Heritage of Munnar
The history of Munnar is quite intriguing as relics that date back to the Stone Age has been discovered in the region. However, written or documented history begins only after the 9th century A.D. when members of the ‘Muthuvan’ tribe migrated in large numbers during the period of war between the Pandya and Chola rulers. It is rumored that the Duke of Wellington was the first European to ever visit Munnar, back in 1790, but this fact is still under contention.
The outside world came to know Munnar in 1870, when John Daniel Munro visited the Travancore kingdom to settle a border dispute between Travancore and the nearby state of Madras. Munro who had great interest in plantations was allured by the beauty of this region. Though Munnar was under the jurisdiction of the Travancore kingdom, the land belonged to Poonjar Royal Family by right of birth. Over a long period of history, this royal family carried the privilege to be the custodians of the beautiful hills of Munnar. Among the several hills, Munro discovered that Kanan Devan Hills had high potential for plantation crops. After a meeting with the royal family, the Poonjar Raja in 1877 conveyed a large tract of land measuring almost 600 square kilometers to J.D. Munro. This tract of land, called Kanan Devan Concession Land was at that time undeveloped, unexplored and covered with a dense jungle full of wild beasts.
Munro in conjunction with H.G. Turner of the Madras Civil Service formed the North Travancore Land Planting & Agricultural Society in 1879. Members of this society developed their own estates in various parts of the High Ranges and the first person to undertake cultivation was A.W. Turner. The pioneers tried many crops like coffee, cinchona, sisal and cardamom before realizing that tea was the crop best suited to the region. The land was purchased by Messer’s Finlay Muir & Company in 1895 who in turn sold it to Tata-Finlay Ltd. in 1976. The James Finlay Group sold their remaining share holdings in 1983 to Tata Tea Ltd. and the plantation era in Munnar has continued successfully under the ownership of the latter.
If the 19th century marked the beginning of the plantation era, the 20th century witnessed the start of the tourism era in Munnar. With its cool climate, lush green plantations, diverse flora and fauna, dense forests, misty lakes and dams, waterfalls and other attractions, Munnar is a highly sought-after destination by both local and foreign tourists.