Why Kanan Devan Hills is among the best global spots for growing tea

The four elements – earth, water, wind and fire – come together for the tea with the most refreshing taste.
Why Kanan Devan Hills is among the best global spots for growing tea
Why Kanan Devan Hills is among the best global spots for growing tea
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There is a magic to a well-made cup of tea. Brewed right, each sip has a miraculous ability to whisk you away from the mundane urgencies of life to a far-away place of peace and tranquillity. 

If you’ve ever wondered where tea gets this magical quality from, a long meandering walk through the tea estates of the Kanan Devan Hills gives you your answer. Nestled in the loving embrace of nature, the Kanan Devan Hills in picturesque Munnar bring together four fundamental forces of nature in every bud and leaf of tea – earth, fire, wind and water. 

It is this weaving together of the elemental energies by caring human hands that gives tea its ephemeral and sensual flavour. 

Munnar’s beauty in a cup

Sitting atop the Western Ghats in one of South India’s most ecologically diverse regions in Kerala, Munnar is the site of some of the highest tea gardens in the country. At a height of between 3,000 and 7,200 feet, the Kanan Devan Hills offer the ideal combination of supple soil, pure and abundant water, gentle winds and pleasantly warm sunlight that grow the perfect tea. 

So, what are these conditions that made Munnar so ideal?

For one, the soil in the High Ranges near Munnar – much like most of the tea soils in South India - has a light texture formed mostly of coarse and fine sand fractions, is acidic and low in calcium absorption, all of which suit tea crops. The soil is also well-drained, which is again ideal for tea, as tea requires a plentiful water supply, but does not grow well in water-logged soil. Following scientific techniques of contoured plantation, blankets of tea crops hug the rich slopes of the Kanan Devan Hills, gently undulating with the varied terrain of the region. The many crests and troughs of this diverse landscape also offer perfect conditions for growing a range of teas. 

Alongside the soil, the climatic conditions in Munnar’s tea estates also encourage tea growth. The region boasts of a humid but pleasant climate, with a temperature that does not cross 25 degrees Celsius too often, with long days of abundant sunlight, a low-hanging cloud cover and rolling mists through nearly half the year. This ensures that the tea crop receive plenty of gentle sunshine, but never so much harsh heat that the plants wither away. 

Clean and pure water is also in abundance in the Munnar, whose very name dwells on this fact. Munnar means ‘three rivers’, and the region is situated at the confluence of the Nallathanni, Muthirapuzha and Kundaly rivers. The region is also one of the wettest in the country, receiving ample rains from the southwest and northeast monsoons. This is ideal for tea, which requires a steady supply of water throughout the year.

Image: Anand/Kanan Devan Photography Escapade 3

The final element one notices in the Kanan Devan hills is the fresh, pure and pristine air circulated by strong winds that flow through the region. Free of the pollution that blankets the plains of south India, tea grows to its full potential in these green highlands. 

A delicate balance 

The Kanan Devan Hills may be synonymous with the tea plantations that blanket their slopes. But these green crops of refreshing bounty are not sustainable if the fragile ecosystem of the hills are not maintained. 

Alongside the cropped and contoured hills, the Munnar region boasts of high grasslands, shrub lands and shola forests, which play host to an astonishing variety of plant and animal life. The Eravikulam National Park, in particular, is a refuge to the largest viable population of endangered Nilgiri Tahr. Besides the tahr, the region also offers refuge to a variety of species such as Nilgiri Langur, elephants, gaur (Indian Bison), panthers, wild cats, sambar deer (Rusa Unicolor), barking deer (Munjtacs), Malabar Giant Squirrels, a variety of reptiles and amphibians, and 102 recorded bird species.

If the tea gardens of Munnar’s High Ranges represent the best fusion of human and natural energies, the shola forests of these highlands see untouched nature burst forth in full bloom. 

Image: Arjun Davis/Kanan Devan Photography Escapade 3

The paramount need to protect this glorious and delicate ecosystem has been recognised from the early days of the British planters. Through the High Range Game Association, which later became the High Range Wildlife & Environment Preservation Association (HRW&EPA), the tea planters of the Kanan Devan Hills have also taken great care to preserve the environment of the region. 

A cup of beauty and grace

It is all of this intricate balance between the human and the natural world that is captured in every cup of Kanan Devan tea. As the rich aromatic leaves stew in hot water, every breath and every sip evokes a sense of virgin, untouched beauty.

And that is the beauty that Tata Tea Kanan Devan capture in their Photography Escapade 3. In Episode 2 of the four-part series, 10 photographers from around the country begin their visual journey across the lush landscape of the Kanan Devan hills in Kerala’s Munnar district. 

As their intrepid eyes rove over the landscape, the visual journey brings forth the best qualities of India’s favourite beverage. The rain-kissed green leaves waft freshness through the screen, the light carpet of misty white clouds whispers of simplicity and purity, and the meandering landscape speaks of the calm and tranquillity that comes with that first sip of tea.

Watch the second episode of this exciting series to discover the wonder and charm behind your daily cup of tea. In this episode, you can follow photographers’ visual journey as they rediscover the ‘earth’ and ‘wind’ elements of the Kanan Devan hills.

(You can watch the first episode here.)

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

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