Monday, 30 January 2017

Windermere – a jewel in the Indian plantation crown

Munnar, one of Kerala’s most popular hill stations, is located high in the Western Ghats of southern India. It is home to tea, coffee and cardamom plantations; making for luxurious landscapes; verdant vistas; and, if you find the right place to stay, a welcome break from the frantic hustle and bustle of everyday life in India.
 Parts of Windermere are reminiscent of European gardens
One of Munnar’s best-kept secrets is the Windermere Estate – a long-established, 60-acre cardamom and coffee plantation owned by the Simon family since 1987. Today it is also run as a delightful, discreet 18-room plantation home, where guests are welcomed into a friendly environment, treated as part of the family and given delicious home-cooked food, astounding views, a carefully-tended garden filled with interesting plants, and an opportunity to explore the plantation on your doorstep, as well as the incredible tea fields around you.
Part of the charm of the garden at Windermere is the mix of sub-tropical plants and English flowers
The name is attributed to the well-known and much-visited place in England – Windermere – because a former houseguest of the previous owner, Mr I.C. Chacko, who was part of the Indian Civil Service under the British Raj – commented that the view from his window reminded him of our much-loved Lake District back home.
Visitors will see many birds here including the red-cheeked bulbul
Munnar is located in the Idukki district of Kerala and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was once the summer resort of the British Government in south India, but today is a popular visitor destination for both foreigners and domestic tourists. Any reader familiar with Charles Jencks’ work, would be forgiven for thinking that perhaps he gained inspiration for some of his incredible forms from the tea plantations here. 
   No visitor can fail to be impressed by the extra-ordinary landscape here, with tea plants covering every available inch of land in the region. The tea plant is actually part of the Camellia family (Camellia sinensis) and the top two inches of the shrub – known as flushes – grow every 15 days. And as Windermere owner, Dr John Simon, explains: “The most common types of tea available in the market are white, green and black tea. The only difference is how they are processed.”
   So a visit to the Lockhart Tea Museum is a must, to see just how the process works. It's a short 8-kilometre drive from the estate and your hosts will arrange it for you.
The visual experience of the tea plantations is quite extraordinary - was Charles Jencks inspired by them?
Cardamom doesn’t have the visual appeal of tea, with its unwieldy leaves and stringy appearance, but it is known as the “Queen of all spices” and is a labour-intensive crop, needing highly skilled management and well-trained workers to yield a good harvest. It is sensitive to moisture, light and temperature and is grown at an optimum altitude of 600-1500 metres, in regions with an average rainfall of 1500-4000mm.
You will see tea growing everywhere you look in Munnar ... and it's a wonderful sight
You can read more about the Windermere Estate here, but if you are travelling to this part of India, do consider this as one of your stopovers and for a couple of days, so you can fully appreciate the plantation life and the magnificent scenery. It is an easy destination to combine with both Cochin on the west coast and Kumbakonam further east.

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