The much missed travel

Travelling after eighteen months, a long and impatient wait for us as we almost travelled twice every month, on an average. The packing of a suitcase this time meant more than just a routine activity. There were apprehensions, but the excitement was way more than the concerns. Bunches of masks and bottles of sanitiser being the new additions.  

I did not know of Valparai, honest admission. It was while looking for a break after months of coping with the covid pandemic, with many additional considerations, travel restrictions, flight availability, duration of the journey, less crowd, un-touristy, my husband suggested Valparai. It ticked all boxes and is also a new destination. We started our search, emails and phone calls, and found Briar Tea Bungalows. Having stayed in tea gardens and converted British bungalows, we quite enjoy them. They have history and character and a certain coexistence to them. Usually remote, vast, expansive, rhythmic in a way that rhymes around the tea estates. So, all necessary arrangements followed and we set off.

The airports are a disappointment. How people still do not care enough about distancing and following hygienic practices.

Uncertainty, the most prevailing condition of the current times, I got a call as we landed at Coimbatore, “Coimbatore is in complete lockdown and the Collector has ordered no tourism. We will refund your reservation amount.” Valparai is about three hours drive from Coimbatore, over 100 kms and up on the hills, quite disconnected from Coimbatore in many ways than one. So I said, “I am not going back. Am going to make the drive and see what happens.” Armed with fully vaccinated certificate, negative RTPCR report, we started, not knowing whether we will get to Valparai!

Best decision ever! We were stopped at the check-post, we showed our papers and were allowed to proceed. Yay! This good news followed a tea break, nice strong tea and tasting of varied vadas.

Hungrily savouring the greenery, as we started the climb, views of the reservoirs, waterfalls, the permanence, resilience of Nature, the shining sun on rain drenched tea leaves, new and old, breathing the fresh air, the gentle cloud slowly engulfing the valley, happiness back in our veins.

Stanmore bungalows was built in 1935. The Briar group has five properties, each with a specific character, closer to forest, or river or in the middle of tea plantation. Sitting there, surrounded by tea, I brushed up my knowledge.

When did tea cultivation start in India?

In 1837, the first English tea garden was established at Chabua in Upper Assam; in 1840, the Assam Tea Company began the commercial production of tea in the region. Beginning in the 1850s, the tea industry rapidly expanded, consuming vast tracts of land for tea plantations.

Who discovered tea in India?

An intrinsic part of daily life today, tea was introduced formally to Indians by the British. The origin of tea in India is owed to the British who intended to overthrow China’s monopoly on tea, having found that Indian soil was eminently suitable to cultivate these plants.

This is a hideout, a place where you may not have a lot to do, though there are points of touristic interest, a tunnel under a waterfall which runs for four kilometers, a reservoir, few temples, what it offers is great, scenic, quiet walks which you can do without a mask. No one around for almost as far as eyes can see, except the many species of birds. The birders will have a field day!  You may not see the wild life like you do in an organised safari. But they are seen by the locals and the lucky. People talk about leopards, bears been seen in certain locations. During our stay, we saw a herd of elephants, CCTV footage of bears and leopards, fleeting glance of a white mongoose, two flying squirrels hanging upside down from the branch of a tall tree, a shy lion tailed macaque looking down at us from a canopy, two Sambar deer and two magnificent Nilgiri tahr. This was enough for us. That they are all coexisting in harmony.

Where we return to at the end of the day and how close it gets to make us feel at home is our comfort yardstick. The team at Stanmore is amazing! Very receptive to details, and small demands, like warm water to drink, an extra bedside lamp, tea at any intervals. The kitchen staff, chef and cook, with skill to not only make world class continental dishes, but also our longing for idli, dosa, puttu, kadala! Each dish brought to the table was both visual and mouth-watering treat. Everything served, from breakfast to dinner, was insta-worthy and tasteful. A team that functions in tandem brings in peace and positivity to the space which was palpable here. As we all know how badly hospitality industry has been affected, for these young people to hold themselves together and go about making the others happy is really appreciated.

Another beautiful feature of Stanmore bungalows is the old trees and the flourishing garden. Mossy, healthy, many old trees, litchi, avocado, guava, mangoes, and many more, full of vegetation and brightly coloured flowers, the gardeners constantly cleaning and nurturing the land and its living.

A trip that made me realise how much I missed travelling, and how grateful I am to be able to do so. This pandemic has given us a new perspective. It’s up to each one of us to understand that we are part of a larger system and we need to recognize and respect the parts played by all living beings. It’s the humans who make the changes, good or bad. And Nature will react, for sure.

This was a place that made us happy deep inside, no cutting of the queue, no aggression, no violence, no arguments. When we drove around one day, and went through the Valparai town, there is a temple, a mosque and a church within one kilometer radius.  Once back in the airport, and then in the flight, I cringed every time people exercised their power to prevail, being rude, treating the airhostesses like servants and several incidents, usually brushed aside as minor by many, which is not really what it is, leaving always a bad taste. I don’t need this and I hoped I have to watch less of these in our everyday lives.

​The most resplendent memory of our stay at Stanmore Bungalows, was to wake up to the singing of the Malabar whistling thrush. I had never heard, had only read, sings from dawn to dusk, a song most extraordinary.

You sing on sweethearts, “the whistling school boy”, you make your own tune, sing to say that every day is a new day, and you make it a happy day. Like a friend said, ​Sarvabhutatmabhut​​atma सर्वभूतात्मभूतात्मा,

“to consider yourself a part of the world, and the world a part of yourself”.

5 thoughts on “The much missed travel

  1. Absolutely captivating narration. Just couldn’t hold back my imagination from flying out of the window. The pictures left my lips and tongue smacking.


  2. If sinking into the depth of nature is an unsaid wish which most of us have, then look for such opportunities. They are bound to make you feel one with God


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