Focus Kurinji

An insight into the experience of a wildlife photographer
-Balan Madhavan

Focus Kurinji

Being a wildlife photographer, I have had many a chance to visit the world’s most beautiful and incredible creations of nature around the world. However, one of the most beautiful miracles of nature in my experience is the blooming of Neelakurinji, which occurs once in 12 years in our own Western Ghats. This natural wonder wonder always stood top in my priority lists and the long wait for Neelakurinji is now over which is expected to bloom in another two or three months. Meanwhile let me share my previous kurinji experiences here. My most beautiful or romantic moments with Neelakurinji was in 1994. At that time, Munnar has not become the most popular destination in South India as it is now. It was rather a small sleepy town. During that time I was doing a one year photo documentation project at Eravikulam National Park, the place where most of the Neelakurinji bloom occurs. My first trip to Munnar was in 1987 and while I was trekking through Eravikulam Natoinal Park, I came across a lot of very short shrubs may be hardly just one or two feet height, covering certain areas of grasslands. I turned curious to know what kind of plant was that and I was told by the watcher that it was the famous Neelakurinji. I asked him what was the specialty and he replied the specialty of this shrub was that it blooms once on twelve years. That was quite an experience and I asked when it going to bloom next and I was told it will bloom again in 1994. 

So, I was really excited to see this mass flowering, covering entire hills with a carpet of blue, in 1994. When it bloomed in 1994, suddenly it became a media sensation and thousands marched to Munnar to see this natural wonder. 

Neelakurinji is a unique plant. It blooms only at an altitude above 1000 meters. It can vary anywhere from 1000 m to 2300 m. But greater the altitude, shorter is the shrub. In areas like Mattupetti and such lower areas one can find Neelakurinji which is eight or ten feet tall. Sometimes we can also see sporadic blooming which means that even though all the flowers will bloom in 2018, some of them will bloom two years earlier …

Kurinji is very much related to Tamil literature than Kerala. Even the old poets from Sangham period had described the beauty of Kurinji in their poems. The name ‘Kurinji’ itself is a Tamil name.There are different kinds of Kurinji. There are over 60 species of Kurinji and many new species are being identified now. The latest species of Kurinji identified is named after ‘Kannan’, the legendary forest watcher who died in Periyar. That Kurinji is named as Strobilanthes Kannanii.  May be this is the only flower in our mountains which can have a vast coverage. We have our own flowers like Kerala’s famous ‘KaniKonna’ which is one of the most beautiful flowers in the world. But we wont get a carpet kind of blooming anywhere else. So that becomes the ‘romance’ of this particular plant.  



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