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Places to Visit in Munnar, Kerala

One of the most striking things about the state of Kerala in Southern India is how very green it is. A popular place to visit, it has spectacular scenery, interesting wildlife, fascinating culture and fantastic food. It’s no wonder that the locals call it ‘God’s Own Country.’ We toured the area for a week, visiting Athirappilly, Thekkady and Kumarakom, where we spent a very pleasant afternoon on a houseboat in the backwaters. The hill station near Munnar has the perfect climate and landscape for growing tea. At an elevation of 1500m the temperature is much more comfortable than the searing temperatures closer to sea level. There are lots of places to visit in Munnar and the surrounding area.

Places to Visit in Munnar

Places to visit in Munnar – Eravikulam National Park

The Eravikulam National Park is one of five national parks in Kerala and is home to a lots of wildlife, including the Nilgiri Thar, a type of goat which is seriously endangered and can only be found in any significant numbers in this area. There also are deer, monkeys, wild dogs, otters, mongooses, martens and porcupine as well as many species of bird and butterflies.

The park used to be a British game reserve during colonial times and was known for its rich hunting grounds. Later, the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company managed the lands which were handed to the Kerala Government in the early 1970s. The Nilgiri Tahr had become almost extinct by 1972 and was placed on the endangered list so the park became a conservation area and achieved national park status in 1978.

The park is located around 15km away from central Munnar and you can either get a cab or hire a car/driver to reach it. Buses are available but less convenient. You can’t walk or drive around the area, private cars are not allowed inside the park and you have to catch a bus from the entrance car park. Just buy your tickets at the kiosk and join the queue. Beware that the queue may be long as it’s a popular place to visit. The bus ride is very scenic as it climbs the hill via a number of hairpin bends.

Place

The wildlife wasn’t co-operating when we visited but the trip nevertheless offered a lovely walk with spectacular views.

Places to Visit in Munnar landscape
Munnar landscape

Visit the Rose garden

The Floriculture Centre, more commonly known as the Rose Garden, is worth a short visit if flowers and plants are your thing. You can wander through the terraces and have a look at the local flowers and plants.

Places to Visit in Munnar Rose Garden
Munnar Rose garden
Places to Visit in Munnar Rose Garden

After lunch (you can read about thali here) we headed out through the countryside to visit the Mattupetty Dam and Kundala Dams. On the way to the Kundala Lake, we spotted a bunch of people gathering at the roadside with cameras and phones out and most definitely pointing in a particular direction. It’s always worth stopping to see what the crowds are looking at. And we were rewarded with the sight of a couple of wild elephants sauntering through the fields.

Places to Visit in Munnar Elephant
Munnary elephants

It’s possible to walk in the forests surrounding the lakes and across the dams.

Kundala dam Munnar
Kundala dam
Munnar dams
Munnar dam forest

Tea and Spices

Tea plantations adorn the surrounding hills in all directions, each individual tea plant creating a pattern that dominates the landscape.

Munnar tea

Tea plants like receiving lots of water but don’t like sitting in water, hence the plentiful rainfall in Kerala provides plenty of hydration and the hilly landscape is ideal for perfect drainage.

The tea is picked by hand. Only the top three leaves, which are the most tender, are used. There are a number of processing plants around Munnar. We didn’t have time to visit a tea plantation but did bring back some Munnar tea as a souvenir.

Munnar picking tea

Kerala is also famous for its spices. Keralan cuisine is amazingly good – all the dishes we tried were beautifully flavoured. Many of the spices grown can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. We visited a spice plantation, in the pouring rain (thankfully they loaned us umbrellas) and saw a number of plants that are used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Munnar Spice plantation cinnamon

Cinnamon comes from the bark of the tree. Peel it off and it curls up into those familiar scrolls.

Allspice is a very apt name. If you smell and taste: think of nutmeg. Yes! Think of cinnamon. Yes! Think of cloves. Yes! It really has a flavour that can emulate many different spices and is a great all-rounder.

Cardamon is an amazingly aromatic spice. It actually grows at the base of the plant in little pods.

Places to Visit in Munnar Spice plantation cardamon
Places to Visit in Munnar Spice plantation

Nutmeg and mace. Mace is the outer ‘skin’ of the nutmeg – you get a milder nutmeg taste with a more citrusy flavour.

Cloves add a real fragrance to savoury dishes. They also have a numbing effect and are a traditional remedy for toothache.

Munnar Spice plantation cloves
Places to Visit in Munnar Spice plantation pepper tree

Peppercorns are native to Kerala and have been used in Indian cooking since at least 2000 BCE. Once the most valuable spice in the world, pepper can be eaten in its many different forms (albeit the same fruit of the tree): green peppercorns are the unripe fruit of the pepper tree. When they turn red they are ripe. Black and white peppercorns are, likewise, both the same fruit of the pepper plant, but are processed differently. Black peppercorns are picked when the fruit is almost ripe and then they are sun-dried, and this turns the outer layer black. White pepper is the peppercorn without the skin. It’s the black skin that has the distinctly peppery flavour elements. If you want heat but not the flavour, white peppercorns are the one to use.

We purchased some of the spices, particularly those that are expensive to buy at home. They make ideal souvenirs as they easily slip into any spaces your backpack and ours have been used extensively since our return home.

Places to Visit in Munnar – Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performance

We made our way to the Punarjani traditional village to see a Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performance in the early evening.

Kathakali is a form of classical Indian dance which tells a story, often based on traditional legends, Hindu mythology and Indian epic stories. There is a narrative but no dialogue – dance, mime and song are the means by which the story is told. Artists spend several years training at specialist schools in order to develop their skills. The expressive performance is emphasised by the spectacular costumes and make-up, which can take around 3-5 hours to apply.

Munnar Kathakali make-up

It is worth arriving early for the performance because you are often allowed backstage to watch the performers apply their remarkable make-up.

Places to Visit in Munnar Kathakali
Places to Visit in Munnar Kathakali

You have a choice of seating and if you sit in the stalls there’s a possibility that you may be called up on stage to take part in the performance. It’s largely mime-based so no need to worry about any language skills.

Kathakali performance
Kathakali performance
Places to Visit in Munnar Kathakali performance

The Kathakali lasts around an hour and, if you wish, you can then watch a Kalaripayattu performance in an adjoining theatre. This is a form of Indian martial art, indeed it is one of the world’s oldest martial arts, and is spectacular to watch. It is highly acrobatic and uses a number of weapons. The demonstration is lively, exciting and occasionally scary!

Kalaripayattu
Places to visit Munnar Kalaripayattu performance

Eating in Kerala

All the meals we ate in Kerala were completely brilliant. Because of the diversity of the region both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, featuring fish, poultry and red meat, are readily available. The fish dishes are particularly good, using locally caught fish from the rivers and the sea. The food is delicately flavoured with local spices – all the spices we encountered at the plantation featured heavily, notably black pepper, clove, cardamon, cinnamon and ginger. Here are some of the dishes we tried.

ularthivathu
Meen ularthivathu – fish fried with shallots and strips of coconut with small green chillies (not massively hot) and tomatoes.
muthuvan kudi meen
Muthuvan kudi meen – a tangy fish curry flavoured with lovely sour tamarind.
mutton and peppercorns
Mutton pacha kurumulagu peralan – mutton with green peppercorns
cashew coconut rice
Coconut and cashew rice
mutton biryani
Mutton biryani
chicken chettinadu
Chicken chettinadu

Munnar has so many things to offer the visitor – nature, wildlife, culture and, of course, the most delicious food.

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25 Comments

  1. I’ll take the mutton biryani, please! Very interesting post. I particularly enjoyed the pictures and information on all the different spices. Did you get to taste any preprocessing? I’d be curious how they were different raw.

    • Thank you! We loved visiting the spice plantation but didn’t try many of them raw, except the pepper (in its green state) which was peppery but didn’t have the intensity or heat of black/white pepper. And… mutton biryani coming right up! 🙂

    • Thank you so much. We absolutely loved the spice plantation – even though it was pouring with rain. It was so interesting to see the plants and where the spices came from. We brought home LOADS of spices as souvenirs!

  2. We haven’t visited India yet but with every post I read I realise we are missing out. Yours is no exception. Munnar looks and sounds incredible – tea and spice plantations, wild elephants, fish curry, a rose garden – so many things to do and see.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. We’d definitely recommend a visit to India – the southern states in particular were really wonderful. Hope you get to visit one day!

  3. This type of trip is exactly what I love doing – travelling through, seeing landscapes and experiencing things that I cannot at home. Seeing massive tea plantations and then actually seeing those spices grow as they would naturally is captivating (I only ever see them in packets on supermarket shelves!. That info about the different types and make-up of pepper was so interesting as I knew nothing about that before.
    I know exactly what you mean about buying spices etc that are expensive at home. I bought special Balinese coffee that would be 10 times the price back in the UK.
    The shows would defo be on my list as I love dance and music in a local environment. The food pics got me hungry – they sounded delicious.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Kerala really is a fantastic place to visit, so many things to do and see. We’re massive foodies so absolutely loved the spice plantation and we learned so much about how they grow. And the food was consistently delicious everywhere we went!

    • Thank you. It was brilliant. We absolutely adored South India (we also visited Tamil Nadu) – such a lovely place to visit and so many things to do. And the food was consistently brilliant! Hope you get to visit.

  4. The food, the tea, the spices, scenery and wildlife. Just wow. Everything I ever want in travel! I never heard of Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performance before but will be attending one when I visit Kerala. Great post.

    • Thank you. Yes, it was such a brilliant place to visit. You’re absolutely right – you can’t go wrong when there are so many amazing things to do in the area. The performances were brilliant and so much part of the culture in Kerala.

  5. What a great post. You answered my questions about made and peppercorns that I am too afraid to ask and too lazy to look up. Seeing elephants in the wild must be amazing. The views were so beautiful even without wildlife the walk through looked totally worth it and the food looked amazing. I agree with Barry that this trip looks like a perfect mix of things I love to do.

    • Thank you so much! Yes, we found the spices fascinating – we learned so much and it was great to see them growing. There were so many things to do in the area and the food was just delicious throughout the whole trip.

    • Thank you! Kerala really was a delightful place to visit. And, yes, the food was amazing! The fish dishes, in particular, were really good.

  6. How gorgeously green! I really look forward to the day(s) when we can visiti India. That’s so great that you happened upon some elephants! I guess that blew your “wild life wasn’t co-operating” theory out of the water, huh? Wonderful photos of the performers backstage, too!

    • Thank you. Yes, it is wonderfully green in Munnar. Do hope you get to visit India, we really loved our trip to South India in particular. Yes, we didn’t see any of the rare Nilgiri Thar goats but the elephants made up for it! The performances were great and it was so lovely to be able to see the performers apply their remarkable make-up.

    • We were surprised at how lush Kerala was. It’s really beautiful there. And the wild elephants were just brilliant!

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