Fry), Kappa Kuzhachathu (Tapioca Mix) and Kozhukatta (a coconut desert). We finished off the cooking lesson by sitting in her teaching kitchen overlooking the river while eating the delicious Meen Mulagittathu (Spicy Fish Curry). A great way to end our stay in Munnar.
There was just enough time to squeeze in one more Ghee Masala Onion Rava Dosai before we jumped on the bus in the seat behind the driver (just to make it a little more
scary exciting) for four more hours of winding, bumping and squeezing past other local buses trying to break land speed records to be rewarded with the familiar sight of KRTC bus station. We would have grabbed a tuk tuk if the drivers had not been on strike, so instead powered though the heat and humidity to the ferry terminal to cross over to Fort Cochin. We upgraded to Burton Boatyard Hotel as they randomly had a deal at ¼ of the normal price and settled in for a warm showers and some cold beer. The hotel is an amazing old building on the water so we sat in the bar relaxing for the afternoon. They even provide a free sunset cruise on the harbour and a cooking lesson. Of course we opted for the cooking lesson where, the young Chef, Sarin, taught us a very tasty Fish Molee and after a bit of convincing, gave up their signature dish, First Class Mutton Curry,
All we needed to do in Cochin was return back to a shop to buy a wooden elephant we wanted when we were here a month ago. As we walked in, the young guy remembered us and we started to negotiate the price. He seemed quite nervous for some reason and halfway through we realised why as he asked if we remembered he was from Kashmir. We did and he began to tell us that his family and boss were in Kashmir as the recent floods had killed 200 people and he couldn’t get hold of anyone. We guess he needed someone to talk to as we tried our best to reassure him that everything would be okay and that his family are probably fine, just unable to call because of damage. Leaving our details with him in case we could help we had to head off to catch our train.