For someone with a never ending appetite for hill stations, Munnar seems to be an obvious choice, especially if living in Bangalore. For some odd reason though, Munnar & me were kept at bay for two long years. I had attempted twice to make plans — once in Feb. 2015, and again in December the same year. However, as luck would have it, due to unavoidable circumstances, the trips were called off on both occasions. Subconsciously I figured then that when Munnar was meant to happen, it would happen.
Lets fast forward to the first week of May, 2016. It was a rough week for me— somehow, things just felt going downhill. And it was on Thursday, that it dawned on me that I can’t afford to be in Bangalore for the weekend. Even though such urges to get out of the city happen on a regular basis, this time, it wasn't even a consideration — it felt like me ordering myself. Given the heat, searching for weekend escapades by default had a filter for hill stations. And as luck would have it, Munnar was the first thought that came to my mind. It wasn’t a long weekend ahead, and I wasn’t fancying taking a leave from work. Yet, close to 500kms / 9 hour drive one way somehow felt like factors in favor of choosing Munnar instead of discouraging me. Couple of phone calls and half an hour of ‘secondary research’ on TripAdvisor later, I had couple of my close friends on board the plan. We made hotel reservations via RedBus, which currently is offering great deals on hotels.
The plan was to leave late Friday night (once the Bangalore traffic settles down) to be able to reach Munnar early morning on Saturday. Since it was a long drive, before starting, I spent about half an hour preparing the Swift for the trip — fueling up, air pressure check, regular check of oils & refilling the wiper fluid. Next came in extra bottles of drinking water, biscuits & other munchies, power bank & USB cables, chocolate slabs, umbrellas and so on. I left from my home in Doddanekundi at 9:30 pm, to pick up my friends from Sarjapur road and HSR. It was raining when I started, but the traffic thankfully was clear. After picking up everyone, we finally started our ascend on the electronic city flyover around 10:30pm.
The route was pretty straightforward — keep driving straight on NH7 till Theni, crossing Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, Salem, Namakkal, Karur & Dindigul on the way. Although this route is slightly longer if you’re targeting Munnar city, but we chose this since it was shorter to our accommodation, situated about 20 kms from Munnar city. Also, we thought it would be a good idea to stick to NH7 as much as we could in the night, and avoid state highways till sunrise. The roads were familiar too, having driven on NH7 several times before — en route Kodaikanal, Yercaud & Yelagiri.
Driving on NH7 is an absolute pleasure, even more, at night. No sudden speed breakers, regular pit-stops in the form of toll booths, fair amount of roadside eateries (open all night) — the highway really doesnt give you much to complain about. We cruised along at an average speed of around 100–120kmph, making our first pit stop around 3am after a toll booth before Dindigul. It started drizzling shortly after, and the rain accompanied us till Theni. Theni basically is a town at the foothills of the western ghats, and it is from here that the ascend to the hills begins. As planned, we crossed Theni just at the break of dawn (around 5:30am), and started our ascend towards Munnar with the sun slowly greeting us from behind the hills.
The Ghat ascend from Theni to Munnar is absolutely beautiful. The roads are terrific and the views, breathtaking. It didn’t take too long for us to feel the fresh early morning mountain air, as we slowly climbed upwards. Even though we had been on the road for almost 7 hours now, we were fresh & wide awake, slowly soaking in the magnificent surroundings. The climb is gradual, giving one enough time to absorb in the views. Personally, of all the ghat sections that I’ve driven before down south, this particular part stands out for me — for the sheer raw beauty it had to offer. While climbing up, the road passes in between through a dense forest (Bodi Hill West Forest) which gradually give way to the tea gardens.
We reached our hotel, called Fort Munnar, at exactly 8am. The hotel feels like a heritage property from the outside, even though it is fairly renovated & modern from the inside. The staff was courteous & helpful, and allowed us to check-in early. We had breakfast by the time our room was prepared. At around 9am, after soaking in all the views that were at offer from our room and the hotel, we finally dozed off to recharge ourselves for the day ahead.
We woke up around 2pm, fresh & eager to explore around. We quickly got ready, and a few queries-with-the-hotel-receptionist later, we were back on the road. The plan was to visit a Dam close by, with tea gardens enroute. Most of the tea estates in this part of Munnar are owned by Tata — one could spot their boards at regular intervals. Anayirankal Dam was about 20 mins from our hotel with the roads passing through tea gardens. Anayirankal dam is a great place to chill, offering beautiful views of the valley with the water body at its base. There is boating facility at the venue too, which shuts down by 4pm (speed boat + regular motor boat). Even though the place was abuzz with families and tourists, we managed to find a quiet and calm spot to relax & soak in the views.
The sun had slowly started to set by the time we left the dam. On our way back towards the hotel, we decided to stop amidst the tea gardens, to watch the sun go down & hide itself between the hills, leaving behind a golden streak. We drove back to our hotel post sunset, reaching by 6:30pm. We lazed around the hotel playing TT, snooker & carrom, before having dinner & calling it a day.
Although the plan was to leave early the next morning, we managed to only check out by 9:30ish. Our plan was to drive north towards Munnar city, and then proceed further north towards Udumalpet and eventually towards Bangalore. We made several stops on the way to click pictures, refill ourselves at the ATM, have roadside tea and so on. The ghat road from Munnar to Udumalpet is more worn n torn as compared to the Theni route, primarily because of more traffic. One wouldnt call the road in a bad state, honestly, but then having driven on excellent roads so far, we found this section to be about average. While making our descent from Munnar to Udumalpet, it started drizzling again, which provided just the perfect ambience for us to bid farewell to the lush green tea gardens of Munnar.
Just like Theni served as a base for the ghat section when making the ascend from the south,the town of Udumalpet served as the base when we made the descend from the north. Once at Udumalpet, we took SH97 towards Dharapuram & eventually SH21 to rejoin NH7 a little before Karur. There are lots of windmill farms in the Udumalepet area — its difficult to miss out on spotting these huge structures. The state highways were in excellent condition as well — I hardly remember passing through any bad patched. After stopping for a quick lunch lunch break at Dharapuram, we touched NH7 at around 4:30pm & Salem at 6pm. We halted at Saravana Bhavan in Salem for a short coffee break, before starting our final leg of our journey back to Bangalore. It had started raining around the time we had reached Salem, and the rain accompanied us all the way to Bangalore. We touched Electronic City at around 9:30pm.
Location: Munnar, Kerala, India
Elevation: 5,200 ft
Travel dates: May 7–8th, 2016
Vehicle: Maruti Suzuki Swift
Kms driven: 1104
Camera: IPhone 5S, Rexing V1 Dashcam
Color graded with Pixlr Express