Kolukkumalai On Wheels: Home To The World’s Highest Tea Estate

Have you ever tasted the savor of the world’s best organic tea at an altitude, where the world’s highest tea is grown?  If not, then this is the time for you to block your calendar and head towards the border of Tamil Nadu, India. Yes, Kolukkumalai tea estate along the borders of Tamil Nadu and Kerala is claimed to be the highest tea plantation in the world. The serene beauty of the landscapes overlaid with blankets of lush green tea plants will leave you spellbound that offers breath-taking picturesque sight of the tranquil valleys amid the mountains. Kolukkumalai is a small beauteous hamlet in Bodinayakanur taluk in Theni district of Tamil Nadu. Bodinayakanur is the finest place on the foothills of the Western Ghats, also called as “South Kashmir” because of its pleasant and charming weather all around the year, which can be visited in all seasons. It is surrounded by mountain ranges almost three-fourth of its area, geared up with lot of villages amid cardamom plantation. By traversing through the slopes of the mountains, one can experience the place to the finest.

The hill town is situated at an altitude of 7130 feet (2160 metres) above sea level, hardly few traces of people and all of them work in the tea estate. The origin of Kolukkumalai is certainly not known however, digging the history, the tea plantation was introduced in the early 1900’s by the English people and developed the place with the help of local tribes. Later, people from the surrounding areas were migrated to this place for work. They used some traditional method to produce tea. Later in 1930’s, a tea factory was built here and the machineries were brought from England and still some of the machines hold the badges of the makers along with the time stamp.

Breath-taking picturesque sight of Kolukkumalai hills

To the surprise, the two storied factory still operates perfectly in its original way and the tea is processed by the old traditional method. The building looks amazing with the wooden interiors and it’s a perfect place where you can explore the entire process of processing tea. The reason why they didn’t modernize the machineries is that there is no road leading the factory or the summit. When the factory was established, they used manpower to transport the machineries from the foothill to top.  It’s a rock path and the only way to reach atop is to take a 4×4 Jeep or by foot.

Though the modern technology rules the world, still the people here follow the orthodox methods to process tea starting from plucking the leaves by hand to the final product. The tea processed here has a natural aroma and savor of the tea refreshes your soul. Don’t miss to taste the different flavors of tea after the factory visit.

The oldest tea factory built in early 1930’s

The tea plantation has been widespread across the landscapes of the mountains and the picturesque lush green grasslands are an eye-catching view, when it is seen from the summit. The tea is grown at an elevation of between 6000 and 8000 feet above the sea level. Kolukkumalai is about 31 kms from Munnar and can be reached via road, via a small town Suryanelli in Idukki district. The journey all the way from Munnar will be spectacular, as you have to ride through the wobble mountain slopes and overlaid silver mist all the way along to Chinnakanal, which would be blissful journey for nature enthusiasts. The real head-ache starts from Suryanelli and its completely off-road journey. One has to take 4×4 Jeep at Suryanelli or you can do a trek to reach atop. The off-road ride is not for everyone, as the road will be bumpy and test your spine. If your expert in off-road driving, you can make a try that too with a sturdy and rugged SUV, and it’s not advisable to take your own vehicle uphill. Though it’s a travel of 10kms, it’s extremely dangerous, so it’s safe to hire a Jeep. Other option would be biking, and if you are ready to test your durability, you are welcome. It’s a one and half hour journey from Suryanelli amid the stunning tea plantation.

The way to Kolukkumalai

When you get closer to the tea plantation, the road disappears; indeed a rocky path invites. The secluded hill station still remains in its original form and it is not exploited by commercial tourism. The view gets better and even better as you reach the elevation.  The stunning beautiful landscapes and serene valleys of the mountain ranges alongside the lush green tea plantation and far-off villages amid grass lands are the eye-catching and spectacular sights seen from the atop of Kolukkumalai. The fresh mountain air rejuvenates your mind free from hectic city life. The peak welcomes with a sign-board depicting the hilly estate and moving forward along the bumpy road will get you to the old beautiful traditional tea factory. They offer paid guided factory tour that helps to explore the traditional and authentic way of processing the handpicked leaves to the packaged tea powder. The tea is processed by the way it was originally processed in 1930’s. Many varieties of tea are processed here and you can taste different flavors of tea, once you are done exploring the factory. The tea processed here has a special flavor and taste because of the way it is made and most importantly its high altitude, where it is grown.

Though there are not many tourist attractions in Kolukkumalai as seen in many hill stations, it stands unique than others. It’s a lesser known hill station in the southern state of India. Only few visits this pristine hilly town and it is well known for the stunning view of sunrise. One should not miss the beauty of the sunrise, as you can witness the yellow orangey sunrays breaking the clouds, sparkling silver mist over the grasses and the dazzling young tea leaves in sun shades. If you are photo freak, you will have the shutters of your camera busy. Get a walk through the winding road as it gives different perspective views of mountain ranges and varying scenic beauty. During bad weather, you will not be able to witness the dazzling sunrise. If you are lucky enough, nature will do the rest and it will be your memorable day to start with.

Beautiful view of sunrise atop Kolukkumalai

Other popular thing here is the Meeshapulimalai trek, which attracts nature enthusiast. Located at the height of 2,640 meters above the sea level, the Meeshapulimalai peak offers a panorama view of the sweeping valleys and landscapes. The sight-seeing from the top is a breathtaking one.  It can be accessed either via Kolukkumalai or Silent Valley Estate.

Spectacular view of sunset

Accommodation is quite hard over here, as there are only three refurbished rooms in a guest house maintained by the tea estate. Prior booking is mandatory, if you wish to stay at the highest organic tea estate in the world. The tea estate guest house offers camping and trekking services, if you wish, they will arrange a camping at high altitude with camp fire. Other options are Munnar and Suryanelli, which houses many resorts of all ranges that suits your budget.  When you choose to stay at Munnar or Suryanelli, get snacks, water bottles and meals pack, before you hit Kolukkumalai, as you will not find a single shop over there. If you wish to enjoy the nature at the best, plan to hit Kolukkumalai at the right season, prior booking at the tea estate guest house and try the sport offered by them, spectacular sun rise sight, mesmerizing bone freezing walk at the early morning and other sporting.  Avoid visiting Kolukkumalai during foggy and monsoon season.

How to reach

By road: From Munnar, take Devikulam Road. After Devikulam, continue along Kochi – Dhanushkodi Rd (Munnar – Kumily Hwy) and deviate left to Chinnakanal – Suryanelli Rd.

Suryanelli is the base town, where jeeps are available for hire.

Nearest Railway Station: Aluva at 140 kms, Kottayam at 162 kms, Bodinayakanur at 50 kms,  Theni at 66 kms, Andipatti at 82 kms, Usilampatti at 105 kms

Nearest Air port: Cochin Int’l Airport at 140 Kms, Madurai Airport 153 KM