(A 2 part series on the Minister’s Mansion, Kanthalloor, Kerala which includes the overview and the sightseeing)
Is a Plum assignment defined as a great job to have or a project where Plums hang within reach of your nose ?
The latter is exactly what my latest adventure is about. And not just plums but several exotic fruits within my heart’s reach !!!
Now what would come to mind when one hears the words apple, peach, plum, pear, deodar and ‘Chinnar’ ? Kashmir … or Shimla perhaps ? Would you consider Kerala as a possibility ??? Highly unlikely right ?
Well, while Chinnar is the name of the adjoining wildlife sanctuary (and merely sounds like the Chinar tree), the rest of the trees indeed flourish in this little hill station called Kanthalloor, my latest discovery, that is actually known as the Shimla of Kerala. And when I say known, I mean by the very few people who are aware of its existence.
My stay was at the utterly charming Minister’s Mansion in the little village and this 2 part narration will take you through an overview of this holiday home as well as the sight seeing attractions in the surrounding forests and mountains.
About Kanthalloor –
Kanthalloor is a hidden gem nestling in the midst of the forested evergreen Anamudi Shola ranges of the Western ghats.
Located in the Idukki district of Kerala (God’s own country), this piece of paradise is situated 14 km away from the main road that leads from Udumalpet towards Munnar. The distance to Munnar is 60 km.
Idukki district neighbors the Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu and the border check post separates the two.
One turns off at the village of Marayoor which is 46 km before Munnar. Marayoor lies on relatively plain land and then the road climbs towards Kanthalloor which lies gently ensconced within the Anamudi (also called Mannavan) Shola evergreen forest range of mountains.
Quaint hamlets dot the hillside and one passes by charming, colorful villages clinging to the slopes, making the drive truly scenic.
There is a perceptible change in climate as one ascends and the temperature dips deliciously until finally the crisp, cold air greets you as you enter the pristine and hitherto unpolluted atmosphere of this picturesque little place.
This tiny village is a mere 3 km in diameter but packs a concentrated punch of organically grown exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers and these are the major attraction here. The garlic grown here is of a special variety and is very famous. Local shops have an abundance of garlic bunches hanging from the roofs and one can be sure that no vampire will ever be found in the vicinity of this little place 😀
The salubrious climate that is conducive to both flora and human beings, enjoys temperatures that range from near zero to barely above 22 deg c from winter to summer and creates a veritable heaven for those coming from hotter climes.
Fruit and vegetable stalls, roadside food shacks, fruit orchards, vegetable farms and flower gardens make up most of the village. There are a few home stays that one can locate via the sign boards and they offer rooms and home style food. Many of them are tiny and very basic.
Terrace farming is resorted to and rows of steps are hewn out of the the hill sides in order to grow crops.
The place is very safe and the people are simple, friendly and welcoming. Tamil and Malayalam are the languages that one can communicate in but Hindi and English are also understood.
Please note that currently only BSNL connections work uninterruptedly. Other services depend on the vagaries of the universe and once in a way an unexpected stray signal brings great joy to non BSNL souls like me, whose blood supply usually gets cut off without internet 😀
The Minister’s Mansion holiday home –
While there are many tiny home stays, a few holiday homes and also some upcoming resorts, the Minister’s Mansion is one of the more organized and comfortable places to stay in. It has the added advantage of being within the village and close to the shops and other habitation.
It is situated alongside the main road but fortunately ‘main road’ does not bear the same definition as our monstrous traffic laden city counterparts. Nevertheless, there still is a thoughtfully planted row of evergreen trees along the compound wall, that provides a shield of privacy while yet skillfully managing not to completely block the view of the distant mountains.
The main building is a heritage bungalow that is supposed to be a 100 years old and belonged to a headman (called manthri or minister) of Kanthalloor. An old sign post that also appears to be a 100 years old 😀 lies forlornly by the side of the gate which now bears the bright new sign.
This beautiful stone bungalow was bought by the present owners 7 years ago and converted into a holiday home. The original building was modified into 2 suites and a deluxe room on the ground floor and 3 deluxe rooms on the first floor.
The suites are equipped with faux fireplaces and a colonial aura clings to the decor, despite the modern fittings and Television.
The rooms on top have access to a bit of verandah where one can sit and gaze at the view.
The lawn in front of the building is well maintained and at the far end there is a provision for a bonfire which one can surround, seated on the little tree stumps fixed under the apple trees.
A tiny kitchen lurks at the back amidst pomegranate and orange trees and currently this is being used by the caretaker Paulose to make his meals.
In a very recent extension, they have now built additional rooms behind the main building and in keeping with the uniformity of the architecture, the new rooms have been constructed using the same pleasing granite stone. There are 3 blocks containing a total of 10 rooms and a similar circle for bonfires has been etched out of the lawns in front of each block, complete with tree stumps for seats.
The rooms look out onto the many fruit trees like Plum, apple, soursop (cherimoya) etc. Many flowering plants including a profusion of multi hued and very robust looking Lantanas, add to the exquisiteness of the place.
When we visited in mid April, the soursop and apples were just flowering but the plums were in season and while we enjoyed some of the low hanging fruit, the innumerable Bulbuls took care of the rest 😀
Being at a higher level than the old bungalow, one still has a good view of the scenery and mountains, from the new block.
The rooms being brand new, are spanking clean and are equipped with a TV and a tower style air cooler that we really did not find the need to switch on. There are no fans or air conditioners and neither did we miss them. The beds are comfortable but the pillows could have been softer.
The bathrooms are well tiled and neat and equipped with comfortable fittings. Clean towels and a small soap are the only things provided here. There is a 24 hour supply of hot water both in the wash basin as well as bucket … a must even in summer because night temperatures dip as low as 14 deg c.
We visited in mid April and it was a case of going from ‘AC to icy’ for us Bangaloreans 😀 An iciness that was very welcome of course.
It is wise to carry a warm coat even in summer. Winter temperatures are said to touch near zero.
The air is fresh and pure and just breathing it is great way to detox our pollution affected city lungs.
The renovations are still in progress and the restaurant and dining sections are yet to be operational. Hence currently they rely on home food that is cooked next door in Shri’s (the Manager’s) house. The food is made on order at every meal and is carried to the rooms by either Palaniamma the day time house keeper or Paulose who stays on the premises.
The food is homely and extremely simple. They have a limited variety that consists of some Kerala dishes and what they call ‘North Indian’ which is basically chapathis with dal and a side dish.
There are no big restaurants in the vicinity and Thattukadas (which are the equivalent of Dhabas or roadside eateries) are the only option if one wishes to eat outside. There is a very fancy sounding Revathy Kutty
Madam Nadan Thattukada right outside the building and I will try that out another time 😀
So my husband pointed out to me that it said Nadan and not Madam. Maybe my eyesight is terrible but does it not look like Madam to you ? What do you think ?
Anyway I have always wanted to use the Strike through editing option, hence the explanation 😀
The restaurant and professional cooking staff are expected to be in place after a couple of months, after which one will hopefully have a wider choice of cuisines.
Having said this, we did manage to make the most out of what was available and bring a strong advocate of local cuisine, I naturally insisted on being served whatever traditional dishes they could rustle up.
During our 3 day and 3 night stay there, our breakfasts were the best meals with puttu, kadala, idiappam, coconut milk, coconut stew, mutta roast (egg masala).
For lunch we requested for Kerala home style meals with red rice and accompanying coconut based curries.
Dinner was appam and stew and parottas and gravy.
Apparently the population is mostly vegetarian but non veg food is provided for those who order. While the chicken and fish (from the local dam) were alright, the red meat based dishes were not up to the mark and are best avoided.
There is however, a little shop nearby that sells Quail and on request they made me a quail fry which was good, though it could have been less dry.
Luckily my vegetarian companions did not quail at the sight of the bird … I cannot guarantee the same from my readers though because this ‘shot in the dark’ is not likely to appeal 😀
However, as I mentioned earlier, these lapses in the dining options are due to be corrected very soon and then one can have a wider range of food to choose from.
Visitor profile –
Go to Kanthalloor for the delightful climate that does not cross 25 deg c even in summer. Go also for the pristine and pure air and the healthy aura that the place exudes.
If you love farming and fresh organic produce, then this place will give you much pleasure with its exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Nature lovers will delight in the sheer beauty of its mountains, greenery, waterfalls, flora and fauna.
This is a place meant for utter relaxation and experiencing the simple unspoiled village life.
This is not an action filled adventure destination and the only strenuous activity would be a mountain trek.
Even the safaris here are not conducted within the jungle but from the main road itself, thereby reducing chances of animal sightings.
Best time to visit –
The climate is good throughout the year.
Summers are moderate and fruits like peaches, plums, tree tomatoes, strawberry, blackberry and passion fruit are available from mid April onwards.
July to September also sees pears, black sapote, pomegranates and oranges.
September onwards the apples are ready for harvest but the weather does get very chilly, touching near zero temperatures in December and January.
How to get there –
Kanthalloor is 460 km from Bangalore.
Going by road by car or cab will take around 8 hours but is very convenient because one can stay mobile through the holiday. The route to take would be Bangalore-Hosur-Salem-Udumalpet-Marayoor-Kanthalloor. The roads are very good, there are decent restaurants along the way and most importantly Tamil Nadu seems to have clean public rest rooms at frequent intervals, which is a boon.
The nearest airports are Cochin (178 km – 5 hour drive) and Coimbatore (145 km – 3.5 hour drive) and these are also the nearest major railway stations. From these 2 cities the best way to get to Kanthalloor would be to hire a cab. There are also buses that ply to various nearby towns like Udumalpet, Marayoor and Munnar, from where one has to again depend on the resort or private cab to get across the last bit.
From Bangalore, comfortable Munnar bound, multi axle, AC sleeper buses also ply during the day and night. The duration is around 10 hours and an overnight bus journey will take one directly to Marayoor, where the resort will be able to arrange a pick up at a nominal charge across the remaining 14 km. Make sure though, that you book the Udumalpet-Marayoor route towards Munnar because there are alternate routes that do not cross Marayoor.
My route –
We drove down by car and leaving at 5.45 am at the crack of dawn, ensured that our journey took just 7 hours even with a couple of breaks. The roads are excellent and one can do good time.
We stopped at 6.30 am for breakfast at Shoolagiri before Krishnagiri at a place called Shri Krishna Inn with reasonably decent fare and a Fleurs Clean Toilet next door, which was more important than breakfast 😀
The next stop was a tea stop near Salem with an adjoining ‘export surplus’ clothing shop which resulted in indulging in a bit of shopping even before the holiday had actually begun 😀
I also noticed that a long stretch of the route is flanked by such shops, where the clothes come from Tirupur, the textile hub. We also discovered the TexValley mall which is a huge shopping complex devoted to wholesale and retail clothing and fabric. This is situated at a place called Chithode, 60 km after Salem. Yes we stopped here and shopped too … did you have any doubts ? 😀
When you reach Udumalpet make sure you buy tapioca chips from Thangaselvi (because I forgot her name) who makes them fresh in her cart itself. Crunchy and spicy, they kept us company through the 3 days.
I of course was fascinated by the large wooden slicer that she possessed 😀
Across the road from the tapioca lady is another interesting cart manned by a couple and recognizable by their red plastic pots. They sell an interesting gruel made from cooked bajra (pearl millet), buttermilk and chopped onions and one can buy a plate of a mixed fries of chillies, dried cluster beans, potatoes and fryums. I assumed that this somehow is supposed to keep one cool during summer but while nibbling on the spicy chillies, I just could not figure out how 😀
Udumalpet is 60 km from Kanthalloor and this distance takes over 1.5 hours to cover. We drove through the Annamalai tiger reserve and then crossed the TN Kerala border to enter the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary.
At Marayoor we turned off the main road towards Kanthalloor and the last 14 km was a lovely ascent into the little village.
Return trip –
We retraced this route on our return and worthy of mention is the Saisangeet restaurant just before we reached Dharmapuri. A boutique store at the ground level, selling traditional utensils and artifacts and the restaurant on the first floor, the Saisangeet produced a reasonably interesting veg thali for a mere Rs 125.
It also helped to have clean rest rooms on the premises.
Booking and contact –
The website is work in progress and bookings can be made directly by contacting +91 9886030688
email – firstname.lastname@example.org
For more pictures see My Facebook – The Minister’s Mansion-Part 1-An Overview
Apr 9th-12th, 2018
Pl Note – This assignment has been carried out by me, in collaboration with The Minister’s Mansion. The information in my narrative is based on the inputs that I received from the client and also from my personal experience.