Kolukkumalai Tea Estate and factory  

Finally arrived at Kolukkumalai and experienced home stay style in the mountain cabin at the world's highest tea estate!  Kolukkumalai tea plantation is about 2160 meters above sea level, 32 km from Munnar town.   The estate is accessible by jeep and it is about one and a half hour journey from the Munnar. Surrounded by the tea gardens, we experienced fantastic views from our accommodation of the far off plains in the bordering state of Kerala and plains of Tamil Nadu and an even better sunrise - not to be missed! Geographically Kolukkumalai is a small village in Bodinayakanur taluk. But just a village is misleading in this case. In reality Kolukkumalai is not really a village at all; instead it is a dream.  Located high on the slopes of Meesapulimala, the second highest peak in South India (2659 meters above sea level), Kolukkumalai incredibly hangs there in the air, suspended like a dewy cobweb hammock from its nearest surrounding peaks, but a green one made of tea bushes, otherwise surrounded by air, morning mist and eternal sunrise etched into one’s retina so that the eyes of persons around you sparkle. The mountain cabin guest house (or hut) offered us a very comfortable accommodation with delicious food served, fantastic views over the estate and the mountains beyond, and some memorable company.

Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, Kolukkumalai tea factory
Kolukkumalai Tea Estate - -  the world's highest              (...What  was  the long story...?.)

Kolukkumalai Tea Estate’s tea factory produces organic tea using traditional orthodox method in this time-tested tea factory. This tea factory is historic, built by the British circa year 1935 but tea leaves have been harvested in Kolukkumalai Tea Garden since the 19th century we were told. The estate’s tea factory still produces what I consider to be the “best ever” tea I have ever tasted with unique aroma and flavour using the old fashioned method. Orthodox tea-making consists of seven complex steps, withering, rolling, sieving, fermenting, drying, fibre extraction and grading. So there you are, now we know.

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Kolukkumalai - the world’s highest organic tea garden

Unlike the other Indian typical time-consuming state border crossings, the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu was completely invisible when driving from Munnar to Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, the world’s highest organic tea garden at 6500 to 8000 feet's altitude.  And teas grown at high altitudes are best.  Just try it and you will know.

Kolukkumalai Tea Garden

The views that open up over Kolukkumalai at the top as you drive the road over the final ridge by jeep / 4x4 is breath-taking. Suddenly at the road summit the gardens of Kolukkumalai are revealed as an exotic, almost “forgotten” looking secret valley with a small group of huts, houses, buildings and the grand, silver-coloured iconic tea factory down at the bottom, connected by paths and ancient roads with the characteristic velvet-like green jigsaw “mosaic” patterned tea trees covering every available square meter everywhere all the way up the hills and mountain-sides up to where there is simply no more soil left for the tea trees to grow in, or the ground is too steep (i.e. vertical!) to harvest the tea leaves.

Industrial Tea Production History
Kolukkumalai Tea Estate claims it is the highest traditional 
tea manufacturing factory in the world. The tea IS delicious!

Started in the early 1900s the Kolukkumalai tea estate produces tea using the orthodox method in the time tested tea factory. The factory is truly in its original condition from new in the 1930s. Little has changed here since the colonial planters left leaving behind their legacy of, in my opinion, one of the best quality tea you can get in South India. We bought loads of delicious Kolukkumalai Tea in the tea shop.  Make it strong - very strong - and drink it without sugar or milk.

Short trek  to the second highest peak in South India 
Meesapulimala seen from the gardens of Kolukkumalai tea estate

Meesapulimala - the second highest peak in South India (2659 meters above sea level) - seen in the photo from the top of Kolukkumalai Tea Estate as you arrive, or leave, by jeep - is only 3 km away from the tea gardens (but half a kilometer up!). Fantastic 360 degrees views from the top! The short trek from Kolukkumalai to the top and back takes 2 -3 hours depending on stops and pace. It is highly recommended.

View over Kolukkumalai from Meesapulimala
The gardens of Kolukkumalai tea plantation surrounded by its 
smaller local peaks, seen from Meesapulimala

Fantastic views from the slightly smaller peak next to Meesapulimala (the second highest peak in South India).   Here, a view over Kolukkumalai, well protected amongst its local peaks.   There are two tops around Meesapulimala. The northern peak is the tallest, and according to Google Maps this is Meesapulimala at 2659 meters above sea level. The southern peak is 19 meters lower at 2640 meters. The path to from Kolukkumalai to Meesapulimala passes via the lower peak. Some Wikipedia contributor, however, has given the lower (southern) peak the name Meesapulimala, referring to old US maps from 1954…. Why hasn’t India themselves produced some decent topographical maps? Everything is Google Maps, US Army or old colonial stuff like maps over the British Kodaikanal–Munnar Road Evacuation Route from the war in preparation for a possible Japanese invasion of South India. It’s about time India printed something decent and more up to date for trekking.  On the other hand, our guides do an excellent job so who need maps anyway?

Not just a sunrise..
Sunrise from the gardens of Kolukkumalai tea estate

Sunrise seen from Sunrise road in Kolukkumalai Estate gardens.  Beautiful memories from around the view area.  They don't get any better. The sunrise wasn’t bad either..

Roasted Cocoa Beans !!
Roasted cocoa bean did not grow in Kolukkumalai Estate, couldn't find them anywhere else either.

On the last evening at Kolukkumalai, around a sparkling fire in the fire pit on the side of the guest house we were having tea and whole roasted cocoa beans as a snack, biting bitter flavour but I found it seriously good stuff, all chocolate and no sugar - must be healthy, surely!!  Unfortunately we couldn't find these beans anywhere in Kerala or Tamilnadu the following week 

The long bumpy "road" to and from Kolukkumalai tea estate
Hour long jeep rides to Kolukkumalai Tea Estate and back

I can guarantee you will never forget the road to Kolukkumalai Tea Plantation. The jeep climb took around an hour at max. 5 km per hour. That bumpy experience initially seems a good enough reason not wanting to leave again once you arrive.
However, bumpy roads are nothing: As we finally left Kolukkumalai one early morning by jeep, it stopped, and I was all of a sudden moved by a hasty, intense encounter near the road summit (where we had been at the sunrise the previous morning) which now made it painful to leave - a much, much better reason than all road bumps in the world to remain at Kolukkumalai. How things change. But a second after time had stood still the jeep was on its way again. Light went out.  No more sparkling eyes. But what happened since? 

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        At 8,000 feet, the world's highest tea estate draws visitors for both its tea and its panoramic views. Thirty-five km outside of Munnar, India, the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate is built high atop the precipitous ridge that rises above the plains of Tamilnadu. At about 8,000 feet above sea level, this is the highest tea estate in the world.  Known for its excellent, flavoursome teas, this tea estate is also known for its panoramic views and for the rugged mountains that surround it.
Kolukkumalai tea estate, factory viewed from mountain hut varanda
Kolukkumalai tea factory seen from veranda
It's remote - it takes about 90 minutes to reach Kolukkumalai from Munnar - but on clear nights, you can see Kodaikanal from the estate because of its height. "The rejuvenating fresh air is a blessing in this place, but life is very simple," one review from a visitor reads. "Their world revolves around their homes and work."
        The factory at the centre of Kolukkumalai estate has stood for several generations, having been built more than 70 years ago. It uses traditional techniques even today that serve as a draw for tea enthusiasts. Orthodox tea-making is a seven-step process that includes withering, rolling, sieving, fermenting, drying, fibre extraction, and grading. All of this work happens in the small factory that has not been changed since the British constructed it in the 1930s. Kolukkumalai mountain hut veranda
        Kolukkumalai Mountain Hut accommodation is located in Kolukkumalai Estate. Perched high on the slopes on Meesapulimala, the second highest peak in the area it is an ideal place for people who are looking to enjoy the breath-taking beauty of the Munnar hills in the way it should be enjoyed...from a tea estate! Access to the estate is up a winding dirt track with panoramic views of the hills and valleys right until you get to the estate .through the gardens You have the option of a walk or an off-road drive in a 4x4 jeep to get to the estate.
        The staff quarters that once used to house the senior staff working on the estate has now been converted to guest accommodation with 3 rooms. The rooms are simple, comfortable and tastefully furnished, all with private en-suite facilities and with hot/cold water. There is a common veranda with lovely views of the surrounding hills. They say you could take in the views in the comforts of the day-beds provided common for guests staying at Kolukkumalai Tea Estate Guesthouse, I didn't try.