Seasons in the tea country (the Nilgiris)
The Nilgiris region of Southern India is known to be the prime tourist destination throughout the year. Cooler temperatures and lack of humidity are the main reasons that bring thousands of tourists and vacationers here from all parts of India and the world. There is not a bad time of the year to visit the Nilgiris. However, before you make your travel plans, it’s not a bad idea to understand the weather patterns in the mountains.
After having spent considerable amount of time in the tea country, I think I’ve covered most times of the year. And I have to tell that seasons here don’t follow a usual pattern.
December-January are the coldest months of the year. Not a hat and gloves cold (though many locals prefer wearing woolen hats this time of year), but the weather definitely warrants a sweater or a light jacket, or a shawl (that better completes the look of a sari). Some higher elevation areas, such as Connoor, Dodabetta and the Kind valley get frost on the ground - a perfect condition for harvesting Frost Tea. “Tea in December?” you ask. In fact, Nilgiris is the only region of India that produces tea year round (unlike Darjeeling and Assam which have designated tea season, or ‘flushes’).
Frost Tea is quite rare and very unique to this region. It’s a black tea that resembles oolong. The new leaves and buds being bitten by frost right before harvesting creates a smooth and velvety aroma. A truly must try! There are just a few estates that produce Frost Tea: Chamraj/Korakundah, Tea Studio and Havukkal are the most known ones.
After the moderate temperatures in February, things are starting to heat up in March and April. Though the mercury won’t go over 70-75F, its very sunny and dry. But wait until 5 pm when it drops back to 60s - the evenings are utterly pleasant with a light breeze and gorgeous sunsets. April coincides with the beginning of the tourist season and the school vacations, bringing city dwellers here to escape the heat. Ooty and the surrounding towns have plenty to offer to visitors during this time: the Botanical Garden, Ooty Lake, the Rose Garden, the Tea Garden, Sims Park in Connoor as well as the tea museum, chocolate museum and the new adventure park. Nature lovers can enjoy numerous hiking trails, camping, waterfalls, noteworthy sites such as Lamb’s Rock and Dolphin’s Nose, horseback, riding, boating in the Pykara lake or fishing in the Avalanche. The area hosts hundreds of hotels and homesteads to relax at and anyone can find an activity to their taste: for biking and jeep tours to cheesemaking and pleasing their taste buds with local tea, snacks and sweets.
June is definitely my favorite month on the hill station! Coming from the north, I love a cool breezy weather with a fair share of clouds and an occasional rain. Although the temperature only drops a few degrees compared to May, it makes a big difference here. Nights and mornings are crisp and windy, ranging from a light breeze to strong gusts. Seeing the dark clouds coming over, the tree tops bending under the wind and hearing the birds chirping as they hurriedly hide in the thick branches add a definite sense of mystique to the atmosphere. One of the best things about the wind is that it chases away the flies, mosquitos and all sorts of annoying bugs.
The monsoon hasn’t started yet. The valley may get overshadowed by the think clouds and fog, but these signs are deceptive most of the time. The fog clears up as rapidly as it comes, giving way to the sunshine, still bright but much less intense than in the prior couple of months. The locals take this weather change very seriously: the roads are much more deserted in the mornings and hats and sweaters are coming out.
The tea plants seem to enjoy this weather as much as we do. A lot of fresh light green sprigs are sprouting over the recently pruned tips. These new leaves are especially delicate.
The months between August and September or early October are known as monsoon season. Though not the most pleasant part of the year, it may be the most important time, as the quality of the crops and the tea leaves rely on the successful monsoon. The first tea harvested following the monsoon, also known as first flush, is prized for its aroma and a smooth delicate taste. These couple of months are also critical for refilling the streams and the dams depleted after the dry season.
A real monsoon can be really wet, however. I remember our wedding in August when we were extremely lucky still have a dry morning but our reception was moved indoors after the rainfall destroyed the beautiful outdoor setup. Our freshly applied mahendi suffered some damage too!
Any tea farmer here will tell you: don’t get tea which is produced during monsoon. Just like with wine, too much moisture may dilute the aroma and strength. However,
When monsoon is officially over, the tea bushes sprout fresh new leaves, before heading into a temporary winter slump.
As I mentioned, Nilgiris really don’t have a winter. In the hills of South India the weather can go from oppressively hot to around-pleasant in a matter of a few das or hours. This actually makes it an ideal sort of climate for the tea plant, particularly the common assamica variety.
Time to prepare your the canisters and your taste buds for a haul of delicious Frost tea coming soon!