Western Ghats: India’s natural and cultural diversity hotspot

Western Ghats: India’s natural and cultural diversity hotspot 

Western Ghats: India’s natural and cultural diversity hotspot unesco world heritage site India 30stades

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.

In 2012, UNESCO declared the Western Ghats a World Heritage Site given its unique forest ecosystems, flora and fauna, and the influence on India’s monsoon weather pattern.

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.

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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.

Also Read: In pictures: Lesser-known UNESCO World Heritage sites in India

The Palakkad gap on the Western Ghats as seen from Palghat-Chitoor Road. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
The Palakkad gap on the Western Ghats as seen from Palghat-Chitoor Road. Pic: Wikipedia

Interestingly, the Ghats have also been mentioned in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

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.

Also See: A walk through Jaipur’s Walled City: the UNESCO world heritage site where kings lived

Endangered Niligiri Langur in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Endangered Niligiri Langur in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr

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.

The Ghats are home to the globally threatened Asian Elephant, Gaur and Tiger. Endangered species like the Lion-tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Tahr and Nilgiri Langur are also unique to the area, as per UNESCO.

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.

Also Read: Gagron: Rajasthan’s unique hill & water fort that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Kaveri River passing through the Western Ghats. The Ghats form one of the four watersheds of India that feed the perennial rivers. Pic: 30stades
The Kaveri River passing through the Western Ghats. The Ghats form one of the four watersheds of India that feed the perennial rivers. Pic: Flickr

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.

The tribal inhabitants of the Western Ghats include Badaga, Irula, Kota, Kurumbas, Nayak, Hill Pandaram, Toda, Kani and many others.

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.

The Toda tribe inhabits the Nilgiris, which form part of the Ghats in northwestern Tamil Nadu. A woman is practising Toda embroidery and their traditional house is in the background. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The Toda tribe inhabits the Nilgiris, which form part of the Ghats in northwestern Tamil Nadu. A woman is practising Toda embroidery and their traditional house is in the background. Pic: Flickr

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:

Denison Barb is an endangered species of cyprinid fish and is found only in the fast-flowing hill streams & rivers of the Western Ghats. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
Denison Barb is an endangered species of cyprinid fish and is found only in the fast-flowing hill streams & rivers of the Western Ghats. Pic: Wikipedia

Also Read: Snehakunja: Preserving biodiversity through empowerment of tribals in Western Ghats of Karnataka

Western Ghats are older than the Himalayas. This is Karjat, nestled in the Sahyadri Hills in Maharashtra. Pic: Rashmi Pratap
Western Ghats are older than the Himalayas. This is Karjat, nestled in the Sahyadri Hills in Maharashtra. Pic: Rashmi Pratap
Over 7400 species of flowering plants are found in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Over 7400 species of flowering plants are found in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr

Also See: Spring in Kashmir: Tulip Garden’s flowers, fountains & food festival

The Western Ghats take on a misty look during the monsoons. They intercept the rain-laden monsoon winds from the southwest during late summer. Pic: Rashmi Pratap 30stades
The Western Ghats take on a misty look during the monsoons. They intercept the rain-laden monsoon winds from the southwest during late summer. Pic: Rashmi Pratap
Indian Bison or Gaur is also an endangered species found in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Indian Bison or Gaur is also an endangered species found in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: How Maldharis & Rojamdars live with Asiatic lions in Gir forest & help in conservation

The Sahyadri Mountains from Anaikatti, Tamil Nadu. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The Sahyadri Mountains from Anaikatti, Tamil Nadu. Pic: Flickr
The endangered Lion-Tailed Macaque in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The endangered Lion-Tailed Macaque in the Western Ghats. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: How Ahmedabad’s legendary pols that make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site are changing

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