Finally the sun is shining and shades of blue are spreading across Munnar. The hills of the Eravikulam National Park and Marayoor are witnessing massive flowering of the neelakurinji bringing some relief to the people of the land who witnessed torrential rains and landslides for the past one month.
The district is now open for tourism focusing on the neelakurinji season. The tourism destinations in Idukki have now got a new life thanks to the much-expected flowering season, which has arrived after a two-month long delay. It is after 12 years that neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianus), a shrub that is found in the shola forests of the Western Ghats in Munnar, is blooming. The hill station is expected to see a heavy tourist inflow during the kurinji season.
Anish P Varghese, who runs the Red Sparrows resort in Munnar, told TNM, â€śWe are receiving a lot of enquiries from travel agents for the past several days. Tourist arrivals are increasing in Munnar and this is a positive sign. It is going to be the return of the tourism sector in Munnar. Most of the hotels and resorts are functioning and bookings are happening steadily.â€ť
Routes to Munnar open
All major routes which connect to Munnar are now open. Due to the floods and landslides, the main routes in Munnar, Kochi-Dhanushkodi National Highway, Munnar-Nedumkandam route and the Munanar-Udumalpet NH, had been disrupted. For three days, Munnar had been totally isolated and tourist arrivals had fully stopped.
The Periyavara Bridge on the Munnar-Marayoor route had been totally damaged due to the landslides. Considering the onset of the neelakurinji season, authorities decided to construct a temporary bridge. Fixing iron bars in the river, the PWD constructed the bridge on an emergency basis. The newly constructed bridge was reopened on Sunday. The bridge will connect tourists to the Eravikulam National Park, a major neelakurinji hotspot that is located 8 km from Munnar town.
Devikulam tehsildar PK Shaji says, â€śOnly single-line traffic is allowed on the newly constructed temporary bridge.â€ť
According to Munnar Hotel and Resorts Association (MHRA) president VV George, tourist arrivals will gradually increase in Munnar. â€śOn Saturday, over 4,500 tourists reached Munnar. After the floods and landslides, tourist arrivals totally stopped in the destination for several days. But now the scenario is totally changed and we expect heavy tourist rush in the coming days,â€ť he said.
Recently various associations conducted a mass cleaning drive in the town. â€śIt provides a new face to the hill destination. Now Munnar is a completely plastic-free destination,â€ť said the MHRA president.
Vendors in the hill station see a ray of hope with the advent of the neelakurinji bloom.
â€śThe tourist arrivals show that our destination is still attractive. We expect good business during the flowering season. Presently the weather in Munnar is cool and it will attract more tourists,â€ť said Saju Joseph, a vendor from Munnar.
An official from the Eravikulam National Park explained that if the weather continues to be the same in the coming days as well, the park will be witness massive flowering. The heavy monsoon had delayed the neelakurinji blooms, the official said, adding that 75% of tickets for visitors will be available online.
â€śWe have resumed online booking facility for the park entrance. The balance 25% tickets will be available through the ticket counters,â€ť official said.
The entry fees is Rs 120 for adults, Rs 90 for kids and Rs 400 for foreigners. The fees for carrying a video camera is Rs 315 and a still camera is Rs 40. Tourists can book tickets through the websites www.munnarwildlife.com and www.eravikulamnationalpark.in.
To attract more tourists, the Tourism Fraternity of Munnar will conduct a car rally named Blue Mountain, under the leadership of tourism associations, from Ernakulum to Munnar on September 12.
The neelakurinji season is expected to provide an extra boost to the flood-hit tourism destinations in Idukki. Thekkady, one of the major destinations in Idukki, is also expecting tourist inflow from Munnar. District collector K Jeevan Babu had withdrawn the ban on tourist and goods vehicle movement in Idukki the previous week. Following this, tourism activities were resumed at Eravikulam National Park and the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady.
Shajan Thomas, who runs the White Fort lodge in Kumily, said, â€śThe neelakurinji season will benefit Thekkady too. We are hoping the tourists who visit Munnar will also add Thekkady to their list,â€ť he said with hope.