The Western Ghats that traverse Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, is said to be older than the Himalayas. One of the world’s ten hottest biodiversity hotspots, the mountain range runs parallel to India’s western coast.
The 1,600-km stretch is interrupted only by the 30 km Palghat Gap (also called Palakkad Gap) — a low mountain pass between Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Palakkad in Kerala.
Also called the Sahyadri Mountains, the Ghats’ lush green forests and water streams are home to over 7400 species of flowering plants, 1,814 species of non-flowering plants, 139 mammal species, and 508 bird species, 227 reptile species, besides amphibians, fishes, insects and many undiscovered species as well.
“The forests of the site include some of the best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests anywhere and are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species,” according to UNESCO.
In Ramayana’s Kishkindha Kanda and Yuddha Kanda and Mahabharata’s Ashvamedha Parva and Udyog Parva, there are references to the glorious mountain ranges on the west coast.
The Western Ghats have been described as Sahya (the precursor to modern-day Sahyadri) and Malaya. Historians believe that Sahya referred to the northern segment of the mountain range that lies in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, while Malaya refers to the southern part that covers Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Even today, the range is known as Sahyadri in Maharashtra and Karnataka and the Nilgiri Mountains form part of the Ghats in northwestern Tamil Nadu.
The Ghats also intercept the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the southwest during late summer. The favourable weather patterns and a high gradient being present in the Ghats have resulted in the presence of a large number of species.
It is also the key to the conservation of several threatened habitats, such as unique seasonally mass-flowering wildflower meadows, Shola forests and Myristica swamps, UNESCO says.
Moreover, these mountains form one of the four watersheds of India that feed the perennial rivers The Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, Thamiraparani and Tungabhadra rivers systems originate in the Ghats.
For centuries, many indigenous tribes (Adivasis) have lived harmoniously within the ecosystem of the Ghats.
All of them have distinct socio-cultural beliefs, practices and occupations. The Todas have a unique embroidery called the Toda embroidery while Badagas stand out for selling crops and also their cuisine, which is nutritious and seasonal. Kotas offer carpentry and blacksmith services etc. Each tribe has its own dance and art forms to celebrate social occasions and their deities and religious practices are also different from each other.
Most of these native tribals are now being threatened by deforestation, eviction and illegal hunting and poaching. They are being displaced due to increased commercial activities in many areas even though many organisations are working towards providing the tribals with livelihood within the forest ecosystems.
And the forests themselves are under threat from deforestation and illegal activities. On the one hand, it is hurting the tribal culture and practices and on the other hand, it adversely affects the ecology and biodiversity. It is of utmost importance to take care of this biodiversity and heritage of India. More pictures here: