Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi

Journey to Neelakurinji Land

Journey to Neelakurinji Land

-By Mrs.Shakti Bishnoi and Mr.A.S Bishnoi

In July we got information from our friend, who is a forest officer about blooming of Neelakurinji. The fact that it blooms once in 12 years was enough for us to visit and see the wonderful creation of God and appreciate them with our eyes. When children accompany us, it has to be planned trip, so we decided to start on 1st Sep 2018. Before our plan materialised, Kerala was devastated by floods. My niece was turning 11 years on 5th September and we had decided to gift her a memorable birthday trip. We had been eagerly waiting for three months to watch the neelakurinji blooming, so neither rains nor landslides could dampen our resolve.

The fact that traveling to Kerala for watching the Neelajurinji bloom will also help us escape from all the stress inducing the regular hustle-bustle in the urban concrete jungle that our urban cities have become as well as avoiding the incessant honking of vehicles while traveling to office and the smoke laden city air made it a more enticing proposition.

Route:

Visakhapatnam-Vijaywada-Tirupati-Ooty-Coimbatore—Munnar-Devikulam  (Total Distance one way 1330 km)

Wild Life Sanctuaries/National Parks:

Annamalai Tiger Reserve- Chinnar wildlife sanctuary- Anamudi Shola National park.

The Old War horse:

With our 10 year old but nimble and trusted Santro car always ready for a long drive at a moments notice, traveling by road to distant destinations is always a pleasant experience.

Vizag to Tirupati:

So we started driving early in the morning on 1st of September 2018. A stop on the highway early in the morning to savour the taste of freshly cooked steaming hot idlies was top on our list. The earlier you reach these shops the better it tastes.

When kids are around the precautions one needs to take is different. I helped our 5 year old daughter and niece to create a kind of tent with sheet in the back seat so that one window could be kept open for enjoying the beauty of the eastern ghats. It was a pleasant ride with many stops. Kids used to enjoy the stop to drink Nariyal pani (Green coconut water).

To break down the journey into manageable parts, our first stop after starting from Vizag was Tirupati. A distance of approximately 780 kms were covered by 8 pm. With sumptuous south Indian food made with pure amul ghee for dinner, we were all ready for the next days journey.

Ooty:

People from cities find it difficult to negotiate the many hairpin bends in the hills. However, I was assured as my hushand had lot of hill driving experience and he took us through the hairpin bends of Ooty with ease. We reached Tata Holiday home, just in time to enjoy evening sunset and the age old house of Mr. Ratan Tata. Next day morning we all jumped out of beds with excitement to explore our hilltop Tata holiday home. Children were enjoying amidst very old trees. these trees must have witnessed building of this house and all the visitors leaving behind so many memories for them to gossip in their free time. The sheer variety of plants which grows on our hills is a joy to watch.

Some trees need lot of sunlight, so they are huge and tall, whereas others which require less sunlight grow under them and there are those plants which requires only little soil and no sunlight and finally the miraculous ones who require only air and cling on to others for living.

According to ancient Indian philosophy and tantra shashtras human body is made up of five elements (earth, water, fire, air, space). However we have lost our connection with nature and hence don’t see us as a pillar in mother nature’s edifice. However, when we are in wilderness places we can unknowingly connect with nature. Our younger kid with her photographic skills clicked pictures of the plants tress, flowers, and enjoyed tree climbing in the rather cool 15 °C.

Toy Train ride:

It gave us time to just sit and enjoy the beauty of the place. We started at 11am for our toy train ride from Ooty to Coonoor. My hushand gave company to the car enjoying the flora fauna by road while we took the train journey to Coonoor. We saw the landscape changing every few minutes. The beauty of toy train is in the gentle speed and it gave us ample time to enjoy the sight of lovely wild flowers, various types of trees and beautiful meadows.

My younger daughter is fond of horses and mostly pretends to be a horse at home, walking and talking as if she is indeed a horse. So spotting a white horse in the scenic surroundings was her most cherished memory from the trip.

At Coonoor we headed to eat ghee roast idli and dosa. As the weather was cool the heavy lunch made us feel drowsy. Nevertheless, we embarked on our journey to Coimbatore and reached within a few hours. We visited a textile factory to see the cycle of cotton to cloth. All four of us looked in amazement how cotton was being transformed. Both the young girls are keen observers and there were no questions from them.

We Had south Indian delicacies while girls enjoyed brownie with icecream in a roadside eatery.

Our plan was to reach Devikulam the next day. South India is known for the lovely early morning breakfasts in restaurants. We started at 7 am with degree coffee and zoomed through Coimbatore in no time.

Annamalai Tiger Reserve:

Few hours later we entered Annamalai Tiger reserve area. There was no vehicle entry in the register for past few days due to Floods in Kerala. The forest guard looked at us with many questions in his eyes but neither he could ask us nor we could have answered as we had a language barrier. The devastating Kerala floods had ensured that there were no other tourists.

However sometimes we just want to travel, no matter what ever natural calamity may have happened. Whatever it takes we are ready. I remember, 6 years ago, we were completely unaware of the forecast of Cyclone Nilam and had started from Chennai and reached Vizag in dawn next day with my 7 months daughter in womb. Somehow we had sailed through the waters on the way. Now the situation is different in hilly terrain. But forests with the kind of channels it creates for itself (nature’s law), kept the road unaffected. With peaceful forest area and only our car on road made us all excited and all of us were thrilled to spot wild animals and different species of plants and trees there. The forest of Annamalai was covered with different hues of greens, the way you see in paintings and art works. Watching such greenery was a delight to your eyes. It had a profound impact on us as if some magical powers were soothing and healing us. Both our girls were glued to their respective windows with their binoculars ready and camera on standby mode to capture whatever they can spot. The scenic beauty around Coimbatore makes it a special place.

Anamudi Shola National Park:

Among the wildlife species, we successfully spotted peafowl, spotted dear, wild boar, quails. Soon we entered Chinnar wildlife sanctuary which is connected to Annamalai. We could spot a few birds and then entered Anamudi Shola national park.

Sholas are unique as they have evolved over thousands of years to its current state. We found various types of tree species as well as a few species of animals/birds/plants which endemic and not found anywhere else.  Neelakurunji is one such flowering plant which is only found in these western ghats.  We were just in time after rains to enjoy the trees loaded with leaves of different shades.

Due to a broken bridge at a place near Munnar, we had to travel the road less travelled.  The locals were not interested in driving in that road, so the road was meant for us to go zigzag without waiting like VVIPs. My husband can enjoy both driving and watching scenery, so the detour in a road less travelled didn’t make us feel tensed.

In the middle of the forest, we halted and took a sumptuous South Indian lunch. We went via Udampet & Taliyar estate route to reach Devikulam at 6 pm.  The untouched routes have their beauty. On every turn a new scenery emerged & welcomed us to carry on. It was a treat for our eyes and predictably we were all ecstatic as hills are our favourite place.

Munnar:

At 5 PM we were in Munnar and just in time for early dinner to satiate our hunger after a long adventure through the tea gardens. We ate like never before and could barely move after paying the bill. We stopped at shop full of homemade chocolates, Tapioca and Banana chips to nibble for tomorrow’ trip to Neelakurinji clad mountains.

We reached our hotel Kerala Tourism (Yatri Niwas) and the sun hid behind the nearby hills. The last light of the day was coming to an end it was cold. We all got into cozy costumes to forget Visakhapatam heat for few days. When it became dark we set our 04 flying lanterns free. We all were jumping with delight to see how simple phenomena can make it fly. Hotel personnel were equally delighted to see the lanterns for the first time. One of our daughter’s many dreams came true with flying lanterns. Everyone’s dreams are full of wonders.

All of us drank tasty cow milk and proceeded to sleep early as we had to wake up early. We slept like never before with all the wonderful memories of the day. Our girls had added joy of enjoying the birth anniversary of our niece tomorrow. We all wished her as we jumped out of our dreams and saw the sun rising from behind the hill. Soon we were ready to fulfill our wish of watching Neelakurinji flowers.

We reached a point where the bridge got washed away by flood from one side. People could walk and cross the bridge. We reached the other side and hired a jeep. The cool breeze of the mountains hugged us from all the sides giving us tears of joy. Jeep is our all time favourite but living in cities makes it difficult to drive one. But there was nothing stopping us driving on the scenic hills. Driver gave the wheels to my husband on request (He spoke in Malayalam) and we travelled 25 kms to the pick point of Neelakurinji forest area. We parked and hopped onto bus for seeing the blooming of flowers for which we had waited for 12 years.

On the way we saw beautiful waterfalls, few of them were very close to sprinkle water on our peeping excited faces. Bus was not allowed to stop on the way. Our daughter’s favourite part is to fly her silk scarf from the window. watching it enjoy the winds of hills gives her immense pleasure. She calls it dancing scarf and personifies it and speaks on scarf’s behalf. Kids are lovely story tellers. Unfortunately, the pressures of the society kills their imagination.

Neelajkurinji:

On a hairpin curve we saw the first plant blooming with bluish purple Neelakurinji flowers. It was heartening to see them. We had to trek on cemented path for one hour to reach the summit for getting the glimpse of neelakurinji in full bloom.

Sun was playing hide and see with us as dark clouds were ready to give us shower anytime. Due to heavy rainfall and little sunlight, neelakurinji too could not bloom as expected. However, nothing could dampen our spirits as the present blooms were enough for us. We could imagine how lovely it would have been if all the hills were covered by neelakurinji blooms.

Neelakurinji Flowers

We saw few birds on they way and kept walking at a normal pace with our young girls. Just few meters away from view point, we saw a fresh water stream and both the girls anchored there forgetting all about our mission to see neelakurinji. Life is all about flowing with stream and we played with them to our hearts content. And as we proceeded for the glimpse of a lifetime, clouds started hugging us. We were on considerable height with valley on one side and neelakurinji filled hill on the other. It was our daughters dreams to reach for the clouds and be there. As if her fresh water stream games were not enough, god fulfilled another dream for her. So she was ecstatic. She was standing still with her eyes fixed on the cloud hugging her. And few minutes later a gust of wind took the cloud away from us. We started walking in silence experiencing the wonder of mother earth. We all were so mesmerized by nature, that clicking photos had to wait.

Neelakurinji blooms

Neelakurinji blooms

As we walked further to reach the place for neelakurinji it started drizzling and girls started jumping with joy. We smiled and thanked god for being so kind to us. There was no visibility, so the flowers has to wait. We wore our top raincoats and enjoyed for half an hour. While watching the valley we saw the rays of sun piercing through the dark clouds. Few moments later the sunlight was shining bright on the neelakurinji and rest everything was dark as if a spotlight was pointing at the important place. We were thrilled at another natural phenomenon and felt so happy to witness this. We all were glued to the flowers which blooms once every 12 years with open mouths, as if we were watching a movie. We were so happy to be there on that day despite natural calamity, broken bridges, detours on lesser known roads and landslides. We all realized, if we want to do something, we can do it. Wish everybody realises that if we don’t get cowed down by adversity, then all our dreams will come true.

While enjoying watching flowers the lovely neelakurinji flowers playing hide and seek with clouds and the sun occasionally playing peek-a-boo, we sang birth anniversary song for our niece. No other experience in any five star hotel can equal this amazing feeling.

We live in Hope:

The next neelakurinji blooming flowers will see our girls as adults, one will be 18 and other will be 24 years old. Hopefully these young adults, having experienced the mesmerising beauty of neelakurinji as well as the peace and tranquillity of the place, along with many others of their generation can take the lead in protecting this amazing western ghats landscape. For neelakurinji to bloom again the seeds have to remain in the ground without falling prey to concretisation or forest fires. The rainforests of the western ghats is a major biodiversity hotspot. Even UNESCO has classified Western Ghats as a World Heritage site. Hope the major Kerala floods of 2018 as well as subsequent floods and landslides will make people realise that we need to protect this amazing landscape. May be our girls might drive us to neelakuranji next time and explain about some new scientific discovering about the many endemic species that reside in the western ghats. We live in hope.

291 Views
Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi
Latest posts by Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi (see all)