Covered with tea leaves all around, the Kolukkumalai tea estate offers breathtaking views of the hills of Kerala and some amazing tea flavours to try, taste, and take back home.
The way to the Kolukkumalai tea estate – the highest tea plantation in the world, comes with bumpy rides amid rugged roads up to the top of the hill. But one would often come across the travellers saying how the nightmare, as the rides up to there, are actually worth the patience. The sight of a green bed comprising tea leaves, when mixed with the golden hue of the dawn, is, after all, an incredible experience for them!
Located near Munnar, Kerala, the tea estate is above 7,130 ft (2,170 m) from the sea level that was established in the 1930s, along with a factory to process tea in a traditional method. In the initial years of the 1930s, British resident, John Daniel Munro, leased land from the Travancore Kingdom, and the tea cultivation started under European resident A.H.Sharp. Reportedly, the 50-acre land extended up to Kolukkumalai by 1932.
During that time, it took a strenuous effort by hundreds of workers and horses to carry the building materials and factory equipments to set up the tea factory back in 1935. Undoubtedly, they have kept up with the same factory and method to date, and the tea leaves are handpicked, processed, and manually packed for distribution.
When Raisha Baidya Roy, who hails from Delhi, visited the tea estate in 2015, she found colder weather, even in May. Using the only mode of transport there to the hill, i.e. jeep, she came across craggy roads due to the regular rains and the constant moisture in the air. A Mumbai-resident Vidhi Joshi also had to face similar issues during her visit just two years later. In her words, “The roads were bone-crushing and back-breaking bumpy.” The worst had come to Pragadish Kirubakaran, a Chennai native, who visited there in 2019, along with a friend who suffered from symptoms of Asthma.
Just like their trekking experiences, they also had common gratifying reactions to witnessing the highest tea estate. Once Vidhi Joshi’s jeep secured a nice spot for viewing the sunrise, she noticed the horizon turning orange. Slowly and steadily the sun started rising and the rays lit up the tea estate basking the whole plantation in yellow hues. The wholesomeness of the huge green covers of the manicured tea estate bathed in golden yellow light totally soaked her in. “It was absolutely worth all the pain we endured reaching there, a sight to cherish for a lifetime,” she says.
As Raisha Baidya reached there after watching the sunrise, the place was still surrounded by misty clouds. She saw hills full of tea gardens as far as she could see, all wrapped by mist. “Everywhere I looked was spectacular, every spot was picturesque,” she says.
Moreover, Baidya loved watching the process of tea making from scratch and tried different varieties over there. “As it is located on a very high altitude, their tea possesses special flavours that you won’t find anywhere else. So, I bought a bunch of different kinds of tea for friends and family,” she recounts.
Pragadish Kirubakaran had a no different reaction. The biting cold, rolling hills, the lush green canopy, and the clouds that looked like they would swallow him whole, filled him with a sense of wonder. He took some photos, but as he says, how could it do the full justice to the beauty! “It was indescribable alluring and the whole experience was therapeutic,” he says, adding that it reminded him of how he still craves simpler things like hills, fresh air, and quiet treks through forests that can “fix lives”.
Apart from taking the safaris to the estate, travellers get a chance to take a guided tour of the factory. The guides share about the people indulging in the seven-step process – withering, rolling, sieving, fermenting, drying, fibre extraction, and grading. The results are some of the exotic flavours line Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP), the Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) and more. No doubt that the process and the wooden interiors of the factory are capable of taking people to the old colonial times.
Living at a closer distance to Munnar, Jishnu S, a resident of Kochi, always finds some time for a stopover at the tea estate. Of his visits, including the last one in March this year, what he admires the most is the fresh fragrance of tea flavours spread across the entire valley, especially inside the factory. “Located in the middle of tea plantations, the factory offers a great taste of tea,” he says.
Aspiring to live within this beauty is a possible chance for travellers as the management of the tea estate has converted the old staff quarters into a guesthouse. While it provides the basic food and amenities, it is also advisable to carry toiletries if planning to set up a tent for the stay. Those aromatic bushes become a great company for the night.
For the ones staying back, the morning arrives again with the views of the plains of Tamil Nadu and the distant Nilgiri hills with the aromatic green tea leaves covering miles.