Nestling amidst the beautiful Western Ghats on the famous Munnar tea trail is the tiny hamlet of Kolukkumalai, considered the highest organic tea plantation in the world. With ‘kolu’ meaning big and ‘malai’ meaning mountain, Kolukkumalai roughly translates into an appropriate name for this tea estate situated at a height of over 7,900 feet above sea level. The place rightly prides itself on being the world’s highest plantation of organic tea, i.e., tea grown in an orthodox manner without the use of chemical fertilizers and without machine processing. Owing to its altitude and growing conditions, Kolukkumalai tea has a unique and unmistakeable flavour, bringing in travellers and tea aficionados from across the globe to revel in the mesmerising beauty of the locales while sampling some of the best organic teas of India.
Getting there: not your run-of-the-mill affair
Situated at the confluence of three mountain ranges, Munnar stands at a height of about 6000 feet and the entire area in and around it is covered in tea plantations, often collectively referred to as the Munnar Tea Trail. Kolukkumalai is located some 38 kilometres uphill from Munnar town and can only be reached by jeep. Several jeep services, both government-owned and private, ply from Munnar town up to the Kolukkumalai tea estate. It is a two hour drive, the latter half of which can be rather bumpy as the roads aren’t so well maintained. However, as you progressively gain height, the spectacular views of tea-sheathed green mountains and valleys all around serve to distract you from the trying journey.
Learn some incredible facts about tea production
Did you know that all the tea produced on this estate is picked exclusively by hand? No machines are used whatsoever in the collection of tea leaves. It is the same story with most of the estates on the Munnar tea trail as well. Given that the amount of tea collected by an average worker on any given day produces only about one fourth that amount of consumable tea after processing, and that the company has only a little over 200 employees to do all kinds of work, it should be a daunting task to maintain such a huge estate profitably. That’s where tourism plays a big role at Kolukkumalai. The facility at the heart of the estate offers factory tours that typically last for about 15-20 minutes, during which you’re introduced to the more than 100-year-old technology of tea production and walked through the various steps involved. It can be a real delight, watching how the tea is transformed from fresh green leaves to the dried brown product you brew at home every morning.
Wholly organic and environment-friendly tea
It is commendable how the production process at Kolukkumalai tea estate is entirely free from wastage or the overuse of resources. Munnar Tea Trail is notorious for being engulfed by a thick mist throughout the year owing to its tropical climate and high altitude. This fog provides enough moisture for the plants to grow and thrive, hence eliminating any need for irrigation. The waste generated during the processing of tea leaves is also used around the estate as natural fertilizer, upholding the century-old tradition of organic tea production across the Munnar tea trail. The use of machines is limited to a blowing rack for withering of tea leaves and a heated conveyor belt system for drying, while the rest of the steps are completed with the help of elements of nature, such as air.
Beautiful landscapes and besotting views of Munnar Tea Trail
While the drive up the mountain on the Munnar tea trail offers many a beautiful view of the surrounding plains and terraced tea gardens, you should take an additional tour around the Kolukkumalai plantation to witness breathtaking glimpses of lush green mountainsides, far-off plains of Tamil Nadu and several hamlets that look like tiny specks of civilisation from such a height. It is said that the famous director Ang Lee was so awe-struck by the stunning landscapes of Munnar that he shot part of the movie ‘Life of Pi’ in Munnar. But long before the Taiwanese director discovered the charm of Munnar tea trail, it was originally the British resident John Munro who found this quaint little paradise in the 1870s and brought in planters to grow tea and other plantation crops on these hill slopes. Why Munnar is sometimes called ‘Little England’ or ‘Switzerland of the East’ is in fact quite easy to understand.
The Kolukkumalai tea plantation is spread well over 1,000 acres of land and produces at least a monthly average of 12 tonnes of tea. There is a small sitting room within the estate where visitors can sample different kinds of tea and purchase some if they’d like to take it back home. Now whether you’re planning an adventure trip to the Nilgiri mountains or on a winter retreat down South, make it a point to head over to the Munnar tea trail to discover the world’s highest organic tea plantation at Kolukkumalai.
To lose yourself in the beauty and captivating allure of Munnar Tea Trail you can customize your visit at this mystic highland with any of these programs for Kerala http://www.shantitravel.com/en/south-india-tours/kerala/