We started the day at 900m and ended it at 1180m. That fact does not recognise the hilly terrain and this was another big climbing day – but through undulating hills rather than long mountainous climbs.
Knowing that we had a big day and refreshed by our day off we were up early and off by 7.30.
No navigational issues today as there was just one road between Kumily and Munnar (where we will get to tomorrow). The early morning cycling is often the nicest – cool air, gentle sunlight and little traffic. David had to do a couple of ‘bedding in’ adjustments to his gears after his repair bit after that it all held good and hopefully will last the next few 1000km. After about 15km we passed a convenient, rather posh, hotel advertising a ‘multi-cuisine’ restaurant and we stopped to see if we could get ‘second breakfast’ (David still does not fancy curry for breakfast so had not had any ‘first breakfast’). We looked somewhat dishevelled but we were taken with impeccable politeness by the restaurant manager to the ‘buffet’ breakfast on offer and we treated ourselves to a 5* breakfast.
I usually hate ‘undulating’ days as they can be very sapping without feeling you are getting anywhere. Today though the scenery was so stunningly beautiful I really did not mind. The road bobbed up and down between 1000 and 1100m through wooded/jungly terrain. Enormous trees, lush vegetation and beautiful flowers shaded the road and it was another sunny day with bright blue sky. At that altitude the air felt fresh even as the day began to heat up.
There was one longish descent down to about 800m and then a steepish climb up again. Soon after we started the climb we spotted a ‘riders café’ – the picture was of motorbikes but we felt we had to stop there for a cuppa. A friendly group of young men (we were the only customers) brought us out delicious cardamom tea – initially laced with sugar (we had not specified as we usually do ‘without sugar’) they insisted on changing it. Then on and up and down, up and down, up and down but gradually gaining height.
We topped out at 1200m and then the last few km down to Santhanpara where we had booked a place to stay. A tiny road went sharply upward, so it was back to pushing the bikes, hoping that the sign at the bottom saying ‘Spice Villas’ was correct. After half a km the road flattened and with the amazing accuracy of google maps we were taken to the door of ‘Spice Villas’. We immediately felt we had landed on out feet. The setting was gorgeous and each ‘room’ was its own little building complete with a sitting area.
We duly showered and collapsed as we were pretty tired but one of the measures of growing fitness is how quickly we recover. Tea helps of course. After spending a bit of time planning the next few days, we began to feel human again. We arranged with the manager, Satish, that they would provide dinner for us (we really did not want to go out again) and then he offered to show us around the Cardamom plantations.
We strolled 5 minutes down the road, through a tiny village and down into the plantation and realised we had passed lots on the road without realising. The cardamom plants are big bushy plants, a little like small bamboo bushes, which are planted under a canopy of enormous trees so they remain shaded. Satish explained that, even on private land, it is illegal to fell any of the trees, many of which are 100s of years old. This particular area was only licensed for cardamom growing (one of only 2 in Kerala) which meant the landowners were not able to plant anything else.
The cardamom pods grow on the roots at the base of the mature plants. The small green pods we saw were about 2 weeks away from harvesting. The fruit about 7 or 8 times a year – and all the picking is done by hand, mostly by women. The women also clear the area around the base of the plants to encourage the root growth.
The bushes last about 10 years so there is a continuous need to replant areas on a rotational basis, which we saw further up the track. Satish explained that getting the new plants established is very difficult, especially keeping monkeys from destroying the young leaves. The men do the heavy work of clearing the old plant, digging in the new ones and then stay and sleep in huts in the newly planted areas to tend to the bushes.
The walk in the evening sun was good for our legs and a fitting end to a day of beauty. We are definitely getting stronger (and maybe even a bit thinner) but the next few days through the Ghats look to be just as demanding.