Tag Archives: Nilgiri Tahr

As the Neelakurinji blossoms, the Nilgiris spectacles

Heard of the blue hills? Does the name ‘Nilgiris’ strike any bell? For those who know less, it is a part of the Western Ghats, a UNESCO World heritage site in the southern peninsula of India. The ‘Neel-giris’ literally translates to ‘Blue-Hills’ because these hills get their colour from a particular phenomenon. A particular species of the Strobilanthes kunthiana flowers, locally called the Neela-Kurinji bloom once in twelve years. When in full bloom, the entire hill range looks blue, thus giving the hills their name. The last mass-flowering of the neelakurinji flowers happened in 2018 and I left no leaf unturned to witness this spectacle. There were a couple of hotspots identified by the Kerala forest department where arrangements were made to allow visitors to see the flowers.
My friends and I decided to visit the Eravikulam National park, located close to Munnar. This stretch of the hills was where most of the blossoms were supposed to happen. After finalizing the visit dates in Sept’18, the Delhi friends had booked their flight tickets to fly down and the remaining of us booked our bus tickets from Bangalore to Munnar. I had got all the necessary entry permits from the forest authorities and booked accommodation in Munnar for all of us. All this was done months in advance to have a confirmed entry anticipating the tourist influx for such a spectacle, if we waited until later. We were all set and waiting for the travel to finally happen.

Come July’18, the rain gods had wreaked havoc in the western Ghats. The entire stretch of western Ghats in Karnataka and Kerala had been damaged by the heaviest rains in eight decades. The damage done was massive to geography, property and life along these areas. In the event of things, damage was done even to the neelakurinji plants and the blossoms were feared to be washed out. Once the rain gods had calmed down and the ground situation of floods seemed to have receded, we waited to see if there was any luck in waiting until September. We were in constant touch with a few locals who gave us the updates on the status of the blue hills. Come September and we decided to go ahead with our original plan. We all had finally arrived at Munnar and were heading towards Eravikulam National Park.

Once there, Yes, there were enough plants destroyed. The stronger few, had managed to bear flowers. We walked along the laden path, feeling grateful for at least so many of the plants had survived. Since these plants blossom only once every 12 years, it means that their reproduction cycle is longer than usual. This also means that, most of the Neelakurinji vegetation is lost in the 2018 monsoon and the next flowering cycle of the year 2030 may not happen at a mass-scale as it is usually supposed to happen at all!! Anyway, we enjoyed whatever we were witnessing.

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The Neelakurinji flowers at Eravikulam National park

Also, Neelakurinji is only a sub-species of the larger group of flowers called the Kurinji. The Kurinji flowers come in several colors- white, peach, purple, etc. Here is a collection of the Kurinji flowers from Eravikulam National park that we saw during our visit.

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The various Kurinji flowers at Eravikulam National park

So that said, I was back in my hometown the following week and visited our piece of farmland to check on its status after the monsoon. It used to be a spice plantation that remained unmaintained for a long time before we, siblings ventured into developing it. our farm is a short walk away from the main road. When we arrived there and decided to walk, the entire path was filled with what seemed like some weed that had overgrown during the monsoon. We used a machete to make way for ourselves to walk further. Just a few steps into the area, we were surrounded with pink/ maroon flowers all around us. ‘These weeds had flowered expansively’, we wondered. We took a lot of photos, made way for ourselves, finished our work and returned home. When we discussed about the weeds with the elders in the family, we were surprised to hear that these plants also belonged to the Kurinji family.

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The Kurinji flowers from our farm in Kodagu

Further, an important month in the Kodava and the Tamil calendar is the month of Kakkada or Aadi. In Kodagu, on the 18th day of this month a special dish is prepared using a locally available herb. Its juice is believed to contain 18 medicinal values. It leaves a very deep blue/violet pigment when cooked and consumed only on this day. And what is this plant called? Don’t even guess… Locally called ‘Maddh thoppu’ or ‘Aadi soppu’, it is also a variety of Kurunji.
So, Kodagu primarily has three types of Kurinji; the flowering weed(Maley Kurinji(as in hill), Etth Kurinji(as in cattle) and Maddh Kurinji(as in medicine).
A little bit of googling allowed me learn that there are many sub-species of the Kurinji and each have their own flowering cycles. While some bloom annually, some bloom once in six years and some take a couple of decades. Neelakurinji was just one among them.

Lesson learnt: How often do we tend to ignore the little things from our own backyard? We think these are too trivial to spend time and look for things elsewhere. It is often that people associate that better things come only when money is spent and distances are travelled, but the truth may be that it is something that we have been conveniently ignoring in our own vicinity.
What is your take on this thought?

Treasure trove of wildlife- Valparai

It has been over a year and a half and this one was pending until now.. All thanks to our organiser cum photographer cum driver cum guide cum caretaker cum etc. etc.. there was a delay in sharing the dropbox link to the photos and finally I decided to make do with whatever I had with myself.

Five of us started from Bangalore on friday night.. We, on the rear seat of the car dozed away to glory.. When we opened our eyes to the misty morning dawn, we were greeted by tree-lined roads, beautiful countryside with emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu.

We were nearing Valparai, a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary(earlier known as Anaamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burned out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savour a slice of nature as it is not yet on the radar of mass tourism. If you amble past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau, don’t be surprised when you hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here.. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of the movie- ‘Madras cafe’ 🙂

The drive ascended along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam. About 32 hairpin curves lead to Valparai, with every bend offering surprises galore. This being a protected wildlife reserve, we had our list of top 5 wildlife sightings to be done before we leave.

View of the Aliyar backwaters

Further up 4 kms from Aliyar park, near the forest checkpost, we reached the monkey falls, named aptly due to the many troublesome monkeys here, one which even entered our car and happily carried away the fruits from the rear seat 😉 Our drive continued.. Just as we approached the 9th curve, we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks. We scored off the 1st member on our top 5 list- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’. This is also called the Loam’s view point.

Nilgiri Tahr – Photo credits: Samson Joseph

Further through, we stopped at Carver Marsh view point adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, one can see the Sholayar reservoir(2nd deepest dam in Asia) from here. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.

Carver Marsh view point

We covered Congreve falls(located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple(Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest & the grass hills of the sanctuary. However, we missed out on the visit to the ox-bow lakes situated in the protected areas without being able to get permission from forest authorities due to insufficient guidance. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.

At the entrance to Sholayar / Kallyar estates

Being the breeding season for most animals, We happened to be there at the right time. The time to score off no.2 – Groups of the endangered ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ 🙂

Lion Tailed Macaque- Valparai

Even before we realised, we had reached the hill top 🙂 We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai view point. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills.. pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary. While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not proceed.. We sighted a herd of 8-9 elephants at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on the list 🙂

We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek.. Inspite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250Rs per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest checkpost. This place receives the 2nd highest rainfall in India. We reversed our car and then.. no.4: The giant flying squirrel(a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road.. We were excited..!! After covering places in the Tamilnadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border.. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there.. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of the crystal clear waters.. And right there.. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly’

The Common map butterfly

We registered at the border checkpost and prepared to enter the Kerala land.. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination.. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have driven through.. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time.. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe.. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.. We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset… Got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river.. It was soon dark and we checked into Maria cottage who made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food 🙂

Athirapally waterfalls

Next morning, we walked passed the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up.. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but violent waters there.. We had a good filling Kerala breakfast and checked out. We went back to the falls.. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there.. We then continued our drive. A quick stop at the Vazachal falls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall) and we decided to say good bye to Kerala..

The original plan was to drive through Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore-Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule and could not reach Bandipur before the gates closed, we decided to drive back through Pollachi.. So, we did the curvy stretch of road again.. WOW..!! We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India.. Thousands of wind mills dot the stretch on either sides which is a sight to behold.. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach for work the next morning..

Thus ended the 50 hours drive! – Covering 1000 kms across 3 states