Known as God’s Own Country, Kerala is one of India’s most developed states with some of the highest literacy rates across the country. It attracts international tourism to its many destinations. Two of my favorite places include Varkala and Munnar. The mountainous landscapes of Munnar, in Northeast Kerala bordering Tamil Nadu, used to be a vast forestland, until the British arrived to Indian shores.
During the British colonization in the 1800s, an Englishman by the name of John Daniel Munro discovered the misty hills of Munnar and became enamored with the area. His plans were to turn the region into plantations for tea, coffee, and cardamom. And he was successful indeed, as he had connections with the Poonjar Royal Family who were the landlords of this region.
Our tea plantation guide’s grandparents, originally from Tamil Nadu have been working the fields over the past three generations. His family members, since his grandparents have all been raised in the same home on the tea plantations.
After India’s independence in 1947, Ratnam Tata, of Tata Tea Ltd., took over the management of the tea plantations and workers in Munnar. Benefits for the workers remained the same as they were during British rule; Tata continued to provide tea workers and their families with housing, schooling, and healthcare services.
Fifty-eight is the official retirement age, upon which the tea workers receive a settlement from Tata, return to their home in Tamil Nadu and receive a monthly pension.
Of the entire tea that is produced in Munnar, 85% belongs to Tata while the remaining 15% is owned by other private companies. The large majority of the tea is sold in India, while another chunk is exported to Sweden, surprisingly, I didn’t know the Swedish were such big tea drinkers.
Green, white and black tea is made of the same plant just processed a bit differently. White tea is a bit more expensive because cutting the leaf is much more labor intensive than the leaves you use for making green or black tea.
Tata outside of Munnar, Kerala, is a very big enterprise with ownership and stakes in industries as vast as electronics, automotive, hotels, flights, etc. Recently, Tata bought out Jaguar and Lancer (automotive industry).
We climbed up the mountain to enjoy the views and our homemade South Indian breakfast (masala dhosa), especially made by our guide’s wife. It was delicious.
When we reached the top, I noticed my Dalai Lama pendant I have received at His Holiness’ temple on my first trip to India, was no longer hanging off my wrist. I have been wearing it for the past one and half years and it has been a reminder to face life’s situations with as much compassion for others as possible. I was surprised it came off, to be honest because it stayed with me this long. Then again, it is also a good lesson that sometimes, and unexpectedly, you need to let go of things, especially those that are merely objects or representations of something. It is possible the pendant will reach someone else who will need it; meanwhile I am happy to know he has found a new home at the top of Munnar’s beautiful hills.
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