While I was walking up the hill amongst the fizzed and misty fog filled paths of the national park spectating the Neelakurinji’s in blotches, I came across a small and short hoarding which read, “May be once in a blue moon, but it blooms”. It kind of made you understand the reason enough to pay importance to its presence right now and also why it needs to be taken care of. It’s true to its sense, the habitat and natural resources are to be preserved where it is still available in abundance before it fades away to oblivion. Just a bit self-consciousness is enough to preserve the great faunas India feels pride of. The country is blessed with rich presence of greenery and diverse geographical landmarks, be it the phenomenal Himalayan ranges, Sanctuaries, Western Ghats, Eastern India hills and many more small but significant places of importance.
This time I visited one of them named Eravikulam National Park located along the Western Ghats in Idukki district of Munnar in Kerala. The park was established in 1978 and is the First National Park of Kerala located at Devikulam Taluk of Iddukki district. Prime focus for the tour was to witness the blooming of The Neelakurjnji. The Shrub which blooms once in twelve years is a matter of utmost significance and thereby would gain the spotlight from travelers and tourists all across the country and abroad this year.
The flower is not only limited to Munnar, it is also widely spread during this season in Kodaikanal, Koviloor and various other parts of the Nilgiri and Palani hills
I and my travel folks decided to visit Munnar from Bangalore for a 2N/3D trip to Munnar. We started off on a Thursday night and reached Munnar by Friday morning. The itinerary was to spend the entire Friday exploring nearby spots of Munnar and surrender Saturday to Neelakurinji’s beauty. Sunday half of it would go away nagging about the work schedules of Monday at our desk and start off by evening towards Bangalore and reach our respective home by Monday early morning.
Day 1- Friday:
It took us approx. 12 hours to reach from Bangalore to Munnar. Around 9.30 AM, I woke up to a serene weather gently scuffing my way out of the bus and the morning breather was a fresh cuddle. The bus stop was a small structure with only ours at halt. Our hotel booking was pre planned at the “Spice Jungle” under the parenting of MAAT resorts. The resort is at Pallivasal which is 30-40 minutes’ drive from the place we disembarked. We booked 2 rooms for a group of 5 which cost us 4200/- approx. at a discounted rate for 2 nights. Can’t complain the bargain we got. We checked in by 12 noon inside a pretty composed room. The environment was out of the world. I was now standing at a 500 M descended height from the main road which is located amongst a surrounding of gigantic trees, chirping of the birds, and melancholic sound of the flowing stream. The start was beautiful. Witnessing the hills range just when you step out of your room is the reason I long for hills all the time. Hills presents variety and changes its course of view at alternate hours. The staff at the resort were helpful to explain us the places of visit and helped us plan a constructive trip so that we don’t miss good things of Munnar and can accommodate the primary reason of our visit successfully.
At breakfast I gorged my taste to Chola Bhatoras, Bread Jam, Omelets and Coffee which cost us 150/- for the day as it was not part of our package because our check in was due at 12 PM. The resort helped us book a jeep for the entire day which cost us 2000/- for the day along with a silent and gentle person named Anthony driving us to places which he thought is a must visit while in Munnar.
Firstly we visited the photo point which for me is a spot to take pictures along with your family and friends and not something of higher importance. It is a place by the roadside with lush green tea garden forming a photo centric structure at the backdrop. One can get a 2 min photo printed from the local photographers ready to take a picture at different poses for 30/-. They do a good job at this and the quality of photos are “I don’t mind them” kind.
Carmelgiri Elephant Park.
Departing from the photo point, we took a halt at the Carmelgiri Elephant Park where my brother in law with his 2 colleagues went on an elephant ride. The adventure is not go, play and come back kind. It took us almost an hour to wait in the queue before others finished off with their chance. One can even feed the elephants while sitting on her back. The sight is quite nice as you don’t get to be with an elephant at a hands distance every-time. The cuteness of the bending of trunks upwards and accepting the pineapples from its guest above is smiling enough.
Carmelgiri Botanical Garden.
After spending an hour and half, we drove off 2-3 Kms to Carmelgiri Botanical Garden situated at Korandikkadu. The place speaks for itself. You will get to see plethora of flowers preserved and available for visitors to experience the beauty. It would cost you 40/- bucks per head and can take a round inside the garden with ample kinds of flowers at display. Even though, most of them we found dry probably due to the seasonal switch off, still the aroma of the flowering plants was pretty fresh and the ambiance like that of a garden filled with flowers and leaves all around you. We saw various kinds of cactuses which is the one thing I remember afresh. Reason being, I never knew cactus can come in synonyms until I went there. There were people painting the brackets to avoid any human touch almost plucking a flower. The location of the garden adds to its value with a pretty view of the Kanan Devi hills at the background. Peace of state is the art form the place would boast of. Also, one can purchase great set of things famous for being local made ranging from Tea, Chocolates, Various kinds of Oil, Handicrafts, Ayurveda items and lots more to offer. I got myself a mixture of chocolates of various tastes. The best thing about the shop is they offer you the policy of “First Taste and then purchase”.
Spending an hour out there, we set off to our next destination “Mattupetty Dam”. The Dam is a storage Concrete Gravity Dam constructed to conserve water for Hydroelectricity. It is a vital economic surface for the state and its irrigational activities. Along with its economic purpose, the place adds indicative value to the environmental beauty. The water looks uber cool blue and on a clear sky day, the bluish mannerism would make it look like a mirror only to separate the middle with the green hills. Dam’s are not everywhere which makes it look like a lake. We walked down to the other part of the bridge and saw a person ready to rent his telescope for 5 valuable spots at the Dam for 20/-. Important of them is the rest house of Ratan Tata which he visits seasonally.
It was a long day and we returned back to our abode by 7 PM to enjoy the evening with the India Bangladesh encounter taking place at the Asia Cup.
Day 2: Saturday
The Neelakurinji flowers - Eravikulam National Park
Waking up the following day, we embarked for Eravikulam National Park by 9 AM. As we drove on to the road from the lowers of the resort, the clear sky and sun hue welcomed to a beautiful day. The park is 17 kilometers from Pallivasal and took us 45 minutes to reach. There is a strict policy of “No Plastic Inside” and requires a must adherence. The place has a parking facility for private cars and tempos at one of corner of the entrance. We had to wait a bit to get the tickets checked in which was already pre- booked at a cost of 160/- per head. It is a by default instruction to carry a govt. approved Identity card. The place thronged visitors in good amount if not a huge crowd. One of the finest thing is the limitation the authorities maintained of 2200 approx. visitors per day to avoid clusters of disoriented crowds. One had to maintain a queue and there would be buses organized by the authorities to take the tourists all the way to the point from where everyone can enjoy the breathtaking views of the Western Ghat ranges and the Kurinji flowers at your own free will and walks. It took us around 10-15 minutes to reach the spot where the bus would drop the group and from thereon one can enter the place post a bag checking at your own freedom to witness the special appearances of the Strobilanthes Kunthianus known to layman as Kurinji.
The hills were not fully covered with the purple flowers then and could witness 40% of them when I had visited during the end of September. It could be due to the unwelcomed cloud burst which resulted into terrible floods in Kerala weeks back. As witnessed, the Kurinji goes into seclusion upon a waterfall. However, the spot from where all the tourists were on their own were beyond delight. At every corner one could witness the rolling hills covered with green carpet seemed grasslands. It is spread around at every low corners of the hills with Sholas. Also, the Anamudi is at your nearest eye contact inside the Park. Anamudi is called the Everest of South India as it boasts being the highest peak.
Apart from the flowers, the park is also famous for being the residence of the largest surviving population of the Nilgiri Tahr. As per the information’s I read at the museum, the place has a record of witnessing 26 species of mammals and several species of birds named Nilgiri Flycatcher, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Red Vented Bulbul, Tamil Yeoman, Lesser Grass Blur, Cruiser, Liontailed Macaque, Sambar Deer, Gaur, Shrew, Indian Giant Squirrel, Slender Loris, Small Clawee Otter.
Every hairpin bends were the point for a panoramic view and people were glued with poses and cameras for a wonderful picture taking cue from the hills as the poser’s background cover. With the warm touch of the sun rays, it added beautiful vision for those lucky to have visited on a cloudless day. It is advisable not to touch or pluck the flowers as that might upset your wallet and more importantly basic sense of human understanding. As you walk steps ahead on the hills, the presence of the flower increases in abundance. After 3-4 bends we reached the final spot where beyond the point visit is restricted. It felt as the culmination point of witnessing one of the finest things I have seen till date. More than the physical presence, it is the feeling of the specialty Neelakurinji brought with it’s once in a while manifestation. The thought of witnessing a particular material in life every 12 years is itself a spectacle thought. Next when it will bloom and if you are there to witness, life and situation might be different and the generation would have much more technically advanced way of witnessing the flower. Days will change and develop further, but the natural phenomenon will definitely change. With the advancement of human domination over nature, the rare sight are depleting with days. Years back there were pictures taken of a green turf turned purple during the Kurinji season, but today, I witnessed a spectacle but in reduced amount. It is a matter of thought and if National Park authorities are strict in its order, then let it be. It’s for the good of the natural habitat and preservation of our own natural resources.
Post my walk on the lazy paths of the Eravikulam National Park, I came across a quote written on the wall just at the entrance of the park museum by J.C Goldsbury, “None who has visited this heaven can deny that it is one of the world’s most beautiful places. Please let it remain so. In this modern world, where, in the name of progress and optimum land use, the greed of man seeks to despoil all natural heritages, cannot the tide of destruction be diverted to flow round and leave unwasted still this small island of peace and tranquility”.
One can purchase gifts or mementos of the place in the form of Magnets, T Shirts, Pullovers, Tour books, Key Ring and many others. I checked the cost of few of them like the Magnets which costs 90/- and T Shirts 400/- in various sizes.
Tea Museum and Lukkam Falls
It was 4 PM by the time we quenched our thirst of the planned visit months back and successfully doing so. Next, the tour was still not over as we headed towards the Tea Museum where we got the tickets at 125/- and witnessed a documentary film presenting about the time when tea plantations were established in Munnar and the history behind it. It is a must watch to understand the significance today Munnar’s tea garden has achieved, the different eco diversity and how the place coped up with the terrible loss of the 1924 floods. It also houses machines for public view from the olden times when plantations were uplifting in the areas and also displays a demo session of the various cuts of the machines.
Lukkam falls is something which can be ignored if anybody travels to. Reason being the falls is a great witness if taken from a farthest range while driving on the road. Upon reaching the base or the nearby water body, it is a disappointment because of the broken bridge in the floods and one can’t cross the place. We spent 15-20 minutes there amongst no human presence and only the flowing stream of water coming directly from the huge falls which is hiding behind a right turn and not available at your direct sight.
Sunday was our return date. We checked out by 12 PM and spent a good amount of time exploring the Spice Jungle resort which itself has a hidden treasure of spice trees, flowers, and resting spots.
All in all, it was an amazing short break to keep my laptop back home and not worry about the activities meant for the monthly credits to my bank where I had put a dedicated out of office stating “please expect delayed replies to emails”.
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