The story of tea in Kanan Devan hills can be narrated through the journey of one of India’s oldest hill plantations.

Behind the stunning beauty of Kanan Devan hills the story of how tea came to IndiaImage: Arjun Davis
Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - 19:35


The history of tea plantations in the Kanan Devan hills near Munnar in Kerala almost always begins with the Europeans, but the name of the hill range itself is a tribute to its natives.

When the first British men came to Munnar, they found in two Mudhuvan tribesmen their local guides. The Mudhuvans, who were the early tribesman and inhabitants of the hills, guided the British to the various spots in the area. It is believed that the two Mudhuvans were named Kanan and Devan, and that’s why the British named the hill range as Kanan Devan.

They came, they saw, they fell in love

The first British men visited these hills in 1790 wishing to annihilate Tipu Sultan. They failed, and the next visit to the hills was nearly three decades later in 1817 by Lieutenants Ward and Connor of the Madras Army, for a survey. Lieutenant BS Ward’s was the first official record of the hills.

About half a century later, when General Douglas Hamilton was sent to these hills in 1862 to discover suitable stations for troops, he remarked, “Surpassingly grand and incomparably beautiful. The views from this mountain are the grandest and most extensive, I have ever beheld; some of the precipices are of stupendous magnitude, and the charming variety of the scenery, comprising undulating grassy hills, wooded valleys, rocky crags, overhanging precipices, the green fields in the valley of Unjanaad with the grand mass of the pilnees beyond, and the blue ranges in the far distance, present a view far beyond my power to describe and which must be seen to be appreciated.” The message was received loud and clear, and soon, many British men would come to the hills wanting to experience its beauty.

Image courtesy: Anand

The commercial potential of the beautiful hill range was spotted by those who visited as hunters or tourists. When they saw the hill range in all its grandeur from atop the Aneimudi, they realised the business potential of the land they were admiring. When a two-man commission in 1877 determined that the High Range Tract was Travancore territory, and did not belong to the Madras Presidency, a statesman named John Daniel Munro acquired the vast tract of High Range lands as a special grant from the Poonjar Raja of Anjanad.

Image courtesy: Arjun Davis

What would eventually catapult the green and serene hills into a global tea hotspot was the reorganisation of the land in 1900. The area was now owned by the Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company Limited – a joint stock company incorporated by the planters, managed by James Finlay Limited. With this, the name of the hills further got crystallised as the ‘Kannan Devan Hills’, and the tea from the region was popularly known as Kanan Devan Tea. This was the beginning of the Kanan Devan brand.

Tata’s Midas touch

In 1962, the Finlay Group of Companies entered into an agreement with the Tatas, forming Tata Finlay Private Limited. The company set up a factory in Bangalore and also a plant in Munnar. With a sea of administrative reforms happening in the country, the Finlays decided to exit India. In 1983, the company was fully acquired by the Tatas and renamed Tata Tea Limited, giving rise to one of the biggest tea companies in India with more than 30 tea estates. Tata Tea spent the following decades modernizing its tea estates and raising the living standards of its employees.

Image courtesy: Anand 

By the 2000s, the dynamics of the tea business had changed significantly, so the plantations were restructured into sustainable models. Thus, the KDHP Company was reborn with the name Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company Private Limited in April 2005. It was the first tea-plantation company to be majority-owned by its workforce. In 2010, Tata Tea Limited changed its name to Tata Global Beverages Limited and continue to nurture its oldest trademark and pioneer brand ‘Kanan Devan Tea’.

Capturing the beauty in photography

The story of tea does indeed take us around the world. But what had been bestowed upon the Kanan Devan hills by nature, and remains untouched, is its breath-taking beauty. There is nothing like photography to capture and immortalise the pristine elegance of the hills, and it’s these images that Tata Tea Kanan Devan wants to bring to you.

Enter, Tata Tea Kanan Devan Photography Escapade – the journey of ten photographers through the hills of Munnar.

The Photography Escapade was born to share the compelling stories and creations of the hills. In a four-episode series, the ten photographers will take you through a visual journey of the stunning hills where India’s best tea is produced – and one of them will win. At this magical place of Munnar, the passions and obsessions of these photographers come together with one of the most creative and expressive forms of art to discover what goes into making a refreshing cup of tea.

As the photographers battle the winds, run across water streams and trek over the mountains for that winning shot, you will get to see Munnar like never before through their cameras.

Sip on come chai and watch the first episode of Tata Tea Kanan Devan Photography Escape – Season 3.

This article was produced in association with Tata Tea Kanan Devan by TNM branded content team.