Friday, 9 December 2016

Highest tea plantations, Munnar and John Munro

tea plantations in Munnar. TravelTriangle
Tea plantation, Munnar, Kerala.
 There is no culture across the continents where the nice, refreshing tea is not served.  India, as we all know,  is the second largest producer of tea in the world after China, including the famous Assam tea and Darjeeling tea. Also popular are the Nilgiri tea and tea made from the hills of Munnar and other places in  Kerala. The credit goes to the British who introduced tea plantations in Assam hills in India in the colonial period to challenge the monopoly of China.  Tea is also the 'State Drink' of Assam. According to the ASSOCHAM report of  December 2011, India, as the world’s largest consumer of tea, uses nearly 30 percent of the global output. In spite of large  consumption within the country, India is also the largest exporter of tea.

 One may be surprised to note that tea consumption in India was first clearly mentioned in the Ramayana (750-500 BCE). For unknown reasons  in  the next thousand years, records of tea consumption in the Indian subcontinent are lost in history. We come across news about tea during the first century CE, with the arrival of the Buddhist monks Bodhidharma and Gan Lu. For thousands of years,  the tribes of north and north eastern India  consumed     indigenous tea cultivated in the hills there.
Munnar tea plantation, Kerala. Fine Art America
As for the southern India, John Sullivan (15 June 1788 – 16 January 1855) Collector of Coimbatore district made the first ever expedition to the hitherto unexplored Nilgiri mountains  of Western ghat mountain chain) in 1819, But only in 1830s tea planters from Europe moved in to grow tea. John Munro, British Resident of ETC at Cochin encouraged the cultivation of tea plants on the high hills of Munnar and other places, now in the state of Kerala.
Kanan DFevan tea from Munnar, kerala
Munnar in
Idukki district of Kerala is an important hill station - 1600 meter above  the sea level in south India next to Ooty and Kodaikanal, the latter two famous  hill stations are in Tamil Nadu.  Located  at the confluence of three mountain streams - Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala, it is not only a picturesque place but is also  a popular summer resort. It used to serve as a summer  vacation place  during the colonial period. Munnar and the surrounding hills are known for the lush green  rolling hills with mists hugging them, tall majestic trees and  large tea plantations with spaced  path ways at frequent intervals for the movement of tea and people. This place is home to amazing  Neelakurinji flowers 
Neelakurinji flower in bloom, Munnar, Kerala. Alam
(Strobilanthes kunthianum; endemic to this region) that bloom every 12 years. Literally the hills are covered with these  flowers that give them the appearance of bluish-pinkish carpets gently draping the hill slopes and thus enhancing the beauty of this place. For the biologists, it is a heaven for studying a variety of  flora and fauna native to this region. Munnar is part of the Western Ghat mountains and the  highest peak in South India, Anamudi (over 2695 meter above sea level) is part of this mountain chain. Anamudi is located within the Eravikulam National Park. It can be accessed only with permission from the forest department. In the summer season, lots of people from many parts of India come here for relaxation and to be away from the hot plains.

Munnar tea plantation, relaxation for
 The development of Munnar and the surrounding place  is interwoven with the origins and  development of tea plantations since the colonial days and they dot many hills.  Definitely tea plantation and industry is the  legacy of the British who introduced tea here. Here the tea plantations are at much higher elevations and, perhaps,  they are considered the highest tea plantations in the world.  The Tea Museum at  the Nallathanni Estate of Tata Tea in Munnar that is managed by the Tata Group has interesting bits of
information on the growth and development of tea in this part and the pictures of  old industrial  machinery related to procession of tea, photos of old plantations, curios, etc.

 The other attractions are the Eravikulam National Park (an area of 97 sq. km) that has endangered  animal  - the
indigenous nilgiri Tahr, Flickr
Nilgiri Tahr. There are also several rare birds and butterflies here.

 Chinnakanal, near the town of Munnar, is famous for waterfalls called  Power House Waterfalls, gently  cascading down a rock cliff which is 2000 meter above sea level. Here one can have a breathtaking view of the ghat mountains.

 Anayirangal is an interesting place about 22 km from Munnar that is well known for a dam. This place and the surrounding areas have several tea plantations that cover the rolling hills like green carpets. 
clouds hugging the mountains, Munnar. Tourplaces
As for the early history of Munnar, no clear  information  is available. However, this once unexplored place was home to a tribal community known as the Muthuvan tribal community.  Only in the the later half of the 19th century, many trail blazing European tea planters moved into this place to grow tea as the  temperate weather conditions were perfect for the development of tea estates. Ambitious planters, with support from the East India company, came as far as Europe  and started plantations here.   

In those days, the outside world had no idea whatsoever about enchanting Munnar and its suitable weather conditions for the growth of tea plants. It was through the efforts of
John Daniel Munro (June 1778 - 25 January 1858), English Resident for the Cochin State, the Europeans and others came to know about this region in the 1857. Munro himself was very much impressed when he visited this place  on an assignment to settle the border dispute between Cochin   state and the nearby Madras Residency. 

John Munro British Resident of Cochin. History of Cochin Royal Family
John Munro was appointed as British Resident of Cochin in 1811 and later accepted the Dewanship of Cochin at the Raja's request He   served alongside his distinguished distant relative Sir Thomas Munro, 1st Baronet (of Linderits). With weak Indian ruler in Cochin,  corruption was rampant in the state  and Munro acted effectively and eliminated it. He introduced several reforms that improved the  overall standard of the state well. He was loved by the natives as he was sympathetic to the people's problems.

Munnar Tea EstateLuxoIndia
John Munro  took keen interest in tea plantation in  that region and when he visited Munnar and other places he found that the Kanan Devan hills  were suitable for the development of  quality plantation crops.  The land was under the control of  the Poonjar royal family. So,  he visited the  Poonjar Palace and  negotiated with the then head of the royal family, Rohini Thirunal Kerala Varma Valiya Raja, and the ruler  agreed to lease out Kanan Devan hills to Munro for a handsome payment. The area covered roughly 1,36,600 acres of  cultivable land.
Munnar map. India Tours
 Munro formed North Travancore Land Planting & Agricultural Society to grow coffee, cinchona, cardamom, etc. However, he gave due importance to cultivation of tea here. Though Munro took the initiative to introduce tea estate here for the first time, it was one Turnor  from England who earnestly began the cultivation of tea at Munnar. A. H. Sharp, another European planter in 1880 planted tea on a small area comprising 50 acres of land  at Parvathy, which is now part of the Seven Mallay estate. In 1895, Finlay Muir & Company (James Finlay and Company Limited)  bought 33 independent tea estates and began the cultivation later in 1897. The Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company was formed to manage the affairs of the estates. 

In 1924 the tea plantation  business fell on tough time, came to a  grinding halt and suffered heavy damages on account of severe monsoon activities on the hills that triggered dangerous, massive landslides, etc. The damage to the crop was severe and it took a while for the tea estate owners to come around until normal soil conditions were restored. Large-scale replanting was carried out more vigorously on many estates. Camellia Sansis tea plants are widely used here in other parts of south India.

Nilgiri tea,
The Tata Group made its foray in 1964  in collaboration with
Finlay which resulted in the formation of the Tata-Finlay Group. Tata Tea Ltd. The Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company Pvt. Ltd. was formed in 2005 and Tata Tea transferred the ownership of its plantations to the new company. 

The mist-clad, green carpeted Munnar hill station  with congenial climate  is nature's paradise where you tend to get in peace with yourself. A place to rejuvenate your mind an soul in a serene, pollution free environment.