The Western Ghats: The Rain God of South India
Rich in Species Diversity
The Western Ghats mountain stretch begins in the heartland of India, south of the Tapti river, along the border of the states, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Its undulating heights meander through five more states of India, including Kerala, Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. However, Karnataka hosts 60% of this gigantic and evergreen mountain behemoth.
The Western Ghats provide water to a river network that keeps 40% of India fertile and inhabitable. The forests and hill ranges cover an area of 1,80,000 square kilometers and its average elevation is 1200 square kilometers. The Western Ghats is among the 36 identified biodiversity hot spots of the world.
The Rain God
The Western Ghats is home to more than 5000 species of flowering plants, about 140 mammals, around 500 bird species, and a more than 180- member amphibian diversity. Among the above, around 350 are globally endangered species. The Western Ghats also houses 50% of the total amphibian species of the whole of India. Thirty percent of the world population of Asian elephants reside in this forest stretch. This wilderness is also home to 17% of the tigers that the world is left with.
Geographically, this mountain range came about 150 million years ago when the continents drifted away from Gondwana land, the supercontinent of the pre-Jurassic era. The western edge of India thus rose to form into a mountain consisting mainly of basalt rocks.
There are only two mountain passes in this entire mountain range, and they serve as the two doors that help one cross the otherwise formidable fort of this majestic geological kingdom. One is the Goan pass that separates the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. The second is the Palghat pass which is situated in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border.
The Indian subcontinent owes its monsoon rains to the Western Ghats mountain ranges as it intercepts the monsoon winds and brings rain to the plateau and the coasts of south India. The evergreen forests of its ecosystem create a cool atmosphere above them for the rain clouds to condense and pour. During monsoons, these forests receive up to 9000 mm rain and on average, 3000 mm rain year-round.
The Rivers and Shola Forests
Thamraparni, Krishna, Godavari, and Kaveri are the four rivers that originate in these mountains and flow east to merge with the ocean after reaching the Bay of Bengal. Kabani, Periyaar, Bharathapuzha, Pennaar, and Bhavani are a few of the 40 west-flowing rivers that start their journey from the Western Ghats and reach their destination in different Arabian sea estuaries.
The lower ranges of Western Ghats have a tropical climate that is humid and hot. When the elevation is up to 1500 sq.ft. from the sea level the climate changes to a temperate one. In these regions, the temperature throughout the year remains 15 degrees Celsius, on average. The highest peaks have freezing climatic conditions.
The forests in the Western Ghats belong to a classification into 4 types. This classification is made based on the tropical-sub tropical- moist broadleaf ecoregions category of scientifically classifying forest ecosystems. The forests that thrive in the western parts of the mountain ranges are named as north-western Ghats moist deciduous forests. The south-western part hosts two types of forests- the south-western Ghats moist deciduous forests and the south-western Ghats montane rain forests. The deciduous forests are comparatively dry forest areas while rain forests are evergreen wet forests. There is a region of the forest in Wayanad, in Kerala, where one can see the characteristics of both types. The south-western Ghats montane rain forests are the most biodiversity-rich region of the entire Indian sub-continent. This region hosts 80% of the flowering plants of Western Ghats. Another unique feature of Western Ghats is the shola forests. These are vast stretches of montane grasslands with small patches of evergreen forest growing within them.
A Unique Ecosystem
The virgin forests of Western Ghats began to be felled for the first time by the British colonizers to harvest wood and to grow tea plantations. This indiscriminate destruction began in the 1860s and continued till the 1950s. Even after India became independent in 1947, the tree felling did not lose momentum or pace as by then there existed a big industry that thrived on natural resources. It was through the tireless efforts of the British environmentalist, Norman Myers, that the Western Ghats was eventually declared as an ecologically fragile biodiversity hot spot in 1988, which once and forever stopped the mindless exploitation of this pristine forests.
Home to endemic species such as the lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri Tahr Nilgiri Langur, and the great Indian hornbill, abode of many magnificently colored frogs, flying lizards and breathtakingly beautiful orchids, these mountain ranges are a haven for all nature lovers and earth trotters.