I visited Munnar recently to witness Neelakurinji flower blooming. What is so special about Neelakurinji blooming is that these plants flowers only once in 12 years. It is a rare and exclusive event in nature, everybody was waiting eagerly for a long time. But unfortunately, heavy rain and flood in Kerala cut off Munnar from outside world for a good number of days. It was only towards the last days of the life of Neelakurinji flowers that most people were able to visit Munnar and experience this colourful fiesta of nature. I was also waiting, who knows I will be alive to see them again after 12 years. So decided to go even though it was late and most of the flowers have already perished. Came to Munnar on a weekend, explored some amazing places like Kolukkumalai and Vattavada in search of the flowers.
More than seeing the Neelakurinji flowers, the journey was the most exciting part. I visited some new places in these mountains. Kolukkumalai has the best views from the top, I would say. And Vattavada is another beautiful village far away from the hustle of tourism, have the best climate and some really fresh air.
So what is Neelakurinji?
It is a very common plant found in the mountains of Western Ghats. The scientific name is “Strobilanthes Kurunthias”, a blue colour flower. A certain region of the Western Ghats is called “Nilgiris”, because of these flowers. “Neela” is blue in Malayalam and Tamil. Every year, the Neelakurinji blooms in some random areas of the Western Ghats but this year it bloomed over a very large area.
This year it flowered mainly in the hills of Munnar, Ooty, Masinagudi and Kodaikanal. The flower individually is not that attractive in fragrance or appearance. But as a large group, once the entire mountains are covered with them, it will turn the landscape blue and it is something that everyone who loves nature should not miss. I can say, it is one of nature’s finest display of its beauty.
I reached Munnar on a fine morning. The small town of Munnar was crowded, though it is not a tourist season, the reason was Neelakurinji flowers. People from cities like Chennai and Bangalore were coming in big groups, especially during weekends.
The tourism department had many plans to promote this event and they were trying to bring a lot of tourists from around the globe. But the unexpected heavy monsoon was a big setback. So the tourism industry picked up only by the end of the season.
I was coming from Chennai. Once we pass Udumbanchola in Tamil Nadu on the way to Munnar, then you are entering into the forests of Marayur and Chinnar. My bus was going through the forest when I woke up, the views where amazing. Everyone on the bus was so excited to see Neelakurinji. Like most of the roads, this road was also damaged by landslides during the heavy rains. We can see patches on land sliced from the hillside and went down. During rain, the landslides are one biggest danger of the hill stations of the Western Ghats.
My friend Shankar was waiting for me in Munnar, the town was slowly waking up from the morning chill. We started towards Kolukkumalai in his motorcycle
Kolukkumalai is said to be the highest tea plantation in the world. It is about 40 km from Munnar. The mountaintop is very famous for it sun rises. If you are coming here, then you should not miss the sunrise. We can come to the top of the mountain early in the morning to see the sunrise. Watching the sunrise, from the top, standing above the clouds is more than stunning.
We passed villages like Devikulam and Chinnakanal, all surrounded by vast tea plantations. People living in these villages work in these big tea estates. On the way, we can see women, carrying large sacks on their bag and plucking fine tea leaves early in the morning.
During the British period in India, they cleared off the forests in these mountains and planted tea. The tea from Munnar is very well known around the world. The people who live here now are successors of those who were brought by the British to work in the plantations. The only difference now is that the British have gone and big private companies own these estates now.
How to reach Kolukkumalai
To visit Kolukkumalai, you have to reach Suryanelli first. The entrance to Kolukkumalai tea estate is just half kilometre from Suryanelli town. It is not at all difficult to find the entrance. You will get public transport from Munnar to Suryanelli. There are a couple of buses which start from Munnar in the morning. The number of buses is limited but you will get a shared taxi ride from Munnar to Suryanelli all the time. That is the most economical way to travel there. So before taking any private taxi or auto, just inquire about the availability of public transport.
There is a Kerala transport bus at 6.30 AM and 10.30 AM from Munnar.
Kolukkumalai is a private property, at the entrance, you need to enter the name and pay the entrance fee. Our own vehicles are not allowed inside the estate. You can only go to Kolukkumalai in the vehicles provided by the estate. A vehicle will cost you around 2000 INR. Around 7-8 people can travel in a vehicle. So if you are alone or less in number, then try to find someone to share the ride and expense.
A ride up to the top of Kolukkumalai will take more than one hour. The journey itself is adventurous, there are no proper roads and the vehicle will be going all the way jumping one rock to another. You need some skills to drive in those roads.
Inside the estate, on the way, you will get some amazing views of the mountains. Vast tea estates stretch as far as we can see. There are plenty of viewpoints and a few small waterfalls on the way.
On the top of the Kolukkumalai hills, I found Neelakurinji flowers.
After Kolukkumalai, our next destination was Vattavada. We came back to Munnar and took another direction to reach Vattavada. Like most of the places around Munnar, the road to Vattavada is not at all disappointing. The views on both sides were surreal.
An interesting thing happened on the way. After passing the Mattupetty dam, there were elephants on the road and they attacked us. That was my first such experience and elephants came so close to us. We had to turn our motorcycle back to escape. After some failed attempts, the elephant realised we were harmless and agreed for a truce. And we continued.
It started to rain after. You may be knowing, I am a person who had fallen in love with the rains. Munnar also gave me something to be happier. We continued our journey. The cold wind was our challenge then. The greenery of the Munnar became more enchanting once it is touched by light drizzle and later the fog.
How to reach Vattavada
Vattavada is around 42 km from Munnar. The direction is same as towards Top Station. Top station is almost in the middle of Munnar and Vattavada. Just after Top Station, you will enter into Pampadum Shola National park. There is a forest check post and if you want to go to Vattavada, need to enter it before 6 PM. When we reached, it was 6.15 PM and the officers just let us pass. The road after that is through the lush and green forest till you reach Vattavada.
The climate of Vattavada is super chill, I think that is the major reason why people prefer here instead of Munnar or other places. The temperature almost reaches 0 degrees during winters. The air is fresh.
It was dark when we reached Vattavada, streets filled with people and their conversations. The temple at the village centre was very active at that time. The prayers from the temple microphones echoed the entire valley. We began looking for some budget hotels, the people were very helpful, within a short time, found our place to sleep for the night.
I saw Vattavada on the next day morning, it was dark when I reached and we had to find a place to crash as the village will go to sleep by 8 PM. Vattavada is very similar to the villages of Kodaikanal. Though it is in Kerala, the people here speak Tamil and their lifestyle is more inclined to Tamil culture.
Walking through the narrow bylanes of the village reminded me about the Kookal village.
Read more about Kookal
Actually, Vattavada is near to the Kerala-Tamilnadu border and once you cross the border, then it is Kodaikanal. The border villages of Kodaikanal like Kavunji and Klavara are much nearer than Munnar from here. There is actually a trek route from Vattavada to Kodaikanal but this forest route was closed now.
Vattavada survives on agriculture. The hillsides are occupied with farmlands. They grow carrots, cabbages and strawberries mainly. The farmers will bring their produce to the village centre and later agents will take them to send to the markets. A day in the village is busy with sales and auctions of vegetables and fruits.
A walk through the farmland is the best thing you can do here. If it is morning, people will be working on the fields and you get an understating about farming. Sometimes, they will offer you freshly plucked strawberries. The fresh strawberries are a treat to the tongue. Don’t forget to buy homemade jams and wines made of strawberries before leaving Vattavada.
Vattavada was not in the tourist radar for a long time. But recently, as the resort business in and around Munnar is legally controlled by the government, the new constructions are moved to Vattavada. A lot of forest area is clearing nowadays to build hotels and cottages. It is definitely not good. The uncontrolled growth in tourism will affect the climate and life in Vattavada.
We can feel the impact very clearly. Previously, Vattavada was a peaceful village, it is changing now. The transformation of these innocent villages is very common everywhere. I have seen many such places being forcefully dragged into the tourism industry, during my journeys through the Western Ghats. Vattavada is not different. Promoting sustainable tourism is one solution to this problem. If you are a good traveller, then think about it before choosing your accommodation and bringing plastics to these places.
One person in the village told us that there are Neelakurinji flowers in Chilanthiyar which is a nearby village. It is closer to the Kerala-Tamilnadu border. The road from Vattavada to Chilathiyar is scenic. We found some Neelakurinji flowers on a hillside in Chilanthiyar.
Even though we couldn’t see the mass Neelakurinji blooming as it is, we were very happy about both Kolukkumalai and Vattavada. Both the destinations and the journey was amazing and beautiful.
Do check out these amazing places you can visit in the Western Ghats.
That’s all about Vattavada and Kolukkumalai.
I hope you got all the information needed. Please let me know if you have any queries or suggestions. You can put them on the comment box below.
I thank my friend Bijin for helping me with some pictures on this blog.
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