The Western Ghats are a chain of mountains that run parallel to India’s west coast. They cross the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujurat. The mountains cover around 140,000 square km in an almost uninterrupted 1,600 km long stretch.
The Western Ghats are on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of their immense geological, cultural and aesthetic importance. By moderating the tropical climate of the area, the region represents one of the best examples of the monsoon system on the planet. Its tremendous range of plants and wildlife has made it one of the eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity. It includes some of the best representatives of tropical evergreen forests anywhere. It’s home to at least 325 globally threatened species.
The Western Ghats are also home to serene hill stations, one of which is Munnar. (A hill station is a high altitude town, often used as a place of refuge from the summer heat). At 1,500m to 2,500m in altitude, Munnar has close to 100,000 inhabitants and is surrounded by more than 20 tea estates. There are approximately 25,000 tea harvesters based in the town, a quarter of the population, picking tea on a 15 day cycle.
We were happy to arrive in Munnar to get some fresh air and a break from the busy streets of Ernakulam. We are staying outside the city on the edge of a tea plantation. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.
Peppercorns are never far from our minds and here they seem to grow everywhere. Seemingly random trees at the side of the road have peppercorn vines:
Even the local church has a piece of the action.
Tea plants are in fact trees. They can grow as high as 60 feet and live for a hundred years. They are usually kept at a height of four to five feet to facilitate harvesting. Here is a close up of one of the trees at the side of the road. It looks like it burrowed into the brick retaining wall.
They are then oxidized…
….and sent to the dryer along a conveyor belt.
Visiting Munnar, one understands why Kochi has such a thriving spice trade; this is where it all comes from. The local chai walla has a cardamom plantation. Here is a cardamom plant. The pods are at ground level.
And this is the machine (an old model), along with its operator, to crush the dried cardamom.
Walking around here, one understands why the forests in the Western Ghats are so important. The trees are gorgeous.
They stretch forever into the sky.