Tasting tea at the highest tea plantation in the world
“Are you a beach person or a mountain person?” I usually don’t let the person even complete the question before I blurt out eagerly ‘MOUNTAIN MOUNTAIN ALWAYS MOUNTAIN’. I am a mountain person. Mountain over beach, any day. This indubitable preference can also be attributed to my lack of swimming skills. And a vague fear of deep waters.
So, you can imagine my plight living in a coastal city like Mumbai, craving for altitude and crisp mountain air and other nature stuff. But I’d like to believe that I more than make up for my plight by taking off for mountain getaways whenever I can, with whatever resources I have at my disposal, mostly time and money.
Speaking of mountains, the immediate visual that pops up in anyone’s mind could be that of the snow covered peaks of The Himalayas. Or the many beautiful mountain ranges of Northern India such as Pir Panjal or Dhauladhar or Karakoram. I am no different either.
So, when I visited Kolukkumalai, a tea plantation haven that is about 8,000 feet above sea level, perched in the famous Western Ghats, I was indeed mind-blown by the sheer mountainous beauty around me. Kolukkumalai is located in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu and shares its border with the neighbouring state Kerala, with magnificent views of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu to boot. But reaching Kolukkumalai is not for the faint-hearted or the dainty dandelions. It’s a good one hour bumpy ride in a jeep from the base town Suryanelli. But you can infinitely gaze at the tea plants on both sides and the church-blue sky as you dearly hold on to your internal organs that are threatening to jump out of your body thanks to the super bumpy ride.
But once you reach the summit, which is a famous sunrise point among nature enthusiasts, guaranteed you will believe in God or whoever created such a magnificent, utterly breathtaking place. The sunrise I saw that day is unlike any I have seen in my entire life and has etched itself so powerfully on my mind that I even considered becoming a morning person. (Failed masterfully at that though, that’s a different story). But Kolukkumalai sunrise should definitely feature among the top of any nature lover’s bucket list.
Kolukkumalai’s claim to fame is in being the world’s highest tea plantation. It was set up by the British way back in the 1930s. What’s most unique and charming about this tea planation is that it still uses the original equipment and strictly follows manual processes. The factory was built more than 70 years ago and has stood the test of time. The factory workers were more than eager to show me and my friend around. They took us from room to room, each having one or more strange looking equipment, and explained to us the various processes involved in making the tea which is a seven-step process that includes withering, rolling, sieving, fermenting, drying, fiber extraction, and grading. This specific treatment gives the tea a strong flavour and a lighter colour.
There is a small office adjacent to the factory where you can try the flavor. And I did. A very light coloured tea with a flavor sharp enough to make me inhale deep and try and preserve the memory in the deep recesses of my brain. We soon left the factory after a short hike in the estate but not before I bought two large packets of Kolukkumalai tea, one for me and the other also for me. Ha ha.
Suffice to say that I was more than glad that with this trip I was able to combine two of my greatest loves: mountains and tea.