The Neelakurinji Blooms in Munnar – This happens once in 12 years

Heaven on Earth exists - The Neelakurinji and the play of light Heaven on Earth exists - The Neelakurinji and the play of light

About this Blog: Since the beginning of 2018, I had read multiple posts about one of the rarest flowers that only bloom once every 12 years. The articles mentioned that the last documented mass blooming was in the year 2006 and these famed flowers will be blooming again in the hills of Nilgiris starting from July 2018. This blog is about this rare phenomenon of the Neelakurinji blooms.

About Neelakurinji

The rare Neelakurinji blooms, mystic hills and a serene landscape
The rare Neelakurinji blooms, mystic hills and a serene landscape

Plants that bloom at long intervals like The Neelakurinji,  Strobilanthes kunthianus, are known as Plietesials – the plants that grow for a number of years, flower synchronously, set seed and then die. The length of this cycle can vary between 8 and 16 years.

The Neelakurinji is a blue-and-lilac beauty with a 12-year life cycle. It flowers only once in its lifetime, and once it does, the plant dies. The seeds from the dying plant go back into the ground and lay dormant for almost a dozen years. Eventually, they sprout, grow, bloom for a magical two-month period and die again, restarting the cycle.

Kurinji plants grow at an altitude of 1300 to 2400 metres. The plant is usually 30 to 60 cm high. One can view the shorter variation of about 2 feet at higher spots and longer variations of about 5 to 10 feet at lower spots. When the kurinji bush blooms, it has a profuse display of violet-blue flowers that cover the entire plant and these blossoms spread out as a blanket on the hill slopes making it look like a purple blanket over the green hills.

Neelakurinji Carpet : Picture Courtesy - Google
Neelakurinji Carpet : Picture Courtesy – Google

The Significance of Neelakurinji

These endangered flowers can’t be seen anywhere in the world other than Western Ghats, India. The legendary Neelakurinji blooms only in every 12 years. The last was in 2006. That is why Munnar and Western Ghats got into the list of Best Places to Visit in Asia in 2018 by the Lonely Planet.

The Neelakurinji flowers does not have any significant smell or medicinal values. One interesting result of the gregarious flowering is the largest increase in bees found in its vicinity during the flowering period. The nectar collected by honey bees from these flowers is found to be sweetest with high medicinal values.

The mythological significance considers the flowering of Neelakurinji as auspicious and there are taboos that prevent people from destroying the plant or its withered twigs until the seeds mature ten months after the flowering.

A beauty of nature – rare, elusive, and stunning.

She teases, she tempts,

And she only reveals what she wants you to see.

She is Neelakurinji – a flower which blooms once in twelve years.

Where to Find the Neelakurinji

Eravikulam National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – Munnar, Kerala

Tickets Link – Guidelines and How to Reach

Our journey to the Mystic Hills of Neelakurinji

The mass blooming of Neelakurinji is a rarity and I had marked my calendar in anticipation of this event. Just the pictures from 2006 had transported me to a different world, and I couldn’t wait to stand in the middle of this marvelous sight.

Near Coonoor

My first sighting of these blue flowers did not cover acres and acres of hill slopes. Instead it was a small patch in the middle of tea plantations. I was happy to have sighted these bell-shaped fragile little flowers, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my longing to witness the magic of these tiny flowers. I needed to see more.

A patch of Neelakurinji around the tea estates of Coonoor
A patch of Neelakurinji around the tea estates of Coonoor

Near Munnar

I decided to visit Munnar in Kerala which has the majority of these plants in a protected area. Gathered a few friends and organized a treknic event through Bangalore Ascenders, which is one of the oldest non-profit adventure clubs of Bengaluru.

Close up of bell-shaped fragile Blue-Lilac Neelakurinji Flowers
Close up of bell-shaped fragile Blue-Lilac Neelakurinji Flowers

Upon reaching Munnar, we met up with a known local guide, procured necessary permissions, and headed out on a lesser known trail in search of the Neelakurinji. After hiking for about 2.5 km, we came across these little-wonders. The spectacular sight left us awestruck. There were millions of bell shaped, bright bluish-purplish flowers blooming in clusters on the slope of the hills. We watched the rolling hills as far as the eyes could see. Seemingly bathed in purplish blue with the mist around the hills adding to the mystery, it was a rare sight to behold.

Million Neelakurinji blooms in one place - Pure Magic
Million Neelakurinji blooms in one place – Pure Magic

I felt like “Alice in Wonderland” waiting to wake up from a deep-slumber to realize that it was all merely a dream. But on the contrary, it was all a dream coming true. Those moments of scenic extravaganza, the mesmerizing purple-blue blanket of teeny-weeny Neelakurinji flowers, and the pure joy of standing in the middle of this exquisite ecological phenomenon was all real and simply remarkable.

In the middle of surreal Neelakurinji Blooms
In the middle of surreal Neelakurinji Blooms

The play of light during the sunset made the landscape of rugged mountains and delicate flowers look like a transcendental beauty straight from heaven. We felt blessed and fortunate that we were able to spend hours in the middle of this masterpiece of nature.

The Play of Light on Neelakurinji Blooms
The Play of Light on Neelakurinji Blooms

 

Endangered Nilgiri Tahr

If you are lucky, you might even spot a Nilgiri Tahr in the middle of Neelakurinji Blooms. Nilgiri Thar is an ungulate endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and only few hundreds of them are left in the wild. Eravikulam National Park in Munnar is home for its largest population.

Remember, Care and diligence bring luck.

The endangered Nilgiri Tahr around the short Neelakurinji Shrubs
The endangered Nilgiri Tahr around the short version of Neelakurinji Shrubs (C) Neeraj Maithani

Responsible Tourism and Conservation

It is noted that at each successive period, the area over which the blooming appears is becoming less and less. Every year more land in these hills is cleared for tea estates, cardamom plantations, or for constructing buildings. Most hillside that was once blue with flower blooms is now green with tea bushes. Sometimes the Neelakurinji shrub is ruthlessly exterminated as pest.

With such rare flora and fauna around, it is our collective responsibility not to cause harm to mother nature. Avoid littering, plucking of flowers/plants and any other activities that disturb the ecological balance. Conserve these rare plants. If we do not put our best foot forward, the Neelakurinji blooming will only be a fairy-tale for the coming generations.

REALIZE THAT EVERYTHING CONNECTS

TO EVERYTHING ELSE

Conserve Neelakurinji, we do not want to see empty grasslands in 2030
Conserve Neelakurinji, we do not want to see empty grasslands during the next blooming season in 2030

 

Have you witnessed the magical Neelakurinji Blooms? Share your experiences in the comment section.

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