We followed the Coonoor stay with a long drive to Munnar, another highlands area growing tea, coffee and cardamom south of Coimbatore. Though only about 200 kilometers from Coonoor, the drive took nearly 5 hours; getting from here to there in India is always interesting, and takes longer than you’d think due to roads winding their way through the tiniest of villages, up and down the hills, and through traffic and traffic accidents, and around many many cows…
Bustling Munnar was lit for Sunday evening shoppers and diners, and after checking into “Tea County,” (http://www.teacountymunnar.com/) a large resort not far from town, we drove back downtown to find Saravana Bhavan (www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant_Review-g303881-d1986714-Reviews-Saravana_Bhavan_Munnar-Munnar_Kerala.html) (Sorry for the long link – another fix I have to figure out.), where we found a mix of locals, and international and Indian tourists eating dinner. This is as close as we’ve come to finding a “banana leaf” restaurant such as we used to enjoy so much when we lived in Singapore. Here, the plates are plantain leaves instead, but the waiters still come round with tiffin pails of various “gravies.” In India, a gravy is what we might call a curry – a wet sauce of various flavors mixed with a variety or a single type of “veg.”
After eating dinner we had fun poking into the tiny local shops after dinner – each merchant seems to specialize in something, and yet there’s always a competitor just across the lane!
We’ve been looking at buckets and bathing pots and ladles – having become used to the sit down on a stool (or not) bath system in many of the places we’ve stayed. Most hotels and guest houses have separate hot water heaters in the bathrooms so you need to turn the switch on a half hour before bathing, and then fill a large bucket with the water which you can then sluice over your body/hair with the provided large ladle or cup. In better hotels there are overhead shower heads too, but I’m getting proficient at washing my hair and at least essential body parts the bucket and ladle way – and do appreciate how much more water efficient it is than just letting a shower run.
Munnar is where we had our first ayurvedic massage and medicinal steam bath. One word – FANTASTIC! At Swatic Ayur Centre (find reviews at TripAdvisor), I was gently managed by Saranya, who led me to a simple, very warm room with a wooden platform on which she had me lay down. She poured warm oil over my back and commenced with a series of stroking massage movements – up and down, in a u-shape, s-shape, figure 8; she pulled and stroked the muscle groups from the tips of my toes to the tips of my fingers…it wasn’t like any other massage I’ve had, and was completely relaxing. Then I sat in an old-fashioned steam bath with a towel over my head – it was HOT and 15 minutes was a few too long for me, but I emerged red as a tomato and thoroughly steam-cleaned. We just made it back to the hotel before crashing for a pre-dinner nap.
The highlands are a completely different geographic region of India, and reinforce my understanding that the country is so immense and complex that assumptions are useless, and accepting anything and everything that comes along is a good strategy for peace of mind. We go next to the Periyar Tiger Reserve…stay tuned.