Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Posts Tagged ‘High Range

On the Kurangani Valley Rim

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Panoramic view of the Kurangani valley as seen from “inspiration point” on the western edge near to Top Station and the Yellapatty estate (part of the Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company). (July 2018)

The Western Ghats, host numerous areas with unique biodiversity and play a key role in the peninsula’s hydrology but for stunning landscapes one of my favorite places is the confluence of ranges and their cliffs and valleys that surround the small hamlet of Kurangani. My relationship with the area has, thus far, been from the western-most Palani Hills though I had visited Top Station and Meesapulimalai (the 2nd highest peak in the Western Ghats) in the 1990s. Over the last 35 or so years I have been privileged to explore and hike the last vestiges of shola/grasslands in the Palanis. Along the edge of the Palani Hills boundary with Theni district and then Kerala we looked into the Kurangani valley and across the slopes and peaks near Kolukkumalai and Meesapulimalai. On several epic treks with my father and friends we witnessed the South West Monsoon breaking across Kerala. The rain-laden clouds billowed over the ridge of the Cardamom Hills only to be brought to an abrupt halt at where the lip of the Ghats drops into the pancake-flat, semi-arid valley surrounding Bodinayakanur and Theni.

Hidden Hills Pan(2002)(MR)(2017 ed)

The Hidden Hills. The last of the shola/grasslands habitat in the far west Palani Hills with clear views to Meesapulimalai, Kolukkumalai and the Kurangani valley. The Bodi plains are int he far left. Taken with a Noblex 120 panoramic camera and KodakT-max film. (June 2002)

In recent years there has been a growing interest in this area and Kurangani and Top Station have become a popular center for trekking and camping. The awesome landscape, with steep slopes of montane grasslands studded with occasional Rhododendron trees, and valleys of dense shola are classic Western Ghats. Most of the trekking and camping happens in Tamil Nadu but the base of operation has been from Munnar in Kerala where the exponential growth of tourism has opened up areas outside of major protected areas (Eravikulam, Pampadum, Chinar etc.). Some camp site and trails are in private estates bordering the Kurangani valley-places where some tea companies are looking to diversify their sources of income. The growth of outdoor providers has been rapid, catering to a new demand by a mobile, affluent generation eager for outdoor experiences. The interest in outdoor and environmental experience is a welcome development but one that has risks when not planned carefully. Kurangani became infamous earlier this year when a group of hikers were tragically killed by a fast moving brush fire on the grassy western slopes overlooking the valley. The trekking community, camp providers and forest department in Tamil Nadu were forced to do a good deal of soul searching to ensure that similar accidents are avoided.

 

 

Gecko (Hemidactylus sp.) to be fully identified shortly at Betweenpatti (Bodi).

Circumnavigating the Palanis

This summer, the summer of the Kurinji flowering, I returned to the High Range to look for rare flowers, meet old friends and reconnect with a landscape that had shaped my worldview. I did this over two relatively short trips and on the first one I was able to bring our son Lenny along to share in the experience. The floods that would devastate so much of the state of Kerala had not started and these journeys were characterized by happy reunions, nostalgic reminiscences and encounters with rugged Western Ghats landscapes and species. During the first visit I combined family visits with my own landscape and ecology explorations. We were initially based in Kodaikanal, where the Kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) flowers had burst into flower in mid-June. On the five day trip we used a hired car to drive to Bodi to spend time with our friends Bruce and Tamar Dejong at their delightful home. There were many highlights for all of us and we were given an intimate introduction to Euphorbia sp. both in Bruce’s garden and on the road up to Kurangani. Bruce has become one of the most knowledgeable experts on this interesting genus of plants native to South America, southern Africa, South and South East Asia. He pointed out numerous individuals as we drove up the road surrounded by the awesome cliffs of Kolukkumalai, Top Station and Akka and Thankgachi (the same “Twin Peaks” in many of my medium format black & white images).

Euphorbia_on_Kurangani_road_(AM)_1a(MR2)(06_18)

Euphorbia antiquorum in the Kurangani valley floor. Looking west to the Kolukkumalai estate and Meesapulimalai (in clouds).(June 2018)

Akka and Thankgachi (Twin Peaks) from the road to Kurangani.(June 2018)

Lenny on the Kurangani Valley edge next to an unnamed (!/!) peak to the east of Kolukkumalai tea estate.(June 2018)

Suryanelli & Munnar

Lenny and I continued on our own to Munnar via Boidimetu and the Suryanelli estate. An overnight stay at the windy Black Eagle camp gave us a chance hike up to “sunrise point” and to look down at Kurangani and across to Ullam Pari. The Kurinji was not yet in bloom but the monsoon was active just to the west in the High Range and Cardamom Hills. Looking towards the Kolukkumalai estate, home to the “world’s highest grown tea” I appreciated the cliffside grasslands/shola but also noted with alarm the steady invasion of the grasslands by wattle (Acacia mearnsii).

Near to “sunrise point” at Kolukkumalai estate looking east. (June 2018)

Our next two nights were spent in Munnar, which was experiencing the full force of the South West Monsoon. The rains would continue for the next two months and contribute to the overflowing rivers and dams giving rise to unprecedented flooding. During our visit at the end of June Munnar was wet and enveloped in clouds but not dangerous. Lenny and I made a courtesy call on Ms. Lexshmi R., the new wildlife warden at Eravikulam National Park and spent a morning dodging rain and photographing tahr at the Rajamalai tourism zone. Facilitated by  Jayashree Kumar in Kodai we also reconnected with my friends at the High Range Wildlife Association-Jojo Thakurta and Mohan Varghese (see blog post from September 2014). Our discussion eventually played a role in me revisiting Munnar- something that will be the subject of the next blog post.

 

Martes_gwatkinsii_at_Pampadum_Shola_NP_1a(MR)(06_18)

Nilgiri Marten (Martes gwatkinsii) at Pampadum Shola National Park east of Munnar. We had a surprise encounter with a group of three crossing the road in front of our vehicle. (June 2018)

Boundary between a non-native eucalyptus plantation and shola at Pampadum Shola national park.

Top Station/Yellapatty Estate/ Pampadum National Park

A highlight of the circumnavigation was taking a day trip to Top Station and Pampadum National Park. I first had looked down on the dense shola canopy of Pampadum from Vandaravu in 1985 during the annual 80-Mile Round hike. Seven years later, Merrick and I rode our trusty 100cc Hero Honda on the old Goshen Road to Munnar through Pampadum. At the time it was a wild, forlorn area with a veritable river bed for a motorable road (“the highest south of the Himalaya,” many old timers will remember). There was no formal protected area and the forest was known as a hotbed of illegal plantation activities and smuggling. We returned several other times (the images above are from the 1997 trip to Munnar, Chinnar and Eravikulam). Today Pampadum is one of seven national parks in Kerala and offers visitors a chance to experience exemplary shola ecology. Pampadum is located in the  rain shadow of the South West monsoon (like Top Station and the Palani Hill) and is significantly drier than Munnar. We had excellent sightings of animals (Nilgiri langur, gaur, Malabar Giant Squirrels etc.) and shola birds on a short drive through Pampadum towards the Vatavada exit. A delightful experience was having three very rare Nilgiri Martens (Martes gwatkinsii) cross in front of our vehicle while we were paused on the road.  Pampadum, it turns out, is one of the best places to see this endemic weasel-like species.

12-part composite image of the emblematic shola tree at “inspiration point” near Top Station and Yellapaty tea estate. A very large file reduced for this presentation… (July 2018)

Just before Top Station, if the weather is clear, one has a chance to experience a sublime, classic Western Ghats landscape. In fact this vista has been widely photographed and it is widely published . Variations of the view appear in the backdrop of the film  Before the Rains. The view  east from Yellapatty estate over the Kurangani valley is sublime, bringing to mind a Western Ghats version of Yosemite’s Inspiration Point. On my four previous visits (between 1993 and 1997) to Top Station, Yellapatty and the view had always been mired in fog. On the June trip Lenny and I got a taste for the magic of the viewpoint. While Munnar had limited visibility and torrential rain, the Top Station area was bathed in sunshine. We explored the area and figured out several good angles but I ended up getting my best images in early July when I was back in Munnar briefly.

 

In Murugan’s Footsteps

We returned to Kodai via the northern route and Palani, the town that gives the hills their names and is famous for its Murugan temple. In fact, in the mythology of the much-adored Murugan (also known as Kartikeya north of Tamil Nadu), he and his brother Ganesh are challenged to circle the world three times. The reward is a divine mango giving knowledge. Murugan embarks on an adventurous journey around the world only to return to find that his brother has won the bet by simply walking around his parents, Siva and Parvathi. In spite of not winning this challenge, Murugan is remembered as an adorable, divine child.

Murugan temple at Palani overshadowed by the hills that take their name from the shrine.

Northern slopes of the Palani Hills looking to the setting sun and the very distant Anamalai Hills. The importance of the hills as a source of life-giving water for the drier plains is clearly illustrated here.

 

Our trip was far less arduous. Lenny and I left Munnar going north to Marayur and into the Chinnar (Wildlife Sanctuary) Valley. The Chinnar river crossing, where KIS’s Manjampati Tahr Camps trek emerged after three amazing days in the forest, is more developed with a few shops catering to the Muduvan and Paliyan  groups that maintain villages in what is now the Anamalais Tiger Reserve. Across to the east, we could see the distant peaks above Kukkal caves that had been the point of previous explorations.  On the plains at Amarvathi Dam we used small roads to cut alongside the northern edge of the Palani Hills before ascending to the refreshingly cool air of Kodaikanal.

REFERENCES & PUBLICITY

ARKive. “Western Ghats.” Web. (note the authorship on several of the key landscape photographs taken in the Top Station/Vandaravu area)

Manupriya. “Getting to know the Nilgiri Marten, a rare small mammal from the Western Ghats.” Mongabay. 10 April 2018. Web.

Poorvaja, S and Aravind Kumar.  “The ember of Kurangani.” The Hindu. 17 March 2018. Web.

“Pampadum Shola National Park Official Website.” Kerala Forest Department. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2018-10-18 at 10:30 pm

Renewal in the High Range & Eravikulam

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Landscape and biodiversity of the High Range: The Nymakad Estate lies below the sholas and grassy slopes of Eravikulam. Nilgir tarh, like this saddleback are the key endemic species that this protected areas hosts.

Landscape and biodiversity of the High Range: The Nymakad Estate lies below the sholas and grassy slopes of Eravikulam. Nilgiri tahr, like this saddleback, are the key endemic species that this protected areas hosts.

The rugged, granite mountains that overshadow the tea-planting town of Munnar are a sublime, little-disturbed example of the high altitude Western Ghats landscape. The High Ranges and Anaimalais, which are contagious with the Palani Hills, host important remnant shola/grasslands ecosystems. The area hosts a mix of different landscapes and ecosystems, including large-scale tea and fuel wood plantations. Eravikulam National Park, established to protect the red listed (endangered) Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is a critical protected area in the Western Ghats. This summer I had a chance to revisit the area after a prolonged period of exile. The High Range and Eravikulam National Park played a key role in my interest in documenting the Western Ghats and it was a homecoming, of sorts…

Road to Munnar through Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Looking south into the High Range from Manjampatti Valley.

Road to Munnar through Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. Looking south into the High Range from Manjampatti Valley.

Looking east to the Palani Hills over Kuykkal and Manjampatti from the Chinnar-MUnnar road. The dry Amarvathi reservoir is in the foreground.

Looking east to the Palani Hills over Kukkal and Manjampatti from the Chinnar-Munnar road. The dry Amarvathi reservoir is in the foreground.

In the early 1990s, and through to the millennium. I regularly visited Munnar and the High Range, seeking out a better understanding of the area’s ecology and landscape. The story of those trips and learning adventures are described in several articles and the High Range Diaries (a series of blog posts that are in production). The area had a signification impact on me, as it has on naturalists, photographers and other dreamers before and after my time. I read about landmark studies and then communicated with naturalists such as ERC Davidar, George Schaller and Clifford Rice who had spent time in Eravikulam in past years. Rom & Zai Whitaker, Belinda Wright and others who have contributed to India’s conservation story shared anecdotes of their visits to Eravikulam with me. I made contact with contemporary scientists, such as PV Karunakaran, studying ecological aspects of the park. The Kerala Forest Department who were taking over all management activities from the High Range Wildlife Preservation Society (HRWPS) in the 1990s, helped facilitate my understanding. I was privileged to take shelter with forest guards on my first visit in 1993 and later participated in an annual tahr census. Wardens of Eravikulam starting with Sivadas, James Zacharias, and Mohan Alembath were key facilitators as I sought to explore Eravikulam and study it from the Western Ghats perspective. The HRWPS under the patronage of Tata Tea then and led by the incomparable KN Changappa, was supportive and always interested in working to support landscape-based approaches to conservation in the High Range-Anaiamalais-Palanis bloc. It was in Eravikulam that I found the extension of the Palani Hills and discovered myself and a path to follow in life. Numerous excursions followed my first visit to the High Range and I was fortunate to have my cousin Anna, parents Merrick & Sara Ann and several other friends as companions on those memorable visits.

This summer I was accompanied by my seven-year old daughter Amy and I was looking to renew contact with friends, the wildlife and landscape. It has been many long years since I had stayed in Munnar and I was wary of going back to a place that I had known well before the onslaught of the “God’s Own Country” Kerala tourism campaign. Perhaps it was the fact that it was the monsoon season and the rain had flushed the tourists off the hills (as we like to think in Kodai), but the area wasn’t as crowded as I had expected. Munnar had grown significantly with the proliferation of high-end hotels and resorts in the vicinity. Prasad, my old friend who distributes Thaliyar tea and is a correspondent of the Malayalam Manorma, filled me in on developments in the hills since my last visit.

Eravikulam is important for a number of reasons:

  • It hosts the most extensive and least disturbed examples of the shola/grasslands mosaic. This high altitude ecosystem that is unique to the southern Western Ghats has been decimated by the introduction of non-native timber plantations, hydroelectric dams, mines and expanding hill stations in other ranges of the Western Ghats. Eravikulam tells a story of a landscape prior to these changes.
  • Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) have one of their most secure homes in Eravikulam and it has been estimated that half of the wild population (still roughly pegged at 2,000-2,500) of this endangered ungulate are found within its borders. That was the situation when ERC Davidar, George Schaller and Cliff Rice conducted their surveys and studies (during the 1960s-80s). As far as I know, that ratio has not changed. There have been significant population recoveries in Mukkurthy National Park in the Nilgiri Hills, but in many remote tahr habitats they are under pressure from poachers and habitat change. WWF India is now conducing the most comprehensive studies of Nilgiri tahr populations in the Western Ghats.
  • Conservation management has been a unique story of success involving government agencies (the Kerala Forest Department’s wildlife wing) and NGOs (HRWPS). There are few examples in India or South Asia where such an effective partnership has been put in place for the benefit of biodiversity conservation (see my articles below for a more detailed exploration of the history and circumstances that helped contribute to this).
Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) saddleback approaching the tourist zone of Eravikulam National Park.

Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) saddleback approaching the tourist zone of Eravikulam National Park.

Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) at Eravikulam National Park.

Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) at Eravikulam National Park. From left to right: Adult female, adult male (saddleback, kid (@ 5 months)

 

Generations of collaboration between the High Range WIldlofe Preservation Society and the Kerala Forest Department. N Chengappa a& Sivadas  (1994). Mohan, Prasad and Jo Jo ((2014)

Generations of collaboration between the High Range Wildlife Preservation Society and the Kerala Forest Department. N Changappa & Sivadas (1994). Mohan, Prasad and Jo Jo (2014). Photographs by the author.

On our trip Amy, John (our friend, guide and driver on many Western Ghats adventuress) did a long loop that took us from the Kodaikanal down to Palani, west to Udumalpet and then south to Munnar through the Anaimalais Tiger Reserve, Chinnar WLS and Marayoor valley. We returned the southern way through Devikulam, Bodimetu, Bodi, Theni and Periyakulam. The contrast between the parched dry hills near the plains and the wet highlands was striking. In Munnar I had a chance to take Amy up to the Rajamalai tourist zone on both mornings and we were thrilled to have several intimate encounters with tahr. When you’ve hiked through the whole Palani Hills ranges just to glimpse a shadow or dropping of these sure-footed ungulates, the sight of them feeding next to you in Rajamalai is a bit disconcerting! I was impressed with the effective controls in place from the Forest Department to manage visitor numbers. There weren’t any signs of waste dropped by carless tourists. To access the tourist zone we had to ride a bus that helps the authorities control numbers. Visitors are kept on the road and not allowed to stray up the slopes. This is a welcome change from the free-for-all of the late 1990s when Munnar had been “discovered” as a tourist destination and the forest department and HRWPS were struggling to enact management controls. A highlight during our short visit was interacting and spending time with the warden Prasad and his deputy Sanjayan. We enjoyed an early morning together at Rajamalai looking for saddlebacks who had descended from the misty cliffs to seek out females in heat. There was a light drizzle and we had several close encounters with White Bellied Shortwings (Brachypteryx major) in addition to a dozen or so tahr. Soon after, the tourists started arriving and Amy and I said our thank yous and headed south though valleys of tea towards Bodi. We promised to spend longer on the next visit.

Panoramic view of Munnar during a break in the South West Monsoon. Note the church, mosque and temple in the image. The once sleepy tea-planting town is named for the three rivers that converge here.

Panoramic view of Munnar during a break in the South West Monsoon. Note the church, mosque and temple in the image. The once sleepy tea-planting town is named for the three rivers that converge here.

Landsat map of Eravikulam showing significant locations and a very rough park boundary.

Landsat map of Eravikulam showing significant locations and a very rough park boundary.

 

Snapshots form a visit to Munnar: The Tea Museum and Amy with Mudhuvan guards at Rajamalai.

Snapshots form a visit to Munnar: The Tea Museum and Amy with Mudhuvan guards at Rajamalai.

Small rainbow over the Thaliya/Vagavurai valley.

Small rainbow over the Thaliyar/Vagavurai valley.

SELECTED REFERENCES

Alembath, Mohan. Nilgiri tahr Info. Website.

Eravikulam National Park. Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Twilight of an Ecosystem.” The India Magazine. July 1994. Print (PDF)

Lockwood, Ian. “South India’s Elusive Nilgiri Tahr. Environ. (PDF)

Lockwood, Ian. High Range Photography. “Eravikulam and the Anaimalais.” Web.

Lockwood, Ian. “Of Tea & Tahr.” Sanctuary Asia. June 2000. Print. (Sanctuary) Of_Tea_and_Tahr(2000 06)

Karunakaran, P.V. Ecology and conservation of the grasslands of Eravikulam National Park, Western Ghats. Dehra Dun, Wildlife Institute of India, 1998. Print.

Nair, Satish Chandra. The Southern Western Ghats: A Biodiversity Conservation Plan. New Delhi, INTACH, 1991. Print.

Schaller, George B. Stones of Silence: Travels in the Himalaya. University of Chicago Press, 1980. Print (see “Cloud Goats” on page 150 for a detailed account of Nilgiri tahr).

Rice, Clifford G. (1988). Reproductive biology of Nilgiri Tahr. Journal of Zoology, London, 214: 269-284. Web.

Shaheed, G. “Goats Own Country.” Frontline. 11-2 February 2006. Web.

Vergis, Sharon et al. “Survey of Isolated Populations of Nilgiri tahr in Kerala India.” Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 108. Jan-June 2011. Web.

Land Cover Changes in the Palani Hills: A Preliminary Visual Assessment

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1973 Landsat map of the high Range, Anaimalai and Palnis Hills.

1973 Landsat map of the High Range, Anaimalai and Palani Hills. (February 1973)

41 years later....Landsat view of the same area (February 2014)

41 years later….Landsat view of the same area (February 2014)

I continue to be interested in themes of change in the southern Western Ghats (and Sri Lanka) and am now working to better measure and detect land cover change using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and temporal satellite data gathered by the USGS/NASA Landsat satellites. My interest in the area has grown out of a deeply personal engagement with the landscape over the last few decades. It started on childhood walks with my parents, was excited by explorations with friends in school and then developed in more systematic photo-documentation trips as an adult. In recent years teaching and family commitments have kept me from visiting the field as much as I would like. My interest in using GIS as a tool for teaching and learning has brought me back in touch with the Western Ghats, but this time through the lenses and sensors of distant earth observing satellites. In the last year I have been working with the latest Landsat 8 imagery and am thoroughly impressed with the quality of the imagery that is now publically available. This has led me to look back through NASA’S archives to find old imagery to conduct change detection with. This post highlights preliminary comparison of Landsat mages from 1973 and 2014.

The maps included in this post look at the block of the southern Western Ghats just below the Palghat gap where significant features illustrate momentous changes in the landscape over the last forty years. Both sets of images were collected in February, a time of the year when it is dry and there are cloud free days in the southern Western Ghats. The first image, however, was taken 42 years before the 2nd and thus offers a unique opportunity to compare the land cover changes in these hill areas. My particular interest here is the western plateau of the Palani Hills. This is an area that many generations of KIS students know well from the hiking program that took us to places like Vembadi Peak, Berijam Lake, Vandarvu and the Ibex Cliff area. Starting in the 1960s and 70s these areas experienced intensive silviculture based on the earlier designation of montane grasslands being “wastelands.” Few KIS students and faculty members appreciated that they were witness to a radical ecological reworking of the landscape. The net result has been a significant change in the ecology and landscape of the area. Vast areas of the shola/grasslands systems in the Vembadi-Berijam-Vandaravu area have experienced significant changes.

It is a complicated mosaic of vegetation, ecosystems and issues that is now in place on the upper plateau of the Palani Hills. As the 2014 Landsat 8 image illustrates, most of the Vembadi-Berijam-Vandaravu area is covered by non-native tree plantations but there are important sholas that thrive between them. Several invasive species are spreading beyond plantation boundaries and threaten the remnant grasslands. In some areas shola species are regenerating in and amongst non-native plantation species. Some feel that this will eventually give way to mixed forests of shola species and dying plantations. Logging of planation species has been largely curtailed though there is a move afoot in the Forest Department to remove exotic species. Much of the upper plateau area is of limits because of forestry rules that have sought to limit the impact of tourists and agricultural communities in the reserve forest (RS) zone. A Kodaikanal National Park is in the pipeline and its notification and boundary lines are expected in the near future. Nevertheless, human communities are pushing into outer areas as the township of Kodaikanal and its satellite communities expand. Gaur (Bos gaurus) populations are on the rise, felt mostly in urban areas rather than remote areas!

Looking south over the 2,000 meter high Eravikulam plateau from Kattu Malai. The sunrise highlights the extensive “downs” of the shola/grasslands complex that is uniquely preserved in this magical National Park. Anai Mudi’s distinctive hat profile is on the right horizon while the edges of the Palalni Hills are on the far left. My father Merrick and cousin Anna are at the edge taking in an unforgettable Western Ghats experience.

Looking south over the 2,000 meter high Eravikulam plateau from Kattu Malai. The sunrise highlights the extensive “downs” of the shola/grasslands complex that is uniquely preserved in this magical National Park. Anai Mudi’s distinctive hat profile is on the right horizon while the edges of the Palalni Hills are on the far left. My father Merrick and cousin Anna are at the edge taking in an unforgettable Western Ghats experience.

One feature that has remained relatively constant has been the shola/grasslands mosaic that makes up Kerala’s Eravikulam National Park and Tamil Nadu’s Grasshills (part of the Anaimalais Tiger Reserve). Comparing both the 1973 and 2014 maps shows that these areas of montane grasslands, interspersed with sholas, have stayed roughly the same. This perhaps is no accident since Eravikulam and Grasshills have both enjoyed protection in the midst of the flurry of tree planting in the adjoining ranges. The grasslands show up particularly well and contrast with the neighboring shola vegetation. This is most likely the result of winter frost that has dried out much of the exposed grass (and thus is not photosynthesizing).

Eravikulam will feature in a series of upcoming posts tentatively entitled the High Range Diaries but I have included a few images from my visits and explorations of the area in the 1990s.

View of Anai-Mudi & the Eravikulam plateau from the east. Scanned from 35mm color negatives.

View of Anai-Mudi & the Eravikulam plateau from the east. Note how the lowland tropical rainforest has been cut back to make room for tea estates. Anai-Mudi is on the left and the sheer granite cliffs that protect the park are obvious. These same cliffs provide a home for the most secure population of Nilgiri tahr. This was taken with my friend Rahul Madura on an Enfield tour of the area. Scanned from two 35mm color negatives. (December 1994)

Pine plantation in the Palani Hills near to Poondi.

Pine plantation in the Palani Hills near to Poondi.

The classic tourist view: looking west over Berijam Lake from the fire tower view point. In this image, the arm of Mathikettan Shola is clearly distinguishable from the uniform, tall eucalyptus plantation (extreme left and right). These trees were planted on montane grasslands in the 1960s and 70s in a program to increase biomass for fuel and tanning purposes. With the exiting Landsat imagery it is difficult to distinguish shola patches from such evergreen plantations. This makes accurate classification at this sale challenging. In the future, as the resolution of the satellite imagery improves, remotely sensed multi-spectral imagery should be able to make this distinction.

The classic tourist view: looking west over Berijam Lake from the fire tower view point. In this image, the arm of Mathikettan Shola is clearly distinguishable from the uniform, tall eucalyptus plantation (extreme left and right). These trees were planted on montane grasslands in the 1960s and 70s in a program to increase biomass for fuel and tanning purposes. With the existing Landsat imagery it is difficult to distinguish shola patches from such evergreen plantations. This makes accurate classification at this sale challenging. In the future, as the resolution of the satellite imagery improves, remotely sensed multi-spectral imagery should be able to make this distinction.

Index map for hill ranges of the southern Western Ghats using recent Landsat 8 multi spectral imagery.

Index map for hill ranges of the southern Western Ghats using recent Landsat 8 multi spectral imagery.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Be sure to read Farshid Ahrestani’s article “To cut or not to cut” published by Conservation India last month. It looks at the dilemma of what to do with the huge amount of non-native tree plantation biomass in the Palanis and other Western Ghats ranges. We visited Eravikulam together, through the good offices of KN Chengappa and Tata Tea, in 1993 and continue to share a passion for conservation issues in the Palanis and neighboring ranges. One of ours tasks is to collect historical imagery of the hill ranges and use these to cross reference with contemporary imagery to illustrate change at a terrestrial level (as is done in his article).

For information about interpreting false color satellite imagery, see Hollis Riebeek’s excellent article on the Earth Observatory website.

SCHOLARLY  (and  TECHNICAL) ARTICLES

Amaranth, Giriraj et. al. “Diagnostic analysis of conservation zones using remote sensing and GIS techniques in wet evergreen forests of the Western Ghats – An ecological hotspot, Tamil Nadu, India.” Biodiversity and Conservation. 12. 2331-1359, 2003. Print.

Joshi, Kumar P.K. “Vegetation cover mapping in India using multi-temporal IRS Wide Field Sensor (WiFS) data.” Remote Sensing of Environment. Volume 103 Issue 2. 30 July 2006. Web.2 April 2014.

Menon, Shally and Kamal Bawa. “Applications of Geographic Information Systems, Remote-Sensing, and a Landscape Ecology Approach to Biodiversity Conservation in the Western Ghats. Current Science. 73.2 (1997): 134-145.  Web. 30 March 2014.

Nagendra, Harini and Ghate Utkarsh. “ Landscape ecological planning through a multi-scale characterization of patterns: Studies in the Western Ghats, South India. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.  2003. Web. 30 March 2014.

Nagi, Rajinder.  “Using the Landsat image services to study land cover change over time.” ARCGIS Resources. 13 May 2011. Web.

Prakasam, C. “Land use and land cover change detection through remote sensing approach:  A case study of Kodaikanal taluk, Tamil Nadu.” International Journal of Geomatics and Geosciences. Vol 1, No 2, 2010. Web. 30 March 2014.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-04-04 at 7:24 pm