Tea Harvest in Munnar

tea harvestToday we ventured where seemingly no one has ventured before – judging by the near total absence of plastic bottles strewn around. Across the valley from the hotel is a little mountain with a cross on the top and we figured we had a reasonably good chance of making it up there with Max in tow. The approach from the back through the tea plantation seemed gentle and pleasant enough and we hoped to get a glimpse on the tea harvest. As always, people were extremely helpful, showing us the way, letting us walk across their property and chatting us up.

A normal conversation will go something like this:
“Hello! – we would like to hike up that mountain can we walk through here?”
“Okay, okay!” – “Name?”
“Uhmm, my name is Uli/Tina!”
“No, not you – him” (pointing at Max)
“Oh, this is Max”
“Yes, son”
“I picture with Max!”
“Okay, sure, why not. Max come here we want to take a picture.”
Max: “NO!! I don’t want to, NO, NO, NO!!!!!” (turning head the other direction, flailing with his arms and screaming some for good measure)
Father and mother, looking embarrassed: “sorry, he is shy and silly, sorry, really!”
(taking a hasty leave)

tea harvest
very nice estate on our way up the mountain. As always and everywhere, we were warmly welcomed, (c) Tina Baumgartner

After 100 meters of strenuous hiking we were invited to visit a really beautiful garden and to take pictures of it. I gladly complied. We even got some strawberries from the little field by the house, which, predictably Max refused to eat (more embarrassment). A little higher up we run into women in the middle of tea harvest. Tea seems to be picked exclusively by women who wear heavy rubber aprons, big knives to cut off the light green new leaves and big baskets to collect them. Men seem to come only in the incarnation of “supervisor” whose purpose in life seems to be to walk around and not do much of anything.

We went through the whole “picture with baby” – “baby” was throwing another screaming fit – thing before settling on just picture, picture with friend, picture with me (elevated to status of “sister”), picture while working, etc. Pretty quickly word must have gotten around the tea hill and in no time we were surrounded by women eager to have their picture taken – alone, with friend, in groups of three, four, ….. I seem to have become Munnar’s new pro bono photographer over night. I can already see a picture book entitled “People of Munnar” or alike in my future – and not selling a single copy of it other than to friends and family who feel sorry.

Unofficial Photographer of Tea Pickers

tea harvest
Two of the women take a break from the tea harvest to pose for pictures. (c) Tina Baumgartner

By all accounts tea harvesting must be one hard, mind-numbing way of scraping together a living. The work is physically challenging with all the hauling around of baskets on steep slopes as well as lacking any kind of distraction and diversion. I used to think that cashier at a supermarket is the most mind-numbing job there is (I used to do that during my university years) but as of today I have officially changed my mind to tea picker. No wonder a couple of Westerners with a blond “baby” deliberately walking up the hill attracted some attention and provided some entertainment value.

So I took another 250 pictures and the address of the supervisor with the promise to send him everybody’s pictures. I have every intention to make good on this promise but I’ll probably have to set two days aside for picture processing. Getting them printed shouldn’t be hard, even Munnar has a couple of “Digital Photography” places. After the pictures we were asked for “sweets” and complied by raiding our hiking supplies – which didn’t go very far with the six or seven people standing around us.

tea harvest
She was a little shy at first but then warmed up to the situation, esp. to Max. (c) Tina Baumgartner

We finally made it up to the top, complete with cross, and had what remained of the trail mix. It was nice and peaceful up there, warm but not hot with a nice breeze and nobody else even close. I guess in the All-of-India-in-10-days-tours climbing some minor peak in the Western Ghats doesn’t feature prominently, the Indian tourists prefer to have their driver stop the car by a view point, take two steps in between the tea plants, take the pic and be done with the whole thing, and the locals have had enough of running around the hills once they are done picking tea.

tea picking
“Baby” finally made peace with the whole thing when he got to wield the big scissors!
(c) Tina Baumgartner

Tomorrow we are leaving for Kochi. Our “permanent” apartment is becoming available and so we’ll give the big city another try. Knowing what I know now, after even one week of traveling in India, I would have planned the trip differently and would have stayed away from the big cities instead of making one the “hub”. The pace out here in the boonies is saner, the air cleaner and cooler, the roads not quite as dangerous (a real concern when you travel with a 3.5 year old who wants to assert his independence by pulling free from your hand and leaping into the road at the most inopportune of times) and people seem to be thrilled to have us around and show us a piece of their lives. We are planning a trip to the beach and Uli is already consulting the Kerala guide for another possible mountain get-away once he gets fed up with the heat in Kochi – which will happen about 3 minutes after we get there.

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