As the Neelakurinjis draped the mountains and valleys of Rajamala and its adjoining areas with a purple blue floral blanket, it marked a blooming phase in the lives of a few there.
An unprecedented flow of visitors threw up unexpected visitor-management problems to the wildlife managers. Yet, every visitor who stepped into the mini-buses that took them to the trekking track at Rajamala became part of history. And every penny they shelled out for the bus fare really counted.
From the bus fare of Rs.20 paid by each visitor, the park management has repaid the loan taken for purchasing four mini-buses. Six buses were purchased by raising bank loans before the beginning of the mass blooming of the wonder plant.
In October, one lakh visitors visited the park to witness the floral magic, taking the total number of visitors since the mass blooming to 3.31 lakh.
"The loan period was seven years. But we repaid the loan of four buses in just six months," says Roy P. Thomas, Wildlife Warden of the Eravikulam National Park.
By an initial projection, it required 933 visitors a day to make the vehicle project break even. However, there was huge turnout during the flowering season. And on some holidays the park had more than 5,000 visitors.
A team of 35 members manage the buses. Of this, 26 persons had earlier worked as private jeep drivers and nine were vegetable vendors in the area. The mini-buses were introduced as part of the visitor-management programme as well as a pollution-control measure.
Private vehicles are not allowed into the park, thus bringing down the air pollution in the area considerably.
With the Neelakurinji season coming to a close, the park management has evolved plans to make use of the manpower and the fleet of vehicles it has acquired.
The park will be closed for two months from January for the calving season of Nilgiri tahrs and there will be no visitors then. During this period, the vehicles will be used to conduct tours to other national parks and protected areas that come under the Munnar wildlife division such as the Mathikettan national park, Anamudi shola national park, Pambadum shola national park, Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and the Kurinjimlala sanctuary.