Nilgri taun, elephants, tea, spices and chocolate!

Our second day in Munnar, the hill station town in Kerala, woke to amazing views.
Our first date was with the nilgiri taun, a rare mountain goat found in the hillsides of the area. We headed for the national park and climbed aboard a tourist bus to drive us 3 km into the park. The once-again windy roads were bordered by acres of patchwork tea plantations with women bent double plucking the largest leaves from the top of the plant and placing them in baskets strapped across their foreheads and hanging down their backs. They wore traditional saris with big plastic ponchos to protect them from the rain. It was pouring!
Once we had reached the top we alighted from the bus and were told to walk the last kilometre. Even with an umbrella and scarf wrapped round my head we were soaked. The road was really steep and the rain horizontal! There were no goats in sight and we almost have up and turned back when we saw a lone nilgiri standing in the rain. Two quick snaps and we headed back down to catch the bus back to the warmth of our Toyota.

Next stop tea museum. Most of Munnar is owned by Tata tea, so it is impossible to buy property within a certain area. We listened to a fierce elderly man lecturing us, along with a crowd of others, about the amazing effects of green tea and how black tea, certainly the way locals drink it, has no health benefits. He blamed the British of course, for bringing milk and sugar into the brew. But he was interesting and he certainly knew his stuff. After a look around the processing area we tasted some green tea, which is from the same plant but treated differently and not oxidised like black tea. We followed his instructions just dipping the tea bag in for two long dunks and then removing it. It was really refreshing and delicious. After some purchases we headed off to see the elephants.

This was a different group of elephants, seemingly their purpose was purely for tourist rides. We felt sad seeing the limited space they had but they were healthy and well trained. Jackie and I shared an elephant, me and the front, she behind. We felt spectacularly high up sitting astride Camilla our elephant. It was a short ride but quite enough with some fairly steep downward paths which felt very unsteady! I had the opportunity to feed her some pineapple which I was pretty hopeless at but I enjoyed nonetheless. It reminded me of the time I fed an elephant for an advert as a little girl, not sure my parents ever passed my payment my way!!

All these brilliant experiences were along wet and windy roads up and down the hills and as well as tea plantations we could see black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg and coffee beans. It was brilliant to see them growing green and strong, the coffee smelt so good. As we plucked some samples a local man came up and helped and offered me a taste of the ‘toddy’ he had in a large container. This alcoholic drink is made from coconut water and gets stronger day by day. Luckily for me it was quite young as it was only 10:30 am, plus it wasn’t really to my taste!! I have a feeling toddy will be gaining in popularity soon as Kerala becomes a dry state over the next few years with only 5 star hotels selling booze. Better get a G &T in tonight then!!

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