John Buchan said "Trying to see something solid in the mists is the whole fun of life, and most of its poetry" and no place is this is more pronounced than in the bungalows nestled amidst the tea estates of The Tea Sanctuary - Munnar. Another lovely colonial mansion converted into a retreat for the restless soul.
Munnar is a town bustling with tourists and it is near to impossible to drive through the town's hotspots without a traffic jam or two. Which makes the peace to be found at the estate surrounding the property even more special. The bungalow is set square amongst acres of tea plantation with several pathways for you to explore. I would recommend staying here for at least 4 days to allow the place and the unhurried pace of life to works its magic.
The tariff includes breakfast and lunch and dinner can be arranged for an additional cost. Every bungalow has its own staff that includes a cook and a butler. Their cooks are a prized find in themselves. Simple home cooked meals add to the travel experience and you can plan your meals with the cook, in case you want to it something specific. I was delighted with every dish served and the desserts were particularly wonderful.
The rooms are large and the comfortably designed to include a sit out and a fire place. This works especially if you are travelling during the monsoon and want a room with a view to enjoy the weather. While working with the manager to book your stay, you can discuss the different bungalows, room options, meal requirements and other travel plans to finalise on the best possible option. The reservation process is simple, hassle free and quick.
The tariff may seem priced out compared to other budget accommodations in Munnar, but the overall experience you will leave your vacation with is worth the extra money you pay.
I stayed here from 2nd Oct 2013 to 4th Oct 2013 along with my wife. I came to know of this property from an online review in a popular automotive forum.
Initially, I had booked it for staying in May 2013. Due to some unavoidable reasons, I could not make the trip and had to drop travelling plans in the last minute. Mr. Dharmaraj from Tea Sanctuary was kind enough to offer reservation against any future date (or 50% refund as per policy) within next one year. I appreciate that since a lot of hotels cite their often one-sided cancellation policy and don't care about the customer.
The property is located in an excellent place and close to 'film-shooting point' (?). We got down at this point. Mr. Ramraj & Mr. Jayraj Tea Sanctuary staff were very helpful and telephoned for an auto to take us to the bungalow which is two kms away. We were charged Rs.50 for that which is ok considering this is the norm in small places.
The caretakers Mr. Das & Ms. Stella were very hospitable. Mr.Das arranged for self-ride bike on rent and also taxi. He is also knowledgeable about local sight seeing and helps in charting out an itenary.
The bungalow is very spacious and charming with wooden flooring. Room 1 in Kannimallay bungalow has nice views of the lawn outside. Hot water is available 24/7. The bed & linen is comfortable and clean. It is cleaned everyday, I guess upon asking.
We are pure vegetarians and the food was fantastic. Nothing exotic or extensive. Remember, this is not a restaurant. However, the meals cooked are tasty, hygienic and wholesome. Typical meal consists of Soup, Chapatis, one gravy side dish, one dry vegetable, dal, rasam, papad, curd, pickles, vegetable salad and sweet. By default, mineral water is served. I am fine paying 250 bucks for this. For pure vegetarians the only other option would be to go to Saravana Bhavan in Munnar Town which is 8kms away and costs Rs.100 by auto and ~Rs.400 by taxi!
If you have to nitpick then there are some things which can be pointed out. One thing is, there is some dampness/water stains on the roof & wall of bathroom. Variety in food can be somewhat limited for people staying for three nights or longer. The furniture are old (but functional) but then that's part of the charm of staying in an old British Bungalow!
I would say, the positives far outweigh the small shortcomings. For people desiring privacy and scenic beauty this place is recommended.
The only concern for me is, from 1st Oct 2013, Muthoot Finance has taken over the property and I hope they maintain the same level of hospitality as the Tatas & the KDHP employees union. I am told they are planning to add TVs to each room (right now it is available only in the living room), table tennis, etc. I hope it does not become just another resort or hotel.
The location is outstanding, bang in the middle of tea plantations. The experience is truly one of a kind. That said, for the price you pay, clearly a lot more is expected.
Firstly, the weather; We went in the first week of September, when the tourist season was yet to start. It did rain quite a bit, mostly in the early mornings and at night, hence rains weren't entirely a show stopper. The roads to and at Munnar were really bad though, presumably because of the rains.
The Property: Breathtakingly beautiful and isolated setting. The bunglow exudes old world charm. However, the rooms definitely need maintenance. The linen wasn't clean and we had to get those changed. The furniture and carpets are quite old and worn out. There were frequent power cuts at night and we had to really push the caretaker to start the generator. The bunglow has three rooms, however, we were the only family staying there at that time and literally had the whole bunglow to ourselves. The food was good, though options may be a bit limited. A few more games in the recreation room will be really welcome and will pep things up.They only have a carrom board currently. You cant do much at night and it can get a bit dull.
The Tea Sanctuary is a division of KDHP (Kannan Devan Hills Plantations) which is basically owned by the TATA Tea division. KDHP basically owns 85% of the tea plantations here in Munnar. They have different tea estates and each has a bungalow in it. Originally they were meant for the tea plantation managers. But due to the modernisation over the years they have cut down the number of managers and hence all these bungalows are being given out to nature lovers like us.
They have 23 bungalows in total. Some are nearer to the town and some are as far as 20 kms from the town. All of then retain the lovely British rustic feel in them and are well maintained by the team of care takers, cooks and gardeners in each bungalow.
I don't know how many times I have come here now. I think I have lost count of it. But yet every time I come, I feel bliss and peace. I have managed to stay in almost all of these bungalows over the past couple of years. Some of them are 2 bedroom bungalows and most of them are 3 bedroom ones. The cooks in all of bungalows are amazing. You would get the best home cooked food that you can every imagine. The bedrooms and baths are huge. Fire wood is provided for during the nights in the rooms and that ensures you being warm.
This time I travelled with my wife and children and another family friend of ours. So in total we were 5 adults and 6 children and we stayed in the NETTIKUDI BUNGALOW, which is a 3 bedroom /bath attached bungalow. It is 9 kms from the town and is secluded overlooking a valley and is very peaceful. Absolutely no human interference and the bungalow gives you the peace and quite that you would yearn for if you are fed up of the busy city life.
It was raining quite a bit , on and off for all the 3 days that we stayed there. It is monsoon season there now and I guess from next month it starts to become brighter. But never the less we enjoyed the place even when it was raining. The kids had a lovely time with indoor games and when it was shining they were out playing cricked in the gardens. We also ventured in to the local market in town of one evening. The vegetable market is lovely with the fresh produce that they get everyday from the local villages.
If you are staying in one of the bungalows then I think its a good idea to explore the local trails that are there near your bungalow. There are numerous roads that lead you deep in to the tea plantations and the forests beyond to the small villages and hamlets. I have done quite a bit of it and now know the topography of the place as well as a local. I have found that if the weather is good and if you are up to some adventure then the best way of exploring the place is with the help of a 2 wheeler. Mr.Sudeer runs a very small shop in the town where you can hire a 2 wheeler from. His contact number is +91 9447237165. He is a pretty friendly guy and gives me an bike for 300rs a day without fuel. However be care full and ensure that you carry a bottle of water, a good camera to click away and have a mobile phone in case you get stuck somewhere in the middle ( try and take a BSNL phone as it is the only service provider that connects you if you are deep in the woods ). Most importantly try and get back to the bungalow by 7 in the evening. Sometimes there is elephant movement after dark and you wouldn't want to be too adventurous and get stuck with them :)
In all I think this place is a gem that everyone has to see and experience by themselves. If you are a person who likes the crowds and the hustle and bustle then please don't venture here. This is more for a person who wants to be in a very quite place in the middle of nowhere and have nice home cooked food. Eat , sleep, drive around and do everything over again the next day :) :) :)
Me and my family love the trips that we make here and we are here exploring and experiencing a new bungalow almost once in two months now. We hope to go and continue coming here for as long as we can. Try it and you wouldn't regret it... happy holidaying..
Our Tea Sanctuary experience was definitely not what we expected - it was better and worse in equal measure! We had thought that the different Tea Sanctuary bungalows would be close to each other, with some sort of central reception building, but our bungalow was completely isolated and information was hard to come by! While this was a bit unsettling at first, it led to a truly unique and memorable experience.
As Brits, staying here gave a fascinating insight into what it was actually like when the plantations were first established by the colonialists, as Sevenmallay is an original planter's bungalow. You can certainly tell - it has an aura of history about it which I found a bit creepy but my partner thought was absolutely wonderful!
It certainly didn't feel like much had changed in the last 100 years. It was a very echo-y property, and without meaning to sound sexist I felt that it could do with a woman's touch (eg in the conservatory there were loads of hard chairs but no cushions or soft furnishings; there were big bookshelves that were completely empty except the odd six-year-old magazine etc).
We were put in a three-bedroom bungalow which I assume would usually be shared but we had the entire place to ourselves for our three-night stay. It was staffed by two men - one cook (Raj) and one assistant/cleaner. They were very nice but didn't speak much English so communication was sometimes a bit of an issue! The food was really excellent but the quantities we were served were just crazy - I felt I was being rude by leaving most of it but there was enough food at each meal to feed a family of six!
The bed was pretty old but I managed to sleep well as I use earplugs - my partner struggled because there was a family of squirrels living in the attic which scampered around at all hours!
Undoubtedly the best thing about the property was the setting. It is completely isolated, surrounded by working plantations. The property is surrounded by trees which is a bit of a shame as they block off the view but we managed to find one corner of the garden where we could get a clear view of the surrounding hills and tea plantations which was just blissful, especially when we were served afternoon tea outside in the sunshine - a truly special memory.
You can't really walk anywhere from the property but we told Raj we wanted to do a day trip and he arranged for someone to come and take us out to the surrounding sites two days in a row - we saw some stunning sights and were very tickled by how fascinated a lot of the Indian tourists were with seeing two white people in Munnar - we were often asked to be in their photos! (Places to see include Chinnar wildlife sanctuary, the Tea Museum which includes a really interesting video about the history of the plantations and how they came to exist, and general driving around the stunning hills, waterfalls, lakes etc. We did go to Top Station but it was shrouded in cloud so I can't comment on whether the views were worth it as we couldn't see them! Munnar town itself is not at all worth visiting in my opinion - it's ugly and manic!)
One thing I would say is that the booking process was a nightmare. There was some weird compatibility issue between my email address and the booking office's, so every time I tried to email them it bounced even though they were able to email me without a problem - so I repeatedly had to contact them using the contact form on the website, a rather arduous process as I had to input our booking requirements each time. I also had to pay a deposit via a bank transfer (rather than via credit/debit card) and there was all sorts of confusion with them saying they hadn't received the money etc. It all worked out fine in the end but it was quite a stressful process.
NB: While we were there, a couple came to visit the property who worked for the Taj group, and they said they were about to take over the management of the property, so it may be that things change around here soon. I got the impression they were keen to modernise so if you want to get the real historical experience with all its quirks then go there soon.