From The Tea Gardens of Munnar to Madurai
Suddenly all the noises and chaos from India disappear. Birds whistle and everything around us is calm. In the distance, a farmer herds his cows and greets us with a smile. Going to Munnar was a good idea; we really needed a break from all the craziness and these tea gardens sooth our senses like a delicious chai in the morning.
Munnar is a little town and hill station in the state of Kerala situated around 5,000 ft above sea level in the Western Ghats. The town itself is nothing special; traffic clogged with tea stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants but once out of the center you'll be flabbergasted by so many shades of green you never knew existed...
Rollings hills and tea plantations that are sculpted like hedges make Munnar one of the highlights of South India. There's a few other things to see like Top Station, Echo Point and a flower garden but nothing compares to a stroll through the tea gardens at sunset. A beautiful and surreal landscape appears when the sun goes down and it's free to wander around for as long as you want...
We really liked Munnar but not the town itself. It's dull, filled with traffic fumes and there's nothing much to do. Do visit if you can, for its surroundings with beautiful tea gardens, mountain views and clean air.
The bus from Munnar to Madurai
After two nights in Munnar, we decided to head for Madurai and because we travel on a budget, we try to use local buses and trains when ever we can. It went something like this...
At the bus station:
“How long for the bus to Madurai?”
We then asked a different guy and he said: “4.5 hours because working road.”
Then, a third guy explained it would be better to go via Theni as it would be 'faster'.
“one stop, 5 hours!”, he said.
By now, we know that we have to make our own calculations to get it right, so we took an average of what three people told us and added one or two hours. That's about right most of the times. In this case, it meant six hours on a local bus on a twisting mountain road. I energized myself with a chai from a tea stall while Joanna took a seat and exactly on time, we left for Madurai.
Taking a local bus in India is an interesting activity. There's no air conditioning but all the windows are open and you'll see and meet people of different backgrounds, religions and social classes, all with different stories to tell. On top of that, the driver will let you enjoy his favorite music pumping through the speakers; some of which actually sounds not too bad and it definitely adds to the whole experience.
Halfway, the bus made a 10 minute stop in a small town that was just one street to buy snacks and drinks and to go to the bathroom. Because we never know where we'll end up on a journey with a local bus, we try to keep the intake of fluids to a minimum to avoid having to pee. We've seen toilets that are still burned into our retinas until today. Snacking on the other hand, we have no problem with so we bought some delicious tiny bananas before we hit the road again.
The last part of the trip was both beautiful and terrifying. Bus drivers in India think they're race car drivers and that combined with hairpin curves down a mountain... well, you get the picture...
Madurai, home of the Meenakshi Temple
Around six hours later, exactly as we calculated, we arrived in Madurai, located on the banks of the river Vaigai in the state of Tamil Nadu. The bus dropped us of at the station and we hailed an auto rickshaw to bring us to where we would spend two nights. It was our first ever AirBnb experience and we stayed in Sam's Nest. It turned out one of the best places we stayed in India. (Thanks for everything, Sam!)
The next day we decided to go to the main attraction. Madurai is famous for the Meenakshi temple. A large temple complex where you can literally get lost. Lately, because of bombings in Hyderabad and other places, they don't allow cameras and mobile phones anymore so we store everything in a locker for a few rupees and on our bare feet, we entered the temple...
Once inside, daily life between the walls presents itself. It's a living temple which means it's used by local Hindus every day and non Hindus can't access the most sacred inner shrines. Nevertheless, we enjoyed walking around and it was an awe-inspiring experience to see all the rituals, sculptures and people. It's a place where you can still feel the history. Too bad we don't have any pictures to show you so I guess you'll have to find out how cool it is yourself...