Starting late July, the Anamalai hills near Munnar in Kerala will be resplendent, clad in a purplish blue carpet. The famed neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) will burst into flower - a phenomenon that occurs once in 12 years. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to the Munnar hills to behold the spectacle that lasts up until October. This is the best time to visit Kerala and experience this natural beauty.
Munnar is home to the highest concentration of neelakurinji plants in the country - spread over 3,000 hectares of rolling hills. Each shrub reproduces once in its life time and dies after flowering. It takes another 12 years for the seeds to sprout again and grow up to 30 to 60 centimetres high, for another glorious bloom.
The neelakurinji belongs to the genus Strobilanthes, which is a tropical plant species found in Asia and Australia. There are about 450 species of Strobilanthes in the world, of which 146 are found in India and of them, about 43, in Kerala. The blooming of neelakurunji this year has ensured the fourth most important place for the Western Ghats in the Lonely Planet’s 2018 Best in Asia.
According to Prasad Ambattu, a journalist and a resident of Munnar, there are two 12-year cycles simultaneously going on in the Anamalai hills. In one cycle, the last neelakurinji bloom was in 2006 and the next one is now, in 2018. In the other cycle, the last bloom was in 2014.
The mass flowering neelakurinji provides a feast for butterflies, honeybees and other insects. The purple flowers hold a large amount of nectar, which especially attract the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana). “This honey from the neelakurinji is very special. It lasts for about 15 years without getting spoilt,” said G. Rajkumar, chief coordinator of the NGO Save Kurinji Campaign Council. He added that the honey is supposed to have medicinal properties.
Rajkumar also said that the ecosystem that supports the kurinji plants plays a major role in bringing water to the Amaravati river which is a tributary of the Kaveri river, a main water source for Tamil Nadu. “The Kurinji reserve is in the catchment area of Amaravati river,” he said.
The tourist boom begins
The forest department expects a large number of tourists to arrive in Munnar during this season, said Lekshmi Rajeshwari, forest range officer at Devikulam, which is part of the Eravikulam National Park, the prime destination where neelakurinji will bloom.
“One million tourists, including travellers from Europe and the United States, are expected to visit this amazing place this year,” she said.
Last October, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had communicated through a social media post that around eight lakh (0.8 million) tourists are expected for the bloom season and the state government aims to introduce a series of measures to protect the Eravikulam National Park. As an unprecedented number of tourists will visit the region, the government plans to restrict the numbers entering the park and the amount of time they spend there, said Vijayan’s post. Action on waste management and required tourist facilities are to be in place to safeguard the national park.