Posts Tagged 'Western Ghats'

A Primer of Ecology

An article by Mohan Pai

(This is the last chapter from my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005)

“There is nothing in nature to prove that it cares more for our human species than daffodils. We may one day vanish as quickly and as radically as thousands of other breeds before us. Mother nature has no mama’s darlings…when the balance of nature is threatened, it always finds a way to restore that balance, at whatever cost. If endangered by us, nature will strike back and show no more concern for Michaelangelo, Shakespeare or Mozart than for daffodils. We are dealing here with an overwhelming force, that of life itself and we know next to nothing about it. The only thing we know is — nature has no favourite among species.

Romain Grey  in ” Vanishing Species”



How to destroy a fragile ecosystem


10 Easy Steps

Ecosystems such as the Western Ghats which have global significance, are classified as HOT SPOTS. Globally, about 18 hot spots have been identified. These spots are extremely rich in species, have high endemism, and are under constant threat. Hotspot areas are particularly rich in floral wealth and endemism, not only in flowering plants but also in reptiles, amphibians, swallow-tailed butterflies, and some mammals. These
are extremely fragile biosystems and need to be nurtured and protected for the sake of the environmental well-being of the people. However, we are witnessing a mindless destruction of these systems.

The 10 EASY steps adopted for the destruction process are as follows:

1. Destroy as much as natural forest as possible by clear felling. Plant monoculture (teak, eucalyptus, acacia, etc.) in the name of afforestation.
2. Build dams for irrigation and power. In the process, destroy thousands and thousands hectares of natural forest. Allow the area to be submerged and displace the tribals and local populat ion. Promise resettlement – over the years keep promising – make trauma of displacement more painful. In the process, also kill a vast number of endemic species in the area, so that they are lost forever. Also decimate wild life of the area by submersion or fragmentation of their habitat. Blasting of rocks, the
rumble of machinery, the incursions by human help greatly in reducing the fauna in the Ghats.
3. Allow encroachment in the forest area and then legalise it through legislation.
4. Start large-scale mining operations within the forests. Apart from destroying the habitat complex of highly threatened flora and fauna, it will result in high degree of pollution of the rivers and land surrounding water course. The forests will be replaced with heaps of mined waste. It will also effectively kill and re duce the aquatic fauna. There will be a decline in agricultural productivity due to deposition of mine tailing.
5. Establish large-scale paper mills and plywood units by clearing large tracts of prime forest land and allow them a free hand with the forest timber.
6. Install an Atomic Power Plant right in the midst of the forest again by destroying an immense amount of prime forests. Ignore the hazards it entails for the area.7. Build Railways through the thick forest and cause as much damage as possible through clearing the prime forests and
8. Clear large tracts of natural forests for cash crops like coffee, cardamom, tea, spices, etc.
9. Protect poachers and smugglers – offer them political patronage so that they can kill with impunity thousands of tuskers for Ivory and other endangered animals for their skins; smuggle out millions of tonnes of valuable timber.
10. Pass on this knowledge to your children so that whatever green patches may be left could be effectively eliminated in the end.

What is ECOLOGY ?

All life on the earth is interrelated and interconnected in someway or the other. Living organisms are dependent upon their physical environment – the land, water, air.The study of the interrelationship between plants, animals, and the environment is called ECOLOGY.One of the fundamental aspects in ecology that helps us understand the interrelationship between plants and animals, animals and animals and plants, animals and human beings, is their requirement of food.Food chains & food-web.Green plants are the primary producers of food. They make simple carbohydrates during the process of photosynthesis, with the help of carbon dioxide and water by utilisation of the energy received from the Sun. When herbivore animals eat plants, they get energy through this food. When they are eaten by carnivore, the latter get the energy required for their life activities. For example: grass —> grass hopper —-> frog. This is a simple food chain. Now, if a frog is eaten by a snake, and the snake by an eagle, it becomes a complex food chain. Several such food chains exists in nature. An interconnected network of different food chain that occurs among inhabitants of a particular natural habitat is called food-web. The food-web is a delicate network of interrelationship between the species involved, representing a balanced and self-contained living system. Destruction of any one link in this food-web will have an adverse impact on the other or the entire system itself. For example if the carnivores like tigers and leopards are exterminated, the population of the deer will increase unchecked and this in turn would destroy the vegetation more rapidly, giving no time for plants to regenerate.

Interrelationships in nature take many forms – plants and vegetation provide home for animals; insects and birds pollinate flowers; animals help the dispersal of seeds of plants; parasites infest plants or animals. Some are beneficial associations between organisms (symbiosis) and others are not. There are also nature’s cleanup crew – the crow, the eagle, the hyena, and others who act as scavengers and bacteria aiding in decomposing the dead which play an important role in returning organic and inorganic components of dead animals and plants back to nature, to be used and reused by subsequent living organisms.

Nature provides a very complex, yet balanced, interrelationship between plants and animals. Together with the biogeochemical cycles such as water cycle, carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, mineral cycle, etc., recycling essential elements between living organisms and the environment; all life on the earth is interconnected. It is necessary to understand these ecological relationships to appreciate the importance of conservation of animals and plants and the non-living resources that nature has provided on our planet earth.

Biosphere & Biomes

Life on the earth may have begun to evolve some 3,500 million years ago. Today there are over half-a-million variety of plants and a million different kind of animals.

All life is confined to a thin layer of the earth called BIOSPHERE. The Biosphere of the earth can be divided into a number of BIOMES or natural habitats with specific climatic and geographical characteristics that help sustain a variety of plants and animals adapted to survive in a particular region.A biome is made up of biological communities that interact with each other in a particular life zone. A tropical rainforest, for example, is a biome which is the home for a wide variety of plants and animals suitably adapted to live in the habitat that constitutes the forest. The higher canopy of tree branches sustain arboreal animals, such as monkeys, flying squirrels and birds; the dense forest floor sustains tigers, deer, snakes, insects, millipedes, etc.The rainforest is characterised by warm and moist climate with plenty of rainfall. Similarly oceans, lakes, grasslands, wetlands,coniferous forests, deciduous forests, deserts and coastal regions constitute different biomes or self contained environments with typical plants and animals suitable to survive in these habitats.Thus nature provides an extremely complex and intricate network of living things delicately balanced and adapted to inhabit the diverse climatic and geographical regions on our planet. This is our natural heritage; a heritage in which we ourselves are one of the many species of animals, depending upon the entire system for our sustenance and survival.

What is biodiversity ?

The term Biodiversity encompasses the variety of all life on the earth. It is identified as the variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes which they are part, including diversity within and between species and ecosystems. Biodiversity manifests at three levels:
a) Species diversity which refers to the numbers and kinds of living organisms.
b) Genetic diversity which refers to genetic variation within a population of species.
c) Ecosystem diversity which is the variety of habitats, biological communities and ecological processes that occur in the biosphere.Biological diversity affects us all. It has direct consumptive value in food, agriculture, medicine, industry. It also has aesthetic and recreational value. Biodiversity maintains ecological balance and continues evolutionary process. The indirect ecosystem services provided through biodiversity are photosynthesis, pollination, chemical cycling, nutrient cycling, soil maintenance, climate regulation, air, water system management, waste treatment and pest control.Biodiversity is not evenly distributed among the world’s more than 170 countries. A very small number of countries lying wholly or partly within the tropics, contain a high percentage of the world’s species. These countries are known as Megabiodiversity countries. Twelve countries have been identified as megabiodiversity countries: India, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Madagascar, Zaire, Australia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. Together these countries contain as much as 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s species. India is one of the 12 megabiodiversity centres in the world.India is divided into 10 biogeographic regions:Trans-Himalayan, Himalayan, Indian desert, Semi-arid zone, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic Plains, North-East India, Islands and Coasts.


An ecosystem is a place where nature has created a unique mixture of air, water, soil and a variety of living organisms to interact and support each other. It is a living community of plants and animals of any area together with the non-living components of the environment such as soil air and water. The living and non-living interact with each other in such a manner that it results in the flow of energy between them. In a particular ecosystem the biotic community consists of the birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and other invertebrates, bacteria, plants and other living organisms.An ecosystem includes not only the species inhabiting an area but also features of the physical environment. Energy cannot be produced without the consumption of matter; the pyramid of life therefore has a wide base of vegetation, the smaller herbivores that feed on plants, and a much smaller number of carnivores. Eco-system ecologists are interested in the exchange of energy, gases, water and minerals amongst the biotic (living) and the abiotic (non-living) components of a particular system; therefore they tend to study confined areas that are easier to control or monitor. Small and relatively self-contained ecosystems are called microsystems because they represent miniature systems in which most of the ecological processes characteristic of larger ecosystems operate but on a smaller scale. A small pond is an example of a little ecosystem. On the other hand, the largest and the only really complete ecosystem is the biosphere. An ecosystem can exist in any place where there are varied forms of life. Even the park near your home or a village pond can be an ecosystem as there are different forms of life here and they coexist.
One of the most productive ecosystems is at the point where sea water meets freshwater.Conservationists have now realised that in order to save the natural world, ecosystems as a whole have to be saved. Unless the entire ecosystem is preserved, the individual species will not be able to survive for long.Human activities clearly demonstrate the interdependence of all ecosystems – acid rain that falls on forests is carried to pristine lakes far from the source of pollution.

Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels change the composition of the atmosphere and perhaps contributes to the alteration of the earth’s climate. The most important lesson to be learned about life on earth is that most things on the earth are interdependent and interconnected – actions taken have a much larger impact than one can think of.

Genetic Biodiversity

All forms of life on earth, whether microbes, plants, or human beings, contain genes. Genetic diversity is the sum of genetic information contained in the genes of individual plants, animals and micro-organisms. Each species is the storehouse of an immense amount of genetic information in the form of traits, characteristics, etc. The number of genes ranges from about 1000 in bacteria to more than 400,000 in many flowering plants, each species consists of many organisms and virtually no two members of the same species are genetically identical.An important conservation consequence of this is that even if an endangered species is saved from extinction it has probably lost some of its internal diversity. Consequently when populations expand again, they become more genetically uniform than their ancestors. There are mathematical formulas to express a genetically effective population size that explain the genetic effects on populations that have gone through a bottleneck before expanding again such as the African Cheetah or the North American Bison.Subsequent inbreeding in small populations may result in A) reduced fertility and B) increased susceptibility to disease. Genetic differentiation within species occurs as a result of sexual reproduction, in which genetic differences between individuals are combined in their offspring to produce new combinations of genes or from mutations causing changes in the DNA.Genetic diversity is usually mentioned with reference to agriculture and maintaining food security. This is because genetic erosion of several crops has already occurred leading to the world’s dependence for food on just a few species. Currently, a mere 100 odd species account for 90% of the supply of food crops and three crops – rice, maize and wheat – account for 69% of the calories and 56% of the proteins that people derive from plants.


Species is a group of class of animals and plants having certain common and permanent characteristics that clearly distinguish it from other groups or species (Concise Oxford Dictionary). They are populations in which gene flow occur under natural conditions. By definition, members of one species do not breed with those of other species. Unfortunately, this definition does not work in species where hybridization, self fertilization, or parthenogenesis (reproduction of offspring without fertilization by sexual union) occurs. New species may be established in several ways. The most common method is a geographical speciation (formation of new biological species), the process by which the populations that are isolated diverge through evolution by being subjected to different environmental conditions. Biodiversity is most commonly used and measured by species diversity. There are two major reasons for this: Species are still the most identifiable collective unit of biological organization and the loss of species seems the most irreversible and final of all forms of diversity. Species diversity can be expressed in terms of richness, that is the number of species in an area – for example you can count the number of plant species in your garden which will give you the species richness in your garden. Thus, if you have one neem tree and one mango tree, the tree species in your garden will be two. Ecologists have come up with various diversity indices, which focus not only on the number of species present but also on the number of individuals of a particular species.Diversity indices are of more value to ecologists, since they give an idea of the composition of the communities existing in an area, and help identify species that dominate the community in terms of their abundance, biomass or cover. Species diversity is not uniform throughout the world, some areas are very species rich while others are species poor. Again while one area may have hundreds of plant species another may have an incredible insect diversity. A striking pattern is the increase in diversity from poles to the equator, thus while the tropical areas team with life, temperate areas which are closer to the poles have fewer kind of plants and animals, while the polar regions are stark and barren. Tropical forests are amazingly diverse, a single hectare may contain 40 to 100 different kinds of trees. In contrast in a coniferous or a deciduous forest only about 10 to 30 species can be found.Latitudinal variations are not the only emerging pattern. Diversity is also closely linked to altitude or elevation. The plains of India have a varied species of plants but as you go up, the decrease in the moisture contents in the atmosphere reduces the number of species. The desert area has the least number of species. There are certain species that are endemic to a region that is, they are found in only a particular area and are very special to that area. They have evolved to adapt to that area only and if their habitat is destroyed (e.g. by deforestation) they can easily become extinct. Some plants and shrubs are endemic to only a particular type of forest, such as some found in the evergreen forest will not be found in any other type of forest area. Take the Western Ghats as an example – animals endemic to this area include the Rusty Spotted cat, Nilgiri marten, the Lion-tailed macaque, and the Nilgiri langur.


The forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of trees that have formed a buffer for the earth to protect life-forms. The trees which make up the main area of the forest create a specialenvironment which, in turn, affects the kinds of animals and plants that can exist in the forest.The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) has defined forest as land with crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10% and area of more than 0.5 hectare. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 m at maturity in situ. In the tropical and subtropical region, forests are further subdivided into plantations and natural forests. Natural forests are forests composed of indigenous trees, not deliberately planted. Plantations are forest stands established by planting or/and seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation. There are about 16 major types of forests in India from the tropical type to the dry type.Forests can develop wherever there is an average temperature greater then about 10 Centigrade in the warmest month and an annual rainfall in excess of about 200 mm annually. In any area having conditions above this range there exists an infinite variety of tree species grouped into a number of stable forest types that are determined by the specific conditions of the environment here. Forests can be broadly classified into many types some of which are the Taiga type (consisting of pines, spruce, etc.). The mixed temperate forests with both coniferous and deciduous trees, the temperate forests, the sub tropical forests, the tropical forests, and the equatorial rainforests.In India it is believed that organized exploitation of forest wealth began with an increase in hunting. Ashoka the Great is said to have set up the first sanctuary to protect the forest and all life in it. The Mughal rulers were avid hunters and spent a great deal of time in the forests.
It was during the British rule that the first practical move towards conservation in modern times took place. They established ‘reserved forest’ blocks with hunting by permit only. Though there were other motives behind their move, it at least served the purpose of classification of and control over the forests.
Soon after independence, rapid development and progress saw large forest tracts fragmented by roads, canals, and townships. There was an increase in the exploitation of forest wealth. It was only in 1970s that the importance of conservation of forests was realised and the preservation of India’s remaining forests and wildlife was given a front seat.

The Wetlands

Wetlands are areas lying along the banks of rivers and lakes and the coastal regions. They are life supporting systems providing fish, forest products, water, flood control, erosion buffering, a plant gene pool, wildlife, recreation and tourism areas. Though they are endowed with a rich biodiversity, yet of late they are being greatly exploited. Many Wetland species have become threatened and endangered because of their dependence on a particular type of wetland eco-system, which has become seriously degraded or destroyed. Such is the case with swampy grasslands and the flood plain wetlands of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river valleys. Large areas have been converted to agricultural land or there has been widespread over-grazing. Removal of sand, gravel and other material from the beds of rivers and lakes has not only caused destruction of wetlands but has led to sedimentation, which has affected other areas. The introduction of exotic plants has had an adverse effect on these areas. The water hyacinth, a native of South America, is now a major pest in many areas forming a vast floating shield over the surface of the water and clogging up rivers and canals. A number of factors have been responsible for the depletion of wetland areas, mainly the mangrove forests, along the coasts of India. Intensive aquacultural development, deforestation, pollution from tankers, domestic waste, agricultural runoff 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.In 1981, Chilka Lake, India’s largest brackish water lagoon, was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International importance. But its fragile ecosystem has of late come under threat due to both anthropogenic and natural factors. It provides refuge to thousands of migratory birds and the balance in ecosystem has to be maintained to ensure safe habitat for the birds.

Exotic Species

As opposed to native species, which are indigenous and found naturally in an environment, animals and plant species introduced from other countries and which are not otherwise found locally are termed exotic. These introduced or exotic species can adversely affect the ecosystem.In India large variety of exotic animal and plant species, have been introduced from other parts of the world through the ages. Some exotic plants have turned into weeds, multiplying fast and causing harm to the ecosystem, e.g. Water hyacinth and lantana. Exotics are invariably introduced without their natural enemies that control and balance their spread in their native land, and hence grow and flourish without any hindrance and cause harm to the environment. Therefore, when planting saplings, remember to choose only those that form a part of the natural ecosystem of an area. In a stable ecosystem, all species – animals, plants and microbes – are in healthy coexistence. Any disturbance in one gives rise to imbalance in others and this is what happens when an exotic species is introduced.Introduced species can often negatively affect native species. While they are selected specifically for their adaptability and in the long run often out number native species and compete with them for the resources. This results in the expansion of the introduced species and the decline of native species. Plants from all over the world have been brought to India and grown here. Some have proved beneficial while others have not. Vegetables such as chillies and onion have been brought from South America and Persia (modern day Iran) respectively. Coffee, Cashew, eucalyptus and many more species have come from abroad. Some quick growing plant species were brought from Australia for afforestation programmes such as the acacia and eucalyptus. The demand for wood in different industries led to a growth of forest area under these species. These trees shed the leaves on the ground and do not allow other plants to grow nor do they decompose easily. During the rains there is heavy erosion and poor percolation in these areas. Thus the introduction of these species has caused more harm than good to the forests and the soil in general. Some weeds have not been intentionally introduced but have come accidentally as for instance the Mexican weed came along with American wheat that came as PL 480 aid from the USA in the 1960s when quarantine rules were not so strict. In fact all plants and seeds that come from another country should be quarantined to ensure that no other foreign material has come with it.

Source : Edugreen – Teri, New Delhi




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Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, India – Part I


This document covers a very important and ecologically vital geographical area which is rich in biodiversity – the Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley in the central Western Ghats. Most of the forests in the Western Ghats have already disappeared due to population pressure and ‘development’ schemes that do not consider the long term consequences but merely look at the short term gains. And now it is the turn of this pristine valley to fall under the axe.

River Madei at Sonal Village, Sattari, Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

This is mainly a pictorial documentation which attempts to bring out the natural wealth of this valley – its streams and waterfalls, its forests and wildlife, its people and the millennia old civilization and settlements on the banks of the river Mandovi in Goa all of which stand to be decimated due to Karnataka’s river valley project which proposes to divert a sizeable quantum of water from the Mahadayi to the Malaprabha river in Belgaum district of Karnataka. But the project is far more ambitious. It includes building as many as 11 dams on the Mahadayi and its tributaries in a small area of 50 sq km along with hydroelectric projects.

The project will submerge a vast area of thousands of acres; most of it will be thick forested area. The tribals living in the area will be displaced. Once these forests are destroyed there will be a drastic change in the ecology of the valley ruining its forests, wildlife and all its natural wealth.

Gavali Tribals of Chapoli – Mother & Child – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

The core catchment area of the Mahadayi lies in the heavy rainfall, thickly forested, approximately 200 sq km of mountain topography of Khanapur taluka, barely 10 km upstream of Valpoi in Goa, where Karnataka’s diversion and hydroelectric dams are to come up.

In my earlier book “The Western Ghats” , I had attempted to bring out the ecological damage that is being continually inflicted on the Sahyadris. The biggest ecological damage inflicted upon the Western Ghats is deforestation. The Western Ghats eco-region with an area of about 1,59,000 sq. km has been classified as a global ‘Hotspot’. This means that this is an area which is rich in endemic plant species and which has already lost more than 70% of its original habitat and is under severe threat due to human pressure.

The Mahadayi is a comparatively minor stream that arises in the Western Ghats and the river valley is a large pocket of dense, pristine monsoon forests, one of the richest reservoirs of biodiversity in the world that reflects complexity in plant, animal, bird life and is home to some rare endangered species of bats.
Mahadayi river valley is in the news because of the inter-state water sharing dispute between Karnataka and Goa. The Mahadayi Valley has been facing many threats. Illegal felling of trees and illegal mining has been going on for decades. Large scale plantation of exotic species (acasia & mangium) has also been damaging the ecology of the area.

With water diversion and hydroelectric projects, the Mandovi river, Goa’s life-line, faces imminent threat of choking because of the reduction in water flow, siltation and disruption of its ecology due to change in its profile – perhaps being even reduced to a trickle in the summer months and possibility of seismic disturbances.

The main threat that is now looming over the valley is the Karnataka Government’s plans to divert a large quantum of water from the Mahadayi river and its tributaries to the Malaprabha river basin to help the acute water scarcity faced by the region in the Malaprabha basin. But as long as the exploitation of water resources continues in the Malaprabha region, no matter how much water and from where it is diverted, the Malaprabha valley is likely to face the same situation in the near future.

But the project is far more ambitious. It includes building as many as 11 dams on the Mahadayi and its tributaries in this small area along with hydroelectric projects. The project appears to aim at impounding a large portion of waters from the Mahadayi and its tributaries that flows into Goa, which will mean that Karnataka retains and controls all the dams and the Mahadayi waters.

It is estimated that this project will submerge a vast area amounting to about 3,000 hectares; most of it will be the thick forested area on Karnataka side of the valley. Once these forest are destroyed there will be a drastic change in the ecology of the valley reducing the rainfall, ruining its forests, wildlife, and all its natural wealth.

Fungal diversity – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

The core catchment area of the Mahadayi lies in the heavy rainfall (3800mm-5700 mm per annum) thickly forested, approximately 200 sq. km of mountain topography of Khanapur taluka barely 10 km. upstream of Valpoi in Goa. A very large quantity of water that flows down the Mandovi all the year round originates in the streams and rivulets around Kankumbi, Jamboti, Talewadi, Gavali and Hemadga villages where Karnataka’s diversion and hydroelectric dams are to come up. The Mandovi river, Goa’s lifeline, faces imminent threat of choking because of the reduction in water flow, siltation and disruption of its ecology due to change in its profile – perhaps being even reduced to a trickle in the summer months.

Every variation in the Mahadayi water level will be crucial for Goa’s ecology, forests, wildlife, agriculture, drinking water, fishing and transportation.

Whither the Sahyadris ?

The Sahyadris or the Western Ghats is a major mountain range of the world that runs 1,600 km N-S forming the “girdle of the earth” and is the most important feature of the landscape of the southern peninsula of India. It has been classified as a “Global Biodiversity Hotspot” which is under constant threat due to human pressure.

It’s a precious gift of the Nature – priceless because the well-being of the entire southern peninsula hinges on the ecological stability of these mountains. And yet, there is a mindless exploitation and wanton destruction. The rate of forest destruction in the Sahyadris continues at a staggering rate. Tragically for the country and the region, most of the forest cover in the Western Ghats has disappeared.

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. The real merit of the Western Ghats forests in terms of their watershed value is incalculable. These forests once destroyed are gone forever. No amount of scientific knowledge or investment in afforestation can get us back our rivers.

The Western Ghats eco-region covers an area of about 1,59,000 sq km and is shared by six states viz., Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Around 40 districts fall within the limits of this region. Population density is lowest in the Dangs in Gujarat – 106/km2 and highest in Alapuzha in Kerala – 1489/km2. Tribal population classified as tribals (ST) are highest in Gujarat (14.9%), followed by Maharashtra (9.27%) and least in Tamil Nadu (1%) and Kerala (1.1%).

There are 58 protected areas – 13 National Parks and 45 Wildlife Sanctuaries. The total area of 14,140.36 km2 that is thus protected amounts to only 8.8% of the eco-region.

Of the remaining few pockets of dense pristine, evergreen forests, the Mahadayi River Valley located in the northern Karnataka and Goa now faces the Democles’s Sword in the shape of the proposed water diversion and hydroelectric schemes in Karnataka that will submerge an area of about 3,000 hactares, most of which will be the dense evergreen forests.

The Mahadyi River Valley one of the last “Wildernesses” with dense evergreen forests, abundant wildlife, beautiful streams and waterfalls covers an area of 750 sq km and is comparable to the Silent Valley(89.5 sq. km.) in Kerala in its wealth of biodiversity but much larger in area.


Pic by Amrut Singh

(The King Cobra – Ophiophagus hannah is the longest venomous snake in the world also called the Hamadryad which grows up to a length of 18 ft and is one of the most enigmatic creatures found in the Western Ghats. It is a snake that is highly feared and deeply respected and the Mahadayi Valley is a prime habitat of this snake. At Caranzol in Sattari taluka there are some well-identified habitats of the King Cobra.)

Global Biodiversity Hotspots

Norman Myers, a conservation biologist, in 1988 first identified ten tropical forest ‘hotspots’ characterised by exceptional levels of plant endemism and by serious levels of habitat loss. In 1990, Myers added another 8 spots to his list. Conservation International adopted Myer’s hotspots as its institutional blue print in 1989, and in1996.

To qualify as a hotspot, a region must meet two strict criteria: it must contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemic and it has to have lost at least 70% of its original habitat. These are the areas which are under constant threat due to human pressure. In the 1999 analysis, in all 25 hotspots were identified. A second major analysis was undertaken and the number or global hotspots stood at 34 in 2005.

Overall, the 34 hotspots once covered 15.7% of the Earth’s land surface. In all 86% of the hotspots’ habitat has already been destroyed. The intact remnants of the hotspots now cover only 2.3% of the Earth’s land surface. Over 50% of the world’s plant species and 42% of all terrestrial vertebrate species are endemic to these 34 biodiversity hotspots.

Among the 34 Global hotspots of the world, two have been identified in India; the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats .

Of India’s 15,000 plant species with 5,000 endemics (33%), 4050 plants with 1,600 endemic species are found in a 17,000 sq km strip of forests along the seaward side of the Western Ghats in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. The Western Ghats Eco-region has 938 vertebrates (36% endemic), 330 species of butterflies (11% endemic) and other lower plants and animals. Endemism is highest in amphibians (78%) and lowest in birds (4%). As per the classification of ‘hotspot’, the Western Ghats have lost more than 70% of its original habitat and forest cover. Many species have already become extinct or have become endangered and on the verge of extinction.

Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea Stoll) Wingspan: 70-85 mm – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Mahadayi river valley is rich in insects diversity and butterflies are perhaps the most colourful and conspicuous of insects. The butterflies in the valley include ‘Southern Birdwing’ , the largest of southern Indian butterflies with a wingspan of 140-190 mm and the smallest of the butterflies ‘Grass Jewel’ with a wingspan of 15-22 mm

Mahadayi – “the Great Mother Goddess”

Ancient carved image of ‘Gajalakshmi’ at Caranzol – Pic by Mohan Pai

In India, its mountains, rivers , trees and animals are honoured and revered more than any other nation in the world, seeing these objects as manifest divine creations. The rivers, especially are considered manifest forms of divine female powers that have descended from heaven. “Ganga Jal” is revered with implicit faith as an essential element of one’s salvation. “Ganga” in popular speech is used to describe any river since she is the Bhagirathi brought down to earth and could be received only by Lord Shiva and she is the mistress of all as in her they must all unite.


 Quite a number of ancient stone sculptures, representing the River Goddess have been discovered in and around the banks of the Mahadayi river both in Khanapur, Karnataka and in Goa indicating the existence of a dominating cult of the River Goddess in the area.
The Boat Goddess sculptures depict the Goddess standing in a boat, holding a dagger in her right hand and a bowl in her left hand. She is known by various names such as ‘Naukayana’ Devi (Boat Goddess), ‘Ashtabhuja’ (eight hands) Durga, ‘Mahishasuramardini’, etc.
All these sculptures probably belong to Kadamba period (12th or 13th Century AD). These sculptures have been found mostly in Sattari taluka at Nadve, Savarde, Dhamashe, Shel-Melawalli, Dhada and Guleli.

Mahadayi near Krishnapur – Pic by Srihari Kygaji

The Mahadayi river originates in Khanapur taluka of Belgaum district of Karnataka on the eastern slopes of the Sahyadris and flows west meeting the Arabian Sea near Panaji in Goa. But for the people of Khanapur and the eastern taluka of Sattari in Goa, She is the MAHADAYI – ”the Great Mother Goddess” as the name itself implies. The number of ancient carved images found scattered at Amgaon and Parvada in Khanapur Taluka and Sattari taluka of Goa at Caranzol, Savarde, Kodal, Rivem, Irvem, etc. represents the cult of the Mother Goddess worship on the banks of the Madei. The river Mahadayi becomes Madei in Sattari taluka of Goa and after the river Khandepar joins it at Bembol the river is called the Mandovi.

Like most monsoon-fed rivers, the Mahadayi also undergoes bewildering transformation during her seasons; slack, limpid pools of winter, partially dry beds of summer turning to fearsome torrents during the monsoons, submerging everything in its way and awesome in her destructive potential.

Damning the Rivers

When we dam the rivers, we literally damn them to an unnatural existence.
Patrick MacCully in his book “Silenced Rivers – The Ecology & Politics of Large Dams” says that the era of dams and damming rivers the world over is over (quite simply there are fewer and fewer rivers left to dam). In the United States now they are decommissioning dams and trying to restore their rivers to there original status, which is quite an uphill task. About 40 dams have been removed since 1999 when the breaching of Edwards Dam on Maine’s Kennebec river captured national attention. Another milestone was reached in October 2001, when conservationists celebrated the completion of a series of dam removals that restored 115 miles of the Wisconsin’s Baraboo river, the longest stretch of river ever returned to free flowing condition in America.

But in India state after state is hell-bent on damming the rivers either for irrigation or power orfor both under the guise of “development”. Past experience has proved that these so called“development” projects end up with far more incalculable, irreparable ecological damage. Thousands and thousands of sq. kilometers of forests have been submerged. In fact most ofthe forests in the Western Ghats have gone. The destruction of forests has very adverse effecton watersheds and catchment areas; thousands of families have been displaced, most of the time without proper resettlement; the wildlife and the flora of the area is completelywiped out; all this without any benefits to the local population. But what these projects in essence do is to destroy the ecology of the dammed rivers that have provided life-giving support for centuries to a wilderness of flora and fauna and civilisations on their banks. The ecology of the rivers is severely affected by dams, their waters running dry and they are reduced to a gutter status with only skeletal remains.

After these mega-investment, quite a number of dams get silted with not enough storage either for irrigation or to produce power. And there is also a danger of seismic disturbances to the areas.

Anjunem Dam on Costi river, Goa. – Pic by Mohan Pai

Hydropower projects & greenhouse gas emission

Latest scientific estimates show that large dams in India ar responsible for about a fifth of India’s total global warming impact. The study titled, “Methane emission from Indian Large Dams” estimates the total generation of methane from India’s reservoirs could be around 45.8 million ton, more than the share of any other country in the world. These gases are produced by the rotting of the vegetation and soils flooded by reservoirs, and of the organic matter (plants, plankton, algae, etc. Large dams have been known to be emitters of greenhouse gases like methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide for over a decade now.
Indian hydropower projects are already known for their serious social and environmental impact on the communities and the environment. The fact that these projects also emit global warming gases in such significant proportion should further destroy the myth.


The Water Disputes

The water endowed upper riparian States consider the water in their rivers as their property. As interstate rivers are not located entirely within a State but only flow through its territories, no State can lay exclusive use of such waters and/or deprive other States of their just share.

However, these States who zealously safeguard their autonomous status and rights forget or deliberately ignore their obligations to cooperate with each other while practising federalism. Because of this situation, many Chief Ministers of water deficit States have been forced to demand nationalisation of rivers.

The ongoing disputes are several- the Kaveri waters, the Krishna Basin, Indus Basin, Mahanadi Basin, the Indravati waters and now the Mahadayi waters. The Water disputes between the States are getting murkier due to the despicable actions of political opportunists. Vote bank politics has succeeded in dividing the culturally united dwellers of these basins into upper and lower riparian blocks to fight each other for their water rights. These people who are steeply bound by traditions for generations, who have been sharing the bounties of the river happily and its distress with concern for each other are now at each others throat fighting for their share of the same life-giving waters.

Karnataka’s unilateral decision to go ahead with the Mahadayi River Valley projects is now amounting to a very real threat. Karnataka is fully aware that the Mahadayi/Mandovi is a lifeline river for Goa and yet it is hell bent on diverting the Mahadayi waters into the Malaprabha basin. Most of the water from Karnataka’s Navilutirtha reservoir on Malaprabha goes for irrigation of water guzzling crops like sugarcane in its upper reaches creating a drought-like situation in its lower reaches. This has created a man-made water crisis in Hubli-Dharwad area. If Karnataka cuts a fraction of water released for irrigation, there will be no drinking water shortage for Hubli-Dharwad.

Goa State is a part of the narrow Konkan coastal strip on the western side of the Western Ghats (15 47’ 59’ and 14 53’ 47” North latitude and 74 20’13” and 73 40’33” East longitude. The entire eastern part of Goa State is flanked by the western slopes of the Sahyadris that extends in the form of an arc with a length of 125 km N/S and covers an area of about 750 sq km. The rainfall remains relatively high over this tract in view of the comparatively low elevation. The Sahyadri crestline zone borders Goa and Karnataka and most of the streams flowing into Goa, originate just across the border in Karnataka.

Vajra Sakhala Waterfalls in Chorla GhatPic by Mohan Pai

The Mahadayi/Mandovi is the most important west flowing river of Goa. The river arises in the Western Ghats of Karnataka at Degaon in Khanapur taluka at an elevation of 940 m with a total length of 87 km(35 km in Karnataka and 52 km in Goa). The river and its tributaries drain about 2,032 sq km area out of which 375 sq km in Karnataka, 77 sq km in Maharashtra and 1,580 sq km in Goa. The Mahadayi/Mandovi river basin in Goa occupies 43% of the total area of the State and this explains why maintaining the ecology of the river is so vital to this small State.


Emerald-green fields on the banks of the Madei – a village near Honda, Sattari Taluka, Goa-Pic by Mohan Pai

The ecology of the Mahadayi basin is already very fragile on account of large scale deforestation and illegal mining in Khanapur taluka. Karnataka now proposes to intercept the yield from about 258 sq km which is the core catchment area of the Mahadayi. The massive diversion of the Mahadayi water from this area will see a quantum jump in the silt flowing down from the denuded mountain ranges from across the border and will result in water flow being reduced to a trickle. For Goa, the fresh water flows from the core catchment area that lies in the heavy rainfall, thickly forested area of about 200 sq. km. of mountain topography of Khanapur taluka barely 10 km upstream of Valpoi in Goa. A very large quantity of water that flows down the Mandovi all the year round originates in the streams and rivulets that spring around Kankumbi, Jamboti, Talewadi, Gavali and Hemadga villages.

Goa has been at the mercy of its two larger and powerful neighbours and bordering states of Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and the south. Most of Goa’s major streams – Tiracol, Chapora, Mandovi, Surla, Ragoda, Khandepar and Galgibag originate just across the border in the Western Ghats of either Maharahtra or Karnataka. For this reason Goa is an extremely vulnerable state when its bigger neighbours draw ambitious plans to create large storages or divert waters close to the sources of rivers flowing into Goa.

The Mahadayi/Mandovi river valley is one of the few surviving pockets of the “Last Wilderness” in the world and the main watershed for Goa’s rivers. It’s a pity that instead of saving and protecting it, it has now come under the axe for the sake of “development”!

Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, India – Part II


Threats to the Valley

Location of the Valley

The Mahadayi River Valley is one of the few remaining areas of wilderness in the Sahyadris and like the threats to these remaining wildernesses all over the world, this piece of wilderness is also facing several threats due to human pressure.

Mahadayi River before Vajra Poha Waterfalls – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

The main threats are as follows:


Many forest patches in the valley are privately owned (malki lands). The owners of these lands are a law unto themselves. While the Forest Act provisions are also applicable to private forest lands there is nothing much that can be done to prevent the owners from felling trees. Many malki lands have been denuded of tree covers and converted to food and cash crops. There are instances of valuable forest lands being sold to unscrupulous elements. There was a move to sell Yellurgad fort also known as Rajahansagad and there has been apprehension of Bhimgad fort being sold in the light of the fact that 47 acres of land adjacent to the fort has been already sold to a Kerala based firm. Private mining interests are taking advantage of the situation to carry on illegal mining.


Illegal mining has been going on in the valley for decades with the help of powerful vested interests.


Large scale illegal mining – Kalmani Village in Khanapur Taluk – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Illegal tree felling also continues with a powerful timber lobby. Timber felling also clears the way for manganese mining. Large-scale felling of trees has also been going on by various gangs in connivance with forest officials.

Large scale tree felling & burning of forests on the steep precipitous slopes – Maan village, Chorla, Khanapur taluk – Pic by Srihari Kugaji


Large-scale monoculture plantations of acacia (Australian) and mangium are being plantednot only in the heart of denuded forests but also in the rich grasslands between the forestexpanses and over the plateau. This disturbs the very composition of the flora itself adversely affecting the dependent fauna, particularly birds, bees and insects.


a) A sponge iron plant has been set up in Londa, just south of the Mahadayi Valley. The project site is within 25 km radius of the Londa Forest range and situated virtually on the crestline of the Western Ghats. In Goa itself, four sponge iron plants are operating in the Sahyadri zone.
b) Goa part of the Madei/Mandovi river basin is also facing considerable amount of pollution and damage.

Mining dumps along the banks of the Mandovi in Goa –Pic by Mohan Pai

Numerous mining leases for manganese and iron ore have destroyed the wilderness in Goa, leaving its surface looking like a bombed crater. As a result there is considerable sediment load in the rivers. It is estimated that at least 70,000 of run-off materials are dumped in the Mandovi river. The worst affected rivers are the Mandovi and its two tributaries – Dicholi and Khandepar. According to Goa University researchers there are 27 major mines within the Mandovi river basin. Tata Energy Research Institute which prepared “Area-wise Environmental Quality Plan” states in it report that “ around 21,000 hectares of private and forest land, which accounts for at least 18% of Goa’s private and Government forest, has been lost due to mining”. • POACHING There is widespread poaching both on Karnataka and Goa side. Hunting parties come from places like Mumbai with sophisticated gear for game that includes deer, wild boar, bear, bison, jungle fowl and panthers.


Much more threatening of all the threats is the energetic resurrection of the Karnataka Government’s decades old projects of diversion of the Mahadayi waters into the Malaprabha river along with the Mahadayi Valley power projects.

Kalasa Nala Dam Site at Kankumbi – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Malaprabha story



The Malaprabha Reservoir Project at Naviluteertha in Belgaum district Karnataka was completed in 1974 to irrigate an area of 2,18,000 hectare in Dharwad, Belgaum and Bijapur districts. What was envisaged during the planning of the project as the “cropping pattern” and what exists today is a complete contrast. Crops like paddy, sugarcane and horticulture which are water guzzlers, seem to have replaced the traditional cropping pattern. In the last thirty years four sugar mills have come up in the Malaprabha basin, apart from many others in neighbouring areas. The traditional four-month cultivation cycle has found it difficult to resist the profit-driven approach of growing of the 11-month water intensive crops. The farmers at the head and mid reaches of the irrigated belt are using water of the east-flowing Malaprabha by employing electric pumps. As a result the tail-end villages are facing an acute state of drought. There is almost a sense of doom in the Malaprabha basin with water scarcity and environmental deterioration. The Malaprabha dam since its completion thirty years ago has filled to capacity only thrice. The hills of the eastern plains in the area are denuded and extensively deforested and as a result there is a decrease in the rainfall. Drinking water supply has been affected seriously. Villagers gathering around a single tap with red, green, yellow plastic pots to collect their little share of water is a common sight.

Malaprabha is a much bigger stream than the Mahadayi. According to a former Conservator of Forests, Government of Karnataka, it was the wanton deforestation of the Jamboti area of Khanapur that was primarily responsible for the present state of the Malaprabha river. As a result the Renuka Sagar Reservoir has been affected seriously failing to fulfill the targets.


The proposed Mahadayi River Valley scheme involves building six dams on the Mahadayi and its tributaries near Kankumbi-Chola to divert water into the Malaprabha, While the Mahadayi hydroelectric project will have five more dams on the tributaries to produce of power. The main diversion dam on the Mahadyi known as Kotni dam, is also designed to produce power, apart from diverting water into the Malaprabha above Khanapur.


Foundatiom markingsfor Mhadei Dam at Kotni – Pic by Mohan Pai

These dams will be: one on Kalsa (below its confluence with Surla), one on Haltar Nullha, diverting its water into Kalsa reservoir near Chorla and three small dams on Potni Nullha above Kankumbi (it meets Tilari river in Maharashtra), interconnected and led into Kalsa reservoir. Kalsa reservoir, cumulatively then, is diverted to the Malaprabha through a tunnel near Kankumbi. The water from the main Kotni dam is to be led through a 5.5 km tunnel into the Malaprabha at Asoga near Khanapur.

These six diversion dams involve 1.6 km of dam length, 6.4 km of tunnels through forested ridges, and 3.5 km of open channels as excavations. Areas of submersion amount to 4,300 acres of prime forests and 1000 acre of dry and wet agricultural land. The second project – Mahadayi Hydroelectric project with twin purpose Kotni dam and dams on the tributaries of Irti, Bail and Andhari will submerge another 400 acres of pristine forests bringing the total area of submersion to 5,700 acre including a few villages. The diversion dam on Kalasa (below its confluence with Surla river) will be depleting the waters of Surla river. Surla river makes a beautiful waterfall in the Chorla Ghat and this will turn into a mere trickle like the Jog falls. Besides, the reduction in waters of Surla river will alter the ecology of Sattari Taluk affecting its agriculture, fishery and its economy.

South of the Mahadayi river, two more dams have been planned at Palna and Katla on Dudhsagar (Khandepar) river which forms the source of Dudhsagar Waterfalls in Goa. These dams will reduce this beautiful falls to a sorry state of a trickle just like the famed Jog falls. But more serious will be the consequences for Khandepar river, the waters of which will be considerably reduced. The reservoir at Opa which meets the drinking water needs of Ponda will be seriously affected. River Khandepar is the main tributary of the Mandovi and this will ultimately reduce the inflow in the Mandovi.

A sizeable area will have to be cleared to accommodate the labour and it can be expected that the forests will be further damaged for the requirement of their fire-wood. Within an area of 20-25 km there will be as many as 11 dams and extensive excavation, blasting, etc on account of tunnels and channels. All these activities will seriously disturb and wipe out the wildlife of the area.

The Kalasa-Bhandura water diversion scheme on which the work has already commenced is going to submerge about 723 ha(Kalasa 320 ha & Bhandura 403 ha). Should Karnataka go ahead with the Kotni Hydroelectric & diversion project on the scale that it has been planned the total area to be submerged will be 2145 ha forests plus another 330 ha of forest land for roads, dams power houses, township, field offices, etc. The villages that will be submerged, some them completely and some partially are: Kankumbi, Parwad, Chorla, Kongla, Kirwale and Kabnail, Gavali, Pastoli, Nerse, Jamgaon, Mugwede, Chapoli, Jamgaon and Kavale

Another Malaprabha ?

The question to be posed here is, considering the imbalance existing in the Malaprabha basin, to what extent will the diversion from the Mahadayi will really solve the problem. And at what cost ? As long as the exploitation of water resources in the Malaprabha basin continues, no matter how much water and from where we divert it, we are likely to face the same situation in the near future. As outlined above, the environmental cost of the “developmental scheme” will be devastating.
The denuded Malaprabha Valley in Khanapur taluka bereft of tree cover – Pic by Mohan Pai

Malaprabha basin itself provides a potent pointer. Barely 10 km away from the Mahadayi valley separated by Jamboti ridge, the Malaprabha basin has witnessed marked deforestation, denudation, water scarcity and environmental deterioration within a span of 32 years.

The forest cover of Belgaum district would be reduced from 13% to 8% after releasing the forest land to Mahadayi Diversion and Hydro-electric project. Reduction in forest cover would have considerable effect on the climate – reduction in rainfall, temperature and humidity.

What the Mahadayi project is set to do is to destroy permanently an area, rich in biodiversity, which ranks second in India after Sundarbans and eighth in the world as the finest tiger habitat and is home to many species of flora and fauna including endangered Wroughton’s Freetailed bat and Theobald’s Tomb bat. Barapedi caves in the Mahadyi valley is the only place where Wroughton’s Free-tailed bat is found in the whole world and Theobald’s Tomb bat is rare. Apart from Krishnapur caves it survives only in two other places in India.

Forest destruction spree

In the words of a retired Conservator of Forest, Government of Karnataka “In the name of development the Karnataka Power Corporation has ruined much of our forests and so far more than one lakh hectares has already been destroyed in Sharavathi, Kadra, Kodasalli, Supa, etc. The same fate has fallen on Bedthi – Aghanashini valley forest. And now, it is the turn of Mahadayi. KPC should stop this forest destruction spree immediately other wise we will have to pay heavy price for it”. He also adds “It is not prudent move to destroy forest for electricity. Let it be generated by some other means”

Stockpile of timber near Amgaon – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

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.

Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, India – Part III

By Mohan Pai

Ecological Impact of the Mahadayi
Water Diversion on Goa
The construction work on the Kalasa-Bhandura diversion dam for which the Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka laid the foundation stone on September 22, 2006 at Kankumbi near Goa-Karnataka border is progressing rapidly. The project is threatening to wipe out this millennia old culture and society. Goa, although a small state, is one of the most prosperous state of the Indian union, paying the highest per capita tax and earn the highest per capita foreign exchange. Mining, tourism, corporate taxes, income tax, excise etc. net about Rs. 8,000 crores an annum to the National Exchequer.
The State of Goa is the smallest of all the States in the country yet, it shows an astonishing diversity of endemic species, habitats and ecosystems. Goa is under the influence of two global biomes – the marine biome of the Arabian Sea and the terrestrial forest biome of the Western Ghats. Within this geographical canvas are a wide range of ecosystems and habitats e.g. forests, Ghats, alluvial plains, coasts, rivers, estuaries, mangroves, wetlands, etc.
Madei river at Ganjem, Ponda taluka, Goa – Pic by Mohan Pai

Madei/Mandovi is the largest river in Goa which drains almost all of northern and central Goa with the basin area of 1,580 sq km or 43% of Goa’s total land area. Any tempering with its headwaters will seriously disturb its natural ecology and will damage the ecosystem of the entire river basin in Goa.
The livelihood of 296 villages in the talukas of Tiswadi, Bardez, Bicholim, Sanguem and Ponda depends on the resources of Madei/Mandovi waters. It will also affect the Zuari river basin which is linked with the Mandovi through the Cumbharjua canal.
The change in the Mandovi’s profile will also adversely alter the ecology of its estuarine, thickly populated islands of Chorao, Diwar, Corjuem, Jua, Cumbharjua, etc.

The Salinity Factor

The fresh water flow from the Mahadayi river in Khanapur taluka maintains the Mandovi. The Mandovi is a tidal estuary which means that it is an extended arm of the sea with tidal salt water intrusion. The fresh water flow keeps the salinity at a certain level. Reduction in the fresh water flow will disturb the fresh water regime by pushing up the salinity to a much higher level.
At present the salt water ingress and the tidal influence is felt 36 km upstream beyond Ganjem or nearly 70% of the river’s length in Goa. Reduction in the fresh water flow from Karnataka would completely alter the river profile by moving the estuarine front deeper even beyond Valpoi.
Out of the total drainage area of 1,580 sq km 509 sq km is affected by salinity and in another 540 sq km local conditions do not permit any water resource conservation schemes and that leaves only 531 sq km drainage in Goa which could be utilised. The increase in the salinity level will have a detrimental effect on Goa’s entire coastal ecosystem not only jeopardising Goa’s khazan lands, mangroves, avifauna, agriculture, fisheries and river navigation but also its drinking water storages and treatment plants at Sanqulim, Opa and other places sharply reducing the drinking water availability in the river basin.
Forests & Wildlife
The Madei river waters sustain the forests and the wildlife of the Madei Wildlife Sanctuary in Sattari taluka, Bhagawan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Molem National Park in Sanguem taluka and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary.

Tree Frog – Pic by Mohan Pai


The reduction in the Mahadayi waters will not only decimate this area (448.5 sq km) but will result in decimating surrounding forests since the whole belt is one contiguous belt of wilderness.

  Gaur or Indian Bison, the State Animal of Goa

The whole of Sattari taluka depends on the waters of Madei for its agriculture including the centuries old method of ‘Puran Sheti’ and the Vasant Bhandaras – lift irrigation employed by most of the villages. These 27 odd villages will face a total ruin.
Khazan fields – intricate system of dykes & sluice gates – Pic by Mohan Pai

Khazan lands are saline floodplains covering an area of about 17,500 ha which have been reclaimed over centuries (Historical records of the 6th century mention Khazan lands) by constructing an intricate system of bunds (dykes) and sluice gates. Khazan lands are ecologically, economically and socially very important for agriculture and piscine culture. This unique system is based on the ecology of the area that includes the present level of salinity of the water. About 2,000 ha are under dense mangrove vegetation. The mangroves help protect the outside of the mud and laterite bunds that enclose the Khazan. Mussels, clams, oysters, crabs and prawns are harvested and the fish and shellfish sustain a large population of indigenous and migratory birds. Reduction in fresh water flow will push up the salinity to a much higher level which may result in the Khazan lands becoming unproductive, affecting thousands of people depending on the Khazan lands.
Khazan field – Sluice gate – Pic by Mohan Pai

(Kulagar in Sattari – Kulagars are hill slope terraces where arecanut and coconut plantationsalong with climbers like betel leaves, pepper, etc. are cultivated. Banana, mango, jackfruit, pineapple, kokum, chillies, turmeric are also being cultivated in kulagars) – Pic by Mohan Pai

Other plantation crops grown in Goa are the bamboo, the banana and mango, bhirand or kokum is also an important plantation crop which forms a part of daily diet. It is used as a garnish to give an acidic taste to curries and vegetable as well as in the preparation of cooling kokum syrup during the hot summer months.
River Navigation

The Mandovi estuary is navigable round the year up to about 45 km from the mouth upstream and is one of the two main waterways of Goa mainly used for transporting iron ore barges of capacity 1,000 – 1,500 tons and transported to the Mormugao Port for export. The depth of estuary varies from 8-10 m at the mouth to less than 2 m.

Mouth of the River Mandovi – Barge carrying iron-ore – Pic by Mohan Pai

Fishing is a major industry in Goa and over 40,000 people are dependent on fisheries for their livelihood. Out of 11 talukas of the state, fisherman fro 8 talukas are involved in fishing. Fish curry and rice is a staple food of Goan people.

Fisherwomen of Britona – Pic by Mohan Pai

The inland catch from the rivers was 3,749 tonnes as against the total catch of 73,135 tonnes (2001). There are landing centres for inland fisheries all along the banks of the Mandovi. The reduction in the water level and the deeper ingress of salt water will affect the fishing due to barriers to fish migration and this will reduce the fish catch. The tourism industry in Goa depends on the local fish produce which will definitely face problems.
The mangroves will be also affected and the shellfish breeding will be depleted and the aqua farms along the river banks also will face problems.


Goa’s sandy beaches are major tourist attraction. Goa is an international tourist destination and tourism is the most important component of Goa’s economy providing employment related opportunities to the local population. Tourist arrivals amounted to 2.3 million in 2005 exceeding the local population by almost a million. Number of hotels and resorts, residential dwellings, commercial establishments, beach side entertainment centres/eat outs have changed the landscape of the coastal strip with activities that follow such a coastal tourism.
Tourists at CalangutePic by Mohan Pai

The Government has laid special emphasis on creating an attractive image for this international destination by developing infrastructure and diversifying a beach oriented tourism to other forms of tourism such as heritage tourism, eco-tourism, adventure and aqua-sports, etc. And there is an attempt to shift developmental activities towards hinterlands and backwaters as well as the Western Ghat forests in the form of eco-tourism. The other tourist attractions are the wildlife sanctuaries and the waterfalls of Dudhsagar which is a main tourist attraction as well as Surla waterfalls and Vajra Sakhala waterfalls in Chorla Ghat which will be reduced to a trickle due to reduced waters.

Watersports – Northern beaches of Goa Pic by Mohan Pai

Seismic threat

Karnataka’s project with as many as 11 dams to be located within an area of 50 km radius have been planned in an area much prone to earthquakes. Two large dams – Supa reservoir and Codasalli are just 50 and 35 km away respectively from the Mahadayi project area. Since the project area is bordering Goa, Goa will also be very vulnerable for any seismic disturbances.

As a result of shortage of water staple produce of rice, pulses and cereals may get affected. The plantation crops such as cashew, coconut and arecanut which are largest plantation crops in Goa are bound to suffer. The largest size of cashew plantations are located in the Madei/Mandovi river basin in the talukas of Sattari, Bicholim and Bardez. The area under arecanut is 2,000 hectares and almost half of it is in Ponda taluka.


Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, India – Part IV

By Mohan Pai


The MAHADAYI in Karnataka

The Mahadayi after Vajrapoha waterfalls before the confluence with Bail Nadi – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

The Mahadayi river originates in the Western Ghats of Khanapur taluka, Belgaum district, Karnataka. As the streams of the Sahyadris go, the west- flowing streams are short, swift-flowing, and plunge over precipitous escarpments to discharge their waters into the Arabian Sea. As they plunge towards the coastal strip, they pass through deep gorges creating spectacular waterfalls. The Mahadayi river follows this pattern and is a comparatively small stream with a total length of just about 87 km.- 35 km. in Karnataka and 52 km. in Goa.
Degaon in Khanapur Taluka – the birth place of the Mahadayi river – Pic by Srihari Kugaji
The Mahadayi rises on the eastern slopes of the Sahyadri’s crestline near Degaon village. The origin of the Mahadayi is a multitude of streams from within the fan shaped surrounding hills capped by dense, pristine forests.
Gavali village also claims the origin of the river Mahadayi – Temple and tank, is said to be the source of the Mahadayi – Pic by Mohan Pai
It flows eastward for a short distance and then loops into an arc around the ridges and turns westward across the crestline into Goa. Both, the Malaprabha and the Mahadayi run parallel to each other for some distance but flow in the opposite directions.

Iskcon is setting up a large complex in the Mahadayi Valley near Amgaon. ISCKON has already acquired about 500 acres of land. The project is intended for the development of agriculture, horticulture and medicinal plants with a view to help the local population – Pic by Mohan Pai
Between the Malaprabha river at Kankumbi in the north, Khanapur to the east, Anmod ghat on the Goa highway to the south and Molem/Madei wildlife sanctuaries across the crestline in Goa to the west, the Mahadayi valley with its luxurious forest covers an area of approximately 750 sq. km.
The valley is studded with graceful peaks, deep gorges, thick pristine monsoon forests and flat terraces of paddy fields at the bottom.
Bail Nadi near Amgaon – Pic by Mohan Pai

As many as 75 big and small streams join the Mahadayi at various stages increasing its volume and velocity. The main tributaries of the Mahadayi in the upper and middle catchment areas in Karnataka are small streams of an average length of 5 to 10 km. and as one follows the flow, they are: Right Bank: Bhandura Nala near Kongla, Singar Nala, Doli Nala, Kotni Nala, Irti Nala, Bail Nadi. Left Bank: Pansheer Nala, Madhuhalla Nala.
Confluence of the Mahadayi & Bail Nadi – Pic by Srihari Kugaji
These two streams arise on the crest line astride Talewadi and rush down on either side of the Barapedi caves within a km of each other near Krishnapur in the lower loop.
Vanrachi Khadi – ‘the monkey gorge – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

North of the loop near Kankumbi in the catchment area of Malaprabha river, two potent streams – Kalasa and Surla (Bhandura nala) join east of Chorla and flow across the crestline as Surla river in Goa emptying into the Madei above Valpoi at Nanode in Goa. These two streams are very important and major streams that feed the Mahadayi river.

Jamboti forests – Pic by Mohan Pai

The valley is a scenic treat and one of the richest reservoirs of biodiversity in the world and reflects the complexity in plant, animal and bird life and is home to endangered bat species. The valley is comparable to the Silent valley of Kerala in its significance and an important biological and ecological remaining pocket in the Western Ghats.
Bamboo bridge across the Bhandura Nala – Pic by Mohan Pai
About thirty villages scattered over the area remain poor, ill-served and rejected in the midst of thick resource-rich forests.

 Pastoli Village – Pic by Lt. Col. Ravinder Kumar

The ruins of Bhimgad, an old Maratha fort is located north-east of Molem wildlife sanctuary in Goa and north of Dandeli widlife sanctuary in Uttara Kannada. The area forms a core part of the Western Ghats.

Krishnapur – ampitheatre-like rocky outcrop. Krishnapur is just 2.5 km from Goa border and is home to a rare species of bats – Theobald’s Tomb bat – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Vertical rock cave ampitheatres of Krishnapur near Goa border are gigantic wall formations 1000-1500 ft in height. The caves are extremely difficult to access, have remained untouched and are nature’s secret providing haven to a large number of floral and faunal species.
Stone icon in a sacred grove at Amgaon – Pic by Srihari Kugaji
The steep drop of over 300 metres near Krishnapur and over 400 metres near Bhimgad to the valley down below is breathtaking. Thereafter, the land rises to the north of the Mahadayi to peaks of about 700 metres at Kedi Paunda and Tamadi Mokh.
Over 2,000 year old Salactite formation – Pic by Srihari Kugaji
12 km from Jamboti is Vajra Poha waterfalls. Here the river Mahadayi is joined by two other streams – Maradha nala and Pansheer nala, creating the magnificent Vajra Poha waterfalls.
Vajra Poha Waterfalls near Bhimgad on the Mahadayi – Pic by Srihari Kugaji
The Mahadayi takes a leap of over 150 ft. with rapids above and below the waterfalls.
Nersa Village
The village of Nersa in Khanapur nestles in the thick forests of Mahadayi valley.
Nersa Village – Pic by Mohan Pai
One of the proposed dams is to be builtclose to this village on Bhandura/Singar Nala confluence, submerging a sizeable area and threatening the very existence of this village.
The Hermitage Farms, a popular ecoresort in Nersa – Pic by Mohan Pai
Tribal Art – Wall Murals at Hermitage Farms done by Gavali tribesman at Nersa – Pic by Mohan Pai

Dam site at Kongla – the confluence of Bhandura & Singar nala near Nersa village – Pic by Mohan Pai

The High Ranges, The Western Ghats, India

An Article by Mohan Pai


South of the Nilgiris

The High Ranges

Shooting Point, Anamalais – Pic by Mohan Pai
Immediately after the Nilgiris, the High Ranges begin south of the Palakkad Gap. Most of this high elevation hilly tract lies within the Idukky district of Kerala but some portion of it – its eastern flanks extend into Tamil Nadu (Thirunelveli – Kottabomman, Kamarajar, Madurai, Dindigul and Coimbatore districts).The area covered here extends approximately 9 20’ N to 10 20’ N latitude and 76 30’ E longitude.
This high elevation hilly tract covers the Nelliyampathies, the Anaimalais, the Palni Hills, the High Wavies, the Varushanad Hills, the Cardamom Hills and a few smaller radiating spurs. The Anaimudi Peak is located at the south western corner of the ridge. The Palni Hills or the Kodaikanal Hills extend due east from the north eastern corner of the High Ranges almost like a spur. Most of the area of Anamalais and Palni Hills are in Tamil Nadu.


This is the most important catchment area for Kerala and southern Tamil Nadu rivers. All the west flowing rivers – Periyar, Moovattpuza, Meenachil and Manimala receive all their waters from this tract. Some portion of Chalakudy and Pamba river is also in this tract. The Amaravathy, a tributary of Kaveri, and Vaigai originate from the eastern flanks of the High Ranges and flow east in Tamil Nadu.

The High Ranges and the adjacent hill tracts to the east in Tamil Nadu across the state boundary together extend over 7500 – 8000 sq km in area. It ranges in elevation from near sea level to over 2660 m and is exposed to an extraordinary range of climatic conditions. This area had a very long span of geological stability and hence and hence nurtured an exceptional ecological richness and diversity. The very difficult terrain and inclement weather conditions have sheltered the ecosystems in this hill ranges from severe human depredations.
It was the advent of the missionaries, military explorers, suveyors and adventurers from Europe that brought the area into wider attention since the early 19th century. Soon its suitability for tropical cash crops such as coffee, tea, cardamom, pepper, cinchona, rubber, cocoa and a host of sub-temperate fruits and vegetables enticed many Europeans to open up the interior forests and raise extensive plantations. Many river valley projects came up both for irrigation and hydroelectric power. For its total geographical extent, the High Ranges now have the maximum number of major and medium dams in the entire Southern Western Ghats. In fact now more than 75% of Kerala’s electricity comes exclusively from this tract.

Munnar Valley – Pic by Mohan Pai

There is a wide range of variation in weather parameters within the tract. Many deep valleys along the western edge have an annual rainfall well over 6000 mm. The rainfall decreases sharply towards the east. The rainfall decreases sharply towards the east with sheltered effect produced by the very high ridges in reduced rainfall (less than 600 mm) in regions like Chinar and Anjanad Valley.

All reaches of the tract below 900 m elevation are humid tropical with two monsoon seasons where the annual average temperature remains within 32 – 16 C. Range with only 2-3 rainless months. Elevation between 900 m and upto 1600 m have subzero at times during winter nights with high wind chill factor. Frost prevails regularly and these areas have much lower annual total rainfall, lower humidity and a uniformly lower maximum temperature.

Denudation of Forests
Beginning of the 19th century, probably the entire area was practically covered by natural closed canopy forest vegetation and high elevation montane grasslands. Then plantations were established by the European settlers in a series of waves throughout the 1880’s and the early 1900’s till almost the beginning of the Second World War. No worthwhile extent of natural forest area survived these early onslaughts in the Mount Plateau-Peermade Plateau areas. Further north, in the heart of the High Ranges, in 1877 almost 500 sq km of forests were leased out for what later to be the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company.

Most of the remaining areas of the High Ranges, particularly in the valleys and western slopes remained forested, reserved as government forests. However, over the years, most of it has vanished into the reservoirs for dams, encroachments and even townships.

Mattuppetty Reservoir – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Sholas
The High Ranges have the maximum extent of shola grassland habitat remaining in any part of the Western Ghats. The Sholas are subtropical evergreen forests which are relict vegetation and harbour species which have outlasted the gradual climatic and ecological changes since the last glaciation, 30,000 to 20,000 years ago. These Pleistocene refugia are mostly restricted to the Western Ghats south of Coorg and are among the most endangered ecosystems in our country. Most of these grasslands have already been drastically modified. The loss of biodiversity from this region is unknown and the erosion still continues.

Cardamom Hills – Pic by Mohan Pai


Kerala Grass’
The cultivation of ganja (marijuana), started in the High Ranges has become a serious problem causing extensive deforestation and with disastrous repercussions for the whole country. Ganja cultivation has now spread to all reaches of the Southern Western Ghats.

The Tribals
The High Ranges have a fairly large population of hill men and forest dwellers. Among them the Muthuvas, the Mannans, the Malapulayans, the Ooralis, the Mala Arayas and the Malampandarams are the important surviving communities.
The earler inhabitants of the High Ranges whom we classify as tribal people are essentially of two categories – the true older forest inhabitants and the late migrants form the Tamil Nadu plains. The former were possibly occupying the western valley forests and the foothill forests. These people were in social organization and a culture more aboriginal. They used to hunt, collect forest produce for consumption and some for barter, while some groups practised shifting cultivation. They were gradually ousted from the more fertile low lands. As forests degraded due to the pressure of ‘civilized’ plains people and its diversity became depleted they could collect only less and less produce for their use. At present forests all along the western edge of Idukky district, near the noth western edge of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and the extensive Anaimudi Reserved Forest area where the tribal survival and forest preservation are apparently in conflict.
Apart from these hill men, throughout the past these hills have been refuges or retreats for many groups of people from the plains. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monuments occur in many locations, now mostly in ruins.

Author at the base of Anaimudi Peak

Protected Areas in the High Ranges

The Northern cluster in the High Ranges area has the Peechi-Vazani WS,Chimmony WS, Parambikulam WS, Eravikulam NP and Chinnar WS in Kerala and the Anaimalai WS (Indira Gandhi WS) in Tamil Nadu. The Thattakkad Bird Sanctuary extending over 25 sq km consists mostly of heavily distributed lowland forests and is located along the north western edge of the High Range forest belt in the Pooyamkutty valley.
The Southern cluster has the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the Grizzled Giant Squirrel Sanctuary in Kadyanalloor hills of Tamil Nadu.

Peechi – Vazhani & Chimmony WLS

Located in the extreme north west and extends along the lower foothills of Nelliyampathies bordering the Palakkad gap in Thrissur district. This 125 sq km sanctuary is contiguous along its south eastern boundary with Chimmony WLS (90 sq km) occupying the western slopes of Nelliyampathies. The moist deciduous forests of the Trichur Peechi Vazhani national park are a haven for a variety of wildlife that consists of many rare species of animals, birds and plants as well. The sanctuary is situated in the basin of the Peechi and Vazhani dams of Trichur.
This sanctuary was established in the year 1958 in Kerala. There is a rich variety of flora and fauna in this sanctuary. One can find more than 60 varieties of plants that include rosewood, teakwood and orchids along with plants of medicinal value. Among the wildlife, one can find animals like leopards, sambar deer, wild dogs, barking deer, spotted deer, bison and elephants.
You can also find many types of snakes and other reptiles here. There is a hill near the sanctuary known as the Ponmudi peak, which goes up to a height of 923 meters. Take a trek on this peak and look at the breath-taking view of the sanctuary from the top of the peak.

Parambikulam WLS

Spread over an area of 285 sq km, Parambikulam WLS shares an eastern border with Anaimalai WLS.The sanctuary lies in between the Anamalai hills and Nelliyampathy hills. Much of the sanctuary is part of Anamalai hills with peaks up to 1,438m (Karimala Gopuram) in the southern boundary of the sanctuary, 1,120m (Vengoli malai) in the eastern boundary, 1,010m (Puliyarapadam) in the west and 1,290m (Pandaravarai peak) in the north. Though the sanctuary is blessed with rain during both South West monsoon and North East monsoon, the former contributes maximum to the total precipitation recorded in the sanctuary. In addition, pre-monsoon showers are experienced during April and May.

Eravikulam National Park

Originally established to protect the Nilgiri Tahr, the Eravikulam Park is situated in Devikulam taluk of the Idukki district. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1975, and considering its ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological and zoological significance, it was declared as a National Park in 1978. It covers an area of 97 sq km of rolling grasslands and high level shoalas. The park is breath-takingly beautiful and is comparable to the best of mountain ranges in the Alps.The area is undulating, dotted with grass hillocks and sholas. Anamudi (2694m), the highest peak, south of the Himalays, is situated in the south of the park.The area receives heavy rains during both the monsoons. This is one of the wettest areas of the world. During the winter months of December to February, the occurrence of frost is quite common.The major portion of this area is covered with grasslands, but there are several patches of sholas seen in hollows and valleys..Tiger, panther and wild dogs are usually sighted in both the open grass land sholas forests. Civet cat and jungle cat also live in the sholas. Sloth bear, Nilgiri langur and wild boar are generally found in sholas and their fringes. The Atlas moth, the largest of its kind in the world, is seen in this park. The population of the world famous Nilgiri Tahr is 1317 according to the 1991 census.


Nilgiri Tahr – Pic by Mohan Pai

Chinnar WLS

Lying at Devikulam taluk of Idukki district, Chinnar was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1984. It is located in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats. It is the second habitat for the endangered giant grizzled squirrel in India. With an area of 90.422 sq. Km, Chinnar has the unique thorny scrub forest with Xerophytic species.The undulated terrain with rocky patches increases the scenic splendour of the sanctuary. As the altitude varies from 500 to 2,400 meters within a few kilometer radius, there is a drastic variation in the climate and vegetation. The highest peaks are Kottakombumalai (2144m), Vellaikal malai (1863m) and Viriyoottu malai (1845m). Unlike in most other forests of Kerala, Chinnar gets only about 48 rainy days in a year during October-November (Northeast monsoons). The forest types comprise thorny scrub forests, dry deciduous forest, high sholas and wet grasslands.

Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary

The one and only sanctuary of its kind in Kerala, the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary was constituted in 1983. Situated in Eranakulam district, this bird sanctuary is a feast to the eyes and music to the ears. Several kinds of birds usually found in South India are seen here. The famous ornithologist, Dr. Salim Ali, was the architect of this sanctuary. He is reported to have identified 167 birds and his student, Dr. Sugathan, 207. In addition, the Bombay Natural History Society has identified 253 kinds of birds. Spread over an extent of 25.16 sq.kms, Thattekkad attracts nature lovers from far and wide. As is common on the Western Ghats, the terrain is undulating and elevation ranges between 35m and 523m. The tallest point is the Njayapilli peak (523m high).
Lake : the sancutary is the catchment area of Bhoothanthankett dam. Maximum depth 15m. The flora consists of tropical evergreen forests, tropical semi-evergreen forests and tropical deciduous forests. There are patches of grasslands also.


The elephant is an occasional visitor. Leopard, bear, porcupine, python and cobra are sighted.BirdsIndian roller, cuckoo, common snipe, crow pheasant, jungle nightjar, kite, grey drongo, Malabar trogon, woodpeckeer, large pied wagtail, baya sparrow, grey jungle fowl, Indian hill myna, robin bird, jungle babbler and darter.

Cheeyapara Waterfalls – Pic by Mohan Pai

Rare Birds

Crimson-throated barbet, bee-eater, sunbird, shrike, fairy blue-bird, grey-headed fishing eagle, blackwinged kite, night heron, grey heron, Malabar shama, common grey hornbill and Malabar hornbill.


Idukki WLS

Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary which came into existence in 1976, spreads over an area of 77sq. Km. within Thodupuzha and Udumbanchola taluks in Idukki district. This wild life sanctuary with a plenty of elephants is blessed with different kinds of flora and fauna. The world famous Idukki arch dam and the vast lake increase the importance of this place. Before the formation of Shenduruny as a wildlife sanctuary, the area was under the Thenmala Forest Division. Both clear felling and selection felling were once practised in this area to a large extent. Large tracts of forests were clearfelled and such areas were converted to plantations. Besides, the widening of the Thiruvananthapuram – Shencottah road (T.S.Road) during the 40’s also enhanced the deterioration of the Shenduruny forests. Despite all these disturbances the fauna status of Shenduruny valley was found to be some what well, especially in the eastern mountainous zone. So, according to the recommendations by the Quilon Circle Committee report, the Government declared Shenduruny as wildlife sanctuary on August 25, 1984.

Periyar Tiger Reserve

Periyar Tiger reserve lies in the districts of Idukki and Pathanamthitta. The protected area covers an area of 777 km², out of which a 350 km² part of the core zone was made into the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, sometimes dubbed the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. The park is often called by the name Thekkady also. Thekkady is located four km from Kumily, approximately 100 km east of Alappuzha, 110 km west of Madurai and 120 km southeast from Kochi.

Periyar Lake – Pic by Mohan Pai


The Periyar protected area lies in the middle of a mountainous area of the Cardamom Hills. In the north and the east it is bounded by mountain ridges of over 1700 metres altitude and toward the west it expands into a 1200 Meter high plateau. From this level the altitude drops steeply to the deepest point of the reserve, the 100 Meter valley of the Pamba River. The highest peak is the 2019 Meter high Kottamalai.The sanctuary surrounds picturesque 26 km² Periyar lake, formed by the building of Mullaperiyar Dam in 1895. This reservoir and the Periyar River meander around the contours of the wooded hills, providing a permanent source of water for the local wildlife.The temperatures vary depending upon the altitude and it ranges between 15° Celsius in December and January and 31° Celsius in April and May. The annual amount of precipitation lies between 2000 and 3000 mm. About two thirds of the precipitation occurs during the south west monsoon between June to September. A smaller amount of precipitation occurs during the north east monsoon between October and December.

Elephant herd


Approximately 75% of the entire area is covered with evergreen or semi-evergreen rain forest. They are typically tall tropical tree species reaching heights of 40 to 50 Metres. Scarcely 13% consists of damp leaves forest, 7% of Eucalyptus plantation and 1.5% of grassland. The remainder (around 3.5%) of the protected area is covered by the Periyar artificial lake as well as the Periyar River and Pamba rivers.Altogether 62 different kinds of mammal have been recorded in Periyar, including many threatened ones. There are an estimated 24 tigers in the reserve. Tourists also come here to view the Indian elephants in the act of ablution and playfulness by the Periyar lake. The elephant number around 900 to 1000 individuals. Other mammals found here include gaur, sambar (horse deer), barking deer, mouse deer, Dholes (Indian wild dogs), mongoose, foxes and leopards. Also inhabiting the park, though rarely seen, are the elusive Nilgiri tahr.Four species of primates are found at Periyar – the rare lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri Langur, the common langur, and the Bonnet Macaque.So far 320 different kinds have been counted in Periyar. The bird life includes darters, cormorants, kingfishers, the great Malabar hornbill and racket-tailed Drongos.There are 45 different kinds of reptile in the protected area out of which there are 30 snake, two turtle, and 13 lizard species. Among those are Monitor lizards that can be spotted basking in the sun on the rocks along the lake shore. Visitors who trek into the Periyar national park often see a Python and sometimes even a King Cobra.

Dhole (Wild Dogs)



Hill Stations in the High Ranges


The first permanent homes in Kodaikanal were erected by a group of American missionaries, who had been based in Madurai who suffered many deaths from a fearful attack of cholera. They built a bungalow in Sirmalai hills, but its altitude of 4,000 ft gave some relief from the after effects of cholera, but not from malaria. They appealed to the British to help locate a more suitable site and soon the first two crude bungalows, named Sunnyside and Shelton, had appeared in Kodaikanal basin and six American families moved in. Soon British neighbours settled around them and Kodaikanal was on the map of South India.
Kodaikanal because of its situation is protected from the heavy monsoons which deluge nearby ranges from May to September. As light rain falls throughout the year the region is spared the occasional dry spells and water shortages which affect the Nilgiris. The scenery with its grassy rolling downs and beautiful little shola woods and perennial streams flowing through them attracted the Europeans.



Munnar, at 1,652 metres (5,420 ft), is a small town surrounded by the Anaimalai Hills and tea estates. It stands at the confluence of three rivers – the Muthirappuzha, Nallathani and Kundala. Moonu in Tamil means ‘three’ and aar ‘river’.

Club House at Munnar – Pic by Mohan Pai

The highest peak in South India – Anaimudi 2,695 m is just 20 kms from Munnar. Munnar was the favourite summer resort of European settlers for centuries but has taken place on the tourism map of India only recently. It was the best-kept secret among hill station destinations.
Until the second half of the 19th century, Munnar was part of an inhospitable and inaccessible area of thickly forested mountains. Its sole inhabitants were a tribal community called the Madhuvans, expert hunters and gatherers, who practised slash and burn cultivation. They still retain their customs although the pressures of modern life are eroding them. Officially Munnar belonged to the Poonjar Rajas of the state of Travancore.The first European to venture into the area
appears to have been the Duke of Wellington, when, as Colonel Arthur Wellesly, he marched across the ghats to fight Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in 1790. With Tipu’s defeat, though not at the hands of Wellington’s column, British influence in Kerala became supreme. Malabar was annexed from Mysore and the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin were subject to British interference.

Tea Gardens of Munnar – Pic by Mohan Pai
The year 1887 marked the beginning of the opening up of the High Ranges. John Daniel Munro of Pimmede, an officer of Travancore state and superintendent of the Cardamom hills leased the hill tract from the government. Munroe explored the area by following elephant paths and began to bring planters, mainly Scots, to join him in clearing the jungle. Life for pioneers was hard.
In the 1890s, The Finlay Muir company moved into the hills and persuaded some of the proprietary planters to work for them. The company came to control almost all the estates in the area and its name is still preserved in the Indian company, Tata Finlay Ltd, which now owns them.Finlay Muir’s arrival did not make life any easier on the plantations. The hills were still inaccessible, except from the Tamil Nadu side. And so Tamil labourers were brought up to man the estates. Planters experimented with rubber and chinchona before settling for tea which was transported by ropeways from Top Station outside Munnar to Bottom Station where it was packed in Imperial Chests shipped out from Britain and despatched to Tuticorin harbour. In 1908 a light railway was opened to take the tea from Munnar to Top Station, but it was destroyed by floods in 1924. In 1931, the ghat road from the Cochin side to Munnar was finally opened and Top Station was no longer needed to transport the tea.

Muthirapuza river – Pic by Mohan Pai


There are roads to Munnar from Cochin, 224 km to the west, and Thekkady, 117 km away. There is also a mountain road which links Munnar with Kodaikanal only 92 km to the east. This road is extremely beautiful and lonely. Munnar has now become quite a popular hill station with many tourist resorts.

Thekkady, at an elevation of 3,300 ft above sea level has become a popular tiger reserve and is set around Periyar lake. Periyar lake itself is an artificial lake formed during the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam in 1895 – that explains the dead tree trunks and branches sticking out of the water. These trees were submerged in the waters of the dam. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over 777 sq. km, roughly half of which is dense evergreen forest, savannah grassland and moist deciduous forest.
The sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve in 1978 under Project Tiger, and so the name Periyar Tiger Reserve is sometimes used to denote the place as well. Thekkady Junction is the central part of the Periyar sanctuary, and has a number of tourist resorts.

Nelliyampathy is another hill station destination which is becoming popular of late. This is a small, tea-and-orange hill station situated 75 km from Palakkad and 40 km south of Nenmara, the nearest town.
Nelliyampathy is in the midst of evergreen forests and orange plantations. The forests are part of the Sahya Range of the Western Ghats. There are a number of hill resorts at the top including one run by Kerala District Tourist Promotion Council.
Nelliyampathy Reservoir – Pic by Mohan Pai

Pre-historic artefacts have been found around Kodaikanal, indicating that it was once the home of now forgotten people who left behind mysterious megalithic structures, burial grounds, and tombs containing copper and brass implements and ornaments. In 1834 the collector of Madurai, built a house at the head of Shembagannur pass and the development of Kodaikanal began. Kodaikanal is situated on the upper crust of the Palni Hills at an elevation of 2000 m.


Sathis Chandran Nair “The High Ranges” published by INTACH 1994, Information & Public Relations Dept, Government of Kerala, Wikipedia, Mohan Pai “The Western Ghats” 2005.


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