What do you do if you aren’t besotted with travelling? Skulk on the sidelines like a social pariah, gulping down your dirty secret while friends expound on their life-changing experiences? A mere run of paragliding did me in. Never again, I decided. The ignominy of being suspended like an awkward rag doll, combined with despair and utter helplessness has somehow been accepted as mildly adventurous by some suicidal types. That was Thailand and I skulked when urged to ride one of those water scooter-type contraptions in Goa. I am notoriously unsporting.
Even for staid trips, I’m not committed enough to the concept of travel, to take that overwhelming decision to take decisions in an unfamiliar place. I have become more stick-in-the-mud than ever, held back by intermittent worries of whether I can do justice to a place. Since it was a family trip, decisions were arrived at through the chaotic exercise of democracy. It was a motley crew but we were all grown up, so things would proceed smoothly we supposed. No one threw tantrums and everyone sipped quietly on their nightcaps, before and after dinner.
Munnar unfolds in patches through the crisp veil of tea leaves—golden-ish green giving way to plants whose virtues had been hitherto experienced only in pinched, packaged form. It’s a loamy, aloof hill station heady with the scent of spice, rounded off in soft edges. It has rocky bits too, if you’re keen on undertaking a jolting ride in a jeep to a tucked-away tea estate. There’s coffee, cocoa, varieties of honey, eucalyptus oil and strange, greasy chocolates stored in shops crammed full of tourist bric-a-brac. The food is spicy but uncommonly toothsome. I carried memories of a tomato fry from there, determined to have the cook replicate its sour, swollen flavour.
The resort had expansive windows with enchanting views of the dappled, winding road, a chunk of the town below and the midriffs of some gloriously tall trees. All I wanted was to loll in the nook by the window with a ledge for sitting on—crafted in the contours of imbibed cosiness. But sights had to be seen. One was of a tree laden with beehives, some drooping and others lush with gritty honey, glowing amber against the sun.
So a jolting jeep ride it was, a few botanical gardens and streets curiously devoid of bakeries. The ride culminated in a tea garden with an old wooden factory for show-and-tell. One could pose with tea leaves getting blown into one’s face, up one’s nostrils and getting stuck in unruly hair. It was too much of a gimmick and the muddy ram grazing outside the factory was more of an attraction.
In obscure restaurants, you get the finest porotta and a mean beef fry. I’m not a fan of spicy gravies but who wouldn’t like a bit of tangy meat wrapped up in flaky, pillowy folds of porotta? And, messy food adventures followed at the airport. When we reached bleary-eyed after a night of no sleep (a strike in Kochi upset our plans), my mum thought food was needed and promptly proceeded to buy five sandwiches, each of which contained two. Aunt was more interested in a nap and so were the rest of us. And there we were querulous and saddled with ten, sandpaperish sandwiches tasting of nothing that one could put a finger on. We spent a long time wondering why Ma would dismiss local fare for pale, dubious sandwiches. Then the resident Malayali chanced upon the humble and deep-fried pazham pozhi, cholesterol be damned, which were highly appreciated. Slightly greasy, encased in a crisp coating of batter, the pazham pori has a hue of the ripest mango flesh.
I remember the food parts most vividly, the rest of the trip is a bit of a blur. We had some very overpriced tender coconut and some mediocre soup. The best flavoured tea I’ve had after Twinings was the one picked up from the airport.