The Hill Stations of Kerala were first settled and cultivated as tea plantations by the British, during the mid to late 1800s around 80 of these beautiful areas were established, many of them in Kerala. At heights up to 2500 metres in the foothills of the Western Ghats mountains, the rainfall and cooler climate is perfect for growing tea.
More recently Indian companies have aquired these fertile estates, continuing to produce high quality tea which is exported all over the world.
The rolling hillsides are covered in tea gardens giving the appearance of a green, cushiony blanket thrown down by God. Kerala is famous for the production of spices, cash crops of cardamom, pepper and cinnamon have perfumed the air of the high country for centuries and plantations of rubber and cashew add further variety to the landscape.
Picturesque bungalows, a legacy remaining after the departure of the British, add a touch of colour dotted about the emerald vista, and early in the morning, the bright dresses of the teapickers give more colour and character to the scene.
Kerala’s Hill Stations are popular with Indian and foreign visitors, valued for their tranquil atmosphere and cool climate, and easy access to some of the wildlife areas which are the habitat for a wide variety of animal and plant species.
There are opportunities at many tea gardens to learn about and observe tea production, and to buy tea as a perfect reminder of your visit.
Thenmala in Kollam district is Kerala’s first planned eco tourism hill station concentrating on leisure and adventure experiences for tourists and giving an understanding of why ecology is so important when visiting these bio diverse and sensitive beauty spots. From the Malayalam language Thenmala translates as Honey Hill, bees that feed from the lush flora of the area produce high grade honey.
Arranged in three zones, leisure, culture and adventure, good sign posting, a visitor centre and well trained staff make it easy to find what you are looking for. Leisure zone has a exciting sway bridge which takes you to the dam, and a sculpture garden explores the relationship between man and nature.
Culture zone has an amphitheatre where there are Keralan art and culture displays, a restaurant to sample authentic Kerala recipes and the opportunity to buy a momento of your trip. The big attraction here is the Musical Dancing Fountain which is fascinating for all age groups.
Adventure zone has an elevated walkway through the tree tops giving wonderful views and a different aspect when you see everything from a height. For those who enjoy more energetic pursuits, there is mountain biking, rock climbing and river rides.
Forest rides in a quiet battery powered vehicle is ideal for spotting wild life, riverside walks and a children’s eco park make Thenmala an ideal family destination.
Munnar, probably the most famous of Kerala Hill Stations, is an area of outstanding beauty with hills and valleys covered in tea and spice plantations with the Western Ghats mountain rising majestically behind. The climate is moderate, becoming cool in the evening time when you will need warmer clothing. There is plenty to visit around Munnar, and plentiful hotels and resorts to please every tourist whatever their needs or budget.
After the amazing sight of hill after rolling hill covered in emerald green tea bushes, the Tea Museum at Nullatanni estate in Munnar gives an interesting view into the past and an understanding of how tea is processed today. On display are many items relating to the 100 yr old history of tea and how it still prospers today.
Eravikulam National Park, now being considered by UNESCO for world heritage status, is high altitude grasslands, mountains and rivers, Anamudi, at 2695m is India’s highest peak outside the Himalayas. Among the 26 species of animals here, the largest surviving population Of Nilgiri Thar are carefully managed, They are so sensitive to disturbance that the Park is closed from early February to early April when the young are born. Tours of Eravikulam are taken by mini bus, driven by staff who know and understand the wildlife.
Anywhere you walk in Munnar and surrounding area will delight you the views and fresh air, there is plenty of opportunity for longer treks. Mattupetty Dam is a scenic lake with boating available in row or motor boats. You may see waterfalls while driving around, Attukal Waterfall is a favourite, at it’s most dramatic during monsoon seasons. Top Station is a special viewpoint, with good visibility there is a magnificent panorama of mountains and hills, but when the clouds come down the view is lost.
High in the Western Ghats lies Peermade, once the summer retreat of the Rajas of Travancore. This is a small green gem of a hill station offering peace and tranquillity in fresh air, ideal for walking and trekking. Tea and spice plantations perfume the air, black and white pepper, ginger, tumeric and cardamom are grown organically. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary with herds of wild elephant and many other animals is 43 km from Peermade.
Reaching Vagamon is an experience in itself, the winding road was cut through solid rock and pine forests in the 1950s. High green hills and deep ravines stretch as far as the eye can see, the three main hills, Thangal, Murugan and Kurisumala have significance for the main, religious groups of Kerala standing here as evidence of cultural harmony. Vagamon hasn,t been commercialised in a big way, so it retains an untouched mystical quality making it perfect for walkers and trekkers, in fact anyone looking for unspoiled nature and peace of mind. The viewpoint on Thangal Hill is popular for it,s wide vistas of hills and meadows.
An interesting visit is to the Indo- Swiss dairy project managed by the monks of Kurisumala monastery where there are many breeds of cow.
The overall impression at Vagamon is wide green panoramas of hills and valleys stretching to infinity, and a calm that melts your cares away.
Nelliyampathy, in Palakkad district is reached by a road with 10 hairpin bends starting from Nenmara, winding through the spectacular Nelliyampathy Hill ranges. On the way up are viewpoints to catch a look at vast areas of Palakkad district, tea estates, privately managed bio farms, and orange groves. The Palakkad Gap has a view through the mountains all the way to Tamil Nadu.
Malampuzha Dam is a mini hydro electric and irrigation project and one of Kerala’s popular tourist spots. The dam itself has boating and picnic facilities, while the gardens have a wide range of activities , including a rope walk, rock garden aquarium and snake park. Fantasy Park is 1.5 km from here with water activities and rides. The surrounding forests sustain plenty of wildlife, elephant, bison, giant squirrel, sambar and leopard may be seen within the forest and on the edge of plantation areas. Mampara Peak ( Raja’s Cliff ) is a fantastic viewpoint but can only be reached by jeep or forest paths.
The plantations, hills and forests are wonderful walking or trekking territory, you should choose a route to suit your abilities and energy levels.
Wayanad, in North Kerala is an area of more than 2000 sq km in the magnificent Western Ghats. Blessed with outstanding natural beauty, far from commercialisation, Wayanad is home to tribes as yet untouched by civilisation.
Jewel like Hill Stations, wide grassy savannahs, deep forests and fragrant spice plantations, plus a cultural history reaching back as far as the Mesolithic age, Wayanad offers a rich tourist experience.
The wildlife sanctuary is made up of two distinct areas, Muthanga in the south, and Tholpetty to the north both are part of the Nilgiri Biosphere.
Hills, mountains and thick forest form the habitat, a third of the forest is deciduous and semi evergreen trees, bamboo and low growing shrubs give cover for smaller animals. Marsh lands and natural ponds are watering holes, a good place to spot wildlife. Elephant, leopard, tiger, giant squirrel, sambar, langur are just some of the animals that visitors have seen here. Because the sanctuary is managed ecologically there is a small area in the centre where only rangers and researchers can go, this doesn,t spoil the visitor experience in any way, jeep safaris can surprise and delight with the wide range of animal and bird life to be seen.
Edakkal Caves are evidence that this area was inhabited by man at least 5000 yrs ago, carvings (petroglyphs) inside the caves showing human figures and the tools of their daily life, plus symbols that as yet, no one has understood, suggest this was a prehistoric settlement. The climb to the cave over rocks and steep slopes is worth while for the magnificent views, including Phantom Rock in the distance. On reaching the cave, it is worthwhile for a few Rs to take a guide who can point out many figures and symbols that otherwise could be missed. These stoneage carvings are rare, the only examples in South India.
Soojipara waterfall near Meppady is reached by a downhill trek through woodland, it falls from 100 ft into a rocky pool below making it fun to stand under the fall and bathe in the pool, the rocks are good picnic spots…….then you trek back up ! Near the parking area at the top good tea and coffee are available alongside places to by tea, spices and souvenirs.
Chembra Peak is the tallest peak in Wayanad, Chembra is above all a fantastic trekking location, after taking a ticket from the forest office and getting a guide if you wish, drive to the watchtower, about 5 km away where the trek begins. The short drive takes you through tea gardens which is a good start to the day. Walking at a medium pace, the trek to the peak will take at least four hours, taking you upwards past a heart shaped lake and giving dreamy views. It is possible to drive part way to Chembra, winding through tea gardens till you reach a spot where you can the ribbon of road you travelled up and the distant misty hills beyond.
Pookot Lake is a large freshwater lake where you can hire canoes, row boats or pedal boats or walk the perimeter path shaded by forest trees. The waterlilies on the surface of the water are a joy to see, visitors are not allowed to pick them. There are tea and snack facilities at the entrance, and a souvenir shop selling items made from bamboo and coconut husk, spices and herbal medicines are also available.