This post was most recently updated on March 10th, 2019
The mention of Munnar, Kerala’s queen of hills brings to our mind the picture of sprawling tea gardens. A burst of lush greenery on the rolling hills of the Western Ghats is a feast of senses and a treat to wanderlust. Despite the hype around Munnar, a trip to Kolukkumalai tea estate, the highest organic tea estate in the world remains off the tourist map. When we visited the Kolukkumalai tea estate for the second time in the peak season of November this year, we were surprised to find it so peaceful and serene, as if nobody even knows about it. It was only on the next day when we went to the more “touristy” places of Munnar, that we saw the crowd and the craze of being photographed in the tea gardens in the traditional attire. If the mesmerizing beauty of the mystic Kolukkumalai was not enough, the contrast we saw with the popular tourist places of Munnar made us feel blessed.
Kolukkumalai is a small village in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu at the border of Idukki district of Kerala. So, technically it is a part of Tamil Nadu but Munnar (in Kerala) is the most popular gateway to Kolukkumalai tea estate. To reach Kolukkumalai you need to hire a jeep from the gate of Suryanelli tea estate from where the 9 kilometers of crazy off-roading will begin.
Kolukkumalai tea estate was started in 1920 and the first planting of tea was done seven years later. At an altitude of almost 8000ft, the tea gardens provide breathtaking views of the vistas of Munnar and Kodaikanal hills stations.
For its excellent quality of tea, Kolukkumalai received the Golden leaf award by tea board of India as well as the tea board of USA
Kolukkumalai is still on the periphery of the tourist map of Munnar, or even Kerala because it is quite far from the Munnar town. For people who choose accommodation in the town or near the famous Top Station of Munnar for a weekend trip may find it difficult to fit Kolukkumalai in their 2-3 day itinerary.
The second reason is that no private car is allowed in the premises of the Suryanelli tea estate, and there are not too many signboards showing you the way to the jeep hiring spot. The 1-hour jeep-ride is not suitable for the weak of heart. At one point in time, you will feel like your intestines have entangled with each other and that you may have to do some complex yoga poses to get rid of it. Just kidding, nothing like that actually happens, but you will quite certainly feel the same.
I am sure by the end of this article this question would have become rhetoric. Kolukkumalai tea estate has been listed as the 50 most beautiful places on earth by CNTraveller, and I agree with them. However, our major attraction this year was the Neelakurinji, a special variety of Strobilanthus that grows on the hills of Annamalai and Kolukkumalai range once every 12 years! The best places to see these blossoms are the Eravikulam National Park in Munnar, the Kolukkumalai hilltop and Kodaikanal. 2018 was the year of Neelakurinji, so we had booked our hotel in September the first chance we got. Unfortunately, the tragic flood this year forced us to postpone our plans for November.
By November, the flowers of Eravikulum had already dried up and Kolukkumalai was the only place where the last of them could still be seen before they bid goodbye to the earth for the next 12 years. We were uncertain of the sighting but we could not let go of the little chance that lay ahead of us.
Kolukkumalai is known for spectacular sunrise. The caveat here ofcourse is that the sky should be clear. So if you visit Kolukkumalai in summer, try to start early for sunrise view.
The nearest easily accessible town from Kolukkumalai is Munnar. To reach Kolukkumalai tea estate you need to hire a jeep from the gate. But before you pin the location on Google map and start off, know our story.
We started for Kolukkumalai after a sumptuous breakfast at Sterling Munnar. We put “Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari” on Google Maps and started on our journey. As we kept driving, we observed that the route was nothing like what we followed last time. We could recognize the road till a point but after that, we drove through some dreamy landscapes into just .. nowhere!
In the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but hills and trees and sound of unseen birds all around, the madam at Google said: “ You have arrived”! Surprising as it may seem, we did not panic. We knew this was certainly not the place to hire jeeps, in fact, there was no jeep seen anywhere, but we couldn’t help admire the beauty of nature around us.
I have pasted the map below to show you where Google will take you if you search “Kolukkumalai jeep safari” and where the actual location is for hiring the jeeps. You need to get down at this point of the red circle and park your car. If you are using GPS, put the location as “Kolukkumalai Tea Factory Outlet” and stop at the gate of Suryanelli to park your car outside.
However, if you want to see those views in the picture above, a 14km detour (7km each side) would not matter much.
The usual trip is 4 hours to the tea factory outlet with halts at various viewpoints and back. Trek to the Neelakurinji blossoms takes another 1.5-2 hours.
On your way to the highest organic tea factory in the world, you would stop at the Suryanelli tea factory-cum-museum. This factory has modern machinery and is known for advanced tea production technology. From here, the off-roading gets bumpier and turns into a rollercoaster joyride. Even in November, there was light on-and-off rainfall throughout the week.
The best part of this kind of weather is the misty atmosphere and a large number of waterfalls all around. Most of these are perennial waterfalls, but they reduce to drizzle in the dry season. We stopped at a watchtower from where we got an unbelievably beautiful 360-degree panorama view of the tea gardens.
After driving near the estate manager’s bungalow and the Kolukkumalai mountain huts, and stopping at the beautiful waterfall below, we finally made our way to the highest tea factory in the world.
At the Kolukkumalai tea factory, we were greeted with the friendly staff who showed us around the factory and explained to us the entire process of tea production. The tea factory, built in 1936 still continues to use the orthodox method of tea processing with the machines of the colonial era. The orthodox method means the tea is handpicked and goes through the 4-step process of withering, rolling, oxidation and drying. As beautiful as the scene of the colorfully clad plantation workers plucking tea in the tea gardens looks, it’s extremely hard work.
From the Kolukkumalai tea factory, you can get a clear view of Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. After a thoroughly entertaining and educational tour of the factory, we got a sip of the orange pekoe tea. Quick tip, tell them beforehand to put less sugar in your tea. Even with a sweet tooth that I have, the sugar was just too much. The tea was aromatic and we bought two 500-gm packets of tea at a ridiculously low price. I drink the tea every morning now and remember the fresh air at 8000 feet above sea level.
Orange Pekoe is a type of black, small-leaved tea which you can find in Ceylon and India
The official Neelakurinji website stated the flowering season to be from August to October. The flowers dry up in November, so our hopes were faint. After a trek on the slippery hills through the forests in the rains, we reached the Neelakurinji site. The clouds at nose level blurred our vision.
We didn’t see anything close to the purple carpet we expected to see because the flowers were drying up. However, we did catch a glimpse of the ones that were left of it. The variety of mountain flowers on our way partly made up for what we couldn’t see. We also found these Neelakurinji lookalikes which are smaller in size and bloom once in 2 years.
After the trek, we drove to the highest point of Kolukkumalai hills where it seems you are actually walking on the clouds. On our way back we stopped at the permanent camping site named the Black Eagles Camp. It was almost 4 pm by the time we left the Kolukkumalai tea estate. After we trekked to the site of Neelakurinji blossoms.
I must tell you that there was a great difference between the two trips I took to Kolukkumalai. Leaving aside the Neelakurinji trek, the second trip was much longer and elaborate. We didn’t even go to the actual museum site or the camping site on our previous trip. We didn’t cross those pretty bridges either.
So if you happen to visit Kolukkumalai after reading this, you know exactly what you should expect. Do ask your driver to take you to those sites and don’t settle for anything less.
Thus ended our memorable trip to Kolukkumalai, again! We headed to our favorite restaurant we discovered on our last trip, the Salt and Pepper. They serve lunch even at 4:30 pm and have everything – fried rice, biryani, pepper chicken and any other comfort food you can think of on a trip. On your way back do not forget to catch the glimpse of the beautiful Anayirangal Dam from Chinnakanal road.
Due to the nature of the protected area, the options to stay within the Kolukkumalai tea estate is limited. There are 2 options for staying at the tea estate itself-
Kolukkumalai Mountain hut – A quaint homestay in the tea estates with decent facilities
Black Eagle Campsite – A permanent campsite on the slopes of Meeshapulimalai
There are other organized tours with temporary camping activities.
Here ends the virtual photo tour of Kolukkumalai that I endeavored to take you to. Have you visited the tea gardens of India? What was your experience? Tell me in the comments. If you like our story share it with your friends, family and travel buddies, and plan your next trip to Kolukkumalai.
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What a beautiful excursion! I have never heard of this place but then again I have never even been to India! I can only assume that tea plantations and tea factories in India would be such a great experience. Orange pekoe is actually my favourite tea so I reckon I would have loved it! And good to know what to tell the driver in terms of where to go and the stops we would need to make to get the full experience.
This looks so beautiful! I would love to visit. Half of the beauty seems like the trip there and back. I had never heard of Kolukkumalai before, so thank you for sharing!
The Kolukkumalai hill tea estate looks very pretty. I have heard of many tea estates in Munnar. I have never been to Kerala though but then I would really love to go there, especially for Munnar and I would definitely going to visit this tea estate. Thanks for sharing the names of the places where we can actually stay in the tea estate. This blog is really going to be helpful when I visit Munnar.
That was quite a drive to get to the remote tea factory! Looked like a nice journey, though. The purple flowers are such a lovely shade, and the clouds make the landscape look so moody. I’m not a fan of too-sweet tea so appreciate your tip at the museum. My favorite nature scene from this trip (although you showed several nice ones) is the view of the Anyirangal Dam on your way back from Kolukkumalai. It would make a lovely piece of fine art.
I realize how little I know about India and all it has to offer. I can’t even imagine the glory of seeing flowers that only appear every 12 years. Since the tea estate is so hard to find, I appreciate the extra instructions on how to get there, the cost and a map. Even getting lost, you saw some beautiful places. Not many people will get to experience such an amazing trip!
The greenery of those plantation are just awesome. I visited munar few years ago and did find it beautiful but very touristy. On the other hand Kolukkumalai tea estate, seems to be more genuine and less touristy. Great to know that it is the highest organic tea estate in the world. The jeep ride surely
Looks interesting and one I woukd love to take. Thanks for sharing this destination
Beautifully written and wonderfully detailed post. Great pictures. Just check in second line first para, should it be Aravalli range? May be I am wrong. My apologies.
I think if you plan for Eat-Pray-Love vacation, this is one of the place that should be visited. The rich luscious forest are incredible. I can imagine waking in the morning with morning breeze 🙂 Glorious!
I had no idea that the US had a tea board, but now I definitely want to know more about it. Your post is really interesting and informative. Thanks!
Wow, Kolukkumalai looks gorgeous! I would love to visit that Tea Estate. I’m sure the trip to the top is awesome!
Ordinarily I would not really interested in visiting a tea factory (not my cup of tea…haha…that was bad). But your post might have changed that. This actually looks like a compelling visit. Thanks for sharing (and great pics, btw).
India has so much to offer that despite being an Indian, I had literally never heard of this place. Call it my North Indian ignorance. It seems like a beautiful trek. I will be passing it on to a couple of my friends who live down south and enjoy trekking and camping.
Interesting! What a nice place. This one will be good for those people who love trekking and stay to see and appreciate the view. Thanks on sharing how to go there.
Looks like a beautiful and interesting place to learn about tea! Sounds like you definitely need a Jeep to get there- but that’s part of the adventure!!
Kolukkumalai tea estate looks like heaven on earth. I mean the scenery is beyond gorgeous. I love that it is less touristy as well. What a wonderful day tour and to take in those views. I don’t think I would ever want to leave.
This looks like such a beautiful area of India. If I ever visit, these tea plantations are so picture perfect, plus I like tea! I’ve never tried orange pekoe before, but it sounds so fragrant!
This sounds like a very interesting trip! It’s always good if you’re able to have some education during a trip, very nice to get to know an unknown area better like this. Thanks for sharing!
Wow I love how you did a guide off the beaten path. The photos of the different tea leaves look really interesting – I bet the flavors were exceptional and different and fresher than what you can usually find. i wish they would allow cars because it would be a lot easier to show people the spot, but I guess it’s a good way to preserve the beauty too
What a beautiful part of India. I love reading about different places in India that are slightly further away from the main popular areas like Kerala. It’s just so green and lush and I’d love to see all those waterfalls. In that case, it would be important to visit when there is some rain, otherwise they would dry up, which means they are not as spectacular. This is truly beautiful and it also looks quite tranquil, compared to the usual busyness of India. And the tea sounds wonderful!
This is very informative. I imagine going to so many place my bucket list is going to get mastered one day. I would visit in a heart beat.
I have visited kolukkumalai Tea estate in Monsoons and it was just amazing! The early morning clouds dispersed slightly above the plantations created a surreal sight to behold.
It must be really interesting to visit a tea plantation. I’ve never seen one, but I am great fan of tea. In fact I only drink tea and no coffee. If I am not wrong, India is famous for its black tea, so was this black tea in Munnar? Interesting to see that they grow tea so high up.
I’ve been here and the estates are magical! I spent hours just walking around the place and going into the tea museum.
I love drinking tea and most of it is imported from India, it would be really great to see a real tea plantation and how the tea is grown and processed.
I’ve never visited a tea estate although I have several varieties of tea at home for taste and medicinal purposes. I haven’t been to India yet and hadn’t considering a visiting a tea estate, but will definitely do so now. I have always enjoyed going to see coffee and tobacco plantations and know I would love this too!
This is beautifully written. I never knew about this place but it looks wonderful. SOOO much greenery its breath taking.
The pictures remind me a lot of the Cameron Highlands tea plantations in Malaysia. I enjoyed that experience a lot, so I think I would enjoy this too! Would be extra special to incorporate trekking as well, as that’s something we love doing. Thanks for all of the helpful information, you’ve really got it all covered!
Munnar is my favorite in all of the hill stations in India. This Kolukkumalai is really a worth visiting one as it is less crowded and slightly on an offbeat path from Munnar. Even the route to Munnar is stunning. Wow, you could at least see some of the purple blooms this year though it was raining heavily in Kerala.
This sounds like an amazing adventure! I’m sure the spectacular views were worth the bumpy Jeep ride. I’m sure visiting this tea plantation is an experience you’ll never forget.
I am a big fan of tea and tea fields is always something I visit, when I have an opportunity. I have been on the tea fields in India and Malaysia and Indonesia. I haven’t been in the place you are talking about but the nature there looks so pure and beautiful.
I love these lush green tea gardens. Never had a chance to visit it. Would seriously think of visiting the one in near future.
Been there, done that. I love visiting tea gardens and estates. They are beautiful plus I’m a Chaivinsitic 🙂 While reading your detailed post, I relieved memories of my trip to Kolukkumalai.
Wow, I didn’t know about this place! If you asked me I would probably guess the highest tea estate to be somewhere in the Northeast. I would definitely visit this place next time I make it to India. Thank you for sharing
For me, visiting a tea garden would be one of the highlights of a trip to the Kerala / Tamil Nadu border area. There’s something quite magical about the rounded shapes of those tea bushes across the curving hill-sides that is really captivating. Kolukkumalai estate sounds like a wonderful place to visit, and I’d love to see the Strobilanthus blossoms too!
I like tea plantations a lot – it’s funny, they always look like soft moss from far but are so sturdy once you get closer. However, these estates look even more alluring than coffee farms.
Is it possible to visit by public transport since I do not want to rent a jeep (I’m not driving at all)?
Your pictures are absolutely stunning and Kolukkumalai Peak looks so magical! I would love to explore this place, it looks so different than anywhere I have ever been to.
The scenery here looks spectacular. We visited some tea plantation in Sri Lanka which were beautiful as well. I guess the tea makes the area look really nice. Lots of great information here, I’ve pinned for later.
I love tea plantation! I’ve been to a few so adding this on my list when I get to India. Thanks!
I used to live in Pondi and Auroville area and had no idea these existed. Really wish I had read this article during that time as now I want to go badly!
omg there is nothing like having such a sense-based memory/souvenir as tea, somthing that brings back the memory of that place so clearly! <3 this sounds like a pretty perfect adventure to be honest!!
One would think to visit because of the tea gardens but the views are amazing as well. I love the lush greens and the waterfall! I drink 2 cups of tea everyday and reading about it is fascinating. I would certainly visit this when I get the chance!
I haven’t heard of Kolukkumalai Tea Estate but it looks and sounds like a wonderful place to visit! I did go to some Munnar tea plantations a few years back but actually I didn’t find them that crowded at all! Aside from my friend and I, there were only 4 or 5 other tourists there. Perhaps as my friend was from the local area we went to one of the lesser visited plantations, though. Next time for sure I’ll take the trip to Kolukkumalai.
I am not a huge fan of tea! But I would go visit just for the views 🙂
Loved reading about your adventures there. Thanks for sharing. This is the kind of experience I always aim at having. Pictures are stunning and I would definitely love to breathe in some fresh air from there.
Wow! This place is amazing! It’s my first time to hear about this Golden Leaf Award that sounds really top. I was about to imagine about the stip and rocky roads because of the complex yoga then suddenly laugh (lol) you got me there. Really nice read!
Knowing that Kolukkumalai is the highest in the world adds to my list of places to visit! India always amazes me on how vast the country is and how competitive it is in the tourism aspect. I would love to explore this place because of its lush green views and that spectacular sunrise!
wow, i never knew this part of india which is so breathtaking.You are so lucky to see the flowers which bloom once in 12 years .The tea estate sounds almost like a hidden gem but your tips will make it easier to find. I am definitely visiting this place on my next visit to India
Such a beautiful trip. We visited Munnar and the tea plantations in November 2017 but I feel I have missed out not knowing more. Thank you for sharing also about the journey.