Friday, August 12, 2011

Time for a cuppa?

Inwards and upwards to the tea plantations. As we drove into the hills,  rows and rows as far as the eye could see and further....tea bushes:
As we got higher the weather got colder. Munnar is a favourite honeymoon destination for northern Indian newly weds. These were easily identified by their fading wedding mendi (henna art on arms and feet), the slight awkwardness between hubby and wife (arranged marriages) and poor new wife wanting to show off her risque ( by Indian standards ) pseudo-western trousseau of shorts and tee-shirts, shivering and cold!
 This was the one stop where our accommodation was a little lacking, the old Biritsh Tea Bungalow could be optimistically described as authentic!! Given the cold we could have done with a bit more comfort and an updated bathroom.  However, the views were wonderful and I imagine in the summer it would have been the cool respite from the heat the Brits envisaged way back. Our cook/host Mr Raj, who almost dated back from the days of the British, looked after us well. He lit us fires, made us plentiful warm tea and his food kept us warm! Mr Raj started work as a room boy for an old English family over 50 years ago, being later promoted to the role of butler. Now in his late sixties he is still at work.
We explored the tea plantations by bike. Even Wills perched on top of an adult bike with the saddle on the lowest setting managed to cycle quite some distance. The people here are so friendly, everyone we passed smiled, asked our names and the second question was always how we were enjoying Kerala. Everyone is very proud of their state and so they should be!!

However, Wills quit halfway round and his bike was thrown into the back of the jeep and he went off for with Deepu for a cup of tea. Wills has his own series of little adventures - he and Deepu would occasionally disappear into a little road side tea stops. Apparently Wills does at least make it clear he needs a paper cup - so he doesn't get any germs - and so far his approach seems to be working.
The gentle drone of laughter and chatter heralded each group of ladies plucking and cutting the tea leaves. Each bush is plucked every 15 days and the women are payed by weight so you can imagine how fast they move through the lines of tea bushes. This is the weigh station. Look at where the guy weighing hangs his umbrella!
 The plantation has homes for the workers, as well as schools, creches, hospitals and churches/temples -effectively whole villages. Initially there wasn't sufficient labor in the tea growing areas (as you can see it is pretty labor intensive) so in order to bring in labor the infrastructure was also required. These are the cottages, the workers live in - primitive but we've seen a lot worse! Most of the families are dual income as the ladies do the plucking and the guys work in the tea factories. So the creches and schools are essential.
I am getting a bit concerned that I am beginning to sound like a eco-lefty in my posts so I am going to leave off making any further comments about the strong eco-polices of the tea companies and how they look after their workers - save to say that everyone looked very happy!!

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