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Nature can be a bit of a show off. We are treated to wonderful spectacles of the arrestingly bright and bold, to the beautifully intricate and detailed, with the passing of every season. Rarely do we wait more than a calendar year before the same spectacle reveals itself once more.
Except the Neelakurinji. Found only in the high hills in India’s southern state of Kerala, this delicate lilac flower blooms but once every twelve years. The intermission is so long that one could be forgiven for thinking that Neelakurinji had forgotten how to flower at all. But, not even the deadly deluge of 2018’s monsoon season could diminish the flower’s blooms.
For the uninitiated, or those short on time, the Eravikulam National Park is the easiest and most organised entry point to see the blooms. Though the National Park stretches to over 97 sq km, access is limited and mostly to a single track of 1-2km, reached after a short ride through tea plantations in a forestry commission bus.
Once alighted, the winding tarmac path picks a route a short way up the hill side. The equally rare, though making a reliable daily appearance, Nilgiri Tahr mountain goats meander nonchalantly amongst the crowds. If ever you were to to depict a hardy, noble mountain dweller, the Nilgiri Tahr is your beast.
As we walked the path, switch-backing it’s way up the hillside, clusters of Neelakurinji rustled in the breeze. Flowering from an otherwise unremarkable bushy green shrub, the delicate lilac flowers are gently streaked with veins of deep purple. Far from being exclusive to the Eravikulam National Park, the flower is abundant across Munnar and its surrounds.
The steep hillside was soon enveloped in thick, fast moving, cloud with whisps of white tumbling across the long grasses, exposed rock faces and blurs of lilac, where the Neelakurinji was flowering.
Our visit was relatively brief but the vista stirred something deep within us. Where were we and where was the world when last the flower bloomed? Where are we now and where will be in twelve years time? Nature has a funny way of posing questions you did not know needed answering.
In the age of immediacy and instant gratification, introspecting over a twelve year horizon, both into the past and into the future, is as bold, intricate and detailed a proposition as any rare flower.
For those who view the Neelakurinji through a more linear social media prism, a competition has burst into life on Instagram to best capture the rare spectacle. The over application of a purple filter, in an effort to enhance what nature has apparently so meekly and unsatisfactorily offered forth, is commonplace. So concentrated is the colouring added, that even white clouds turn a purple hue.
With the 2018 August to October flowering season drawing to a close, it may be another twelve years before you get to see the petals of the Neelakurinji in bloom again.
Hopefully, next time we will all be content to leave the showmanship up to Mother Nature. Sometimes the splendour of a view is not just in the colours before the naked eye but what it stirs within us.
The author arranged a driver at his own cost to reach the Eravikulam National Park through Amritara Travel, whom he can happily recommend.
For the Instagram gallery of #neelakurinji images click here.