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From a conversation(in malayalam) during a bicycle ride to Munnar –

Villager –  Ningal Munnarilekku cycle chavittukayano? (Are you cycling to Munnar?)
Cyclist – Athe athe (Yes! yes! )
Villager – Ningal adipoli! (You guys are awesome!)

Awesomeness aside, what is it that the hill station Munnar has in store for cyclists you ask?

Standing a 1500+ meters above sea level, with a cooler climate compared to the Keralan coast, conquering the tea carpeted mighty mountains of western ghats on pedal power give you a sense of achievement.
If you love cycling in mountains and you are in Kerala, Munnar is a must to be explored on a bike.

Lets take a virtual ride through Munnar, Kerala and you can see for yourself.

The starting point of the ride is the foothills of western ghats, near the small town of Neriamangalam, along side rubber and pineapple plantations. With an easy start and few downhills to begin with, we get to warm up our legs before slowly hitting the climbs. We cycle through a forested section with bamboo groves and tall trees on one side.

If you are cycling during monsoon or just after, you are welcomed by little waterfalls on the way. Stop by and wash your face and feet in this chilled water flowing from the mountains.

Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

A short break at the waterfalls and voila! You are completely refreshed and ready to hit more climbs leading towards Munnar.

Along the way you can see and experience, the Periyar River deep in  the valley, a hydro-electric project, churches, a basket weaving community settlement from neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, water gushing out through one or more open sluice gates of Kallarkutty dam (if you are biking in August) and few toddy shops serving spicy curries with tapioca. Toddy is a locally brewed alcohol made from coconut or palm flower bud sap. You have to try it when here to know why it is popular in these parts!

Soon you will reach Chithirapuram and that is when you will say “Wow! This is so beautiful.” This is the first stretch of tea plantation that you see. Munnar town is just 6 km away from here.

 Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

Munnar is culturally very different from other parts of Kerala. It has a predominant Tamil culture due to the settlement of migrants from Tamil Nadu who came here to work in the plantations.

The story is that the British found it very hard to get people from Kerala to work in tea plantations, so they finally brought in people from Tamil Nadu who where ready to do the hard work and this changed the landscape of Munnar!

To this day, the women from these communities pluck the tea leaves in the estates here while the men work in tea factories that process the leaves. The town of Munnar is quite small and it is packed with people and shops. When in Munnar, you can visit tea museum and learn about the history of Munnar – which is intertwined with that of tea.

 

Another place you can visit is establishment called Srishti. Srishti was started by TATA group to rehabilitate the physically and mentally challenged children of tea plantation workers.

But hey wait, the ride to Munnar is not complete without cycling to Top Station. A steady climb that takes you to an altitude of 2000 m and to the highest point in Kerala.

If you wish to ride and explore this beautiful part of Kerala by bicycle, be sure to check out the link provided here.

With this third and final post, this series of blog posts that describe Dibin’s dream cycling tour route through Kerala now comes to an end. You can read the first part about cycling Fort Kochi here and the second part about cycling the backwaters of Kerala here.

DSCN1719-Copyright Art of Bicycle Trips-Kerala Cycling Holidays

If you are considering cycling through Kerala, feel free to write to Dibin our Kerala and Sri Lanka bike tour expert classic(at)artofbicycletrips(dot)com for inputs. Cheers!

Author: Dibin

Editor: Ashwini

I held a snapshot of Kerala in the month of November last year. It started in Munnar where the air was suspended with chill, and I spent my day walking around the town and hiking up the tea hills. My friend Pankaj and his tour guests, BJ and David arrived that evening, cycling their way from Cochin.

The next day, we started rolling down the curvy roads of Munnar when the morning sun was relentlessly intense, as were the drivers on the road – honking to remind me of the slack that I was leaving behind with each push of the peddle. A decision had to be made and I told my friend I would take my time and understand the bicycle, the twitching of the gears and its effect on forward movement. As planned, I reached the tea museum alright to join the rest of my bicycle-mates. When we started cycling again after spending time at the museum, I was relaxed but didn’t anticipate the journey of 25 kilometers to Chinnakanal to take as long as it did.

The route was scenic as if adorned to charm the tourists passing through them. The locals were in the early stages of familiarizing themselves with these leisure cyclists in specialized gear (not mine though), traversing their everyday paths. I have a fond memory of being enveloped in a canopy of aged dark-green trees from this early ride. It felt intimate.

As we arrived in Chinnakanal, we learnt that a mild-mannered protest against a court order regarding the preservation of Western Ghats that broke-off the previous day had grown in size. Locals decided to get serious about the strike, leaving us with a completely empty day in Chinnakal. We however set out to cycle around in that unassumingly beautiful place. Starting at the head of a terraced hill, we wheeled down the road occasionally at speeds where we were risking it. Spinning around a faraway lake that seemed to be at the center and the road resembling a peel of orange layered in a conical shape. Some while later, we reached the waterfront where two buffaloes were grazing with abandon. Smooth was our time there, only to be shaken by the threat of a shower. When we decided to hike back on our bicycles, we asked around for the right way out from the tea workers who were not to have their day off from work even on a ‘bandh.’

The prevailing strike carried on to the next day leaving us with very little to do. Apart from switching our accommodation from a 3-star hotel to a home stay (less expensive and more comfortable even), we ambled around in the streets of the bandh-stricken town. I recollect I managed to go a little further into the book I was reading – Endless Love, by Ian McEwan – sitting in a café the name of which I don’t recollect. And then, BJ and David turned the table on us by hosting a dinner at a restaurant in Cardamom County. These two people drew me close to them as the conversation circled around all-too-familiar topics of family, friends, adventure, and holiday and more.

Ending our stupor in Thekkady, we geared ourselves for an intense day of cycling. I was dying to get into the cycling shorts that BJ generously gave me, after finding out about my cushion-less ride up the previous days. We filled our water bottles, squeezed into our pockets a little something to munch on. The road to Vagamon seemed as though it was particularly designed to challenge, engage and amuse in parts. Left far behind by the rest of them, I was briskly peddling on the flat roads that threw enough breeze on my face. There were the uphill stretches where I decidedly overcame the gradient without breathing through my mouth. So much poise I thought.

The words, ‘Jesus is coming. Are you ready?’ painted on a local church, went so many levels deep that it cracked me up and energized me for the rest of the time. Jesus, as you come, keep the weather as pleasant as it is now, roads as free as they can be, maybe even sprinkle few more people on the lonely roads. Amen. The thought of the end nearing on this continuum of a ride was a bit of a dimmer. We crashed out at a hotel in Vagamon waiting for tomorrow’s adventure.

Starting from the very top of the hills at Vagamon, it was down, down and down. A bit unnerving for me – I perpetually squeezed the breaks to remain in my orbit around the hill. And there we were, hitting the coast a little past noon. Over the course of the 4 to 5 days, I felt my endurance increase remarkably; I had a greater feel for the road and shed my clumsiness much to my own surprise. Where I was playing catch-up previously, this time I was ahead and waiting for the rest of them to join me.

The trip already felt full, but Pankaj caused a change of plans when he bargained for a good deal to spend the night in the houseboat along with BJ and David. Gliding on the backwaters of Vembanad Lake, beauty and magnificence were there for the asking. Schoolchildren boarding their boats to get home, boat stands instead of bus stands, few fishermen wading through, paddy fields, so green that it’s wild, sounds from the church. All of us silently agreed that words would pollute our shared space and time, and basked in the creation of our own collage of the scenes.

Time to hop out of the houseboat and start riding again. The last stretch of the ride to Kochi felt like a reward with flat roads sending ample breeze our way. Wind caressing every part of my body, my senses filled, I started to get an ominous feeling that this holiday had been too good to go on for even few more minutes. With the leaving of our bicycles at the Art of Bicycle shop-cum-garage, it did indeed end.

A vivid picture now comes to mind – a rush of red hibiscus occurring every now and then, marking my milestone as I went past. And just when the road had been let up by buses, cars, bikes, scooters, there was the whizzing sound of the four bicycles as if to say, ‘drink in this moment’.