It was late August of 2021. We left our hometown Kolkata for a archaeological trip to Ajanta & Ellora of Maharashtra. In the middle of the trip, we suddenly got to know about what we were dying to see for several years!
The purple carpet of Neelakurinji flowers covering the hills!
And it is 2021!
We checked several news portals and found that it was not a hoax. Somewhere in Coorg area of Karnataka, there has been a mega-bloom of Neelakurinji flowers for past few weeks covering the entire hills. Mostly similar to what we had expected to see in Munnar of Kerala in 2018! We jumped up to get it; made some sudden alterations in our plan and after visiting Ajanta & Ellora headed towards Coorg of Karnataka.
After all, it is an once in 12 years experience!
What is so special about Neelakurinji?
Kurijni aka Neelakurinji is a shrub that blossoms only once in 12 years. They are usually found in the Shola forests of the Southern Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka & Tamilnadu. During the mass bloom, the entire hill gets covered with purplish blue flowers. An awestruck spectacle indeed! Nilgiri hills, which means blue mountains, got their name from this scenic natural phenomenon.
Neelakurinji 2018 : A Shattered Dream
Munnar is a popular tourist destination of Kerala and the hillocks of Eravikulam National Park of Munnar is the most renowned habitat of Neelakurinji. Year 2018 was the expected year of mass bloom in Munnar. Mid August to mid September was the prime time. Travel-enthusiasts and naturalists from all over the country and the world had planned to be there to spectacle that magical purple carpet of flowers.
But all was in vein! A devastating flood in Kerala took place at that time and Munnar remained completely detached from the rest of the country on last two weeks of August. We had to cancel our dream trip.
Situations got improved in early September and tourists are also allowed to visit Munnar, but 90% of the buds of Neelakurinji had already died due to heavy rain. Visitors got to see very few shrubs with flowers. Some isolated patches of Neelakurinji were there in the slopes; beautiful, though much less than it was expected. That was not what we longed for. We will have to wait for another 12 years to witness the hills carpeted by bluish purple flowers.
Let us look for year 2030. We consoled ourselves.
Neelakurinji 2021 : An Undreamed Bliss
Munnar is a place where the flowering years of Neelakurinji are like year 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030 and so on. But the flowering years differ in other places of Southern India, though always having the 12 years’ gap. Mega-bloom of Munnar is mostly celebrated because it covers a massive area.
But in 2021, the same phenomenon happened on the hills of Mandalpatti and Kote Betta of Kodagu district aka Coorg of the state of Karnataka. According to the flowering cycle of Neelakurinji it was expected to happen here in 2021, but nobody could imagine such a massive stretch! Slopes after slopes, hills after hills turned purple. Just like Munnar! ”To my knowledge, it is for the first time this year that we’ve seen these flowers spread fully across both hillocks. Usually, it is only visible in some parts of these hills,” A T Poovaiah, the Madikeri Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) said.
According to locals, the flowering started in late July, but tourists were not allowed that time due to Covid restrictions. Visitors started to come from August. Though Coorg is a popular tourist destination of Karnataka, both Mandalpatti and Kote Betta hills are not included in usual sightseeing lists. Therefore this spectacular phenomenon was remained almost unknown to the world for first two weeks of August. Our driver Charan said that in these first two weeks of August there were maximum numbers of flowers.
The mega-bloom of Neelakurinji in Coorg started to come under limelight from mid-August, drawing tourists across the states. But flowering was not as much as it was before.
We had managed to be there in early September of 2021. Let me show what we got to see.
What we saw
No more word. Let our photographs tell the story.
What we felt
Probably you have noticed very few blossomed flowers in the frames we have captured. That was a matter of regret. Flowers were there much in numbers in early August and we did not know this!
Still, we were happy. We got to see the purple carpet covering the hills. Words, even photographs could not express how we felt standing amidst those purple hillocks. That exceeded all our expectations! We could not imagine Neelakurinji can spread through such a vast area. It started to bloom from one kilometre before the entry point of Mandalpatti hills. And in between entry and exit, we found almost 70% area of Mandalpatti hillocks covered by Neelakurinji. Similar spread in Kote Betta too!
One thing you can notice from our photographs is that the purple hue is mainly due to the purple-coloured buds, as flowers were less in numbers. All these buds were about to bloom. But in recent days, they were not blooming together. If that would occur, the purple hue would look more vibrant.
We found these Neelakurinji flowers are smaller than the ones those bloom in Munnar. Even the shrubs are shorter in height. Here the buds are also darker in shade.
The locals confirmed that these flowers have bloomed after 12 years. Is it another sub-species of Neelakurinji that differs from what grows in Munnar? Not sure!
How did we plan?
Mandalpatti hills are 18 kms away from Madikeri, the most popular hill station of Coorg. Kote Betta is 35 kms from Mandalpatti and 33 kms from Madikeri. We hired a jeep to visit both places. Driver’s contact – Charan (+918971492031)
Mandalpatti is a protected area under Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary. Entry Fee – Rs 25/- per person. Only jeeps and motorbikes are allowed inside Mandalpatti. The jeep starting point is 10 kms before the Mandalpatti and a jeep takes Rs 1500/- for the visit. While one can visit Kote Betta by any vehicles. There is no entry fee in Kote Betta.
We booked Shangri La Homestay(+919482197200) which is located in walkable distance from Mandalpatti Jeep point. They charged us Rs 1250/- per person for bed & breakfast. This is an old traditional house and host family is very cordial. We felt like home.
Are you thinking to experience Neelakurinji blooming in Mandalpatti & Kota Betta of Coorg? Hurry up. Flowers will remain few more weeks.
Wander with Reshmi & Saikat