Kerala: tea

The plan was to give you daily reports from my Kerala experience. But you know what it's like with plans. Our schedule turned out to be very tight. We spent long hours on the bus, stopping for tea and toilet, snacks and lunches in fancy hotels (Kerala is not a good place for dieting), taking pictures, and last but not least sightseeing. And by the end of the day when we reach our hotel we're so tired that usually we just check our emails quickly, have a beer or two and we would go to sleep. 

On top of that for some strange reason internet is available usually in the lobby and the restaurant, and not in the rooms. And it's a bit slow too, so blogging is not easy. Well, maybe it's for people to socialize more instead of sitting in front of computers all evenings long. If that's the official reason then I have to say it worked:) Anyway, considering all the above this will not be a day-to-day report. Hope you don't mind.

Let's start with tea then. It grows all around Munar, 130 kilometers east from Cochin. It was a bit less hot and humid there than at the seaside, after all we were in Whestern Ghats mountains, but it was still nice and warm. Tea plantations spread all the way to the horizon with extremely green, perfectly cut bushes that look like a soft, green carpet.

We were coming to Munar from Thekaddy with our noses (and lenses) glued to the window.  Every stop on the way as well as our sunset trip ended up with a search for two most avid photographers in our group: Oscar and Edin. Yes, tea plantations are very photogenic.

Around thousand people every day delivers freshly picked leaves to Manupatty Factory, owned by TATA which, by the way here in India makes everything from pins to cars. Tea pickers live in the area, in colorful houses on the hillsides. Management lives nearby too, although they occupy beautiful residences that remember good old times. 

Factory provides not only accommodation but also healthcare and education for children - among green hills there are two schools. One for pickers' kids, the other one for management's. This is not a good place for those who dream of a career from rags to riches. Career path of factory managers is simple: their fathers were the ones in charge too.

Tea picker has to pick 12 kilo of leaves a day and that's for how much they get their daily basic rate: around 4 USD. Anything above they get paid extra, and to pluck the required minimum it takes a skilled worker around 2 hours. We were told that the average for those 1000 people delivering leaves to Manupatty is around 50 kilos daily. Each one kilo of leaves will become 250 grams of tea. Annually factory makes 2.5 million tons of tea.

For the best quality product tea leaves are plucked by hand - only 3 leaves from the top of each plant. Women we've seen working at tea plantation had some kind of scissors they used for cutting leaves.

Once the leaves are delivered to the factory they are spread on a large troughs and left for shriveling for 18 to 20 hours. During that time the water amount in leaves gets reduced from 80% to 60%. Next step is crushing, tearing and curling the leaves. After 15 minutes leaves turn into a green pulp. At this stage it still doesn't remind of tea.

From there green pulp goes to huge containers for oxidation and fermentation. During that process tea turns brown and starts looking like tea. Green tea doesn't go through this process. Drying is the next process - by this stage the the water content went down to some 55%, after drying it'll go down to 3.

Last step is sorting. Huge sieves divide tea bits according to size into dozens of final products. The biggest ones after brewing taste mild, the smallest are the strongest. That dust we sometimes laugh that it comes from sweeping the floor of tea factory, here in India is the most desirable. People in India like their tea strong (and - of course - with milk).

Factory is not open for tourists, although from what we've heard they get many inquiries that they may start doing organized tours at some point. Until then those who want to learn more about tea there is Tata Tea Museum in Munnar.

PS. No photography was allowed inside the factory.


Kerala day 0:

We officialy start tomorrow, today we’re still waiting for few more bloggers to come, so KBE people decided to keep us entertained by taking us around to see resorts in the area. Kovala and Varkala areas are known for their beautiful, neverending beaches. There are many luxury hotels by Kovala Beach, while Varkala is more a backpackers’ destination. We’ll get to Varkala later on, today we focused on Kovala area hotels.

Hotels are close to each other. We walked to the first one leaving our resort by some back gate. To reach next one however we had to take our bus, and to reach the bus we had to take a boat. Thus we had another opportunity to enjoy Kerala backwaters

All the resorts we visited were by the beach, all had perfect-blue swimming pools, service was responding quickly to our every request before we could even think it, there were yoga studios, even a dentist - they told us that dental treatment here was cheaper than in other countries (although price they gave - 100 USD per root canal treatment sounded a bit like in Poland , but I guess it’s nicer to have your root canal treated in Kerala sun instead of, let’s say November rain, in grey Warsaw). 

What they all had in common and what seems to be their specialty is Ayurveda. Each hotel has its Ayurveda doctor, you can get a single massage or a whole package. They say the packages are really popular and all the hotels are full year round, even during the Monsun season.

Ayurveda massage table
Ayurveda massage, as we found out in theory and a few days later in practice, is different from what we are used to. Instead of painful squeezing of muscles massuer (who, as a rule, is the same sex as the patient) rubs in a huge amount of warm seasame oil. It was very relaxing. I fell asleep half way through.

What I really like about the resorts here is that they are not tall ugly buildings. They are usually small houses or bungalows that try to hide among the palm trees. Not too much concrete, lots of wooden elements instead. Hammocks are swinging, swimming pools are tempting and restaurant area is always with a sea view. What more do you need?
Poovar Island Resort
If I ever decided to go on vacation like that I would probably choose Poovar Island Resort with little houses built on platforms on the water, with huge windows. Another beautiful place with breathtaking swimming pools was Leela where we went to see sunset. It's the oldest and the most famous hotel on the coast.

Anywhere we went we got royal treatment. We were welcomed by general managers, we would get a dot painted on our foreheads by beautifully dressed hostess, each of us would get a neckless made of flowers, palm leaves, cardamon seeds or sea shells.

All that would often be accompanied by Katahakali dancers and a glass of lemonade, pinapple or watermelon juice (those who know my affection for watermelon can imagine how much I enjoy it) or fresh coco. Sometimes we also get some paparazzi - either from local press or from the hotel.

KBE bloggers in a local newspaper
In all the places we go to we eat. Lunch, snack, tea (after all we're almost in England). We went to Leela for tea so on top of drinks there were snacks, all beautifully served: little canappes, fruit and typical Kerala sweets. The one I liked the most was sweet snack made of cashew nuts that are grown here. And I have to thank to Leela waiters for not even blinking when I managed to knock down two glass trays full of food when I was trying to retrieve the above mentioned cashew cookie I dropped between them:)

Sunset in Leela
As I mentioned earlier I am not really a target of this kind of places, just like my fellow-travellers, so half way through this resort-hopping and despite this fantastic welcome we got everywhere, people started being a bit unpatient and on our way to one of the resorts few of them disappeared misteriously. Probably any other hotel we see we don't sleep or eat in will cause some kind of rebellion Luckily tomorrow the real Kerala journey starts. Can't wait!


Kerala: day -1

Five hours to Dubai, five at the airport and four more on the plane and welcome to India. I arrived at the airport with a name too difficult to pronounce for a guy at Okecie Airport ("your luggage will fly straight to…eee…destination"). In Thiruvananthapuram (the name was shortened by Brits for convenience so you can say Trivandrum instead) KBE people, Rutavi and Kenney were waiting to pick me up along with two other bloggers: Shawn, American from Las Vegas (when I told him we were in Vegas last March he said he was in…Warsaw at the time!) and Michelle from Denmark, who arrived on the same plane that I did.

I hardly remember anything from our transfer to the hotel, after a night without sleep it was difficult to stay awake. We drove for a while meandring smoothly among yellow tuk-tuks, hundreds of scooters and old buses using mainly horn and a large dose of assertivness. Then we took a boat which soothed our nerves shattered by the traffic and rocking slowly like a cradle took us to our hotel.

Kovalam area is famous for its backwaters, which, as I just learned, in States is a word used for rather low-end areas, here it just means a network of waterways, rivers and lakes spreading for about thousand kilometers along the shore. Backwaters are really picturesque, peaceful and quiet, there are palm trees, mango trees, pineapples, it’s also a good place for birds watching. There are over 300 species of them and our "driver" would stop every once in a while to show us some specimen sitting quietly on a palm tree. 

I managed to notice that for the first time since December I wasn't cold, and I rested on a huge bed with a swan-shapped towel covered by flower petels. The room was huge with huge bathroom and a bathtub looking almost like a pool. Unsure whether it was already a dream I fell asleep right away.

Phone call woke me up after just couple of hours ("would you like to schedule ayurvedic massage?" asked Rajeesh from Big Bang Theory) so I decided to have a look around. I decided to skip the massage for now.

Estuary Island Resort is a very pleasent place, I would probably never go to if it wasn’t for that trip. Huge rooms, clear-blue swimming pools, hammocks hanging among the trees… While travelling on limited budget we usually choose cheap places we use only for sleeping and as a base camp. It’s not only a matter of money, even if we can afford something more we’d rather spend this money on somehthing else. Our selection criteria is easy - there has to be a bed and we need it to be close to places we want to see.

But with every winter more and more I can imagine a week of sweet laziness in luxury, more as a part of longer journey than entire holiday - I wouldn’t like to spend all vacation in a golden cage. If I ever decide to do this, Estuary for sure will be on my shortlist.

Having said all that, let me just say dear readers, that I will do this for you - I will accept all that luxury and give you a detailed report :-)

In Estuary there is all you need - comfortable rooms, delicious food, swimming pools, massages, wi-fi, playground for kids, even a gift shop. Resort is on the island but it doesn't mean there you cannot get there by car - if you miss the last boat there is a way around, it is longer and really bumpy though. 

Boats are  useful not only to get to "the real world" but also to get to the beach situated across the backwater. We went there (there were more of us by then) for our first Kerala sunset. Beach was full of people: families with kids, couple posing to Bollywood-style pictures, young guys showing off with their acrobatic skills.

After the sun went down and after an ice-braking beer (by that time maybe a third of bloggers arrived - I hope to write more about my fellow-travellers later on) there was one more attraction waiting for us in the hotel: Kathakali. It's a traditional dance/religious play telling the stories from gods’ lives. Kathakali originated here, in Kerala in 17th century. The movements of the dancers are very precise and their make up takes up to a few hours. It definitely felt like a good start of our Kerala adventure.



Kerala Blog Express is the name of the bus that will take me and other 26 bloggers from 15 countries all over Kerala, India. In the group there are people for whom blogging/travelling/photography is the way of living as well as people who treat blogging (not necessarily travel related) as a hobby.

The trip is organized by Kerala Department of Tourism and its goal is to promote Kerala as tourist destination all over the world.

For those of you who get bored at work or have a lot of spare time, or just like a good read, here is a list of my fellow-travellers:

Meruschka from RSA: http://mzansigirl.com
Roxanne from India: http://thetinytaster.com
Anita from India: http://anitabora.com/Prasad from India: http://desitraveler.com
Vijay from India: http://feelfreeorflyindia.wordpress.com
Tarun from India: http://www.mygreedybackpack.com
Dina from Indonesia: http://www.duaransel.com
Taufan from Indonesia: http://disgiovery.com
Daniel from Brasil: http://samesame.com.br
Oscar from Brasil: http://mauoscar.com
Gaia from Brasil: http://gaiapassarelli.wordpress.com
Inma from Spain: http://www.aworldtotravel.com
Evina from Spain: http://unaideaunviaje.com
Emanuele from Italy: http://thesiracusas.com
Edin from USA: http://edinchavez.com
Delia from USA: http://awayshegoes.net
Justin from USA: http://justinwashere.com
Shawn from USA: http://milestomemories.com
Edgar from Philippines: http://www.eazytraveler.com
Gael from Philippines: http://www.thepinaysolobackpacker.com
Ivan from Philippines: http://www.ivanhenares.com
Stephania from Holland: http://stefaniavanlieshout.com
Michelle from Denmark: http://shinimichi.blogspot.com.br
Nelson from Portugal: http://nelsoncarvalheiro.com
Caroline from Germany: http://shavethewhales.net
Elsie from Mexico: http://lossaboresdemexico.com