Western Ghats

The Western Ghats is internationally recognized for its biological diversity that nurtures an impressive collection of Indian wildlife. These hills cover an area of about 160,000 sq km starting from the border of Gujarat and covering the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and finally ending at Kanyakumari embracing the Indian Ocean. With an average height of 1,200 meters, it is among the eight "biodiversity hotspots" in the world and is also a UNESCO world heritage site. It contains a large portion of the country’s plant and animal species, most of which are not found anywhere else in the world.

Rivers

These Ghats act as a barrier for the rain-laden south-west monsoon winds, thus, making the Western Ghats the main watershed of Peninsular India. It receives an annual rainfall of between 2,000 mm to 6,000 mm in most of the areas. The three major rivers of the Western Ghats flowing from west to east and finally discharging into Bay of Bengal are:

The Godavari

The Godavari River originates from Tryambak plateau at an elevation of 1,067 meters and travels a distance of about 1,465 km through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh, it divides into two branches – Vashistha Godavari and Gautami Godavari. Its main tributaries consist of Purna and Manjra.

The Krishna

Rising from an altitude of 1,336 meters near Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, it is the second largest river in the peninsula. Together with its tributaries which include The Koyna, Paleru and Maneru, Doodhganga, Bhima, Varna, Musi, Panchgangait, it flows from west to east covering a length of 1,4000 km.

The Kaveri

Originating from Kodagu District in Karnataka at a height of 1,340 meters, the Kaveri flows in a south-easterly direction and is only 800 km long. Sivanasamudram Waterfalls which is 101 meters high and Chunchanakatte Waterfalls which is about 20 meters high are also created by Kaveri river in Karnataka. The Hemavathi, Bhavani, Moyan, Lakshmantirth, Kabini and Harangi are some of the major tributaries of the river.

Other mainstream rivers of the Western Ghats that flow in the eastward direction are Periyar, Bharathappuzha, Netravati, Sharavathi, Mandovi and Zuari. Flowing at a comparatively higher speed due to steep slopes and short distance, these rivers drain into the Arabian Sea.

Flora And Fauna

Flora

The Western Ghats, owing to its richness in biodiversity, nurtures more the 5,000 species of plants, 1,700 of which are endemic. It is mostly covered with equatorial tropical evergreen forests. About 63% of India’s woody evergreen taxa are endemic to the Western Ghats. Still roots, also called as aerial roots which arise out of the main trunk providing support to swamp trees, can also be seen. About 4,000 species of flowering plants and more are still being discovered, are found here. Economically important species including rice, barley, mango, banana, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and medicinal plants such as white damor whose resin and seed oil is used in soap and candle manufacturing as well, is also abundantly available.

Wight’s Sago Palm, Palmae, Bambusae and Cycas Circinalis are some of the species that adds to the distinctness of the Western Ghat’s Flora.

Fauna

Thousands of animal species of which many are endemic and threatened, are found in the Western Ghats of India. Around 120 species of mammals that includes Asian elephants (over 6,000 in  number), Tigers (ten percent of India’s endangered species), Salim Ali’s Fruit Bat (the only species in its genus), Gaur, Sambar and Wild Boars are found here. Out of 500 species of birds of the Western Ghats, 22 species are found only here. Regional assessments have identified over 60 IBAs (Important Bird Areas) and plant diversity hotspots. Nilgiri wood pigeon and Nilgiri blue robin are the endemic species. The snake family Uropeltidae of the reptile class is restricted to this region. About 102 varieties of fishes including Red line torpedo barb, Gunter’s catfish, Carinotetraodon, Malabar mahseer and 179 species of Amphibians including endangered Purple frog and four modern categories of Anurans - Bufo, Polypedates, Philautus, Rhocophorus also dwell in the Western Ghats.

  Agasthyamalai Sub-cluster

The Agasthyamalai hills lies at the southernmost part of the Western Ghats along the western side of South India. Standing on the border of Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts of Kerala and Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu, these hills contain at least 26 peaks over 1,600 meters. It gets its name from the Vedic sage ‘Agasthya’, who used to stay here and is the founder of Siddhar practitioners of Rasayana herbal medicine.

These hills have a very long monsoon season from April to December with an average annual rainfall of 200 inches from both southwest and northeast monsoons. Many important rivers including Kallada, Achankoil, Vamanapuram, Karamana and Neyyar rivers of Kerala and the Tharimabarani River along with its tributaries - The Ramanadhi and Manimuthar river of Tamil Nadu, originate from the upper slopes of Agasthyamalai hills.

The protected areas of the Agasthyamalai Hills including Kalakkad Mundaithurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR), Palode Reserve forests, Kulathupuzha Range, Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary, Shendumey Wildlife Sanctuary and Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary comprise the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve (ABR). Established in 2001 and spread over an area of 3,500.36 sq km, the reserve is the home of 2,000 varieties of medical plants of which 50 are endangered species. As many as 42 species of fish, 22 species of amphibians, 36 species of reptiles, 245 species of birds and 34 species of mammals have been recorded from the area. Rare animals like tiger, Asian Elephant and Nilgiri Tahr are also found here. It comprises of evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous forests and grasslands.

Periyar Sub-cluster

The Periyar sub-cluster of Southern Western Ghats is located in the southeast of Kerala and southwest of Tamil Nadu extending from Ariankavu pass in the south to Kumili in the northern boundary of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Ranni, Achencovil, and Konni Forest divisions lies to the south of Periyar Tiger Reserve. Lying to the east, Srivilliputtur Wildlife Sanctuary and Tirunelveli Forest Division, falls in the rain-shadow area with comparatively drier forests. The 600 km² area of Meghamalai reserved forest which lies adjacent to Periyar Tiger Reserve, is also proposed to be converted into Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary.

It covers an area of varying rainfall with 3,000 mm annual precipitation in Periyar Tiger Reserve to the lowest of 1,500 mm in Srivilliputtur Wildlife Sanctuary. Most of the rainfall occurs during the southwest monsoon from June to September. Periyar and Mullayar rivers are the main rivers of this sub-cluster draining the Periyar Tiger Reserve. It consist of Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tger Reserve (KMTR) in Tamil Nadu and Shendurney, Peppara and Neyyar sanctuaries in Kerala.

It contributes to a wide range of vegetation types and biodiversity. Podocarpus Wallichianus, which is the only domestic conifer of south India is also found here. The whole of the sub-cluster is covered with tropical evergreen, deciduous and semi-evergreen forests. It is rich in floristic reserve as more than 50% of all the flowering plants in Kerala, which include 149 species of endemic categories are also found here. Some of the threatened species of animals found and protected in the Periyar sub-cluster of the Western Ghats include Vindhyan Bob Butterfly, Great Indian Hornbill, Salim Ali's Fruit Bat, Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Hutton's Pitviper and much more.

  Anamalai Sub-cluster

Lying to the south of Palghat Gaps, a prominent break in the main Western Ghats ridgeline, the Anamalai sub-cluster, along with the Anamalai hills, form the southern part of the Western Ghats. It is linked to the border of Kerala on the southwest and Cardamom Hills to the southeast. Anaimudi, the highest peak of the Western Ghats (2,695 meters), also lie in this region. It derives its name from two Tamil/Malyalam words ‘Anai’ and ‘Malai’ meaning Elephant and Hills respectively.

Due to irregular elevation of peaks, the annual rainfall of this region varies from 2,000 mm to 5,000 mm, mostly falling during the southwest monsoon. This region acts as the watershed of many important perennial rivers including Konalar, Neerar, Kaddambarai, Varagaliar, Karuneerar, Chinnar and Amaravathi.

Since it is a base for natural resources, a large portion of this range is set aside as protected. Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary (274 sq km),Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary (987 sq km), Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary (90 sq km), Eravikulam Wildlife Sanctuary (97 sq km) are well known for elephants. These hills cover a large forested region of great significance for conservation in Western Ghats. Thirty one groups of endangered lion-tailed macaques along with Green Pigeons, Sloth Bears, Crocodiles, Pangolins, Black Headed Orioles are found in abundance here. Drongo, Pied Hornbill, Black-headed Orioles and Red Whiskered Bulbul are the various species of birds seen. Vegetation mostly consists of typical high altitude shola-grassland. Parambikulam Dam (the highest volume dam in India), Mannambhally Dam, Sholayar Dam, Kaddambarrai dam, Neerar Dam, Amaravathi Dam and Aliayar Dam are some of its famous dams.

  Nilgiri Sub-cluster

Extending from the north-west of Palghat Gap to Mukti region of Nilgiri Plateau and covering an area of 2,479 sq km, the Nilgiri sub-cluster lies in the westernmost part of Tamil Nadu. It consists of about 39 peaks out of which more than 24 peaks are above 2,000 meters.

Due to extremely variable terrain of these hills, the rainfall pattern also varies tremendously with Pudur in the rain shadow area of Attapdi receiving only 800 mm annually, while Neelikal area of Silent Valley National Park receives more than 5,000 mm of annual precipitation. Rainfall occurs during the first few months of the Southwest monsoon only.

By virtue of these climatic gradients, it experiences a significant diversification in vegetation including dry euphorbia scrub, deciduous and evergreen forests and shola-grasslands. Major tributaries of the Rivers Kunthipuzha, Chaliyar, Bharathapuzha, Bhavani and Siruvani emerge from here. The Nilgiri biosphere reserve, along with the rest of the sub cluster conserves highly threatened species of animals including Asian elephant, tiger, nilgiri tahr and gaur. About 3,300 species of flowering plants of which 32 are endemic to this region are found here. Some of the endemic plants include Frerea, the Genus Baeolepis, Adenoon, Wagatea, Calacanthus, etc.

  Talakaveri Sub-cluster

Talakaveri sub-cluster has exceptional biological diversity and endemism. All its six elements is entirely situated in Karnataka state, apart from Alarm Reserve forest which is in Kerala. It covers an area of 500 km² and the ecosystem consists of low to mid-elevation shola grasslands and tropical evergreen forests. With altitude varying from 160 to 1,712 meters, Pushpagiri peak is the highest peak of this region.

Owing to its significantly diverse landscapes, it receives varying rainfall in different regions ( Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary and Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary – more than 6500mm, Nagarahole National Park-2,500mm to 6,000mm). Cauvery, Kumaradhara, Lingadole, Borapole, Segamanihole, Somahole, Miugorehole, Laxmanthirtha, Ramthirtha and Kabini are some of the important rivers of this sub-cluster.

With its unique floristic composition, 99 species of trees, including Hopea jacobi and H. canarensis, that are endemic to Western Ghats are found here. A dense understory of woody climbers, canes and ferns also composite the forest area. More than 300 species of higher plants can be found here. Mesua ferrea, Dysoxylum malabaricum and Artocarpus lakoocha are some of the plant species. The Bhramagiri-Pushpagiri area of Talakaveri sub-cluster consists of 35 mammal species, about 6 of which are endemic to India and 14 are in IUCN Red List threatened categories. Important mammal species include the Nilgiri marten, flying squirrel, lion-tailed macaque, Asian elephant, Indian wild dog, sloth bear, gaur, mouse deer and much more. With about 114 species of birds out of which 13 are endemic, it is recognized as an IBA by Birdlife International. Alarmingly threatened species of White backed vulture is also found here.

  Kudremukh Sub-cluster

The Kudremukh sub-cluster of the Western Ghats lies completely in Karnataka. The Kudremukh National Park forms an important element and is the second largest Wildlife Protected Area of Western Ghats. It has landscapes with altitudes ranging from 120 meters to 1,892 meters encompassing mainly tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen type of forest. It derives its name from the Kannada word ‘Kuduremukha’ which means horse face due to the resemblance of the top of  Kuduremukha mountain to a horse's face.

It receives an annual rainfall varying from 1,778 mm to 6,350 mm mostly during the months of June and September while January to March is relatively dry. Three main rivers namely The Tunga, the Nethravathi and the Bhadra originate from the Kudremukh mountains. Kadambi Waterfalls also add to the ecosystem of these hills.

Kudremukh has suitable and extensive rainforest which provide a perfect habitat to the Lion-Tailed Macaque. Leopards, Malabar giant squirrels, mongoose, giant flying squirrels and wild dogs can be easily found here. It is also the home for some of the species of fauna which include Acacia auriculiformis, eucalyptus, casuarinas and Grevillea robusta. Great pied hornbill, malabar trogon, imperial pigeon and malabar whistling thrush are several species of birds common to this region.

The northern and eastern part of Kudremukh National Park is bordered by coffee and tea states while the western land drops into the Arabian Sea. It is connected to Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary in the northwest. The sanctuary gets its name from Someshwara temple that lies within the sanctuary’s campus. Next to the Sanctuary is 105.3 sq km of Reserved Forest that has evergreen forests along with semi-evergreen vegetation. This reserved forest is in the process of being included into the sanctuary itself. Two other elements of the Kudremukh sub-cluster of Western Ghats are Agumbe and Balahalli in Karnataka.

Sahyadri Sub-cluster

Sahyadri forms the northernmost sub-cluster of the Western Ghats. Spread over an area of 52,000 sq km, it contains an entire range of geological and biological features typical to the Western Ghats. The sub-cluster is spread over the western side of Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra state. It contains flat-topped mountains with elevation ranging from 20 meters to 2,000 meters. It is mainly covered with evergreen, moist deciduous and semi-evergreen forests.

The south-west monsoons during the months of June to September results in rainfall of more than 2,500 mm on the western slopes of the region. The rivers of Godavari, Koyna and Krishna flows through the sub-cluster.

The barren and flat-topped plateaus are locally called Sadas and are a unique feature of the Sahyadri. The Kas plateau change their color every fortnight when different plants start flowering at different times. Thus, it is also known as ‘Plateaus of Flowers’ during August and September, which adds to the spectacular view of the Western Ghats. To the south of Kas Plateau is Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary with West Coast Semi-evergreen Forest, Western (Montane) Sub-tropical Hill Forest and Southern Moist Mixed Deciduous Forest. Chandoli National Park lying to the south, has characteristic herbaceous ephemeral vegetation. The Warna river originating here divides the protected area into northern and southern halves. Llast but not least, the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary located at the southern end of the Sahyadri sub-cluster, is the first wildlife sanctuary of Maharashtra and is popularly known as ‘Bison Sanctuary’ after the flagship species of Indian Bison.

The Sahyadri Sub-cluster provides shelter to almost 90 mammal species, including two endemic species of Malabar civet and Wroughton’s free-tailed bat. It is also home to more than 2,000 sacred groves locally known as Devrais. These groves are conserved largely as a cultural and religious tradition. The Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary has large trees of species including endangered Mappia foetida, Turpinia malabarica, Scolopia crenata and Harpullia arborea. It also provides an appropriate environment for the flourishing of more than 850 species of plants of which 39 are mentioned in the Red Data Book as endangered. Bulbous plants, orchids, tuberous plants, herbs, ephemerals and herbs also grow here.

Last Updated on : January 2, 2014