Surrounded by grasslands and interspersed with shola forests, Kotebetta lies to the North of Madikeri in Coorg. Like Nandi hills near Bangalore, this mountain too is a huge block of granite rising 500 metres above the average altitude around it. Kote means fort in the local dialect and betta means mountain, translating to “fort-like mountain”, probably named so due to the steep wall-like sides of the mountain.
The highest point on Kotebetta is at an altitude of 1640 metres making it the fourth highest peak in Coorg and an excellent hiking destination thanks to the splendid views from the top of the mountain. One can see the Kumara Parvata range and the backwaters of the Harangi dam from the peak on a clear day. Kotebetta has a Shiva temple at its base and another on top of the mountain. Legend has it that the Pandavas spent a considerable period of their exile at this place.
The scenic drive to Kotebetta takes one through the town of Suntikoppa and over the Gargandur bridge where it spans the backwaters of the Harangi reservoir, which is the largest dam in Coorg and is fed by the perennial Hatti and Harangi rivers. The Gargandur bridge offers a scenic view of the sangam or meeting point of the Harangi and Hatti rivers, with the Kotebetta range skirting the distant background.
During the month of August 2021 many of the hill tops in Coorg were carpeted with the Neelakurinji bloom, making an already beautiful landscape even prettier. Of all the locations in Coorg, Kotebetta displayed the maximum flowering of Strobilanthes sessilis this year. Commonly known as Mal Karvy, the plant belongs to the family Acanthaceae, and is one of the 450 species under the Strobilanthinae sub-family. The genus itself contains about 300 described species, with 116 recorded in India.
Several of them, like the Mal Karvy, are endemic to India. It is a diverse taxa with some species that flower and fruit multiple times in their lifespan which are called polycarpic, and some that are monocarpic i.e. they flower and fruit once and die. Mal Karvy is a polycarpic plant which flowers once every seven years. The most well-known of the Neelakurinji flowers is Strobilanthes kunthianus which flowers once every twelve years.
The Mal Karvy is a small perennial shrub, usually half a metre tall, but after the flowering year, grows upto 2 meters in height. Numerous quadrangular stems form a hemispherical tuft on the ground. Oppositely arranged stalk less leaves are ovate, rounded at the base, 2-3 cm long. Purple flowers occur in spikes 3-8 cm long, either in leaf axils or at the end of branches. Flowers are bell-shaped with flaring petals.
A study by Raine and Chittka (2007) showed that inexperienced bees showed “strong innate colour biases” to violet flowers. In their study the violet flowers were also most productive in providing the bees with nectar, whereas the blue flowers were less visited but they were also less productive. Most of the Strobilanthes species that occur in the Western Ghats have flowers that are in shades of violet, making them very attractive to the bees. Soon after the flowering season the local people harvest the Karvy honey collected by the bees which is said to be very tasty and nutritious and commands a good price in the market.
Driving into the foothills of the Kotabetta peak one can see the grasslands on the both sides of the road covered with the Neelakurinji flowers giving the entire hillside a violet hue. Everywhere I looked, the scenery was stunning and it was hard to resist taking photos at every bend in the road.