Archive for the 'Western Ghats – India' Category

Sapt-Konkan – Parashuram Shristi

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

Hello friends,

Good morning. This morning’s topic is Sapt-Konkan, the coastal ecoregion of the Western Ghats, defined by the Purana’s as Sapt-Konkan or “Parashuram Shristi”. And there is a legend about it.

The Western Ghats, older than the Himalayas, have a fascinating geological history. They are the most important feature of the landscape of the southern peninsula and in these same hills we confront our future. Unfortunately they continue to suffer drastic degradation due to human pressure.I have been writing about these mountain ranges for quite some time now. My book “The Western Ghats” was published in 2005. Most of the writings could be accessed in the links given below:For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:

http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/

For detailed blog (6 Chapters from my book) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:

http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/

For biospoheres & bioregions of the Western Ghats please log on to:

http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/2008/10/nilgiri-biosphere-reserve.html

http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/2008/10/high-ranges.html

http://biodiversitymohanpai.blogspot.com/2008_11_01_archive.html

http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/2008/12/biodiversity-kodagu-coorg.html

Very best wishes,

Mohan Pai
WESTERN GHATS COASTAL ECOREGION

SAPT-KONKAN
The Emerald Country

Honda, Sattari, Goa – pic by Mohan Pai

‘Parashuram Shristi’
Konkan, Goa & Karavali

The precise definition of Konkan varies, but most include Maharashtra’s districts of Raigad, Mumbai, Thane, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, the state of Goa, and the Uttar Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. Sapt-Konkan is also known as ‘Parashuram Shirsti’; according to the legend, Lord Parashuram, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu stood atop the Sahyadri and shot an arrow into the roaring sea and beyond and created the coastal tract. The Sapta-Konkan as depicted in Skanda-purana stretches from Maharashtra to Karnataka . This is actually logical since there are a lot of similarities in the food-habits (rice and fish), crops cultivated (rice, mangoes, cashews and jackfruit) and the physique (tall and well-built) of people dwelling in this area. Konkan Division is also one of six administrative sub-divisions of the state of Maharashtra, comprising of its costal districts.


Sage Parashuram, a painting

Konkan Ecoregion

An ecoregion is defined as a large area of land or water that contains geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that
a) share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
b) share similar environmental conditions, and;
c) interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long term persistence.
Based on these criteria, Konkan division of Maharashtra, Goa and Karavali region of Karnataka form one homogenous ecoregion. Biodiversity ignores national and other political boundaries, so a more relevant conservation planning unit is required.

From the Imperial Gazeteer of India (1907-1909)

Konkan.— A name applied to the Marathi-speaking lowland strip along the southern portion of the Bombay Presidency, situated between the Western Ghats and the sea. The term has no very distinct ad- ministrative signification, and its former geographical limits have become less strictly defined than of old. The coast strip, to which the word is now applied, is a fertile and generally level tract, varying from 1 or 2 to about 50 miles in breadth between the sea and the mountains, with an area of about 12,500 square miles, and, approximately, a population of 3,800,000. It is watered by hill streams, and at parts intersected by tidal backwaters, but has nowhere any great rivers. A luxuriant vegetation of palms rises along the coast, the cocoa-nut plantations forming an important source of wealth to the villagers. Splendid forests cover the Ghats on its eastern boundary. The crops are abundant ; and owing to the monsoon rainfall being precipitated upon the Ghats behind, the Konkan is peculiarly exempt from drought and famine. The common language of the Konkan is Marathi. Kanarese is spoken in the southern part, and a little Gujarathi in the north of Thana. In a geographical sense, the Konkan forms one of the five territorial Divisions of the Bombay Presidency, the others being the Deccan, the Karnatik, Gujarat, and Sind. It includes the town and island of Bombay, the three British Districts of Ratnagiri, Kolaba, and Thana, the three Native States of Jawhar, Janjira, and Sawantwari, and the Portuguese territory of Goa ……The Konkan is bounded by Gujarat on the north, by the Deccan on the east, by North Kanara District on the south, and by the Arabian Sea on the west. The history of the Konkan will best be gathered from a perusal of the historical portions of the separate articles on the included States and Districts. The earliest dynasty connected with the Konkan is that of the Mauryas, who reigned about three centuries before Christ; but the “evidence of the connection rests altogether on vol. viii. T 290 KONKAN, an Asoka inscription discovered at the town of Sopara in Thana District. The dynasties that succeeded were the following, in their order, so far as order is ascertainable : — The Shatakarnis or Andrabhrityas, with their capital at Paitan in the Deccan ; the Mauryas, descendants of the elder house ; the Chalukyas ; the Silaharas, whose capital was perhaps the island of Elephanta in Bombay Harbour ; the Yadavas, with their capital at Deogiri, the modern Daulatabad ; the Muhatn- madans (Khiljis, Bahmanis, Bijapur chiefs, Mughals, and Ahmadabad kings) ; Portuguese commanders (over a limited area) ; Marathas ; and British. The principal incidents in the annals of the Konkan are of modern interest. The Konkan coast was known to the peoples of Greece and Rome, and both Ptolemy (150 a.d.) and the author of the Periplus (247 a.d.) afford evidence that Greek traders from Egypt dealt with the Konkan ports. Many of these last are named by the Greek geographers ; and while the modern representative of the ancient town has been in many instances identified, in others the ingenuity of conjecture is still employed. To take one or two examples, it is yet a matter of uncertainty whether Byzantium is the Konkan pirate fort of Vijayadrug ; whether the word Chersonesus refers to Goa, or whether the term Heptanesia relates to the islands that stud the modern harbour of Bombay. The arrival of the Beni-Israel and the Parsis from the Persian Gulf and Persia are important incidents in Konkan history. The Beni-Israel, whom high authority has not hesitated to call the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, are found all over Bombay Presidency. The descendants of the first Parsis, who landed in Thana about the 7th century, now crowd the streets and markets of Bombay, engross a large part of the city’s wealth and principal trading operations, and have their agents in all important provincial towns.


Vasco da Gama landing at Kappad.

The Portuguese reached Malabar in 1498, and fixed the head-quarters of their naval dominion at Cheul or Chaul. In 1510, Goa was seized, and from this time until 1630 the Portuguese shared the rule of the Konkan with the Muhammadan kings of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur. The rise and fall of the pirate power of the Angres, who fixed themselves in the island strongholds of Kolaba, Suvarndriig, and Gheria or Vijayadrug, and from 1700 to 1756 harassed English, Dutch, and native shipping alike, mark a disastrous period of Konkan history. Since the British administration was set up in 1818 on the overthrow of the Marathas, the peace of the whole area, if some disturbances in Sawantwari in 1844 and 1850 be excepted, has remained unbroken. The great city and harbour of Bombay are situated about one-third down the length of the Konkan from the north. The Portuguese territory of Goa used to form its southern limit ; but the District of North Kanara has been transferred from Madras to the Bombay Pi and now constitutes the southernmost District of the D as the Konkan.


Imperial Gazetteer map of Konkan

Physical Aspects, Natural History, and Geology.- -The folio paragraphs have been condensed from a short mon< physical features of the Konkan, by Major J. II. Lloyd, the coast of the Konkan from seaward, the traveller sees him a wild-looking country consisting of a confused mass of hills exhibiting every shade of brown, red, and purple ; in some far down to the sea, in others receding and giving space along the for tracts of rice cultivation, or belts of cocoanut and palm. In the foreground the sea beating on the rocks sets off the picture with a fringe of surf, interrupted at intervals where the coastline is bf by the mouths of creeks and rivers, and far in the background there rests on the line of Ghats, blocking the distant horizon with a long cession of peaks, bluffs, and domes — cool and grey in the morn, misty and indistinct under the glare of noonday, and glowing with pink and violet as the great trap precipices catch the rays of the setting sun. As regards its geology, the Konkan is a country, broadly speak u stratified primary rocks. The hills are composed of layers of trap varying in composition, and capped by a stratum of laterite, while the alluvial soil of the valleys is the result of the disintegration and decomposition of these rocks carried down by drainage from the hills. On the shores of the salt marshes, locally known as Khar, and along the tidal portion of the rivers which empty themselves into the Arabian Sea, the soil is a stiff blue clay which, when red from the action of the sea, is capable of being converted into considerable value. The narrow strip of sand along the i on what geologists term littoral concrete, which bears the vari- • of the palm tree, date, and palmyra in the north, cocoanut and nut in the south. The annual rainfall of the Konkan is estimated over 100 inches; and this rainfall added to the enormous water thrown off the face of the Western Ghats during the the whole traversing the region to the sea, accounts for the numerous rivers and streams in which the Konkan abounds. The face of the country presents throughout the dry months parched and barren appearance ; but this air of sterility is higher ground is reached. In the open cultivated tracts are sun-baked rice-fields, dried-up streams, and occasional groves with their denizen cattle egrets, noisy koels, and active squirrels. In the loi are found forests of teak (Tectona grandis), ain (Terrain tosa), kinjal (Terminalia paniculata) …

Climate & Vegetation

The climate of the Sapt-Konkan shows two rainfall gradients.

The West-East Gradient
The west-east rainfall gradient is determined by the effect of Ghats’ escarpment. The reliefs of the Ghats act as a barrier to the eastward movement of the cloud masses brought by the summer monsoon rain-bearing winds of the south-west monsoon.
These masses bring prodigious amount of rainfall over the western slopes of the Ghats. For instance in Agumbe (height 645 m) which is situated at the edge of the Ghats, the mean annual rainfall is 7,460 mm, and in some years it exceeds 12,000 mm in only 130 rainy days. Overall the western slopes receive 2,000 to 7,500 mm of rainfall.

 

Once this obstacle is crossed, the rainfall decreases rapidly to < 800 mm towards the interior plateau of the east within a distance of 7 to 60 km from 7,500 mm to 4,000 mm within 15 km, and to 2,000 mm within 50 km. Further north towards the latitude of Goa, the decrease is even more drastic: 25 km after the summit of the Ghats the rainfall is insufficient to support the evergreen formations. Moist deciduous forest prevail here, and 30 km further east they are replaced by dry deciduous formations. This decrease results in the isolation of moist formations which are confined to humid regions with a rainfall of generally more than 2,000 mm, i.e., in a narrow belt between the coast and 20-40 km beyond the Ghats’ edge. However, in some cases, edaphic compensation (specially better moisture holding capacity of soils) enables the maintenance of evergreen formations even when the rainfall is somewhat lower – the ‘kan’ forests of Karnataka plateau are an example of this phenomenon.
 

The South-North Gradient
An important feature of the Western Ghats is that they form more or less continuous chain of hills with a latitudinal extent of almost 12 degrees. This has few parallels in the tropical world(eastern part of Madagascar and Queensland in Australia). The monsoon, the very pulse of India, adds yet another dimension : the duration of the dry season gradually increases from two months in the southern parts of the Ghats to over eight months north of Mumbai. This gradient is determined by the arrival and withdrawal of the summer monsoon.
The monsoon generally arrives towards the end of May at the southern tip of India, in the first week of June at Tiruvananthpuram, five days later it reaches Karwar, in another five days it has already crossed Mumbai and by middle of June it is beyond Kutch. Thus it takes only 10-15 days to cover the Indian peninsula from 80 N to the Tropic of Cancer.
The monsoon begins to retreat by the end of September in north India but it takes nearly 15 days for the front to withdraw from Kutch to Ratnagiri which it reaches in the beginning of October, in another 15 days it covers 400 km, the distance separating Ratnagiri from Coondapur. The front passes through Mangalore at the beginning of November and Kozikode in a fortnight, and reaches Kanyakumari only in early December. Thus the withdrawal is spread over a period of nearly two and a half months. The advance and specially the gradual withdrawal of the monsoon leads to a reduction in the rainy period from south to north and consequently a concomitant lengthening of dry season. This gradient is one of the key factors for understanding the variations in the floristic composition along the Ghats.

Vegetation Types 

Wet Evergreen Forests
Wet evergreen forests are mostly confined to the windward side of the Ghats where the rainfall exceeds 2,000 mm. The deep valleys on the western windward side nurture closed canopy, stratified evergreen forests. These are arranged in a series of tiers. Each tier receives a different amount of light; the tallest trees are bathed in perpetual sunlight, smaller trees and shrubs receive dappled light. The forest floor is almost in complete darkness. The canopy is supposed to be closed because the contiguous crown of tall buttressed trees merge to form a veritable roof. Occasionally, giant trees termed as emergents push through the canopy to obtain dominant position. Light, temperature and humidity differ at different heights beneath the canopy. Two or more strata of shade loving trees find the appropriate level at which light intensity and relative humidity are best suited for their metabolic activities.
The density of growth in these hot and humid jungles is so great that over 70 tall trees can exist in one hectare. These trees may be 35-45 m high and have evolved small narrow leaves to minimise moisture loss through evaporation. The lower growing plants have larger leaves in order to maximise the benefit of the little light that manages to penetrate. At every level, leaves tend to be narrow with drain-like tips so that the monsoon water flows off efficiently. This makes it possible for the leaf to remain relatively dry and ‘breath The forests are in leaf throughout the year and hence termed evergreen. These trees shed their leaves at a slow and steady rate throughout the year, which results in continuous decay and decomposition on the forest floor which is full of leaf litter and decaying wood on which mushrooms, lichen and fungi thrive. In the relative gloom of the forest floor herbs are frequent with good representative of gingers and orchids. Climbers and lianas supported by sturdy trees, spiral towards the canopy in search of better light and fresh air..

Dry Evergreen Forests
The steep eastern slopes of the Ghats where the rainfall is less than 1,500 mm harbour dry vegetation types. However, in the relatively moist valleys and along streams, forests are evergreen and distinct in floristic composition with its counterpart on the western side. Physiognomic structure of these forests varies according to moisture level of the soil. Generally they are short forests, with a canopy seldom higher than 12 m, and with two strata.

Moist Deciduous forests
Moist deciduous forests, which are in primary nature, are found in the rainfall zone of 1,500 mm to 1,800 mm; as a transition between wet evergreen and dry deciduous forests. Large extent of these forests occurs in the Wayanad, Mysore and Karnataka plateau. Moist deciduous forests also occur within the potential area of wet evergreen formations, where the rainfall is more than 2,000 mm. Its very presence in the zone indicates their secondary nature after a possible degradation of original wet evergreen forests. On the leeward rain shadow side as well as on the coastal lowlands there are fairly long dry periods. Moist deciduous trees survive the rigours of the dry months by shedding all their leaves simultaneously to avoid loss of water through transpiration.
During the leafless period the trees carry on their reproductive cycle by spectacular flowering followed by abundant fruiting. With the pre-monsoon showers, a flush of fresh leaves appears to herald the beginning of a fresh annual cycle. A number of good timber trees are found in these open canopy forests.

Climatic Variations and Endemics

The high degree of endemism in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats can be attributed to the isolation of the Ghats from other moist formations and the prevailing drier climatic conditions in the surrounding areas. This isolation seems to have facilitated the process of speciation (formation of new biological species) leading to the phenomenon of vicariance between sister species derived from a common ancestor, one of which thrives in the evergreen forests of the Ghats and the other in the adjacent dry regions (for example Diospyros assimilis in the moist evergreen forests and D. Ebenum in dry forests).
South of Kodagu, the Western Ghats are comprised largely of high ranging hills with several enclaves which formed ideal refugia for certain species when the climatic conditions became drier . Within the Ghats, the variation in the degree of endemism is mainly determined by
a) the increase in the number of dry months from south to north and
b) the decrease in the temperature with increase in altitude. These two gradients also explain the numerous cases of vicariance encountered within the evergreen continuum. Local topographic variations add another dimension to the floristic diversity and endemism.

CASHEW APPLE: The nuts are first removed andprocessed and have a large local as well as exportmarket. The cashew apple is first smashed, and then fermented to be made into the famous liquor- the Cashew Feni.

Traditional Horticulture

The main crops of the traditional horticulture of the region are Coconut, Betel nut, Cashewnut, Banana, Jackfruit, Mango, Bhirand or Kokum, Pineapple and a variety of gourds.
The Kadambas (1000-1350 AD) and later the Governors of Vijayanagar promoted mango orchards in this region. Although crude methods of grafting were already known in India, the Jesuits helped perfect the art of mango grafting in Goa.

Seaside Vegetation & Mangroves

The marshy areas, the swampy places where the sea comes in high tide, or where a river finally empties itself into the ocean, these are the places where many kinds of fish come to spawn. Often these areas are very large; trees do not grow here, for salt water washes over them, or floods them regularly; the loose muddy sand shifts easily, and the only plants which can take hold are mangroves with their long spreading roots. The mangrove bushes prove their worth during a storm, for they break its force; in a rough sea the mangrove belt acts as a ‘buffer’ and prevents erosion and keeps the coastline in tact. The mangrove vegetation has to survive on the scorching, shifting and saline sands. Trailing stems, fleshy leaves, salt excreting glands are some of the aids for their survival. The mangroves in the slushy estuaries have special features to overcome the difficulties of their habitat. The mangrove trees and shrubs anchor themselves against the push and pull of the tides by stilt roots. Air in the marshy soil is meagre. The trees often turn their breathing roots upwards in search of fresh air. The seedlings of mangrove trees remain attached to the parent plant until they have a chance of surviving on their own. They fix themselves like darts in the marshy saline slush to avoid being washed away by the sea until they have a chance of surviving on their own. If we remove the mangroves, the coast is exposed to the danger and damage from storms and rough seas.

A number of factors have been responsible for the depletion of wetland areas, mainly the mangrove forests, along the coasts. Intensive aquacultural development, deforestation, pollution from tankers, domestic waste, agricultural run off and industrial effluents are some of the factors. Most of the surviving mangroves are now confined to West Bengal and the islands in the Bay of Bengal. Some of these have been responsible for the protection of certain endangered species of turtles, crocodiles and the rare fresh water sponge.

Sacred Groves and Sacred Trees

Many traditional societies all over the world revered and worshipped nature and considered certain plants and animals as sacred. India has a long tradition in protecting nature – both plants and animals considered as sacred. Forests have been the lifeline for tribals and other forest dwelling communities since ages. Communities all over India followed the practice of setting aside certain patches of land or forest dedicated to a deity or village God, protected and worshipped.
The forest deities are generally of a primitive nature. Sometimes in the form of unshaped stone lumps smeared with red paint – Kalkai in the Konkan, Kenchamma in South Kanara. They are amongst the fiercest of deities; and breaking even a dead twig in a sacred grove is sure to invite the wrath of the deity. Sacred groves are to be found all over the country and abundantly along the Western Ghats and the west coast. Sacred groves ranged from 50 hectares or

A sacred grove in Goa

more to a few hundred square meters. Some sacred groves have remained in tact till recent times as in the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka. These pockets have contributed to the preservation of tropical biological diversity, for several new species of plants which have disappeared from everywhere else have been found to be preserved in the sacred groves. Sacred groves in different areas are locally known by different names. In Maharashtra, they are known as Devarai, Devarakavu in Kodagu, Kavu in Kerala and Kan in Uttara Kannada. In spite of the depletion of forests, some sacred groves still remain in-tact. The sacred groves have contributed to the conservation of nature though in a small measure. There are also sacred ponds attached to temples in many parts of India.
 

Severity of Threats
The major threats to this ecoregion stem from agriculture, mining, hydroelectric projects, and urban expansion. All of these overarching threats are widespread throughout the bioregion. Most of the commercially valuable trees in this ecoregion have already been harvested (IUCN 1991), and ironically, logging is not a significant threat. The paper pulp, plywood, and fiber industries and sawmills were the major consumers of timber and bamboo in the past. Mining for iron and manganese ore are now large contributors to habitat destruction.
Tree frog
Many of the valleys that supported large stands of species-rich forests have been submerged by reservoirs created by the construction of hydroelectric dams. In addition to this inundation of large areas, the secondary activities associated with dam construction, such as road building, access and encroachment into the intact forests, settlements, and fuelwood collection, have exacerbated habitat loss and degradation. The important riparian habitat is the first to be lost during these development enterprises. Many of the remaining forest patches that harbor endemic species are being converted to rubber, areca, and coffee plantations.Fuelwood and fodder collection, grazing, and collection of nonwood forest products are intensifying as rural populations grow. The grasslands of this ecoregion are highly vulnerable to fire, and frequent fires retard the growth and regeneration of shola forests. The degraded habitat is then colonized by the exotic Lantana camera and Eupatorium odorata, which inhibit regeneration of native vegetation.The prevalence of guns, used for crop protection among the people, encourages widespread poaching.

Gavali tribal woman

The West Coast south of Surat runs parallel to the great escarpment of the Western Ghats for its entire length of about 1,600 km culminating at Cape Comorin. The Sapta-Konkan approximately occupies 900 km of the entire Ghat’s coast. The straight looking coast is however quite jagged, marked by a large number of coves (small sheltered recesses in the coast) and creeks(small tidal inlets or estuaries of small streams). A large number of small streams descend from the precipitous Western Ghats and flow through the narrow coastal plain to open into the Arabian Sea.


A typical view of the Konkan, consisting of white-sand beaches and palm trees (mostly coconut and betel nut).

Although the streams are small, some of them have formed spectacular waterfalls. The Konkan coastal plain is cliffy and there are several shoals, reefs and islands in the Arabian Sea. Mumbai was a large island but parts of the sea have been reclaimed in recent years to connect it with the mainland. There is a submerged forest near Mumbai which suggests that the sea level rose on the Konkan coast not long ago. The coastal plain is dotted with flat-topped hills. Transverse flat-looped spurs come down almost to the shoreline from the edge of the plateau and dip into the sea at Karwar, the northern part of Karnataka. These appear to be abrasional platforms, now dissected by the west flowing streams.

Mahadayi River at Sonal, Goa – pic by Mohan Pai.

Although the Ghats run parallel to the coast, the width of the coastal lowland varies. At Konkan it is about 50 to 60 km wide. From Goa to Kozhikode, the width of the coastal zone is more variable than in Maharashtra.

The Sahyadris dip into the Arabian Sea at Karwar

It is about 40 km wide at the latitude of Goa and then suddenly narrows near Karwar where the Ghats almost meet the sea. To the south of 140N, the coastal zone now called Dakshina Kannada, widens once more to almost 80 km south of Mangalore. The coastal region after Kodagu, known as Malabar, is not more than 30 km wide up to the latitude of Kozhikode. From here it widens out to about 60 km near Palghat Gap.
Satodi falls, Karavali

A Coast of Maritime Legends


The maritime history of the West Coast of India predates the birth of Western Civilisation. The world’s first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2,300 BC during the Harappan civilisation near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast. Even before Alexander, there were references to India in Greek works and India had a flourishing trade with Rome. Roman writer Pliny speaks of Indian traders carrying away large quantities of gold from Rome, in payment for much sought exports such as precious stones, skins, textiles, spices, sandal wood, perfumes, herbs and indigo. It was the lure of spices that attracted traders from the Middle East and Europe to the many trading ports in Sapt-Konkan.

Memorial to Vasco da Gama, Kappad

From the earliest times, the West Coast had developed a considerable shipbuilding industry, specialised in building large vessels. There are several accounts of such activities including that of Marco Polo who has described the Indian built ships. European interest in India has persisted since classical times and for very cogent reasons. Europe had much to derive from India such as spices, textiles and other Oriental products. When direct contact was lost with the fall of Rome and the rise of the Muslims, the trade was carried on through middlemen. In the late Middle Ages it increased with the prosperity of Europe. Spice trade was not solely a luxury trade – spices were needed to preserve meat through the winter (cattle had to be slaughtered in late autumn through lack of fodder in winter) and to combat the taste of decay. Wine, in the absence of ancient or modern methods of maturing, had to be ‘mulled’ with spices. This trade suffered two threats in the later Middle ages. There was the threat of Mongol and Turkish Invasion which interfered with the land route through Egypt, and there was the threat of monopoly shared between the Venetians and Egyptians. The Arabs controlled the spice trade with India since the end of the 12th century AD. During the 15th century Spain and Portugal, the then main maritime powers of Europe initiated a series of expeditions with Royal patronage. While one such voyage led to the discovery of West Indies by Columbus, another voyage brought the Portugese to India, the El Dorado.
Fisher women at Britona, Goa -pic by Mohan Pai

Political divisions
 

Konkan
The Konkan division is an administrative sub-division of Maharashtra which comprises all the coastal districts of the state with a coastline of about 500 km. The region starts with Damanganga river in the north and extends to Terekhol river in the south.Area: 30,746 km² Population (2001 census): 24,807,357 Districts: Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Thane.

History of administrative districts in Konkan Division
There have been changes in the names of Districts and has seen also the addition of newer districts after India gained Independence in 1947 and also after the state of Maharashtra was formed.In 1961 the Konkan region became a part of the newly formed state of Maharashtra. Prior to this it was a part of Bombay province which was split to form Gujarat and Maharashtra. Creation of the Sindhudurg from the southern areas of the Ratnagiri district. The erstwhile Kolaba district was renamed as Raigad. A proposal to carve Jawhar district out of Thane District is being considered on account of its high tribal population.

Water sports – pic by Mohan Pai

Goa
Goa encompasses an area of 3,702 km² (1,430 sq mile). It lies between the latitudes 14°53’54” N and 15°40’00” N and longitudes 73°40’33” E and 74°20’13” E. Goa has a coastline of 101 km (63 miles).The Mormugao harbor on the mouth of the river Zuari is one of the best natural harbors Goa has more than forty estuarine, eight marine and about ninety riverine islands.
Idalcao Palace, Panaji

The total navigable length of Goa’s rivers is 253 km (157 miles).Most of Goa’s soil cover is made up of laterites which are rich in ferric aluminium oxides and reddish in color. Further inland and along the river banks, the soil is mostly alluvial and loamy. The soil is rich in minerals and humus, thus conducive to plantation. Some of the oldest rocks in the Indian subcontinent are found in Goa between Molem and Anmod on Goa’s border with Karnataka. The rocks are classified as Trondjemeitic Gneiss estimated to be 3,600 million years old, dated by the Rubidium isotope dating method.


Karavali

Karavali is the geographical area covered by sea-coast of Karnataka. This region is also called Canara. Karavali forms the sourthen part of the Konkan Coast and comprisesthree coastal districts of Karnataka, namely Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. The length of this region, from north to south is around 300 Kms and width varies from 30 Kms to 110 Kms.

Om Beach, Gokarna

The region is characterised by swaying palms and swift brooks running towards the Arabian sea.Even though many languages are spoken like Tulu, Konkani and to some extent Kannada there are many common factors in food, culture, rituals, traditions. Rice, fish and coconut oil are commonly used ingredients in the food of the people of Karavali region. Spirit worship (Bhuta Kola), Serpent worship (Nagaradhane), Buffalo race (Kambala), Yakshagana are some of common traditional rituals followed.Major ethnic groups are the Tuluvas and konkanis.The main languages spoken in this area are Tulu and Konkani. The northern half is predominantly Konkani and the southern half is predominantly Tulu. The majority of the people follow Hinduism. Other religions practiced include Christanity and Islam. While the Tulu speakers are exclusively Hindus, Christians are almost exclusively Konkani speakers. This region has many sites of Hindu pilgrimage including Kollur, Dharmasthala, Udupi Srikrishna Math (Temple), Kateel, Murdeshwara, and Gokarna. The main occupation of the natives is farming and fishing. Fish is the staple diet of the people living in this region. Coconut is used generously in all the dishes. The region has abundant rainfall, recording average annual rainfall among the highest in India.

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Indian Rainforests

An article by Mohan Pai

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The Indian Rainforests


Rainforests – the Lungs of the Planet Earth
Tropical rainforests are vital to the global ecosystem and human existence. They are a world like no other and are unparalleled in terms of their biological diversity. Tropical rainforests are a natural reservoir of genetic diversity which offers a rich source of medicinal plants, high-yield foods, and a myriad of other useful forest products. They are an important habitat for migratory animals and sustain as much as 50 percent of the species on Earth, as well as a number of diverse and unique indigenous cultures. Tropical rainforests play an elemental role in regulating global weather in addition to maintaining regular rainfall, while buffering against floods, droughts, and erosion. They store vast quantities of carbon, while producing a significant amount of the world’s oxygen. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earths surface and even though they now only cover 6% of the earth, they are home to almost half of the worlds population of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, bird life and plant life.
Tropical rainforests are located in a band around the equator (Zero degrees latitude) in the area between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° North latitude) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5° South latitude).This 3,000 mile (4800 kilometres) wide band is known as the ‘tropics’.

The equator is a line that circles the centre of our global world and is situated halfway between the north and south poles. Temperatures at the equator are high. These high temperatures cause accelerated evaporation of water, which results in frequent rain in rainforests in the tropics.

World Rainforests
 
Tropical rainforests are found between latitudes 10° N and 10° S. This includes the Amazon Basin of South America, the Zaire Basin of Africa and the islands and peninsulas of South-east Asia.In Southeast Asia, the tropical rainforests are found in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Burma and Papua New Guinea. The rainforests found in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are in small patches and strips, while on the other hand, Indonesia contains one-tenth of the world’s rainforest and 40% of all Asian rainforests! However sadly, as Indonesia is progressing further into modernisation, it is losing its rainforests to commercial logging and human settlements. Malaysia too has lost about two third of its lowland forest to plantations. On a brighter side, Papua New Guinea still has areas of rainforest yet to be disturbed, due to its mountainous terrain. Papua New Guinea is home to many amazing animals, one being the largest butterfly in the world; the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. Its wing span can reach up to 10 inches wide!
Although they cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, they house an estimated 50 percent of all life on the planet. The immense numbers of creatures that inhabit the tropical rainforests are so great—an estimated 50 million species— they are almost incomprehensible. The sheer range of numbers alone suggests the limited extent of our knowledge of these forests. For example, whereas temperate forests are often dominated by a half dozen tree species or fewer that make up 90 percent of the trees in the forest, a tropical rainforest may have more than 480 tree species in a single hectare (2.5 acres). A single bush in the Amazon may have more species of ants than the entire British Isles. This diversity of rainforests is not a haphazard event, but is the result of a series of unique circumstances.
Layers
A tropical rainforest is typically divided into four main layers, each with different plants and animals adapted for life in that particular area: the emergent, canopy, understory, and forest floor layers.

Emergent layer
The emergent layer contains a small number of very large trees called emergents, which grow above the general canopy, reaching heights of 45-55 m, although on occasion a few species will grow to 70-80 m tall. They need to be able to withstand the hot temperatures and strong winds in some areas. Eagles, butterflies, bats, and certain monkeys inhabit this layer.

Diagram: Coutesy Animal Corner
 

Canopy layer
The canopy layer contains the majority of the largest trees, typically 30-45 m tall. The densest areas of biodiversity are found in the forest canopy, a more or less continuous cover of foliage formed by adjacent treetops. The canopy, by some estimates, is home to 50 percent of all plant species, suggesting that perhaps half of all life on Earth could be found there. Epiphytic plants attach to trunks and branches, and obtain water and minerals from rain and debris that collects on the supporting plants. The fauna is similar to that found in the emergent layer, but more diverse. A quarter of all insect species are believed to exist in the rainforest canopy. Scientists have long suspected the richness of the canopy as a habitat, but have only recently developed practical methods of exploring it. As long ago as 1917, naturalist William Beebe declared that “another continent of life remains to be discovered, not upon the Earth, but one to two hundred feet above it, extending over thousands of square miles.” True exploration of this habitat only began in the 1980s, when scientists developed methods to reach the canopy, such as firing ropes into the trees using crossbows. Exploration of the canopy is still in its infancy, but other methods include the use of balloons and airships to float above the highest branches and the building of cranes and walkways planted on the forest floor. The science of accessing tropical forest canopy using airships, or similar aerial platforms, is called dendronautics.

Understory layer
The understory layer lies between the canopy and the forest floor. The understory (or understorey) is home to a number of birds, snakes, and lizards, as well as predators such as jaguars, boa constrictors, and leopards. The leaves are much larger at this level. Insect life is also abundant. Many seedlings that will grow to the canopy level are present in the understory. Only about 5 percent of the sunlight shining on the rainforest reaches the understory. This layer can also be called a shrub layer, although the shrub layer may also be considered a separate layer.

Forest floor
The forest floor, the bottom-most layer, receives only 2 percent of sunlight. Only plants adapted to low light can grow in this region. Away from riverbanks, swamps, and clearings
where dense undergrowth is found, the forest floor is relatively clear of vegetation because of the low sunlight penetration. It also contains decaying plant and animal matter, which disappears quickly due to the warm, humid conditions promoting rapid decay. Many forms of fungi grow here which help decay the animal and plant waste. It takes up to 20 minutes for rain to actually touch the ground from the trees. Forest floor – Mahadayi Valley, Karnataka.
Because of the ample solar energy, tropical rainforests are usually warm year round with temperatures from about 72-93F (22-34C), although forests at higher elevations, especially cloud forests, may be significantly cooler. The temperature may fluctuate during the year, but in some equatorial forests the average may vary as little as 0.5F (0.3C) throughout the year. Temperatures are generally moderated by cloud cover and high humidity.
 
PRECIPITATION

An important characteristic of rainforests is apparent in their name. Rainforests lie in the intertropical convergence zone where intense solar energy produces a convection zone of rising air that loses its moisture through frequent rainstorms. Rainforests are subject to heavy rainfall, at least 80 inches (2,000 mm), and in some areas over 430 inches (10,920 mm) of rain each year. In equatorial regions, rainfall may be year round without apparent “wet” or “dry” seasons, although many forests do have seasonal rains. Even in seasonal forests, the period between rains is usually not long enough for the leaf litter to dry out completely. During the parts of the year when less rain falls, the constant cloud cover is enough to keep the air moist and prevent plants from drying out. Some neotropical rainforests rarely go a month during the year without at least 6″ of rain. The stable climate, with evenly spread rainfall and warmth, allows most rainforest trees to be evergreen—keeping their leaves all year and never dropping all their leaves in any one season. Forests further from the equator, like those of India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Central America, where rainy seasons are more pronounced, can only be considered “semi-evergreen” since some species of trees may shed all of their leaves at the beginning of the dry season. Annual rainfall is spread evenly enough to allow heavy growth of broad-leafed evergreen trees, or at least semi-evergreen trees. The moisture of the rainforest from rainfall, constant cloud cover, and transpiration (water loss through leaves), creates intense local humidity. Each canopy tree transpires some 200 gallons (760 liters) of water annually, translating to roughly 20,000 gallons (76,000 L) of water transpired into the atmosphere for every acre of canopy trees. Large rainforests (and their humidity) contribute to the formation of rain clouds, and generate as much as 75 percent of their own rain.
The Amazon rainforest is responsible for creating as much as 50 percent of its own precipitation. Deforestation and climate change may be affecting the water cycle in tropical rainforests. Since the mid-1990s, rainforests around the world have experienced periods of severe drought, including southeast Asia in 1997 and 2005 and the Amazon in 2005. Dry conditions, combined with degradation from logging and agricultural conversion, make forests more vulnerable to wildfire.

Rainforests Waters
Tropical rainforests have some of the largest rivers in the world, like the Amazon, Madeira, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Negro, Orinoco, and Zaire (Congo), because of the tremendous amount of precipitation their watersheds receive. These mega-rivers are fed by countless smaller tributaries, streams, and creeks. For example, the Amazon alone has some 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 1,000 miles long. Although large tropical rivers are fairly uniform in appearance and water composition, their tributaries vary greatly. Many tropical rivers and streams have extreme high and low water levels that occur at different parts of the year. In addition to rivers, rainforests have conventional, free-standing lakes and so-called oxbow lakes, formed when a river changes course. These lakes are home to species adapted to the quiet, stagnant conditions. Tropical waters, whether they be giant rivers, streams, or oxbow lakes, are almost as rich in animal species as the rainforests that surround them. But they, too, are increasingly threatened by human activities, including pollution, siltation resulting from deforestation, hydroelectric projects, and over-harvesting of resident species.

Forest – the mother of rivers

There is an umbilical connection between healthy forests and water regimes. Forests are nurseries and cisterns for our life giving rivers. Forest areas give birth to all the major and minor rivers. Most of the rivers spring from some unknown forests. Because of the slope the rain water cannot stay to soak into the earth, it flows downhill rapidly taking some of the earth with it This run-off on the hillsides will only be halted, and water will percolate into the earth where there is a good tree cover. In fact a forest “traps” rainwater and channels it into underground streams.
 
World’s Largest Pharmacy

Medicinal plants and herbs which are in great demand by Pharmaceutical MNCs e.g. Mappia foetida used for the treatment of ovarian colon cancers. The tree is the richest source of Camptothetician (CPT) used in the treatment of these cancers.

Tropical rainforests are called “the world’s largest pharmacy” because of the large amount of natural medicines discovered in rainforests that are derived from rainforest plants. For example, rain forests contain the basic ingredients of hormonal contraception methods, cocaine, stimulants, and tranquilizing drugs. Curare (a paralyzing drug) and quinine (a malaria cure) are also found there.
CONSEQUENCES OF DEFORESTATION

Rainforests around the world still continue to fall. Does it really make a difference? Why should anyone care if some plants, animals, mushrooms, and microorganisms perish? Rainforests are often hot and humid, difficult to reach, insect-ridden, and have elusive wildlife.
Actually the concern should not be about losing a few plants and animals; mankind stands to lose much more. By destroying the tropical forests, we risk our own quality of life, gamble with the stability of climate and local weather, threaten the existence of other species, and undermine the valuable services provided by biological diversity. While in most areas environmental degradation has yet to reach a crisis level where entire systems are collapsing, it is important to examine some of the effects of existing environmental impoverishment and to forecast some of the potential repercussions of forest loss. Continuing loss of natural systems could make human activities increasingly vulnerable to ecological surprises in the future. The most immediate impact of deforestation occurs at the local level with the loss of ecological services provided by tropical rainforests and related ecosystems. Such habitats afford humans valuable services such as erosion prevention, flood control, water treatment, fisheries protection, and pollination—functions that are particularly important to the world’s poorest people, who rely on natural resources for their everyday survival. Forest loss also reduces the availability of renewable resources like timber, medicinal plants, nuts and fruit, and game. Over the longer term, deforestation of tropical rainforests can have a broader impact, affecting global climate and biodiversity. These changes are more difficult to observe and forecast from local effects, since they take place over a longer time scale and can be difficult to measure.
Deforestation and the Global Carbon Cycle
Carbon dioxide ( CO2) is the major gas involved in the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming. All the things that produce CO2 (like car burning gas) and the things that consume Co2 (growing plants) are involved in the “global carbon cycle”. Tropical forests hold an immense amount of carbon, which joins with oxygen to form CO2. The plants and soil of tropical forests hold 460-575 billion metric tons of carbon worldwide. Each acre of tropical forest stores about 180 metric tons of carbon.
Deforestation increases the amount of CO2 and other trace gases in the atmosphere. When a forest is cut and replaced by cropland and pastures, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks (wood is about 50% carbon) joins with oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as Co2.The loss of forests has a great effect on the global carbon cycle. From 1850 to 1990, deforestation worldwide (including that in the United States) released 122 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, with the current rate being 1.6 billion metric tons per year. In comparison all the fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) burned during a year release about 6 billion tons per year.Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect, and may raise global temperature. The role of fossil fuels burned by cars and industry is well known, but tropical deforestation releases about 25% of the amount released by fossil fuel burning. Tropical deforestation, therefore, contributes a significant part of the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.
Today tropical rainforests are disappearing from the face of the globe. Despite growing international concern, rainforests continue to be destroyed at a pace exceeding 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares) per day. World rainforest cover now stands at around 2.5 million square miles (6 million square kilometers), an area about the size of the contiguous 48 United States or Australia and representing around 5 percent of the world’s land surface. Much of this remaining area has been impacted by human activities and no longer retains its full original biodiversity.
 
The Rainforests of India
The rainforests in India are the centres of species richness and endemism and due to this has the status of being one of the 12 mega-biodiversity countries in the world. Even the two hotspots in India, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas, owe their status due to the presence of rainforests therein. These forests form very important catchments areas for major river systems, maintain soil and water fertility not only in the immediate vicinity but also hundreds of kilometers away, harbours rich indigenous culture with long traditions of sustainable use of traditional knowledge systems especially on medicines and wild relatives of cultivate crops. It is to these rainforests that more than 80% of the endemic flora and fauna of India are confined. Being the most complex ecosystem, the rain forests are living laboratories in which complex ecological, biological and evolutionary processes that have shaped the Earth.

Bamboo brakes, Muthodi, Karnataka

 
Tropical forest cover in India has been reduced to two major areas: the coastal hills of the Western Ghats (about 55,000 square miles or 135,000 sq. km) and 14,000 square miles (34,500 sq. km) in Northeastern India. Very little of India’s forest cover is considered pristine. 22.8% —or about 67,701,000 hectares—of India is forested. Change in Forest Cover: Between 1990 and 2000, India gained an average of 361,500 hectares of forest per year. The amounts to an average annual reforestation rate of 0.57%. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change decreased by 92.3% to 0.04% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, India gained 5.9% of its forest cover, or around 3,762,000 hectares. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, India gained 1.0% of its forest and woodland habitat.Biodiversity and Protected Areas: India has some 2356 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these, 18.4% are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 10.8% are threatened. India is home to at least 18664 species of vascular plants, of which 26.8% are endemic. 4.9% of India is protected under IUCN categories I-V.

Rainforests of the Western Ghats
The Western Ghats hill range in India contains spectacular landscapes and an incredible array of wild species, many found nowhere else in the world. One among the world’s 34 most biologically diverse “hotspots”, the region has representation of a wide variety of natural ecosystems from grasslands and dry forests to rainforests, rivers, and streams, threatened by a multitude of human activities such as industrialisation, agriculture, grazing, hunting, deforestation, fragmentation, and degradation. Today, rainforests in the Western Ghats occur largely as fragments within a landscape matrix dominated by commercial plantations of tea, coffee, and other cash crops. With an annual deforestation rate of 1.2%, the southern Western Ghats is losing about 500 square kilometres of forest every year. NCF’s programme focuses on human impacts on wild species and habitats, biological surveys, human-wildlife conflict research and mitigation, and restoration to turn the tide of destruction towards conservation.

Forests of the western slopes of the Western Ghats, Konkan

The northern portion of the range is generally drier than the southern portion, and at lower elevations makes up the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests ecoregion, with mostly deciduous forests made up predominantly of teak. Above 1,000 meters elevation are the cooler and wetter North Western Ghats montane rain forests, whose evergreen forests are characterized by trees of family Lauraceae.The evergreen Wayanad forests of Kerala mark the transition zone between the northern and southern ecoregions of the Western Ghats. The southern ecoregions are generally wetter and more species-rich. At lower elevations are the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, with Cullenia the characteristic tree genus, accompanied by teak, dipterocarps, and other trees. The moist forests transition to the drier South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests, which lie in its rain shadow to the east.
 

Clear felling, Mahadayi Valley, Karnataka

 
Above 1,000 meters are the South Western Ghats montane rain forests, also cooler and wetter than the surrounding lowland forests, and dominated by evergreen trees, although some montane grasslands and stunted forests can be found at the highest elevations. The South Western Ghats montane rain forests are the most species-rich ecoregion in peninsular India; eighty percent of the flowering plant species of the entire Western Ghats range are found in this ecoregion.

Tropical Montane – Bedthi River Valley, Karnataka

The animal life of the Indian peninsular region is characterised by the absence of many of the Indo-Malay species which are so abundant in the hill forests of the Himalayas. It is the home of the true Indian fauna of which the spotted deer, the nilgai, the blackbuck, the four-horned antelope, and the sloth bear are typical representatives. They are found no where else. Other species like the gaur, the sambar and the muntjac (barking deer) occur both in India and Malay countries. The Western Ghats, in sharp contrast to the adjoining dry zone of the Deccan present a region of great humidity and heavy rainfall. The forests covering the western slopes are at times very dense and composed of lofty trees, festooned with perennial creepers. Bamboos form a luxuriant undergrowth. In parts of the range the forests are more open and the banks of clear streams running through them are covered with spice and betel groves.
The Nilgiris, an offshoot of the Western Ghats, rise precipitously to form extensive grassy downs and tablelands seamed with densely forested gorges or Sholas. They are composed of evergreen trees with dense undergrowth.

1. Malabar Giant Squirrel 2. Lion tailed Macaque

 
Among the species limited to these forests are the Nilgiri langur, the Lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri brown mongoose and the striped necked mongoose, the Malabar civet, and the spiny mouse. In the higher levels of the Nilgiris and the Anaimalais are found such characteristically Himalayan animals as the tahr, the pine marten and the European otter.
 

Endemic species of the Western Ghats

One hundred and twenty species of mammals are known from the Western Ghats of which fourteen species are endemic (found only in that area).
 
The mammalian fauna of the Western Ghats is dominated by insectivores (11 species), bats (41 species) and rodents (27 species including porcupine). Few studies have, however, paid attention to the community structure and organisation of these small mammals in the Western Ghats, although there have been attempts to review our understanding of the status and ecology of smaller cats and lesser carnivores.
 
Rainforests of the Northeast India
 
The Northeast India lying between 22-30 degree N latitude and 89-97 degree E longitude, and sprawling over 2,62,379 sq.km., Northeast India represents the transition zone between the Indian, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese biogeographic regions and a meeting place of the Himalayan Mountains and Peninsular India. It was the part of the northward migrating ‘Deccan Peninsula’ that first touched the Asian landmass after the break up of Gondwanaland in the early Tertiary Period. Northeast India is thus the geographical ‘gateway’ for much of India’s flora and fauna, and as a consequence, the region is one of the richest in biological values. It is in this lowland-highland transition zone that the highest diversity of biomes or ecological communities can be found, and species diversities within these communities are also extremely high.
 
Northeast India is blessed with a wide range of physiography and ecoclimatic conditions. The State of Assam has extensive flood plains, while Khangchendzonga in Sikkim stands 8586 m. tall. Cherrapunjee in the State of Meghalaya holds the record for the highest rainfall in a single month (9,300 mm) as well as the most in a year (26,461 mm) in India, while the nearby Mawsynram has the world’s highest average rainfall (11,873 mm). The forests in the region are extremely diverse in structure and composition and combine tropical and temperate forest types, alpine meadows and cold deserts. There are regions, for example, in the State of Sikkim, where the faunal assemblages also change rapidly from tropical to subtropical, temperate, alpine and finally to cold desert forms.
 
After the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Western Ghats, Northeast India forms the main region of tropical forests in India, especially the species-rich tropical rain forests. The tropical semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests in the lowlands of this region extend south and west into the subcontinent, and east into Southern China and Southeast Asia. The subtropical forests of the region follow the foothills of the Himalaya to the west; also extend into Southeast China in the east. Himalayan temperate and subalpine zone forests extend from northern Pakistan and adjacent Afghanistan through Northeast India to Southwest China. Each of the eight States of the region, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, boast of several endemics in flora as well as fauna. This region represents an important part of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot.
 
1. Dooars forests, North Bengal 2. Golden Langur
 
The primary vegetation in extensive areas of the Northeast India has been disturbed and modified and in some places destroyed by seismic activities, frequent landslides and resultant soil erosion. While these natural causes have contributed only marginally to the change in vegetation type, it is the activity of Man that has led to the irreversible transformation in the landscapes and has resulted in colossal loss of biodiversity in the entire region. Human influences have pushed many species to the brink of extinction and have caused havoc to natural fragile ecosystems. Such devastations to natural ecosystems are witnessed almost everywhere in the region and is a cause of great concern.

 
1. Slow Loris 2. Reticulated Python

Northeast India has 64% of the total geographical area under forest cover and it is often quoted that it continues to be a forest surplus region. However, the forest cover is rapidly disappearing from the entire region. There has been a decrease of about 1800 sq.km. in the forest cover between 1991 and 1999. More worrisome still is the fact that the quality of the forest is also deteriorating, with the dense forests (canopy closure of 40% or more) becoming degraded into open forest or scrub. Though there is a succession of several edaphic formations, a vast area of land has already been transformed into barren and unproductive wastelands. This being the case, the statistics of ‘more than 64 % of the total geographic area in this region under forest cover’ could be misleading. For example, though the forest cover in Manipur extends to 78% of the total geographic area, only 22% of forest area is under dense forest cover and the rest has been converted to open forests.
 
 
Except in the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys of Assam where substantial areas are under agriculture, little of the land is available for settled cultivation. Hence, shifting agriculture or slash-and-burn agriculture is the major land use in Northeast India and extends over 1.73 million ha. Different agencies have come up with different figures concerning the total area under shifting cultivation (jhum) in the region. What is not disputable is that with an ever shortening jhum cycle, the other human influences have caused environmental degradation with disastrous consequences.The forests of Assam once acted as a sponge, absorbing the tremendous impact of the monsoons. The natural drainage of the vast northeastern Himalaya is channelled through Assam and with the loss of thick forest cover, Brahmaputra, one of the largest and fastest flowing rivers of the subcontinent is creating havoc in the State. Floods that have devastating effects are now common to Northeast India and protecting the forests is a difficult problem.
 
 
The Rainforests of the Andamans & Nicobar Islands

 
The Andamans and Nicobar Islands have tropical evergreen rain forests and tropical semi-evergreen rainforests as well as tropical monsoon moist monsoon forests.
 
There are 572 islands in the territory, of which only approximately 38 are permanently inhabited. Most of the islands (about 550) are in the Andamans group, 26 of which are inhabited. The smaller Nicobars comprise some 22 main islands (10 inhabited). The Andamans and Nicobars are separated by a channel (the Ten Degree Channel) some 150 km wide.The total area of the Andaman Islands is some 6,408 km²; that of the Nicobar Islands approximately 1,841 km².

 
Aerial view -Andamans & Nicobar Islands

Andaman & Nicobar Islands are blessed with a unique tropical rainforest canopy, made of a mixed flora with elements from Indian, Myanmarese, Malaysian and endemic floral strains. So far, about 2,200 varieties of plants have been recorded, out of which 200 are endemic and 1,300 do not occur in mainland India.The South Andaman forests have a profuse growth of epiphytic vegetation, mostly ferns and orchids. The Middle Andamans harbours mostly moist deciduous forests. North Andamans is characterised by the wet evergreen type, with plenty of woody climbers. The north Nicobar Islands (including Car Nicobar and Battimalv) are marked by the complete absence of evergreen forests, while such forests form the dominant vegetation in the central and southern islands of the Nicobar group. Grasslands occur only in the Nicobars, and while deciduous forests are common in the Andamans, they are almost absent in the Nicobars. The present forest coverage is claimed to be 86.2% of the total land area.

 
 
 
References: Wikipedia, Mongabay,com, Animal corner.com, The Western Ghats by Mohan Pai, Nature Conservation Foundation, Biodiversity of Northeast India an Overview -V.Ramakantha, A.K.Gupta, Ajith Kumar
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Western Ghats, India – Shivaji’s Forts

From the book  ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).

 

SHIVAJI’S FORTS

Geography has always played a decisive role in the history of a region. The geographical character and features dominated by the Sahyadri range prevented any real subjugation by alien powers of the Indian subcontinent south of the Tapti river, in the sense that northern India was; the geopolitical influence of these mountain ranges and their rugged and difficult terrain was immense.

The Deccan plateau is a landscape characterised by flat top summits, terraced flanks and precipitous slopes. These flat topped natural scarps rising above lower slopes which were then thickly wooded and surrounded by broken and uneven terrain were difficult to ascend. In many of these hills a sheer precipice of black basalt over 500 to 600 ft high ran almost all around making them natural strongholds.

The word ‘Fort’ originates from the French word ‘Fortis’ meaning strength. Even in Indian languages, they are called ‘Durg’ which is derived from the Sanskrit Word ‘Durgamam’ meaning inaccessible.

Bahamanis of Gulbarga who ruled for about 200 years were some of the first fort builders in the Sahyadris. Amongst local families Silahars of Panhala and Bhojraja in particular built many southern forts – Vishalgad, Vasota, Ragnya, Bhudargad and others. The Bahamani rule disintegrated by the middle of the 16th century and for a number of years chaos and anarchy prevailed. Out of this troubled times rose Shivaji who during his comparatively short span of life dominated the entire landscape of the northern Sahyadris and established his kingdom encompassing the entire mountainous region.

There are over 300 forts spread all over the northern Sahyadris from Salher in the north to the fort of Terekhol on the border of Goa. The forts and pinnacles of the northern Sahyadris are the sentinels that have witnessed a turbulent past and present us with a rich, romantic diversity of site, function, history, architectural style and cultural heritage. Here every peak seems to possess a fort and reverberate with its past of valour, daring, treachery and fluctuating fortunes.

Chhatrapati Shivaji – a painting

From 1294 AD the region was ruled by a succession of Mohammedan dynasties. This difficult terrain of the Sahyadris suited very well for Shivaji’s guerilla techniques, and enabled him to outsmart the mighty Generals of Aurangazeb and Bijapur. The ramparts and bastions of these forts depict the drama of the Sahyadris as well as Shivaji’s skills in harnessing these natural forces for his cause. He fought the might of the Mogul Empire in the north and that of Bijapur kingdom in the south and finally achieved a stunning victory and became the founder of the Maratha Empire. Shivaji himself in a letter to the Mogul Officials (Kutute Shivaji – copy of the manuscript is in the State Archives, Mumbai) brings out the importance of the rugged terrain and the fact that it is a difficult region for the Moguls to conquer.

 

The letter is reproduced below:
“Far-sighted men know that during the last three years, famous Generals and experienced officials have been coming from the Emperor to this region. The Emperor had ordered them to capture my forts and territory. In their despatches to the Emperor they write that the territory and the forts would be captured soon. Even if imagination were a horse it would be impossible for it to move in these parts. It is extremely difficult for this region to be conquered. They do not know this. They are not ashamed of sending false reports to the Emperor. My country does not consist of places like Kalyani and Bidar, which are situated in plains and could be captured by assaults. It is full of hill ranges. There are sixty forts in this region. Some of them are situated on the sea coast. Afzal Khan came with a strong army, but he was rendered helpless and destroyed.“After Afzal Khan’s death, the Amir-ul-umara, Shaista Khan, marched into my land, full of high hills and deep gorges. For three years he exerted himself to the utmost. He wrote to the Emperor that he would conquer my territory in a short time. The end of such a false attitude was only to be expected. He was disgraced and had to go away.
“It is my duty to guard my homeland. To maintain your prestige you send false reports to the Emperor. But I am blessed with divine favour. An invader of these lands, whosoever he may be, has never succeeded.”

Shivaji was a fort builder par excellence. It is said that he conquered 130 forts, built 111 and at the time of his death in 1680 possessed some 240 forts.
Among the many forts associated with Shivaji’s exploits the following are some of the prominent forts:

Shivneri :

This was a Nizam Shahi fort situated about 3 km from Junnar in the Malsej Ghat region. This is the birth place of Shivaji – he was born on February 19,1630 (some sources give the year of his birth as 1627).

Torna & Rajgad :

Both these forts are situated in the Bhuleshwar range. Torna was Shivaji’s first conquest in 1646 when he was only 16 years of age. Around the same year he also captured the fort of Morumbdev (later called Rajgad), 40 km southwest of Pune which served as the capital of Shivaji for 25 years before he moved it to Raigad.

Raigad :

Raigad stands separated by a ravine from the main range, to the west of the point where the Bhuleshwar range starts. It was here that Shivaji was crowned as king on June 6, 1674. It was a safe residence as the natural defences offered by way of ramparts and bastions were further strengthened by vertical scarps.
It commanded an excellent view and it enabled Shivaji to easily control Javli-Mahad area, right up to the sea. Raigad was the capital of the Maratha empire and he died in this fort on April 4, 1680.

Simhagad :

This fort called Kondana was Shivaji’s biggest achievement in his early career, which he captured by peaceful means in 1647 which later came to be known as Simhagad. Simhagad is located in the Bhuleshwar range, 26 km south of Pune. It was later surrendered to the Moguls and again recaptured in 1670 after a bitter struggle. The assault was led by the valiant Maratha warrior Tanaji Malusare. The fort was stoutly defended by Udai Bhan, the Rajput commandant of the Moguls. Both the leaders fought a duel which resulted in their death. The loss of brave Tanaji saddened Shivaji and he is said to have cried in anguish “I have won a fort but lost the lion”.

Purandhar :

Purandhar fort, at the end of the range which runs southeast from Simhagad is a strong fort that witnessed many a great battles in the Maratha history. The veteran general Jai Singh was sent by the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb to recapture the forts and territory occupied by Shivaji and leaving him no alternative but to surrender to the Moguls. Having arrived in Pune, Jai Singh marched towards the fort of Purandhar and the siege of Purandhar began on 30 March, 1665. There were fierce attacks by the Moguls and equally fierce defence put up by the Marathas. Although the Moguls were poised to capture Purandhar, but at the express request of Shivaji, the fort was allowed to be surrendered and the garrison permitted to evacuate the stronghold. There were 7,000, men and women, in the fort of Purandhar; of these, 4,000 were fighting men defending the fort. The siege of Purandhar is one of the most memorable sieges in Indian history.

Pratapgad :

The hill station of Mahabaleshwar marks the start of the Shambhu-Mahadeo range of the Koyna region. On the west of the ridge is located the historically important fort of Pratapgad (1,438 m). This fort is one of Shivaji’s most brilliant defense structures built by him in 1656 with some clever manipulation of the terrain.

Pratapgad – Pic by Mohan Pai

Militarily it was an important fort as it controlled the Ambavani and Pir passes and was one of the strongest forts due to its vertical scarps. This grim fortress with its towers and battlements surrounded by high, basalt walls pierced with loopholes from whichonce sprouted Jingals – muskets fixed on swivel – still stands as an impregnable monument. The fort was once the scene of a dramatic act of double treachery. Shivaji met his opponent, Afzal Khan, the powerful Bijapur General, in a supposedly unarmed truce. They both embraced each other in a show of cordiality. Afzal Khan whipped out a hidden dagger and stabbed the foe, but the wily Maratha had taken the wise precaution of wearing a shirt of mail and concealed in his left hand a set of imitation tiger claws. He killed Afzal Khan with this weapon. A small monument and tower marks the scene of this vicious encounter at Pratapgad.

Panhala & Vishalgad:

Panhala range branches off from the main Sahyadris south of Warna valley. The range starts with the fort of Vishalgad, which is a historic fort captured by Shivaji in 1659 and is well protected by scarps, walls and bastions.
The range then goes eastwards to Panhala fort, which was captured by Shivaji in November 1659. Both Vishalgad and Panhala have been witness to deeds of valour and epic defense.
Since March 1660 Shivaji had been pinned down at Panhala for over four months in a tight siege by Siddi Jauhar of Bijapur. Shivaji decided to escape and taking advantage of the rainy season and dark nights, on 13th July 1660, slipped out of Panhala and made straight for the fort of Vishalgad, 64 km away. Shivaji’s outnumbered bodyguards were overtaken by the Bijapur forces at Pawan Khind (Ghod Khind) some eight miles short of safe Maratha territory. The epic defense of his Mavle escort enabled Shivaji to avoid capture but at the cost of his valiant leiutenant Baji Prabu’s life.

Memorial to Baji Prabhu at Panhala fort – Pic by Mohan Pai

Shivaji once again attacked Panhala and recaptured it in 1673. South of the Panhala range in the Amboli region has the southern most forts of Bhudargad, Pargad and Rangnya which was captured by Shivaji in 1657.

Salher & Mulher :

These two forts in the Selbari range running west to east dominate the landscape south of Mosam river. Salher is the highest hill fort (above 5,000 ft) in the Sahyadris and marked the northern most point of Shivaji’s kingdom which he laid siege to it and captured in 1671. Mulher is an ancient fort built in the 14th century and is also known as Mayurgad. The famous battle of Salher took place in early 1672. The Moguls had laid siege to the fort of Salher. Its capture had become a point of prestige for the Moguls. But Shivaji was determined to force the Moguls to raise the siege. In the ensuing battle Maratha forces defeated the Mogul forces led by their General Bahadur Khan and the entire equipment and booty was captured by the Marathas.
Apart from Salher and Mulher, this range of hills had nearly ten forts – Chandwad, Indrani, Kanchan Manchan, Dhodap, Ahivant, Achalagiri, Hanumantgad, Markand and Saptashringi.

Mulher Fort – Pic by Mohan Pai

Tryambak Range :
Harihar fort (1,120 m) is in the Tryambak range north of Igatpuri and is built on a triangular rock. Kalsubai, the highest peak of the northern Sahyadris at 1,646 m lies in this range branching off in the easterly direction. The range has the highest and difficult hill forts of Kulang, Alang and Madangad. Further northeast is the Patta fort (1,370 m) and on the main crest of the Sahyadris running southeast is Ratangad (1,296 m).

Budhargad near Kolhapur – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Sea-Forts :

There are a number of sea forts situated along the long Konkan coast which played an important role in the history of the Sahyadris. As the Konkan coast came increasingly under his possession, Shivaji started building a number of coastal fortresses in order to strengthen his modest navy and keep in check the Siddis of Janjira, the Portugese and other powers. He laid the foundation of the fort of Sindhudurg near Malvan on December 5, 1664 which became his naval base. He also built several other sea-forts such asPadmadurg, Vijaydurg, Jaigad and Devgad. Coastal Fort at Ratnagiri – Pic by Mohan Pai

Murud-Janjira fort which is situated 2 km into the sea from Murud, was constructed in the 11th century and was considered impregnable and witnessed many a battles. It was occupied by the Siddis during Shivaji’s time and even Shivaji was unable to effectively blockade this formidable fort.

End of an Era

After the last Maratha war and signing the treaty of 1818, the British controlled most of the Northern Sahyadri region and started establishing the British rule. Most of the forts were systematically dismantled by them for political reasons. They dynamited rocky stairs, fort walls, ramparts and approach routes to many impregnable forts to make them unusable. The damage done by these charges can be seen even today.
The techniques of war had also undergone a sea-change. The development of long range powerful artillery warfare effectively put an end to the value of these forts as defense strongholds and they did not play any further role in the history of the region.

Western Ghats, India – Introduction

From the book  ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).

These blogs have been created to publish some of the key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005. The book has been out of print for some time and a number of people have evinced keen interest in the book and hence these blogs. 

Preface

The Sahyadris or the Western Ghats is a major mountain range of the world that runs for 1,600 km N-S forming what has been called “the girdle of the earth”. In terms of geological age, they are much older than the Himalayas.
The range is only next to the Himalayas on the Indian subcontinent and represents the tropical humid area rich in biodiversity. It is a precious gift of the Nature – priceless because the well-being of the entire southern peninsula hinges on the ecological stability of these mountains.
But this priceless asset, an inheritance, is being squandered away through mindless exploitation and wanton destruction. The rate of forest destruction continues at a staggering rate, threatening to turn this once lush green region into a lifeless, brown desert in the not so distant future.

In this book I have attempted to construct a profile of the Western Ghats covering different aspects – from the geological history to the tribes and the hill stations with the intention of showing what is it that we are in the process of destroying. It is high time that the common man is made aware of this irreversible damage which will ultimately affect the quality of life and his well-being and that of the generations to come.

I was born in a village at the base of the Sahyadris in Goa on the West Coast and spent all my life in the shadows of this great mountain range. When I looked for a publication that gives an overview of the Sahyadris, I did not find any. So I started collecting material from various available sources and put it together. This book is the result of that endeavour. I also undertook journeys and travelled the whole length and breadth of this range from Kundaibari Pass, south of the Tapti river to Kanyakumari with my camera.

Mohan Pai
September 7, 2005
Bangalore.

Western Ghats, India – Ecological Survival

From the book  ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).

 

WHITHER THE SAHYADRIS  ?


Annaimudi Peak, Eravikulam, Kerala – Pic by Mohan Pai

It has been said that the interaction between man and nature is largely moulded by the interrelationship of man and man within the human society.
Ecology is the science of the relationships between organisms and their environment.

“The science of living beings in general, and especially of the human individual, has not made such a great progress. It still remains in the descriptive state. Man is an indivisible whole of extreme complexity. No simple representation of him can be obtained. There is no method of comprehending simultaneously in his entirety, his parts and his relations with the outer world.
We are beginning to realise the weakness of our
 civilisation. Many want to shake off the dogmas imposed upon them by modern society – those who are bold enough to understand the necessity, not only mental, political and social changes, but the overthrow of industrial civilisation and of the advent of another conception of human progress”
– Man, the Unknown – Dr. Alexis Carrel.
Malsej Ghats, Maharashtra – Pic by Mohan Pai
We cannot have ecological movement designed to prevent violence against nature, unless the principle of non-violence becomes central to the ethics of human culture 
– Mahatma Gandhi

The Sahyadris – also known as the Western Ghats comprise fragile but vital ecosystems of the Indian subcontinent. Rare, moist deciduous forest type, sub-temperate montane wet grasslands and shola forests, high species endemism, uniqueness of lowland evergreen forest in a monsoonal climate and biogeographical significance of this isolated area between the African and Indo-Malaysian blocks make the Western Ghats a very important biological resource. In fact the Western Ghats like the South American rainforests form the girdle of the earth and help maintain global ecological balance.

The Western Ghats also harbour a large diversity of human cultures – in the less than 20,000 sq. km. of Kerala Western Ghats there are more than 38 distinct tribal communities. This region, which is globally recognised as a hotspot area of great conservation concern is under constant threat due to many anthropogenic factors. And the tide of ecodegradation is sweeping over the entire tract destroying most of the biodiversity.

The hill ranges form an almost unbroken rampart on the fringe of the western peninsula parallel to the west coast of India for about 1600 km. They start immediately south of the Tapti river, the northern most point being, the Kundaibari Pass (21006N, 74011E) in Dhule district of Maharashtra and ending near Kanyakumari (80N) barely 20 km from the sea in Tamil Nadu. The entire range encompasses six States – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Malsej Ghats, Maharashtra – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Western Ghats cover an area of approximately 1,59,000 sq.km with an average elevation of 900-1500 m. ASL. Rising up from a relatively narrow coastal strip(average width: 40 km), the hills reach up to a height of 2,695 m.(8,843 ft.) at Anaimudi Peak in Kerala before they merge to the east with the Deccan plateau at an altitude of 500-600 m. The average width of the mountain range is about 100 km.

 
The Living Fulcrum
 
The hill ranges force the moisture laden monsoon winds coming off the Arabian Sea to rise and receive in consequence heavy precipitation of 2,000 mm or more annually. The rainfall exceeds 7,500 mm per annum in some places on the western windward side (Agumbe, Karnataka). To the lee of the Ghats is the region of rain shadow and the eastern slopes of the Ghats where the rainfall decreases rapidly and are much drier than the western face.
The rainfall is heavier to the south and extends over 8-10 months a year; it is lower and restricted to 4 months of the south-west monsoon in the central and northern parts of the Western Ghats. These marked differences in the geomorphology, rainfall, water regimes and temperatures have given rise to several types of plants and animal species which makes the region one of the richest biodiversity spots or the Living Fulcrum.
 
Water…Water…

 

Cheeyapara Waterfalls, Kerala – Pic by Mohan Pai

 
The Western Ghats are remarkable headwaters and the main watershed for the southern peninsula serving six states; sustained by the heavy seasonal rainfall from the south-west monsoon, from which all the major and many smaller rivers of the southern peninsula originate and flow east or west emptying into the coastal waters. All the river runoff in the southern parts of India is controlled by these hills and thus agriculture in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu is crucially regulated by the Western Ghats. The real merit of the Western Ghats forests in terms of their watershed value is incalculable and ought to concern everybody. These forests once destroyed are gone forever. No amount of scientific knowledge or investment in afforestation can get us back our rivers.
Vanishing Forests
The biggest ecological damage inflicted upon the Western Ghats is deforestation. Tragically for the country and the region, most of the forest cover in the Western Ghats has disappeared.
 
Ecologically fragile monsoon forests
 
The forest cover in the Western Ghats seems to have declined between 1972 and 1985 at a rate paralleling that for India as a whole, which implies a loss of over 2.4% annually.
The decline of the primary forest : the amount remaining seems to be no more than 8,000 sq. kms.
All but isolated pockets of original forest have been opened up allowing a takeover by deciduous species and bamboo among other forms of degenerate vegetation.
A study which estimated changes (2002) in the forest cover between 1973 and 1993 in the southern parts of the Western Ghats using satellite data reveals a loss of 25.6 percent forest cover in that period.
Reduction in forest cover and habitat fragmentation has had a very adverse effect on the wildlife of this area. Many species have become highly endangered almost on the verge of extinction – Lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur and Nilgiri tahr.

Nilgiri Tahr, Eravikulam – Pic by Mohan Pai

Path to Economic Development
After independence, India launched itself on the path of modernisation and economic development and nearly six decades of this endeavour has yielded many impressive gains. But as the years have rolled by, there are more and more signs that some grave errors have been committed in the choice of path to development. For this path has led to large scale misuse of the natural resources imposing on the country, huge costs in the form of flood damage, siltation and reduction of life of river valley projects, shortages of fuel and fodder for the rural population and of raw material base for industries.
The hill areas of the Western Ghats have paid a heavy price for the planned development that has led to a considerable degree of intensification of the use of its resources; but without adequate attention to long term sustainability of this resource use pattern.
 
Its forest wealth is depleted, its reservoirs silting up, its horticulture plagued by outbreaks of new diseases; polluting the environment and bringing little benefits to the local population. The fragile ecosystems of the Ghats have tended to collapse under the assaults of exploitative development of the last few decades.
Tea Gardens at Munnar – Pic by Mohan Pai

Indirectly, the Western Ghats influence the well-being of the entire peninsula through modulating climate, river water flow, ground water recharge, adding fertility to river valley and delta soils, providing a wide range of natural produce for the really impoverished population.

Kamakshi Temple in the Sahyadris, Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

Save The Western Ghats

Save the Western Ghats is an anguished cry that is heard throughout the southern peninsula, now for several decades. There are sporadic voices of protest from environmentalists and conservationists against the shortsighted developmental activities in this ecologically very fragile region. There have been gatherings and awareness marches in the past. But environmental activism, at best, is fire fighting by a handful of pressure groups or individuals.
The fact remains that half-hearted conservation attempts by the Governments and various agencies amount only to patchy efforts and the rate of deforestation has accelerated in recent years with a steady environmental decline of the whole region. The threat has all the more increased with the combined pressure of urbanisation, industries, mining, deforestation, submergence by dams, introduction of railways, large scale encroachments, poaching etc. The fragmentation of these forests form a major threat to species conservation, and lack of green cover will not only turn the area into barren hills but could result in the devastating cycle of floods and droughts in the downstream areas.
Unless the Governments, International Agencies and the people of the region wake up to the harsh realities, and take some drastic steps for the conservation of the region, this rich, lush, highly resourceful region will be lost forever with very unpleasant and adverse effects on the liveable environment of the subcontinent.
In the hills of the Western Ghats, we confront our future. These mountains influence rainfall, regulate run-off of water into downhill drainage channels and are the most important features of the landscape. Through rivers, the hills control the fate of the valleys and plains. The hills are by themselves rich and at the same time very fragile. Unfortunately they continue to suffer drastic degradation due to human pressure. They need priority attention and careful nursing. These mountains in their remote fastness still shelter the last remnants of our biological and human cultural diversity. Most of our unique representative ecosystems, the last of our endangered plants and animals, our least modified cultures, all find protection in the inaccessibility of these mountains. 

Soliga Tribal Minstrel, B. R. Hills, Karnataka – Pic by Mridula Pai

Western Ghats – Geological History

From the book  ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).

 

MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO.

The Western Ghat hill ranges, in terms of geological age, are much older than the Himalayas. The Geological history of the Western Ghats goes back to the time when the earth’s crust was being formed and makes a fascinating reading.
A nineteenth century Austrian geologist Edward Suess named it the Gondwana. Although the early events of Gondwanaland are lost in the haze of a distant past, many details are being put together to form a plausible explanation of what might have taken place.
The Gonds are a tribe that lives in the present day state of Madhya Pradesh. The area gave the world the first evidence that India was a part of a supercontinent later called Gondwana. The fossil plant Glossopteris was found here. Suess based his deductions on the fossil plant Glossopteris which is found throughout India, South America, Southern Africa, Australia and Antarctica.
Continents have been coming together and breaking apart again for the whole history of the earth. Before Gondwana, Pangaea(meaning ‘all lands’) made up of Gondwana in the south and Laurasia in the north. Laurasia (made up of North America, Europe and Asia) broke away from Pangaea at about 200 to 150 million years ago (m.y.a.) and the remaining part of Pangaea became Gondwana made up of continents that are now Australia, India, South America, Africa and Antarctica. During the Carboniferous and Permian period (300 – 260 m.y.a) much of Gondwana was covered by ice. During those times we have little evidence of animals actually living there. Once the ice melted in the late Permian (240 m.y.a.) and the Triassic (225 m.y.a.), animals were able to colonise most of Gondwana which stayed warm until 40 m.y.a., when part of it now known as Antarctica froze over again. The break up of Gondwana began during the time that dinosaurs were the dominant land animals (in the Cretaceous – 120 m.y.a.), but it was such a slow process that they were unlikely to be affected by it.

To understand land forms it is necessary to know about the earth’s composition. Deep within the earth at a depth range of 100 to 350 km from the surface, lies a viscous layer of the earth, the asthenosphere, which has fluid-like properties. Above this layer rests the rigid lithosphere which includes the crust. The lithosphere is ‘floating’ on the asthenosphere. The lithosphere is not a continuous shell, but is divided in plates(like a jigsaw puzzle). It comprises of seven major and several minor distinct plates. The plates are in constant motion relative to each other and this motion is the cause of most of the phenomena in the earth’s crust. At some places they are moving away from each other. Usually one plate bends down the other at such boundaries and the process is called subduction. The interior of the plate is stable and the edges are usually the site of intense deformation. Thus Plate Tectonics is a near-complete theory that explains most of the phenomena occurring in the earth’s crust. In fact it is one theory that has changed people’s perception of all the disciplines of Earth Science. The theory of Plate Tectonics did not emerge overnight. It evolved gradually since the beginning of the 20th century as many hypothesis were laid down. The important ones are Continental Drift, Apparent Wandering and Sea-floor Spreading.

Continents break up and move apart at about the same speed that one’s finger nails grow – about 6 cms per year. A large chunk from Gondwana broke loose from its moorings in the Antarctica. This chunk fractured to form S. America and Africa to its west and Australia to its east. The central portion kept moving northwards. About 70 m.y.a. Madagascar is said to have separated leaving the Indian Plate to continue its migration in a north-easterly direction. This part became a temporary island before becoming part of the Indian subcontinent. In the beginning there is a stable “shield” area called the Deccan Plateau that occupies the triangular peninsula area of India(and which includes Sri Lanka). Most geologists regard this area as having formed a part of Gondwanaland.

As it moved up in this drift of about 10,000 km from approx. 30 degrees south latitude, the Indian Plate passed over a deep seated volcanic hot-spot in the region of today’s Reunion islands. The heat beneath generated basaltic magma which rose into lithosphere causing an uplift by crustal arching. It also tilted the Indian Plate in the easterly direction. The major rivers of the peninsular India would later flow eastward because of this tilt. A northerly tilt is also postulated to explain the expanse of older and deeper rocks in the Southern Western Ghats.

When the peninsular shield bumped into the Asian landmass around 45 m.y.a. after having undergone many uplifts and modi-fications, the Indian Plate lifted up the Asian Plate by subduction to form the elevated Tibetan plateau. The eastern portion of the Tethys sea caught up between the two moving landmasses was obliterated and its sediments raised up to form the Himalayas. These mountains not only define the subcontinent and separate it from the adjacent landmass; they also form the second major land form region of South Asia. The mountains that are formed are of the folded type, usually consisting of alternating ridges and valleys, all parallel to one another (though some complexity inevitably results) and generally trending in long bands parallel to the colliding areas.

The Deccan Volcanic Episode

The Deccan Volcanic Episode occurred in the late Cretaceous to the early Tertiary – the KT boundary – a period of turbulence, upheavals and extinctions. Lava from huge fissures flowed over the Deccan region. Most of the basalt erupted between 60-65 m.y.a. Recent palaeo-magnetic and isotopic age data seem to indicate the possibility that the magma outbursts giving rise to the vast extent of lava flows was of short duration of about 2 million years around 65 m.y.a. The absence of a typical cone and crater in the vast spread of basaltic rock points to a series of fissures out of which the confined magma poured out in sheet after sheet. Birbal Sahni, the renowned palaeo-botanist called it “this terrible drama of fire and thunder”.
The extinction of nearly 90% of the fauna and flora at the Cretaceous – Tirtiary boundary is a remarkable fact. A whole range of large reptiles (Dinosaurs) and ammonites became extinct at the end of Cretaceous. The magnitude and suddenness of the volcanic activity at that period, it is believed, created an abrupt change in environment, causing the extinction of plant and animal species. View from Arthur’s Seat, Mahabaleshwar – 1,000 m of successive basaltic layers
The Deccan basalts may have played a role in the extinction of the dinosaurs – gases released by the eruption may have changed global climate and led to the demise of the dinosaurs. Raiyoli in Central Gujarat is said to be one of the three largest dinosaur sites in the world.

The Deccan Plateau ranks as the world’s fourth largest (volumetrically) subcontinental outpouring of plateau basalt lavas extruded at unstable margins during active tectonic plate movements. The Deccan Traps occupying one-sixth of Indian landmass, consists of more than 2000 meters deep flat lying basalt lava flows and covers an area of over 5,00,000 sq. km. in west-central India. Estimates of the original area covered by the lava flows are as high as 1.5 million sq. km.
The volume of the basalt is estimated to be 5,12,000 cubic km. Trapp is a Swedish term for a terraced plateau (Ghats – steps or terraces). The term “Deccan Trap” was first used by Col. W. H. Sykes and the term “Trap” is used in the lithological sense of the rock basalt.

Formation of the Western Ghats

The Western Ghats are not true mountains but rather faulted edge of an upraised plateau. There is a contrast between the deep ravines and canyons along the scarp facing the Arabian Sea and the flat topped spurs intersected by mature valleys to the east. These are mountains of denudation rather than deformation.
As mentioned earlier the Peninsular India split from Gondwanaland about 150 m.y.a. and started moving north. The northward drift which lasted about 100 million years finally ended with the peninsula colliding with the Asian mainland 45 m.y.a. Major geological transformations took place as the peninsula moved northwards and drifted over the present day Reunion islands – localised volcanic centre in the earth’s lithosphere 200-300 km across, which has remained active for several million years.
It moved up in this drift and the heat beneath generated basaltic magma which rose into lithosphere causing an uplift by crustal arching. It was this event which happened some 120-130 m.y.a. that resulted in the uplift of the Western Ghats and tilted the Indian Plate in easterly direction. Subsequently, there were a series of volcanic eruptions until around 65 m.y.a. giving rise to the extensive Deccan Traps. These volcanic episodes to a large extent moulded the Northern Western Ghats.

Since the Western Ghats are a result of a domal uplift, the underlying rocks are ancient – around 2000 million year old. The oldest of these rocks are found in the Nilgiris and the High Ranges of the southern Western Ghats.
The uplifted crust of the earth bears a central axial region of weakness coinciding with the track of upliftment. Peninsular India broke along its line of weakness and the western segment drifted westward into the sea(a process known as faulting), giving rise to the present day hill chain of the Western Ghats and the west coast. The exposed face of the eastern unsubmerged plate was lifted up to form the scarp of the Western Ghats. This happened during the Eocene (between 45 and 65 m.y.a.), even before India became part of the Asian mainland. By the time the peninsular India ended its northward drift and collided with the Asian mainland, the Western Ghats were very much in place.
At this time the marked eastward tilt permanently changed the pattern of drainage. The western faulting led to ‘river capture’ and diversion of easterly drainage to the west in many instances. The river Sharavathy and Kali in Karnataka are classical examples of westerly diversion of drainage due to uplift and faulting. The Shara-vathy with its spectacular waterfalls and deep gorges has receded about 28 km due to headward erosion. The Western Ghats thus represent tectonically active region with high rates of uplift, high summit altitudes, steep slopes, deep gorges and large potential for erosion and correspondingly high sedimentation yields.

The uplift of the western part of the Indian peninsula had several repercussions. It explains the orientation of the big rivers of the plateau towards the east; it started a chain of very violent regressive erosion on the steep and abrupt western slopes, thus fashioning the Western Ghats into the state that we find them today, chiseled into steps following the basaltic beds(in the Trapp) and carved by deep valleys sometimes capturing some of the rivers of the plateau such as Sharavathy or cleaved by vertical cliffs as found towards Agumbe (Karnataka). The seaward progression of the edge of the continental plateau as compared to the ancient continental edge is perhaps the outcome of this erosion.


Northern Sahyadris, Selbari Range

The northern half of the Ghats from Tapti valley down to Goa is formed of horizontal beds of massive Deccan Trapp. The resistant character of the Trapp has accentuated the relief and the Ghats appear in the form of a steeply-cut wall facing the Arabian Sea. The scarp of the Ghats in this region presents a magnificent vertical profile of over 1000 m of successive layers. The view from ‘Arthur’s Seat’ just outside Mahabaleshwar is very impressive.

South of Goa, the horizontal bedded traps give place to steeply dipping gneisses and schists. In this section the Ghats lose their abrupt and precipitous character. The average height falls down to less than 2000 ft. The westerly flowing rivers in this section have effected breaches in the wall by cutting deep gorges and canyons. Waterfalls are common at the head of the rejuvenated rivers. The watershed separating the easterly and westerly drainage, which hitherto had followed more or less the crest line of the Ghats is pushed by nearly a hundred miles inland as near Hubli by Gangavali. The scarp again swings back to the coast south of Honnavar. It also gains in height forming the important peaks of Kodachadri 1343 m. and Kudremukh 1892 m. The Ghat scarp recedes again east of Mangalore where the Netravathi has extended its valley by headward erosion.

Bedthi River Gorge, Uttara Kannada

In Kodagu and south Mysore the Ghats expose Charnokites. Some of the highest peaks in the Ghats are to be found in this Charnokitic region. In the Nilgiris the average elevation is over 6000 ft., the highest point Dodabetta being 2637 m.(8,650 ft.) high. This aspect of the Western Ghats, which hitherto showed scarp-like face only to the west, changes south of Mysore. The hill masses, although continuous with the Ghats, appear more like tableland – lifted abruptly to elevations of over 2,440 m.(8000 ft.), presenting steep sided precipices on all sides.

Bababudangiri Range, Karnataka.
The continuity of the Western Ghats is lost south of Nilgiris, where there is remarkable gap called the ‘Palghat Gap’ separating the Nilgiri massif from equally high and precipitous massif of Anaimalai to the south. The gap is about twenty miles wide and at its highest point 300 m. above sea level.
South of the Palghat Gap are the complex group of hills forming the Anaimalai, Palni, the Varushanad, and Cardamom Hills mainly of Charnokites. The rivers follow straight courses and the drainage pattern is rectilinear. As we proceed south, in Kerala, the Ghats recede inland leaving a fertile coastal plain.

Western Ghats, India – Abode of Gods

From the book  ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).

 

THE SPIRITUAL MYSTIQUE

Ishwara Shrine atop Mulainagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai

There are a number of references to the Sahyadris in the ancient epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as in some of the Puranas. In Ramayana they are described as majestic, great mountain with its many brightly coloured peaks, its brightly flowering woods, and forest tracts of sandalwood. Both Ramyana and Mahabharata belong to the post Vedic period.
However, the Rig Veda, the most ancient text available, does not feature this mountain range as possibly during that time the peninsular part of India was a dense forest and remained largely inaccessible and unknown to the Vedic people.
 

Madhukeshwara Temple, Banvasi, Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai

 

Kishkindha Kanda and Yuddha Kanda in Ramayana and Ashvamedha Parva and Udyog Parva in Mahabharata have references to the majestic and lofty mountain ranges on the west coast. There are two names that feature for the Western Ghats – Sahya and Malaya. The name Sahya was probably applied to the northern segment of the mountain range in Maharashtra and Karnataka, and Malaya to the southern segment in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The Legend of Parashurama

The legend of Parashurama is a popular story in the Hindu Mythology with different regional versions. According to one version, Parashurama, the axe-wielding avatar of Vishnu is the son of Sage Jamadagni and Renuka. Jamadagni is killed by despotic Kshatriyas because he refuses to part with Kamadhenu, his wish-fullfilling divine cow. In revenge, Parashurama traverses the earth twenty-one times and wipes out all the Kshatriyas.
Parashurama, struck by remorse tried to expiate his sins by performing yagnyas during which he gifted away all his lands to the Brahmins with no land left even to build a hermitage for himself. Varuna, God of the seas came to his aid and offered him to gain from the sea as much land he could span in one throw of his axe. Parashurama stood at Pethe Parashuram (near Chiplun, Maharashtra) and threw his axe as far as Kanyakumari. The sea retreated and the coastal tracts of Konkan, Kanara and Kerala were thus generated.
Parashurama populated his new lands with Brahmins as well as new plants such as the coconut, the banana and the jackfruit which now thrive throughout the region.

This legend is probably based on the lowering of sea level which resulted in the emergence of the coastal strip which is now referred to as Konkan and Malabar. There are very few shrines to Lord Parashurama – apart from Pethe Parashuram in Konkan, there is one shrine in Goa at Painguinim and two in Kerala at Payanur and Thiruvallom.

From the earliest times, the mountains have been considered the abode of Gods and revered and worshipped. There are hundreds of shrines and temples built atop the hills and innumerable caves and monuments dedicated to the divine all over the Western Ghats. Skanda Purana has a whole section called Sahyadri Kanda that provides description of over a hundred Tirthas (holy places in the vicinity of rivers) and eighty Kshetras (places of pilgrimage) in the Sahyadri range.

 

Vidyashankara Temple, Shringeri, Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Tirtha phenomenon is a unique by-product of Indian culture. Rivers, mountains, shrines and holy spots on the banks of rivers have been sanctified by tradition and association and visit to these places has been considered for centuries as a paramount duty of a Hindu.

Some of the important tirthas are located at the source of different rivers. Tryambakeshwar is located at the source of Godavari near Nasik and contains one of the twelve ancient and sacred Jyotirlingas in India.
The legend of sage Gautama who resided near Tryambak on the Brahmagiri hill is narrated in Brahmapurana and Naradapurana. Ramayana features Panchavati on the banks of Godavari near Nasik where Shri Rama stayed along with Sita and Lakshaman.

Bhimashankar Temple, Maharashtra – Pic by Mohan Pai

River Bhima rises 40 km north of Khandala and at the source of this river is situated another of the twelve famous Jyotirlingas of Bhimashankar. Bhima is referred to in the Mahabharata, Matsya Purana, Brahma Purana and Vamana Purana. Most of the famous Ashta Vinayaka temples of Maharashtra are located in the Sahyadris – Lenyadri, Siddhatek, Pali, Theur, Morgaon, etc.
River Krishna rises near Mahabaleshwar along with four other rivers – Vena, Kakudmati, Savitri and Gayatri. The Shiva (Mahabaleshwara) temple is about 5 kms from the main bazar of Mahabaleshwar hill station. There are legends associated with this spot in Mahabaleshwar Mahatmya.

Pandharpur situated 40 miles west of Sholapur on the banks of river Bhima also known as Chandra-bhaga is the foremost pilgrimage centre of Maharashtra that houses the famous shrine of Vithoba.
Alandi is situated on the banks of Indrayani river 12 miles north of Pune and has the Samadhi and shrine of the famous Maharashtra saint Jnaneshwar. On the mountain at Jejuri, high up the Karha valley is the temple of Khandoba.
Kolhapur is situated near the banks of river Panchaganga and is known for the ancient temple of Goddess Mahalakshmi.


Mahalakshmi Temple, Kolhapur – Pic by Mohan Pai

Goa has many ancient Hindu temples spread over at the foot of the Sahyadris. South of Goa there is Sringeri on the left bank of river Tungabhadra where Sri Shankaracharya established his chief monastery.
Saptakoteshwar Temple, Narve, Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

Baba Budan or Dattatreya Pitha, a laterite cave, considered holy by both Muslims and Hindus is in the Bababudan range. The legend says that the Muslim saint Baba Budan came and settled down here and brought coffee seeds with him from Persia. This was the beginning of coffee crop in India. Close to Chickamagalur, on the tallest peak in the Western Ghats of Karnataka – Mulaianagiri (1,923 m.) is a beautiful Shiva shrine.

Nageshwar Temple, Saputara, Gujarat – Pic by Mohan Pai

At the foothill of the Western Ghats at Belur and Halebid near Hassan are the Temples of Channakeshava and Hoysaleshwara with finely executed carved sculptures. These were built during the 12th century and are the finest examples of Hoysala architecture.
North of Udupi, near the base of the Kodachadri hills is the famous temple of Goddess Mookambika at Kollur. Udupi in Dakshina Kannada is famous for Krishna temple founded by Sri Madhavacharya, the great Dvaita philosopher and teacher. Kukke Subramanya temple at the base of the Kumara Parvata is in Dakshina Kannada.

Mukambika Temple, Kollur, Karnatak – Pic by Mohan Pai

River Kaveri rises on the Brahmagiri hill in Kodagu (12035N and 75031 E) its source is a small pond and there is a shrine to Goddess Kaveri. The place is known as Talakaveri. There are several legends about Kaveri which are mainly recorded in the Agneya and Skanda Puranas.

 

Kukke Subramanya Temple, Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai

Sabrimala the famous abode of Lord Ayyappa is situated in thick forested area of the Western Ghats in the upper region of river Pamba in Kerala. The legend says that it was here that lord Rama while searching for Sita met Sabari, an ardent devotee and blessed her. The famous ancient temple of Lord Krishna is situated in Guruvayur, about 30 km from Trichur.
Kaladi, eight miles east of Alwaye, on the banks of river Periyar is the birth place of Jagatguru Sri Shankaracharya.

River Tambraparni arises in the Agasthyamalai hills. After a few kms from its source downstream, it reaches the Papanasam tirtha which is considered a very sacred place. The importance of the tirtha is described in the Shiva Purana and in the Kurma Purana and it is also mentioned in the Mahabharata and Ramayana. There is a temple of Subramanya at Palni hills on a rocky hill about 450 ft high.

Carved figurine, Belur Temple 

Buddhist Caves in the Western Ghats
The most famous Buddhist monument in the Sahyadris are the Buddhist caves at Ajanta and Ellora near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
The 34 caves at Ellora and 29 caves at Ajanta remained shrouded in obscurity till one John Smith, a British Army officer, accidentally stumbled upon them while hunting tigers in 1819. These caves were built as secluded retreats for the Buddhist monks around 2nd century B.C.
 
Ajanta FrescoThe other important Buddhist caves are at the Bhore or Khandala pass at Karla, Bhaje and Bedse. The Buddhist cave at Karla is considered to be the largest and the most complete Chaitya cave in India and is also the best preserved. The caves of Bhaje and Bedse are also nearby and are believed to be as old as 2nd century B.C.

The Gandhar-Pali caves are located near Mahad junction on Mumbai-Goa highway in the Sahyadris. There are 28 caves in all which date back to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Chaityas, Viharas, wall sculptures, images of Buddha can be seen in these caves.

Golden Buddha, Namdroling Monastery, Bylakuppe, Kodagu – Pic by Mohan Pai

Jain Pilgrimage Centres

Ellora : Of the 34 caves that are carved, 5 of the caves to the north are Jain caves.
Shravanabelagola : This famous Jain pilgrimage centre is located 51 km south east of Hassan. The Gomateshwara statue 58 ft high is carved out of a mountain and said to be one of the tallest monolithic sculptures. It was carved out in 981 A.D. and consecrated in 983 A.D. There are several Jain bastis and monasteries in Shravanabelagola. There are 14 shrines on Chandragiri hill and Chandragupta Maurya, the Mauryan Emperor after renouncing his kingdom settled on this hill, along with his Guru Bhagwan Bhadra Bahu Swami. The great emperor is buried here.

Gomateshwara, Shravanbelagola

Karkala : Is another Jain pilgrimage centre in the Western Ghats. From the centre of the town rises 300 ft high Gomata Betta, crowned with 41.5 ft monolith of Bahubali. The statue was consecrated in 1,432 A.D.
Moodabidri : The Savira Khamba Basadi is the most well-known of the 18 Jain Temples here. There is also the 17th century Chowta Palace, the intricately carved residence of the Jain Royal family.
Kumbhojgiri : This centre is 35 km away from Kolhapur. There are around 24 temples dedicated to Jain Tirthankars within the complex, sacred to both Digambara and Swetambara sects.

Christian Pilgrimage Centres

St. Thomas, the apostle is believed to have travelled by the spice route on a boat and landed in Muziris (Cranganore) in 52 A.D. He converted Indias first Chiristians and built a church at Palayur. The Palayur is the oldest of the seven-and-half churches founded by St. Thomas, and is the oldest church in India.
Malayattoor, on the banks of the Periyar is a popular pilgrim centre for the Christians of Kerala as they believe that it was blessed by the presence of St. Thomas the apostle. About 10 kms from Vagamon is Kurusimala, a pilgrim centre for Christians, that recreates Christs final journey – the Way of the Cross – in a series of picture tableaux.

‘Bom Jesus’, Old Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

Old Goa is famous for the Shrine of St. Franacis Xavier “Bom Jesus” where his entombed body has been kept.
Aurangazebs Tomb

North-East of Mumbai in the Western Ghats is a small hill station of Khuldabad, site of the tombs of Aurangzeb, last of the great Mogul Emperors and his son Azam Sham.
Aurangzeb chose Rauza on Khuldabads outskirts as his resting place where he wanted to be buried. Aurangzeb chose this simple town for the most feared of the Mogul emperors saved money for this simple structure through the sale of skullcaps that he stitched and copies of the Koran he personally wrote.

The Kailasa temple in Cave 16 at Ellora is an architectural marvel, the entire structure having been carved out of a monolith, the process having taken over a century to finish. The gateway, pavilion, assembly hall sanctum and tower, all hewn out of a single rock. What is amazing about it, is the fact that unlike other temple structures which are built base upward, the architect involved here, started carving from the very top and the sides. Gigantic though, it remains one of the most delicate and intricate ancient works of art.
Junnar, where the hill fort of Shivneri is situated was an old Buddhist centre and it still has several cells and chapels and believed to be as old as 3rd century B.C.


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