High tea at Kulukkumalai

Kulukkumalai, the highest tea garden in the world, offers the best brew of picturesque terrain, writes Jagdeesh Laxman Singh

Tea plantations. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Great tasting tea from old colonial British plantations, cured using vintage manufacturing processes and grown on the highest altitude of the Western ghats, i.e, 7,130 feet, since 1930, is what Kulukkumalai, a small hamlet in Tamil Nadu, bordering the state of Kerala, has to offer.

Tea shrubs grow slower at higher altitudes. The higher the altitude, the finer is the quality and flavour of tea.

This plantation is on a steep terrain battered with high velocity winds. It is also probably one of the few plantations where no pesticides or fertilisers are ever used.

Kulukkumalai is in Bodingagakanur or simply Bodi. Driving down to Munnar, we drove towards Chinnakanal, 24 km away, to our resort. My friend and I soon realised that hiring one of the 100 jeeps from Munnar along with a driver was the best way to cover our journey to the Kulukkumalai plantations. The 5-6 hour journey cost us Rs 2,500.

This road is largely un-motorable and is hospitable only to jeeps or four-wheel drives. There’s practically no road, its pitch dark with headlights just bouncing and bobbing away.

Highest elevation

It’s a ‘no-road’ destination of about 14 km uphill. The best time to travel this stretch and witness the sunrise is at 4 am ... as the drive takes 90 to 100 minutes to climb. We found a convoy of jeeps on this stretch moving in an orderly manner at that early hour. This road leads you to Suryanelli, a private estate. A checkpost here collects a deposit of Rs 2,000 and personal details. Finally, all jeeps, the only vehicle allowed, line up at the sunrise point, towards Kerala border. Our experienced jeep driver took us through a plantation gate. This private plantation collected a sum of Rs 100 per head and allowed us to go into the Tamil Nadu side of the plantations, and lo and behold, we were in Kulukkumalai Tea Plantations — the world’s highest elevation tea plantation.

A gate opened and we stepped into one of the most picturesque settings ever seen. It was still dark and dusky and we witnessed the most beautiful streak of light like a colourful rainbow — a straight strip on the horizon. Slowly, it became broader and a riot of colour brushed out towards red and orange, complementing the blues, reds and greens. A beautiful sight — simply out of this world. Suddenly it was vivid, colourful, and a riot of colours, and in just a few minutes, it’s all over! All my photography knowledge rushed to my aid, and suddenly I wanted to be all over the place, top... down... in the valley... behind the trees... behind the rocks... it was just amazing. The view was mesmerising… we were stunned into silence by the beauty of what we had just witnessed.

Eclectic brew

We slowly made our way to the only tea shop — it was 7 am by that time. We visited the age-old tea factory. The surroundings continued to be beautiful as they were bathed in sunlight and clouds.
At about 8 am, we started our descent, which took about 90 mins.

The descent was much more lovely with clear blue skies and vivid vibrant colours of the landscape accompanying us.

Kulukkumalai has a beautiful trekking and stay-in-tent zone that feels like heaven above the skies. Their rates are very reasonable. Rs 1,500 per day with all meals, and enough of trekking. Transportation is additional.

It’s definitely not for the weak-hearted, but worth the stay. We came back with photographic memories of a few hundred photographs.

Every turn here is a picturesque sight.
Kukkumalai is a hill village bordering Munnar (Kerala) and Tamil Nadu village and takes anywhere around 10-11 hours by road from Bengaluru. The road journey is picturesque and beautiful.
It sure is a great view after a hard climb up the hill.

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