World Environment Day – Gone wild!!

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On this June 5 – World Environment Day, the Kerala Forest Department along with WWF India organized a rain walk from Kallar to Ponmudi, a hill-station located at a distance of 61 kms from Trivandrum. Luckily, as it was a Sunday me and my friends decided to go on this trip, though we don’t know whether it rains or not.

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We chose the route to Nedumangad-Anad-Vithura-Kallar. We set on our bikes around 6.15 hrs in the morning from Trivandrum to Kallar (42 kms). Truly an adventurous and thrilling drive as the roads were pretty narrow and curvy. And the lush green surroundings full of rubber plantations and coconut grooves, along with the early morning breeze enhanced its charm. As this is my first drive on a bike in Kerala, and has no experience on such roads, I struggled a bit at the beginning, but soon caught up my speed. We reached Kallar around 7.30 hrs.

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Quickly completed the process of registration, and watched around to see our group which comprised of some 35 people from different age groups (youngest – 11 yrs and oldest – 60 yrs). I was quite excited. The WWF representatives and the Forest Division Officer, Kerala Forest Dept gave us a quick introduction to the World Environment Day and its theme this year. Once done, they flagged off the walk around 8.00 hrs.

The first one to welcome us is the Kallar river, after which the place Kallar has been named. A bird watching spot. There is the Meenmutti waterfall nearby, but didn’t get a chance to visit it this time :(. This is solely a road trek as they are very much concerned about our safety, but still got good chance of trying the off roads wherever possible.

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Ponmudi is situated at about 3000 feet and is home to mountain flowers, butterflies, spiders, springs and rivulets. The way from Kallar to Ponmudi comprises of 22 hairpin bends, probably one of the highest compared with rest of the hill stations in Kerala. The foothills of Ponmudi has few rubber plantations and I was lucky enough to see how the trees secret the latex and how it is being collected in the coconut shells or polythenes that were tied around the trees. The thing which attracted me the most is the down-hill view. It was almost as if the Mother Earth is wrapped up in a thick blanket of lush-green trees and forests.

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The cloud-kissed mountains, hills with tea plantations, mountain flowers on the road-sides and giant spiders and web right beside the trees, neat and clean roads, the green canopy, sun-rays playing hide and seek, it is simply one-hell of a beauty! Though the first few kms of distance was tiring, coz of the hot sun, it started to rain in mid-way and all of a sudden the climate changed into a pretty cool one. There was a temple dedicated to Karuppaswamy, a friend of Lord Ayyappa, a tea factory and a PWD Guest House on the way up.

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Though it’s a road trek, we tried the off-road ways at the hairpin bends, and trekking through the tea-gardens wherever there were possibilities. It took us around 4 hours (around 13.00 hrs) to reach till the Government Guest House located on top of this hill. We had a good Saadhya (Malayali Lunch), which consisted of the local variety of rice, Aviyal (mix veg curry), Poriyal (a fried stuff), Sambar and the Pepper Rasam with a Papa, provided by the staff there.

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The Government Guest house is good enough and very clean. It has a balcony from which we can see the panorama of Western Ghats. Kudos to the forest department people for maintaining the roads and the surroundings so neat and clean! This environment day turned out to be a memorable one for me, as I was really entwined with it. Started our way back around 15.30 hrs and reached Trivandrum by 16.45 hrs. A good week off 🙂

 

My Golden Beverage (TEA) Tours

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Chai (tea) has always been the maiden choice of people across the world to reduce stress and fatigue. At present India is one of the largest producers of tea globally and has it’s own tea story as one can see a wide range of flavors and varieties of tea here. More than 60 % of people in India would prefer Tea to a coffee and it’s the common man’s drink. Tea tours in India have gained popularity in the recent times and became an important part of the travel itineraries. Here comes mine 😉

Kerala:

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My first tea tour is of Munnar, an important tea region of Kerala. This region is dotted with lush green tea plantations. The tea journey must start with a visit to the country’s first Tea museum at Nallathanni estate to have a look at the history of tea production in the region. The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation established a Tea County wherein which we can stay and soak in the aroma of the fresh tea leaves. The entire trip of Munnar is in midst of the huge tea plantations spread over several hills. The best time to visit this place is from August to May.

West Bengal:

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One of the most popular hill stations in the state, Darjeeling is surrounded by tea gardens that produce the famous Darjeeling Tea (called the Champagne of Teas). Around 25% of India’s total tea outcome is from Darjeeling. There are few famous tea estates in Darjeeling and some of the large estates like Thurbo and Gopaladhara owns tea mountains on the way to Mirik (check my post on Mirik) from Darjeeling. Best time to visit would be from March to November.

The Happy valley Tea Estate is a well-known estate located at 3 km north of Darjeeling and is one of the highest tea gardens in the world. In fact, this is the place, where I came across a tea tour. The estate organizes tea tours to give the tea-lovers and travellers a closer understanding and the concept of tea-making. We can have a tour around it’s factory, pluck some tea leaves and have a complementary brew from the wide range of Darjeeling tea of different flushes and with distinct flavors like Orange and Tulsi.

Looking forward to brew some more from the other two important tea regions – Tamil Nadu and Assam…

Mirik – A nest in the hills of West Bengal

Located at a distance of 49 kms from Darjeeling, Mirik is a perfect day-out. We set out at 8 AM in the morning on our cab from Darjeeling enroute Ghoom-Sukhiapokhri-Simana-Pashupati Fatak-Bhanjang-Hilay-Mirik. It’s a wonderful ride on the scenic roads. The first viewpoint to wave a hello to us would be the Simana viewpoint. Simana in hindi means border. This is the Indo-Nepal border, the road itself belongs to India and the viewing area falls in Nepal. 🙂

Most of the localites say that it is a No-Man’s land. From the Simana view-point one can see the narrow winding road leading to Sandakphu on the other side of the valley. Also, one can get a great view of the dazzling Kanchenjunga peak. Just sit, relax and enjoy the breath-taking view.

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From here, the roads look more scenic with lush green tea gardens on the mountain slopes on either side of the road, and the Nepalese women working in the tea gardens and we too can pluck some twigs of tea. The famous tea estates like Thurbo and Gopaldhara owns few mountains of tea here . Thubro has got its factory here on the way to Mirik and one can have a visit to it by taking permission from the manager.

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Our next stoppage is the beautiful Mirik. It’s a small beautiful town, at an altitude of 5000 ft. The top attraction of Mirik is the Sumendu lake, with a garden on one side of its bank and woods on the other. Both the banks are connected by a arching footbridge. Sit along the bank of the lake and relax or just walk over the bridge to the other side of the lake to take a walk through the woods and there is a small temple (Devi Sthan) in the forest. Boating is also available here.

Other attractions of Mirik are the Monastery and the Orange Orchids. Got a chance to see the Monastery but not the Orange Orchids. Will plan it the next time 🙂

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On our way back to Darjeeling from Mirik, we stopped at the Pashupati Market, which happened to be at the India-Nepal border. It is actually located in Nepal. The formalities to enter the market are quite simple. They just require your Photo ID cards. Though Cameras are not allowed, we can very well use our mobiles. Lol!! The market is a 1 km walk from the border post and is full of imported electronic gadgets, jackets, perfumes, cosmetics and clothes. But, be careful as there are good numbers of fakes too.

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On further down, one can visit the place Jorpohri, which is located at an altitude of 7400 ft. The main feature is its twin lakes. This place is located in the midst of the pines and has a beautiful garden and a Shiv Mandir. A calm and serene place. The best part of this trip would be the drive to Jorpokhri from the main road.

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What else would be a perfect day out!! It will be more perfect, if you get a joy ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways from Ghoom to Dajeeling on our way back. And am lucky enough as I got one 🙂

Thanks to the most sweetest person of my life for joining me in this trip 🙂 🙂