Say hill station in Kerala and Munnar would be what immediately springs to one’s mind — sprawling green tea plantations, spectacular views and above all, a cool climate. The town has it all. But then, the tourist destination has become so commercialized in the past two decades that you are more likely to find yourself jostling crowds throughout your holiday rather than ‘sipping in the serenity,’ as they say.

If you are the kind who would rather spend your precious holidays in a less crowded, more peaceful atmosphere this summer, climb further up to Kanthalloor, a beautiful little village 57km from Munnar. You won’t find as many luxury resorts and tea estates here, but you will find something else — relics of ancient history as well as some of the most pristine misty hills and lush green meadows where the silence is broken only by the tinkling bells of grazing cows. However, a word of caution: if you are looking for typical tourism options like museums, gardens and boat rides, Kanthalloor might disappoint you.

Even during the peak of summer, the temperature remains below 28degrees here, but the nights are much colder, so load up on those warm clothes. But then, be prepared for some teeth-chattering cold if you visit during winter, when it can go below zero degrees; around 5,000 to 6,500feet above sea level, Kanthalloor is one of the highest and coldest places in Kerala. It is also renowned for its fruit and vegetable farms, and you can see them growing on trees (what you see only in supermarkets in our tropical climate) — apples, oranges, plums, strawberries, blackberries and more.

Read on to know more about Kanthalloor.

How to reach
Situated in the Western Ghats in Idukki district along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, Kanthalloor can be reached from Kerala as well as Tamil Nadu. Here are the most common routes:

Kochi ” Munnar ” Kanthalloor and Palakkad ” Pollachi ” Udumalpetta ” Marayoor ” Kanthalloor

The best part of the second route is that you can stop by at Marayoor, famed for its sandalwood forests and delicious, locally-made jaggery. Thatched huts, housing machines that convert sugarcane into jaggery, line the roads. You can watch the process and also buy some fresh jaggery. A small diversion from Marayoor also takes you to the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, from where you can continue the journey towards Kanthalloor.

Where to stay
While Munnar is crowded with hotels, resorts and restaurants of all budgets, Kanthalloor has mostly homestays, which are also a few in number. It would be ideal to book something in advance before reaching. Look for a homestay run by a fruit farm owner, which will mean that you get to taste the apples (not the big juicy type, though) right off the trees. However, the season when you visit is crucial, as each fruit has its own season.

What to see
The ideal way to look around would be with a local guide, who will show you the spots with the most breathtaking views, and also take you on walking tours or treks. Remember the place is not yet a full-blown tourist spot so it’s better not to venture out into unknown areas alone.

Not to be missed is the Muniyara — flat pieces of heavy rocks placed in the shape of small huts, situated on top of mountains. These stone-age structures are said to have been used by munis or sages to meditate, but in reality, they were ancient tombs. Either way they are fascinating to look at; how people moved such heavy blocks of stone to make a hut in the pre-historic age is beyond imagination. Those familiar with the Malayalam film Bhramaram would remember the spectacular scene featuring a lone tree house in the midst of a picturesque setting, with a quaint cottage in the distance. The spot is in Kanthalloor, and one can climb up the tree house and indulge in the view. Unfortunately, anti-socials recently set fire to the premises and the area was closed to the public for a while. Check with authorities before visiting.

The area is also dotted with tiny hamlets and waterfalls — Irachilpara being one of them. In fact, the water from the springs around are so clear that you can drink right from them; no packing, boiling, filtering. Also, don’t forget to buy some fresh garlic from the farms in Kanthalloor which are larger and more flavourful than what we usually get in the markets. Get them as they are, with the roots, and hang them in your pantry.

A bit of history
Interestingly, Kanthalloor was mostly unknown as a tourist centre until around 2006, when the famed Neelakurinji which blooms once in 12 years was spotted there. In fact, until two decades back, the area was basically a forest, the only occupants being Tamils who sought refuge there during the 12th century. Gradually, estate workers from elsewhere settled here, followed by eucalyptus and later, fruit farmers. The village is fast developing as a tourist destination but the locals have only one thing to tell tourists — visit only if you are a fan of nature in all her pristine glory and do not litter and ruin the village.

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