Western Ghats Tourism India

The Western Ghats of India is inscribed as a world heritage site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on July 1 2012. The tag came at the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in St Petersburg in Russia. Altogether 39 sites that dot the Western Ghats landscape will be part of the region that has been designated as World Heritage Site. Kerala leads with 20 sites being inscribed in the heritage list followed by Karnataka with ten, Tamil Nadu five and Maharashtra four.

The Western Ghats is a mountain range that runs along the western side of India, which runs about 1600 kms, North to South, along the western edge of the Deccan Plateau. It is one of the eight hottest hotspots of biological diversity in the world that originates near the border of Gujarat and Maharash­tra, and runs through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, finally ending at Kanyakumari. These hills cover a total area of 160,000 square kms with an average elevation is about 1,200 m (3,900 ft).The region is home to over 5000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species and 179 amphibian species which are not found elsewhere in the world. There are numerous protected areas designated by the Government of India in the Western Ghats. They include two bio reserves and thirteen National Parks. The Nilagiri Biosphere Reserve that comprises 5500 square kms of evergreen and deciduous forests forms an im­portant part of the Western Ghats. The Silent Valley National Park in Kerala, which forms part of the Western Ghats, is one among the last tracts of virgin tropical evergreen forest in India. In August, 2011, Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA). The panel also assigned three levels of ecological sensitivity to its different regions and now in 2012, thirty nine places in the Western Ghats region have been declared as World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO.

The mighty Western Ghats, intimately called by the people as Sahyadri, originated not as a mountain but as the faulted edge of the Deccan Plateau that separate the plateau from a narrow coastal plain along the Arabian Sea. Being one of the eight hottest hotspots of biological diversity in the world, the Western Ghats is home to more than 5000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species and 179 amphibian species. Not just this, about 325 globally threatened species take refuge in these mighty mountain ranges. Some of the rare animal species found in the Western Ghats include the Malabar large-spotted civet, lion-tailed macaque, Asian elephants, tiger, Black Panther, leopards, great Indian hornbill and Wroughton's free-tailed bat.

Geography

The Western Ghats is a complex system of great many geographical features. These can be briefly summarised.

Rivers

The Western Ghats feed major rivers in South India like Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri, which flow eastwards into the Bay of Bengal. There are also west-flowing rivers that drain into the Arabian Sea like Mondovi and Zuari. These rivers travel shorter distance and generally are fast moving owing to the steeper slope. Tributaries like Tunga River, Bhadra river, Malaprabha River, Bhima River, Hemavathi river, Kabini River and Ghataprabha River besides smaller rivers like Pennar River, Periyar River, Pechiyar River, Kundali River and Manimuthar River also flow in the Western Ghats region.

Mountain peaks

Anai Mudi in Kerala, as has been said already, is the highest peak in the Western Ghats. Other significant peaks are Mullayanagiri (6,317 feet) and Kudremukh (6,110 feet) in Karnataka; Kalsubai (5,427 feet), Mahabaleshwar (4,701 feet) and others in Maharashtra and Sonsogor in Goa. Other smaller peaks include Vellarimala, Chembra and Banasura. Doddabetta peak in Tamil Nadu and Biligirirangans peak in Karnataka meet with Shevaroys, Servarayan and Tirumala range in the east, setting up the link between the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats. Baba Budan Giri mountain, Anai Malai, and Cardamom Hills are also located in the Western Ghats. The foothill region located at the east of the Ghats in Maharashtra is locally known as Desh while in central Karnataka, it is known as Malenadu.

Gaps

The Western Ghats have a few mountain passes like the Goa Gap (between Maharashtra and Karnataka) besides the Palakkad Gap.

Flora

The Western Ghats vegetation mainly boasts of tropical and deciduous rainforest, grasslands, montane forest and scrubs. Western Ghats are the only regions in south India where rain forests are found. The Western Ghats are home to four tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregions – the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, North Western Ghats montane rain forests and South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests. The northern part of the range is generally drier than the southern portion. Deciduous forests mainly featuring teak are found here. Above 1,000 meters the montane rain forests are mainly characterised by Lauraceae trees. Montane grasslands are also spasely found in the higher elevations.

The Wayanad forests of Kerala mark the transition between the northern and southern Western Ghats ecoregions. At lower elevations where the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests are more prominent, Cullenia, teak, dipterocarps are mainly found. Most of the flowering species of the Western ghats are found in the South Western ghats.

Fauna

The vast expanse of the Western Ghats is home to several animal species among which many are even categorised as endangered species. The mammal species found in the Western Ghats include the endangered Lion-tailed Macaque, Large-spotted civet, tigers, leopards, Indian muntjiac, Asian elephants, wild boars, sloth bears, gaurs, Nilgiri sambars. Several types of bats like Wroughton’s freetailed bat, Theobald’s tomb bat , short-nosed fruit bat, painted bat and Large Lesser False Vampire bats are found in various parts of the Western Ghats. Besides, snakes, insects, butterflies, mollusks, frogs (most of the amphibian species found in the Western Ghats are endemic to the region) and fishes are seen here. The water bodies in the Western Ghats feature various kinds of freshwater, marine and ornamental fishes.

Avifauna

Great Indian Hornbill, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Broad-tailed grassbird, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Rufous Babbler, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Nilgiri Pipit, Rufous-breasted Laughingthrush, Crimson-backed Sunbird are some of the birds types that are spotted in the Western Ghats. There are at least 16 endemic species among the 500 plus avifauna species of the Western Ghats.

National/reserved parks in the Western Ghats

The Indian government has set up several protected areas in various parts of Western Ghats to put check on human encroachments and protect the endangered species. The reserve forests are maintained by the forest departments of the respective states of location.

Some of the known national parks here are

Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary - Home to Indian muntjac

Silent Valley National Park - Lion-talied macaque

Kudremukh National Park - Lion-tailed macaque

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve - Home to over, Asian elephants and tigers. 300 insect species are also found here

Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary - Elephant habitat

Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary - Elephant habitat

Bandipur National Park - Home to the endangered gaurs

Bannerghata National Park -

Kodagu forest - Home to the Nilgiri langurs

Forest on the borders of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have the largest concentration of tigers after the Sunderbans in West Bengal-Bangladesh border

Dandheli and Anshi National Parks - Home to black panthers, leopards and Great Indian Hornbills

Other Attractions at Western Ghats

Besides the various national parks and the wildlife sanctuaries and river valleys, Western Ghats are also home a great many tourist attractions.

Hill sations like

Ootakamund or Ooty
Mahabaleshwar
Matheran
Lonavala-Khandala
Panchgani
Amboli Ghat
Kudremukh
Kodagu
Munnar
Ponmudi
Waynad
Anaimudi Hills
Coffee plantations in Karnataka (Kodagu or Coorg region) and tea plantations in Kerala (Munnar region)

Konkan and Malabar Coasts
Konkan Coast is the coastal stretch between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea in the northern part. In the south, the coast is known as Malabar Coast.

Cities in the Western Ghats

Calicut in Kerala
Dolphin’s Point, Pazhassirajah Museum, Mishkal Masjid and Kozikhode Beach are some of the best attractions here. Kochi, Kappad, Thrissur are close to Calicut

Munnar in Kerala
Marayoor, Eravikulam National Park, Lock Heart Gap, Chithirapuram, Anayirangal, Attukal, Nyayamakad, Echo Point, Rajamala, Kundala, Power House Waterfalls are some of the well-known tourist spots here. Kochi, Kumarakom, Madurai, Idduki are nearby locations worth a visit.

Kottayam in Kerala
Backwaters, Thirunakkara Mahadeva Shiva Temple, Thazhathangadi Mosque, Good Shepherd Church are some known tourist attractions here. One can visit Ernakulam and Alapphuza from here.

Kochi in Kerala
Dutch Palace, Fort Kochi beach, Hill Palace, Kochi Beach, Jewish Synagogue, Mangalavanam Bird Sanctuary are top tourist attractions here. Munnar, Kumarakom, Coimbatore, Munnar, Kozhikode are accessible from Kochi.

Pune in Maharashtra
The largest city in the Western Ghats, Pune has a number of tourist spots like Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum, national War Museum, Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park, Osho International Meditation Centre Resort and others.

Goa
Goa is a beautiful coastal holiday destination in the Konkan, which is an escarpment rising up to the Western Ghats. Goa is famous for its excellent beaches, churches, temples and carnival.

Kemmangundi

Dharmasthala

Besides there also other places like Varkala, Trivandrum, Periyar, Kovalam, Mangalore

Western Ghats as the World Heritage Site

The areas in the Western Ghats that are included in the World Heritage Site include among others

Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve
Periyar National Park
Ranni, Konni and Achankovil Forest Divisions.
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary
Eravikulam National Park
Indira Gandhi National Park
Palani Hills National Park
Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary
Karimpuzha National Park
Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary
Kudremukh National Park
Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary
Radhanagri Wildlife Sanctuary

Lakes in the Western Ghats include

Ooty Lake
Kodaikanal Lake
Sivajisagar Lake
Yercaud Lake
Devikulum

Dams in the Western Ghats include

Koyna Dam
Parambikulam Dam
Linganmakki Dam

Time to visit

Since the Western Ghats are a prolonged landscape experiencing diverse climate, timing of visit can change from place to place. However, a s a general rule, Septemebr to May is the ideal time to visit the Ghats.

How to reach

Reaching the Western Ghats again depends the particular destination that one eyes to visit. Mumbai, Pune, Trivandrum, Bangaluru, Coimbatore are the major entry points to this region. The place is well connected by rail, road and air connections. Konkan Railways that run between Mangalore in Karnataka to Mumbai through Goa. Taking a ride on this route is simply breathtaking.

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