On the Southern Rim of the Palanis (Part I)
To anyone who knows the southern Western Ghats it is incredulous that they are frequently referred to as “hills” rather than mountain ranges. All of the large ranges in the Nilgiri, Palani, Anaimalai, Highwavy and Ashumba ranges have cliff faces, peaks and escarpments that make them anything but “hills.” I was reminded of this over the summer when I had a chance to revisit the southern escarpment of the Palani Hills on a series of treks and camping trips. The treks involved revisiting areas that I had hiked to, both as a student at KIS and wondering soul in subsequent years. On the 2011 trips I teamed up with friends from school and the Vatakanal Conservation Trust to try to provide a brief assessment on the state of native grasslands. What we found was both illuminating and alarming. The cliff area between Kodaikanal and the Kerala border remains one of the most outstanding scenic landscapes in the Western Ghats. However, the invasion of native grasslands by self-seeding non-native tree species is happening at a faster-than-expected pace. As a result the area’s sublime ecology is in danger from disturbance that will be too great to reverse if some sort of restoring action is not taken.
To date, much of the Palani Hills is under “reserve forest” which affords the range with basic protection but not the kind of glamour, finances and support from state agencies and non-governmental organizations that nearby wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and project tiger reserves get. Complicating factors like the booming tourist industry in Kodaikanal, the presence of large-scale non-native plantations and significant anthropocentric impacts in some areas have made notification difficult. Efforts to get the Palanis notified continue at the state and national level and have been a subject of online documentation. Some of these points were highlighted in my 2003 Frontline article “on the danger list.” Now nearly 10 years later I am interested in exploring issues that would contribute to better conservation of this area’s landscapes and biodiversity.
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