From the book ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).
THE GREAT ESCARPMENT
They start immediately south of the Tapti river, the northern most point being the Kundaibari pass (21006N, 74011E) near Brahmavel in Dhule district of Maharashtra ending near Kanya-kumari (80N) barely 20 km from the sea in Tamil Nadu. They cover an area of approximately 1,59,000 sq. km with an average elevation of 900-1500 m. ASL, obstructing the monsoon winds from the south west and the orographic effect is considerable. Although the average heights of the Ghats is less than1500 m. ASL, in the southern reaches it rises 2000 m and to exceptionally higher peaks of 2,500 m and above.
Along its entire length, the Western Ghats range has only one total discontinuity, the Palghat Gap in Kerala where for more than 30 km there is a gap which has a floor height of less than 100 m ASL. This discontinuity is perhaps of tectonic origin through which a river may have flowed in ancient times. The peninsular plateau is highest in the south and west and slopes eastward, the eastern edge forming the broken up Eastern Ghats. The Eastern and the Western Ghats meet along the Moyar Gorge with the Billigirirangana Hills along the north-eastern side and the the Nilgiris in the south-west.
Based on the topography and geology, the Western Ghat region is divided into three distinct subregions:
This region consists of the most homogeneous part of the Western Ghats, hugging the coast for almost 600 km. It corresponds to the western edge of the vast plateau formed by massive horizontal outflow of volcanic lava which cooled to form dark grey basalt.
The coastal zone here called Konkan, is a narrow strip about 50-60 km wide. It is made up of a series of more or less high hills, some of them like Matheran (700 m) almost reaching the height of the plateau and bears testimony of regressive erosion.
Central Western Ghats (Goa to Nilgiris)
The Western scarp is considerably dissected by headward erosion of the west flowing streams. The elevation generally range between 600 to 1000 m up to 13030N. The Ghats lose their graded appearance and form a steep barrier whose height becomes more irregular. They rise suddenly at Kodachadri (1343 m)and fall to about 600 m at Agumbe.
From Kudremukh (1,892 m) up to Palghat Gap, the edge of the plateau is very often higher than 1,000 m. and the peaks become more numerous and higher – Pushpagiri (1,713 m) in the North Kodagu, Tadianamol Betta (1,745 m), Banasuram (2,060 m), Vavul Mala (2,339 m) at the edge of the Wayanad plateau.
Towards 11030N, the Western Ghats composed of hard Charnokites, rise abruptly in the Nilgiri horst where they join the Eastern Ghats. The Nilgiri mountains constitute an elevated plateau dominated by two of its highest peaks, the Dodabetta (2,637 m) and Makurti (2,554 m) overlooking Palghat Gap from a height of more than 2,000 m.
On the Mysore plateau, whose average elevation range from 700 to 900 m we find reliefs formed by tectonic events such as spectacular horseshoe of the Bababudan hills which extends from Hebbe through Kemmanagundi and Attigudi to Mulainagiri (1,923 m) which is the highest peak in Karnataka.
The other tallest peak is Bababudangiri (Chandradrona Parvata 1,894 m). The width of the coastal zone is also more variable here than in Maharashtra. It is about 40 km wide at the latitude of Goa and then suddenly narrows near Karwar where the Ghats dip into the sea with peaks emerging as picturesque islands.
Charmadi Ghats, Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai
The Western Ghats are separated from the main Sahyadri Range by the Palghat Gap which is about 30 km wide and they appear abruptly as the Anaimalai-Palni block whose high plateau attain a height of 2,695 m in the Anaimudi peak, the highest point in south India.
The Nelliampathis – Pic by Mohan Pai
The flat-topped hills, often crowned with bare wall like masses of basalt, or laterite are clothed on their lower slopes with jungles of teak and bamboo in the north; with jambul (eugenia jambolana), ain (Terminalia tomentosa) and nana (Lagerstroemia parviflora) in the centre; and with teak, blackwood, and bamboo in the south.
In the west of the Sagar taluk, from Govardhangiri to Devakonda, they approach within ten miles of the coast. From there they trend south-eastwards, culminating in Kudremukh (6,215 ft) in the southwest of Kadur district, which marks the watershed between Kistna and Cauvery systems. They then bend east and south to Coorg, receding to 45 miles from the sea. Here to numerous chains and groups of lofty hills branch off from the Ghats eastwards, forming the complex series of mountain heights south of Nagar in the west of Kadur district. Gneiss and hornblende schists are the prevailing rocks in this section, capped in many places by laterite, with some bosses of granite. The summits of the hills are mostly bare, but the sides are clothed with magnificent evergreen forests. Ghat roads to the coast have been made through the following passes: Gersoppa, Kollur, Hosangadi, and Agumbe in Shimoga district; Bundh in Kadur district, Manjarabad and Bisale in Hassan district.
In the Madras Presidency, the Western Ghats continue in the same general direction, running southwards at a distance of from 50 to 100 miles from the sea until they terminate at Cape Comorin, the southern most extremity of India. Soon after emerging from Coorg they are joined by the range of the Eastern Ghats, which sweeps down from the other side of the peninsula; and at the point of junction they rise up into the high plateau of the Nilgiris, on which stand the hill stations of Ootacamund (7,000 ft), the summer capital of the Madras Government, Coonoor, Wellington, and Kotagiri and whose loftiest peaks are Dodabetta (8,760 ft) and Makurti (over 8,000 ft).
Immediately south of this plateau the range, which now runs between the districts of Malabar and Coimbatore, is interrupted by the remarkable Palghat Gap, the only break in the whole of its length. This is about 16 miles wide, and is scarcely more than 1,000 ft above the level of the sea. The Madras Railway runs through it, and it thus forms the chief line of communication between the two sides of this part of the peninsula.
South of this gap the Ghats rise abruptly again to even more than their former height. At this point they are known by the local name Anaimalais, or elephant hills, and the minor ranges they here throw off to the west and east are called respectively the Nelliam-pathis and the Palni Hills. On the latter is situated the sanatorium of Kodaikanal. Thereafter, as they run down to Cape Comorin between the Madras Presidency and the native state of Travancore, they resume their former name.
North of the Nilgiri plateau the eastern flank of the range merges somewhat gradually into the high plateau of Mysore but its western slopes rise suddenly and boldly from the low coast south of the Palghat Gap both the eastern and western slopes are steep and rugged . The range here consists throughout of gneisses of various kinds, flanked in Malabar by picturesque terraces of laterite which shelve gradually down towards the coast. In elevation it varies from 3,000 to 8,000 ft above the sea, and the Anaimudi peak (8,839 ft) in Travancore is the highest point in the range and in southern India. The scenery of the Western Ghats is always picturesque and frequently magnificent, the heavy evergreen forest with which the slopes are often covered aiding greatly to their beauty. Large games of all sorts abounds, from elephants, bisons and tigers to the Nilgiri ibex, which is found nowhere else in India.
Before the days of roads and railways the Ghats rendered communication between the west and east coasts of the Madras Presidency a matter of great difficulty; and the result has been that the people of the strip land which lies between them and the sea differ widely in appearance, language, customs, and laws of inheritance from those in the eastern part of the Presidency. On the range itself, moreover, are found several primitive tribes, among whom may be mentioned the well known Todas of the Nilgiris, the Kurumbas of the same plateau, and the Kadars of Anaimalais. Communications across this part of the range have, however, been greatly improved of late years. Besides the Madras Railway already referred to, the line from Tinnevelly to Quilon now links up the two opposite shores of the peninsula, and the range is also traversed by numerous ghat roads. The most important of these latter are the Charmadi ghat from Mangalore in South Kanara to Mudgiri in Mysore; The Sampaji ghat between Mangalore and Mercara, the capital of Coorg; the roads from Cannanore and Tellichery, which lead to the Mysore plateau through the Perumbadi and Peria passes; and the two routes from Calicut to the Niligiri plateau up the Karkur and Vayittiri-Gudalur ghats.
NOTABLE PEAKS IN THE WESTERN GHATS
Name of the peak & location Height(m) (ft)
1. Anaimudi 2,695 (m) 8,839(ft) Anaimalai Hills, Kerala
2. Dodabetta 2,637 (m) 8,649 (ft) Nilgiri Hills, Tamil Nadu
3. Makurti 2,554 (m) 8,377 (ft) Nilgiri Hills, Tamil Nadu
4. Vembadi Shola 2,506 (m) 8,220 (ft) Kodaikanal Hills, Tamil Nadu
5. Vahul Mala (Camels Hump) 2,339 (m) 7,672 (ft) Southern Sahyadris, Kerala
6. Banasuram 2,060 (m) 6,757 (ft) Southern Sahyadris, Kerala
7. Kottai Malai 2,019 (m) 6,622 (ft) Varushanad Hills, Keral-Tamil Nadu
8. Mulainagiri 1,923 (m) 6,307 (ft) Bababudan Hills, Karnataka 9. Devar Malai 1,922 (m) 6,304 (ft) Kerala
10. Badabudangir (Chandradrona Parvata) 1,894 (m) 6,212 (ft) Karnataka
11. Kudremukh 1,892 (m) 6,206 (ft) Central Sahyadris, Karnataka
12. Agasthyamalai 1,869 (m) 6,130 (ft) Kerala-Tamil Nadu
13. Tadianamol Betta 1,745 (m) 5,724 (ft) Kodagu, Karnataka
14. Pushpagiri 1,713 (m) 5,619 (ft) Kodagu, Karnataka
15. Mahendra Giri 1,654 (m) 5,425 (ft) Kerala-Tamil Nadu
16. Kalsubai 1,646 (m) 5,399 (ft) Northern Sahyadris, Maharashtra
17. Salher 1,567 (m) 5,140 (ft) Northern Sahyadris, Maharashtra
18. Ballalrayan Durga 1,504 (m) 4,933 (ft) Central Sahyadris, Karnataka 19. Gopalaswamy Betta 1,454 (m) 4,769 (ft) Karnataka – Tamil Nadu
20. Pratapgad 1,438 (m) 4,717 (ft) Central Sahyadris, Maharashtra
21. Kodachadri 1,343 (m) 4,405 (ft) Karnataka
22. Andipatti Hills 1,301 (m) 4,267 (ft)Tamil Nadu
23. Sadura Giri 1,271 (m) 4,169 (ft) Varushanad Hills, Tamil Nadu
The scarp of the Ghats in this region presents a magnificent profile of over 1,000 m of successive volcanic layers, which on erosion have produced a typical trappean landscape, forming a formidable well-dissected wall looking over the narrow west coast plains, buton the eastern side descending in steps one below the other. It is in this region that the full significance of the term ���ghats��� (steps of a stair-case) becomes clear. The layers of lava are quite often interlaced with non-volcanic debris. Sometimes these form intertrappean deposits holding plant and animal fossils. The elevation is generally between 700 and 1,000 m, but some of the pinnacles attain greater heights; the tallest are the Kalsubai (1,646 m) near Igatpuri, Salher (1,567 m) 90 km north of Nasik and the famous Mahabaleshwar (1,438 m).