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I was at a spa in Chennai this week, chatting up a polite, young, Malayali about my favorite Indian destination – The God’s Own, Kerala. That’s when he asked, “So, will you be at Munnar next year, then?” As I wondered what was special about Munnar in 2018, he flicked open a webpage to show me some breathtaking photos of hills swept in blue blooms. I was mesmerized, and knew right away that Munnar had to be on my bucket list for 2018. This is what I found out about the Neelakurinji blooms in Munnar.
The Legendary Neelakurinji
Kurinji or Neelakurinji (Scientific Name: Strobilanthes Kunthianus) is a very special shrub that grows in the Shola Forests of the Western Ghats in India.
The Nilgiri Hills (Blue Mountains) get their name from this sweeping, awe-inducing blue bloom carpet. What are the most interesting characteristics of this plant is that it blooms once every 12 years! Yes, you read that right. The shrub belongs to a family of plietesials or long-interval bloomers. It had documented bloomings in 1838, 1850, 1862, 1874, 1886, 1898, 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, and 2006. So, next year is it again.
The Kurinji symbolizes clandestine love. There is a historical novel, Kurinji Flowers by Clare Flynn, that features the Neelakurinji as a backdrop to a 1940’s love story. Such is the pervasive impact of this wondrous plant on the people of the region that folks of the Paliyan Adivasi tribe actually measure their age by the bloom. They consider the bloom auspicious, and they religiously guard against harming the shrub until maturity.
The Trauma of Colonization
Unfortunately, this is one of those things that the Brits have left us poorer in. They swarmed the Western Ghats due to its mild and pleasant weather, cutting down large hills full of the shrub for development and tea/coffee plantations. Even after they left, the itch for development did not. Mining and plantations continued to grow, taking more and more land away from this beautiful bloom.
Conservation of Neelakurinji
Since then, environmentalists have woken up to the positive role of this shrub on the local ecosystem. In addition to being a balm to sore eyes, the Kurinjis produce a nectar eulogized in some 2000-year-old literature. The blooms attract a large swarm of bees, and we all know how crucial bees are to our environment.
Activists are keen to preserve the shrub and its unique bloom. In the 1980s, the Save Kurinji Council was set up in Kerala, that oversees the Kurinjimala Sanctuary protecting approximately 32 km² core habitat of the endangered plant in Kottakamboor and Vattavada villages in Devakulam Taluk, Idukki district of Kerala.
Book your Sighting Today
The year 2006 was declared as the Year of the Kurinji by the Council. A stamp was released that year to commemorate the legendary flower. The Idduki region that year saw a swarming in of more than 1,31,ooo foreign tourists, as compared to an average of 35-40 thousand tourists per year on the other years of that decade. Needless to say, 2018 should be no different. Between the months of June through November, when the flower is slated to bloom, Munnar and Idduki regions will be visited by many enthusiasts. So, if you are keen to massage your eyes with one of the most stunning views of the Western Ghats ever, you had better plan your holiday soon. Here’s wishing you a once in a lifetime vision!
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