Kerala landscape is a shade-card of green hues. When I look around, I find the deep green of hibiscus bush, the dappled green of jackfruit tree, the jade green of paddy fields, fern green of overgrowth on the roadsides, sea-green backwaters, bluish-green Malabar parrots and the velvety moss green on the walls after rains. But my favourite green is the glowing green of tea gardens. It is a saturated, neutral, mature green with a slight undertone of golden. It makes my heart jump every time I see it. I had two back-to-back visits to Munnar on weekends in last two months and was fortunate to feast my eyes on this tea-green of Munnar hills. But the recent February visit was a double bonanza as along-with tea-garden green, the valley was also decorated with cherry blossom pink.
Munnar lies in the idyllic western ghats of Kerala as a picturesque hill station, full of tea plantations and flowers. But to watch the delicate pink and white cherry blossoms in the background of tea gardens, harmoniously blending with the lush greenery is a sensory pleasure of another level.
The delicate flowers of cherry tree hold a special place in my heart. They have inspired artists and poets for centuries in eastern cultures and even have festivals organized around them in Japan and Korea. I have drooled over them in Washington, Copenhagen and Nanjing and I dream of visit Japan someday during Sakura season. It, however, came as a surprise to me to find cherry blossoms in the hills of Munnar. The place where I was staying had 4-5 trees and back in December 2023, while zooming my camera to click a sunbird, I suddenly noticed a single pale pink flower at the end of the branch. It was then that I realized that I was looking at a cherry tree. By my February visit, the trees were full of flowers in that guest house and everywhere else.
What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.
Cherry blossoms hold elevated status in China, signifying love and the female mystique but nowhere in the world are these elusive flowers more cherished than in Japan. The floral imagery permeates Japanese paintings, films, and poetry.Much like my other favourite flower of waterlilies, Cherry blossoms also have a very significant place in Buddhist philosophy of east. They are often tied to the themes of mortality, mindfulness and living in the present, and are used as a timeless metaphor for human existence. Their blooming season is powerful, glorious and intoxicating, but tragically short-lived — a reminder that our lives, too, are fleeting.
Finding bulbuls, finches and shrikes enjoying these beautiful flowers in the mornings made my heart filled with joy.
While cherry blossom and the birds nibbling at these flowers was my top attraction of Munnar visit, there was much more to explore and see in this beautiful landscape. The hills, the mist, the valleys, the streams, the waterfalls, tea plantations, rare flora and fauna, Munnar is definitely mother nature’s favorite land.
It is however funny that this gem of a place was not so famous till 150 years back. It is believed that John Daniel Munro, the British Resident of Travancore kingdom introduced the world to Munnar in the 1870s when he visited the place to solve a border dispute between Travancore and its neighbour Madras. Munro convinced the royal family to lease the land to him and started transforming the area by forming the North Travancore Land Planting & Agricultural Society in 1879. The cultivation of crops, including coffee, cardamom, cinchona and sisal in various parts of the region started soon afterwards. But within years, tea plantation arrived at the scene with AH Sharp who planted tea in around 50 acres of land at Parvathy, which is now part of the Seven Mallay estate. Tea replaced all other crops in these sloping hills soon. In 1895, Finlay Muir & Company (James Finlay and Company Limited) entered the scene and bought 33 independent estates. The Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company was formed in 1897 to manage these estates. Today most of the states are either owned by Tata or by Kannan Devan Plantations.