IDUKKI: At long last, Neelakurinji (strobilanthes kunthiana) bloomed in Munnar after 12 years. However, none is there to enjoy its fascinating glamour. Though Munnar expected to host over 8 lakh tourists – nearly double the number of tourists arriving there in a year – during the flowering season, hardly a single visitor has turned up at the hill station.
Reason: The torrential rain, floods and disconnected roads. Though an exact figure of the overall loss incurred to Munnar is unavailable at this point, it nothing less than Rs 750 crore, said experts. With road connectivity yet to be restored completely and security concerns of tourists rearing their head, tourist inflow to the hill station is yet to resume.
The triple whammy has shattered the dreams of hoteliers, shop owners, taxi drivers and people of other allied sectors, who invested huge sums for renovation and ensuring sufficient stocks, of welcoming a large number of people during the Neelakurinji season. For Mithlaj, who runs a spices shop and elephant safari in Valara near Adimali, the loss is more than he can afford.
“I renovated my shop shelling out around Rs 17 lakh and purchased additional stocks expecting a good season. Everything went in vain,” he said. There is around 70 such spices shop in Munnar and Thekkadi alone.
Anticipating higher demand for the elephant ride, Mithlaj had also booked two jumbos at a monthly rent of Rs 40,000 each, besides spending nearly Rs 7,500 daily for the food and care of the elephants and their mahouts.“Usually, I earn Rs 60-70 lakh per month during a season. I expected to earn double during the Neelakurinji season,” he said.
Hotel and resorts worst-affected
The worst-affected sector is the hotel and resort industry, which had got overwhelming response from national and international tourists during the Neelakurinji season.“Most of the hotels and resorts were booked to capacity in August. However, all the bookings were cancelled owing to the rain and floods,” said Dileep Pottenkulam, executive committee member of the Munnar Hotels and Resorts Association (MHRA). Those who leased hotels and resorts for the season for hefty sums are also in deep trouble. While the Tourism Department records 558 accommodation centres, including hotels, resorts, homestays and others in Idukki, unofficial statistics says Munnar alone hosts nearly 600 accommodation units.
Inaccessible roads play spoilsport
While everyone hopes things will get better soon as the rain has subsided, the partially cut-off roads may delay arrival of tourists. “We are not in a situation to make preparations for the Neelakurinji season now, taking into account the huge responsibility of rebuilding Munnar. We also can’t allow heavy traffic through the damaged and cut-off roads,” said Devikulam tahsildar P K Shaji.
The Kochi-Dhanushkodi NH is damaged at several places between Neriamangalam and Munnar. The Munnar-Marayur-Udumalpet Road has been cut-off for nearly a week after the Periyavara bridge got washed away in the flood. Due to the road widening work between the Munnar-Devikulam-Poopara-Theni route, heavy traffic is not possible. The district administration is also yet to lift the tourism ban imposed during the flood and landslides.