Kerala has started making arrangements to handle the massive flow of tourists into the state ahead of the flowering of the mesmerising Neelakurunji (Strobilanthus) species in the shola forests of the Western Ghats. The flower, purple-blue in colour, has the distinct specialty of blooming once in 12 years. The flowering season is scheduled to begin in Munnar and the adjoining Eravikulam National Park in August next year and will last until the end of October.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan convened a high-level meeting on Wednesday to discuss the arrangements being made for thousands of tourists who will make their way into the state to see the flower bloom. Vijayan said a study, that will be conducted by NATPAC, will estimate the number of tourists Munnar and adjoining areas can host during the season. Munnar is considered an ecologically fragile hill station in the Western Ghats that has seen a large number of resorts and hotels coming up in recent years. The hill station has, over the years, seen large-scale agitations against land encroachment.
At the meeting, it was decided that vehicle restrictions will be publicised in advance. The CM stressed on a ban on plastic bags and bottles, adequate parking spaces, cleanliness, toilets, repair of roads and basic health facilities in the region.
The Eravikulam National Park, which offers tourists breathtaking views of the flowers on the hills, will offer half of the tickets online and will operate an hour more than the usual time. Extra buses will also be deployed. The park is nearly 130 kilometres from Kochi and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Park officials said close to 4-5 lakh tourists are expected to descend with a daily intake of 4000 people as against the capacity of 2250 people. “We are anticipating heavy rush. Tourists are mostly allowed in the Rajamala area which allows good view of the flower-covered sholas,” said Rajan, a Beat Forest Officer at the Eravikulam Park. He said the shrubs cover almost the entire 97 sq.km. area of the park.
The last time the Neelakurunji flowered in Kerala and Tamil Nadu was in 2006. The Nilgiri Hills, in fact, gets its name from the flower. The shrub is said to be venerated by several tribal communities in the region.