At a recent meeting of the Public Relations Society of India, Chennai Chapter, the speaker was talking about blogs and how many blogs churn out worthwhile stuff. He referred to a blog by an IT student that critically analysed a Club Mahindra brochure and went on to point out that while the company’s advertisement spoke about one thing, it was not quite what was delivered on the ground. That got me recalling my visit to a Club Mahindra resort a few years ago. So, here’s that story:
It was my daughter’s prize-winning effort at a competition that earned us an all-cost-paid three-day-two-night stay at one of Club Mahindra’s best properties, the Lakeview Munnar. From Chennai, we took the overnight train to Kochi. After a leisurely breakfast in Kochi, we set off on the four-hour journey towards the ‘high ranges of Travancore’, which makes for South India’s most dramatic mountain scenery. The high ranges of Munnar were earlier known as Kannan Devan Hills, named after a certain Kannan Devan, who it is said was a landlord in the Anchanad Valley on the eastern side of Idukki District.
The popular image of Kerala is of a lush coastal region with swaying palm trees, lazy backwaters and golden sand. There is quite a different Kerala too – the Kerala of the hills far removed from the humidity of the coast. In the native language, Munnar means ‘three streams’. Three gurgling mountain streams – Muthirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala – tumble down to meet in Munnar and later join the Periyar River.
Set at an altitude of 5,500 ft, Munnar, with its manicured rolling tea estates and forest-covered hills, is a virtual magic carpet of green. As you climb the winding roads, the hairpin bends provide an ever-changing aspect of the hills and every curve reveals an even more breathtaking view. Once the summer resort of the British, Munnar is still one of the high corners of the world where you can relax and find peace. And that is exactly what we intended to do at Club Mahindra Lakeview, each of whose 96 rooms, suites and cottages offers a panoramic view of the hills surrounded by a veil of mist, and, of course, the verdant tea estates.
Indeed, life in Munnar revolves around tea and the planter. Much of India’s tea is grown here and the air is permeated with its aroma. You could actually call it Tata Tea country; we passed at least five of the company’s tea estates and bought tea from the company’s retail outlet in the town proper. In many ways, Munnar remains the plantation town it was when founded by James Limited of Scotland, one of the early colonial tea companies. Tata Tea took over the plantations – 11,600 acres of them – in 1983. Several spices are also cultivated in Munnar – cardamom, vanilla, pepper, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.
It was Sterling Holiday Resorts that, in 1994, offered its members a whole new experience in Munnar at its property, set close to the tea estates, 14 km from the town. Four years later, Club Mahindra purchased land close to Sterling’s, determined to make its five-star property a one-of-its-kind resort. Club Mahindra offers prospective members three categories of rooms – studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom. Prices vary depending on whether you choose to holiday during the peak season (March, April, June), mid-season (January, February, August) or off-season (May, October, November).
Many of the families who come to holiday in Munnar and stay at Sterling Resorts or Club Mahindra are from Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Comprising mainly businessmen and women, the visitors are usually 35-45 years of age. With a 50 per cent occupancy during the off-season and ‘house-full’ during the peak period, the overall yearly occupancy rate in both resorts averages to about 80 per cent.
A ceramic wall mural at Lakeview’s ‘The Tea Room’ depicts the beautiful Munnar landscape. A variety of tea is served here – broken orange pekoe, Earl Gray, lemon grass tea and other herbal teas. The restaurant serves Indian, Chinese and Continental food as well as ethnic Kerala cuisine. The prices are atrocious, though. A plate of bajjis (eight small pieces) cost us Rs 100. However if money is not a problem, The Tea Room is the place to go to in the evenings – its open terrace offers a spectacular view of the tea gardens amidst the misty hill ranges.
Every evening, Lakeview guests are invited to take part in lively party games such as antakshari. Outdoor activity ranges from sightseeing and fishing to trekking, bird watching and nature walks. For rappelling, rock-climbing and river crossing, you have to register the previous day. The Health Club and Ayurveda Rejuvenating Centre offers gym, sauna, steam and other ayurvedic massages.
If you the adventurous sort and wish to take a walk on the wild side, you can visit the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a three-hour drive from the resort. Here, the wildlife remains largely undisturbed by visitors who observe it from special boats that glide across the lake surface. Although the stars of the Sanctuary are the elephants, there are bear, sambhar, spotted deer and bison as well. The place is ideal for bird-watching enthusiasts. Rajamalai, 35 km from Munnar, is at an altitude of 6,500 ft above sea level. The Nilgiri tahr or mountain goat, a rare species of ibex, can be seen here. An hour’s drive away from Munnar is Madupatty, situated at an elevation of 5,600 ft. The Indo-Swiss Dairy Farm, with about a 100 varieties of high-yielding cattle, provides interesting insights into the practical realities of cattle-breeding in India. The Chinar Sanctuary, bordering Tamil Nadu, 70 m from Munnar, is home to the rare spotted dove and the Kerala laughing thrush; it is also the preferred habitat of the starred tortoise. Then there is Devikulam close by, the ‘pond of the goddess’. According to local myth, the Devi comes everyday to have a morning bath here.
Among the exotic flora found in the forests and grasslands in Munnar is the Neelakurinji. This flower that bathes the hills in blue every twelve years, will bloom next in 2006 AD. Munnar also has the highest peak in South India, Anamudi , which towers over 2695 m. Anamudi is an ideal spot for trekking.