Saturday, September 22, 2018

Algarme: A mountaintop experience in Munnar

IT WAS a year ago when I explored Kerala, a southern state in India that faces the Arabian sea on the west and the Western Ghats to its east, through the Kerala Blog Express Season 4. We were also in the season of Lent when we traveled around this Indian state. I still vividly recall the humid air that greeted us as we arrived in Kochi at night time. The whole trip throughout the length of Kerala had me sweltering, except for one place: Munnar.

Munnar was a standout among the many places in Kerala that we visited in this 15-day trip. This was the only cool place we've ever been, in terms of weather. We slept for two nights in different locations without any air-conditioning units. Still, the surroundings were even colder than air-conditioned hotel rooms. But more than that, it gave me a different kind of experience that made me appreciate God's creations even more.

1. Climbing the peak of the Phantom Mountain

I'm not a mountain climber, and I'm not a big fan of treks. It was an activity I dreaded doing. Even though I was behind the trail as I tried to keep up with the rest of the group, I still climbed the challenging slopes of Phantom Mountain in Suryanelli. But it gave me a physical experience of what Lent is all about - sacrifice. When we got to the top of the mountain, the scene that appeared before me was quite surprising. A small group of men and women were praying around a huge metal cross, with the breathtaking view of the mountains and the river at its backdrop.

2. Camping and bonfire

To be honest, I don't have any camping experience in my portfolio. But it was a night of bonfire in the bosom of nature. It was not entirely in the rough because our tent was huge enough to accommodate two beds, along with electrical power available. The night was chilly and the sky was bright with twinkling stars.

3. Walking the hill stations

Through winding roads going uphill, the ride was dizzying but the view was spectacular. Rolling hills of tea plantations were just relaxing to the eyes, as if the tea has instant effects to the senses. But the best part was walking through them, despite the sun high above us. Good thing we were in the mountains and the sun's heat was being countered by the cool breeze.

4. Exploring the markets

The main town of Munnar is bustling with activity. We had an afternoon all to ourselves and we were free to roam the central areas. We headed to the crowded market and got close interaction with the locals. The whiff of food and spices, the colorful sights of sarees and goods sold, and the warm smiles and curious glances of the people all blend in a beautiful picture. Add to that the green mountains in the background.

5. Visiting a church

Finally, it was in this leg of the trip where I was able to visit a church, the Mount Carmel Church, built in 1898. The church workers were preparing the sanctuary for the Lenten ceremonies. At the back of the church, we could spot a mosque and a short distance away from that is a Hindu temple. It was interesting because there were four of us visiting the church, coming from various faiths as well.

As we left Munnar, our bus passed by and saw some faithful doing a Lenten procession. And there was a sense of peace watching them doing their religious activities.

All photos are by this author. Claire Marie Algarme blogs at Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram and like her Facebook page First-time Travels blog.