WESTERN GHATS AREA OF MAHARASHTRA AND KARNATAKA

WESTERN GHATS

Western Ghats is a range of gentle green hills and low mountains that run for more than 1,600 kilometers along India’s southwestern coast. The slopes are covered by forests, grasslands, small farms, rice paddies and tea, cardamon, coffee, cashew, pepper and rubber plantations. The average height is 900 meters. The hills and mountains slope steeply to the west and more gradually to the east. The highest peaks range between 1,800 and 2,400 meters. The mountains run parallel to the west coast of India in the southern-central states of Maharashtra and Karnataka and provide a natural barrier between Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the far south of India, helping to make sure the cultures there are separate and distinct.

Known for its spice-rich slopes and green swaths of rice fields, the Western Ghats occupy the western side of southern India. The Eastern Ghats — a less distinct and organized mountain range — are on the east side of southern India. The Deccan Plateau separates the northern part of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats. “Ghat” is Hindi word describing a stairways that leads into river used in sacred bathing. Anamudi, in Kerala, is the highest peak of the Western Ghats, with an elevation of 2,695 meters (8,842 ft).

The Western Ghats was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. According to UNESCO: Older than the Himalaya mountains, the mountain chain of the Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes. The site’s high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern. Moderating the tropical climate of the region, the site presents one of the best examples of the monsoon system on the planet. It also has an exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism and is recognized as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity. The forests of the site include some of the best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests anywhere and are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species. [Source: UNESCO]

“The Western Ghats are internationally recognized as a region of immense global importance for the conservation of biological diversity, besides containing areas of high geological, cultural and aesthetic values. A chain of mountains running parallel to India’s western coast, approximately 30-50 kilometers inland, the Ghats traverse the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. These mountains cover an area of around 140,000 square kilometers in a 1,600 kilometers long stretch that is interrupted only by the 30 kilometers Palghat Gap at around 11°N.”

Western Ghats Ecosystem

According to UNESCO: The Outstanding Universal Value of the Western Ghats is manifested in the region’s unique and fascinating influence on large-scale biophysical and ecological processes over the entire Indian peninsula. The mountains of the Western Ghats and their characteristic montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather patterns that mediate the warm tropical climate of the region, presenting one of the best examples of the tropical monsoon system on the planet. The Ghats act as a key barrier, intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the southwest during late summer. [Source: UNESCO]

“The Western Ghat at also help keep all of southern India going by absorbing rains during the monsoon and slowly releasing it through groundwater and rivers to the regions around them. Some places in Western Ghats receive almost 10 meters feet of rain a year. More than 60 rivers and hundreds of streams flow out of them. The Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery are important sources of water for drier eastern side of southern India.

“The Western Ghats region demonstrates speciation related to the breakup of the ancient landmass of Gondwanaland in the early Jurassic period; secondly to the formation of India into an isolated landmass and the thirdly to the Indian landmass being pushed together with Eurasia. Together with favorable weather patterns and a high gradient being present in the Ghats, high speciation has resulted. The Western Ghats is an “Evolutionary Ecotone” illustrating “Out of Africa” and “Out of Asia” hypotheses on species dispersal and vicariance.”

Wildlife and Plants in the Western Ghats

More than 1,400 plants, 23 mammals. 17 birds, 89 reptiles and 90 amphibians are found here and nowhere else in the world. Among the flagship species that are threatened are Asian elephants, tigers, the lion-tailed macaque and the Nilgiri tahr (a kind of wild goat).

According to UNESCO: “A significant characteristic of the Western Ghats is the exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism. This mountain chain is recognized as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity along with Sri Lanka. The forests of the Western Ghats include some of the best representatives of non equatorial tropical evergreen forests in the world. At least 325 globally threatened (IUCN Red Data List) species occur in the Western Ghats. The globally threatened flora and fauna in the Western Ghats are represented by 229 plant species, 31 mammal species, 15 bird species, 43 amphibian species, 5 reptile species and 1 fish species. Of the total 325 globally threatened species in the Western Ghats, 129 are classified as Vulnerable, 145 as Endangered and 51 as Critically Endangered. [Source: UNESCO]

The Western Ghats contain exceptional levels of plant and animal diversity and endemicity for a continental area. In particular, the level of endemicity for some of the 4-5,000 plant species recorded in the Ghats is very high: of the nearly 650 tree species found in the Western Ghats, 352 (54 percent) are endemic. Animal diversity is also exceptional, with amphibians (up to 179 species, 65 percent endemic), reptiles (157 species, 62 percent endemic), and fishes (219 species, 53 percent endemic). Invertebrate biodiversity, once better known, is likely also to be very high (with some 80 percent of tiger beetles endemic). A number of flagship mammals occur in the property, including parts of the single largest population of globally threatened ‘landscape’ species such as the Asian Elephant, Gaur and Tiger. Endangered species such as the lion-tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Tahr and Nilgiri Langur are unique to the area. The property is also key to the conservation of a number of threatened habitats, such as unique seasonally mass-flowering wildflower meadows, Shola forests and Myristica swamps.

Western Ghats Conservation

The Western Ghats has been designated a biological hot spot because they are rich in wildlife and plant life and are threatened by the encroachment from people. Of the 62,000 square miles of forest that once covered the mountains only about 5,000 square miles remains undisturbed. The primary threats are expanding settlements and agriculture, dams and mines. In some places large tracts of forest have been cut down for tea plantations and groves of eucalyptus trees to fire tea-processing factories.

According to UNESCO: “The property is made up of 39 component parts grouped into 7 sub-clusters. The serial approach is justified in principle from a biodiversity perspective because all 39 components belong to the same biogeographic province, and remain as isolated remnants of previous contiguous forest. The justification for developing a serial approach rather than just identifying one large protected area to represent the biodiversity of the Western Ghats is due to the high degree of endemism, meaning that species composition from the very north of the mountains to 1,600km south varies greatly, and no one site could tell the story of the richness of these mountains. The formulation of this complex serial nomination has evolved through a consultative process drawing on scientific analysis from various sources. The 39 component parts grouped into 7 sub-clusters together reflect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and capture the range of biological diversity and species endemism in this vast landscape.

The 39 component parts of this serial property fall under a number of protection regimes, ranging from Tiger Reserves, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Reserved Forests. All components are owned by the State and are subject to stringent protection under laws including the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, the Indian Forest Act of 1927, and the Forest Conservation Act (1980). Through these laws the components are under the control of the Forestry Department and the Chief Wildlife Warden, providing legal protection. 40 percent of the property lies outside of the formal protected area system, mostly in Reserved Forests, which are legally protected and effectively managed. The Forest Conservation Act (1980) provides the regulatory framework to protect them from infrastructure development.

Integrating the management of 39 components across 4 States is a challenge, for which a three-tier governance mechanism is required that will operate at the Central, State and Site levels to provide effective coordination and oversight to the 39 components. A Western Ghats Natural Heritage Management Committee (WGNHMC) under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment of Forests (MoEF), Government of India to deal with coordination and integration issues is already functional. All 39 components in the 7 sub-clusters are managed under specific management / working plans duly approved by the State/Central governments. The livelihood concerns of the local communities are regulated by the Forest Rights Acts, 2006 and their participation in governance is ensured through Village Ecodevelopment Committees (VECs).

Konkan Railway

Konkan Railway is a 741-kilometer (461-mile) railway through the Western Ghat. It has about 2,000 bridges and 100 tunnels and connects western India with a direct route to the south. Connecting the states of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, it operated its first passenger train 1993, between Udupi and Mangalore. Passenger service on the full route, between Mumbai and Mangalore, began in May 1998. During the early years of operation in the mountainous Konkan region, a number of accidents occurred. [Source: Wikipedia]

Before the Konkan Railway began operations, the ports of Mangalore and Mumbai were not directly connected by rail; passengers travelled on the Bengaluru-Belagavi-Pune route. In 1966, a line was constructed between Diva in Mumbai and Panvel in Raigad district. The first phase of the Konkan Railway was the 62-kilometer (39 mi) section from Apta to Roha. A major challenge was land acquisition from about 43,000 landowners. When Konkan Railway Corporation (KRCL) began asking people to surrender property which had belonged to them for generations, many (convinced of the project's importance) did so voluntarily. This enabled the process to be completed in one year.

Terrain and the elements were challenging; flash floods, landslides and tunnel collapses affected work at many places on the project. Thickly-forested construction sites were often visited by wild animals. Work on the project continued, however, and decentralisation produced greater efficiency. The 740-kilometer (460 mi) stretch was divided into seven sectors of about 100 kilometers (62 mi)—Chiplun, Ratnagiri, Kudal, Madgaon, Karwar, Bhatkal and Udupi—each headed by a chief engineer.

To speed up construction, piers for major bridges were cast on riverbanks itself and launched with pontoon-mounted cranes. This was India's first use of incremental launch bridge-building. Nine hydraulic tunnelling machines were imported from Sweden to bore through the rock of the Sahayadris. The greatest challenge was presented by the nine tunnels bored through soft soil, which required a slow, manual process. Excavation was difficult due to saturated clay and high water table. Tunnels collapsed immediately several times, requiring the work to be redone. Nineteen lives and four years were lost in the construction of the soft-soil tunnels alone, and a total of seventy-four people died during the railway's construction.

Although it has been designed for high-speed traffic of 160 kilometers per hour (99 mph), the fastest train on the route—the Trivandrum Rajdhani Express, which used to run at a maximum speed of 140 kilometers per hour (87 mph)—runs at a maximum speed of 110 kilometers per hour (68 mph). The route is open to freight and passenger traffic and runs parallel to the Arabian Sea, offering views along the coast. There are fifty-six stations on the line. The route was popular with passengers due to its connectivity with regions hitherto inaccessible by rail and the substantial time savings for travelers between western and southern India.

The terrain and weather of the Konkan region have caused problems for the railway. During the 1998 monsoon, torrential rains triggered landslides which washed away tracks and disrupted service. Despite the corporation's efforts to address the problems through engineering (such as protective netting along cuttings to prevent boulders from rolling onto the tracks), the problems recurred each year. The line's first major accident occurred on the night of 22 June 2003, when a landslide derailed a Karwar–Mumbai express train at the entrance to a tunnel. Fifty-one people died. Barely a year a second major accident occurred on 16 June 2004. A Mangalore–Mumbai Matsyaganda Express derailed and fell off a bridge after striking boulders on the tracks, killing 20 people.

Eastern Ghats

The Eastern Ghats are a discontinuous range of mountains along India's eastern coast. Extending from the northern Odisha through Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, they are eroded and cut through by four major rivers; the Godavari, Mahanadi, Krishna, and Kaveri. The cradle of Eastern Ghats is Villupuram district in Tamil Nadu. The Eastern Ghats run parallel to the Bay of Bengal. The Deccan Plateau lies to the west, between the Eastern Ghats and Western Ghats. The coastal plains, including the Coromandel Coast region, lie between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal. The Eastern Ghats are not as high as the Western Ghats.

The Eastern Ghats are older than the Western Ghats, and have a complex geologic history related to the assembly and breakup of the ancient supercontinent of Rodinia and the assembly of the Gondwana supercontinent. The Eastern Ghats are made up of charnockites, granite gneiss, khondalites, metamorphic gneisses and quartzite rock formations. The structure of the Eastern Ghats includes thrusts and strike-slip faults all along its range. Limestone, bauxite and iron ore are found in the Eastern Ghats hill ranges.

As with the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats have local names along the discontinuous hill ranges. At their southern end, the Eastern Ghats form several ranges of low hills. The southernmost of the Eastern Ghats are the low Sirumalai and Karanthamalai Hills of southern Tamil Nadu. North of the Kaveri River are the higher Kollimalai, Pachaimalai, Shevaroy (Servarayan), Kalrayan Hills, Chitteri, Javadhu Hills, Palamalai and Mettur Hills in northern Tamil Nadu state. The climate of the higher hill ranges is generally cooler and wetter than the surrounding plains, and the hills are home to coffee plantations and enclaves of dry forest.

The Biligiriranga Hills, which run east from the Western Ghats to the River Kaveri, form a forested ecological corridor that connects the Eastern and Western Ghats, and allows the second-largest wild Asian elephant population in India to range between the South Eastern Ghats, the Biligiriranga Hills and Nilgiri Hills, and the South Western Ghats. North of the Palar River in Andhra Pradesh, the central portion of the Eastern Ghats consists of two parallel ranges running approximately north-south. The lower Velikonda Range lies to the east, and the higher Palikonda-Lankamalla-Nallamala Ranges lie to the west. They run in a nearly north-south alignment, parallel to the Coromandel Coast for close to 430 kilometers between the Krishna and Pennar rivers.

The Kondapalli Hills are a range of low hills which lie between the Krishna and the Godavari rivers. The Maliya Range and Madugula Konda Range are located in the northern portion of the Eastern Ghats. The Madugula Konda range is higher than the Maliyas and generally ranges between elevations of 1100–1400 m. Prominent summits include the highest peak of the Eastern Ghats - Arma Konda (1680 meters), Gali Konda (1643 meters) and Sinkram Gutta (1620 meters).

The highest mountain peak in the state of Odisha is Deomali (1672 meters), which is situated in the Koraput district of southern Odisha. It is part of the Chandragiri-Pottangi mountain system. The region covers about three-fourths of the entire Odisha state. Geologically it is a part of the Indian Peninsula which was a part of the ancient land mass of Gondwanaland. The major rivers of Odisha with their tributaries have cut deep and narrow valleys.

Mahabaleshwir

Mahabaleshwir(285 kilometers south of Mumbai, 120 kilometers from Pune) is the highest hill station in the Western Ghats (about 1,290 meters, 4,200 feet) and one of the most popular summer retreats for residents of Mumbai. Located on the edge of Venna Lake, this town and the area around it features 30 valley viewpoints, rivers, wonderful walking areas, waterfalls, caves, lakes, strawberry fields and forests. Outside of town there are some interesting forts and temples. Sports that can be enjoyed include windsurfing, boating, hiking, horseback riding, and walking.

Mahabaleshwar mixes natural beauty and colonial charm. Fondly called the Queen of Sahyadri Hills, it came into being in 1829 and served as the summer capital of the Mumbai province during the British Rule.Mahabaleshwar boasts narrow lanes flanked by pretty cottages overlooking verdant valleys; friendly shopkeepers happy and and the fragrance of strawberries and mulberries. A popular getaway from Pune and Mumbai. Mahabaleshwar enjoys a pleasant climate throughout the year. Cafes serve delicious strawberry and cream

The old part of town boasts a Mahadev temple that has a statue of a cow. The source of River Krishna is said to be the mouth of this cow. Besides, four more rivers – Koyna, Venna, Savitri and Gayatri also come out of the mouth of this cow and later on, merge into the Krishna river. The rivers Venna and Koyna are said to be Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma who, together with Lord Vishnu, form the highly revered Hindu trinity – the three deities who are said to perform the cosmic functions of creation, preservation and destruction. And in fact, the name Mahabaleshwar itself means god of great power.

Getting There: By Air: Pune is the nearest airport, around 120 kilometers away. One can take a cab from Pune to Mahabaleshwar. By Road: State transport buses are available from Dadar and Mumbai CST to Mahabaleshwar. One can also take a cab, travelling via Panvel, Mahad and Poladpur, to reach Mahabaleshwar in around five hours. From Pune, the cab will travel on NH 4 and then take a diversion at Surur to Wai from where it is a picturesque drive through Pasarani Ghat up to Mahabaleshwar. By Train: Satara, around 55 kilometers away, is the nearest railhead. Pune is the closest major railway junction. One can easily get a state transport bus or a cab to reach Mahabaleshwar from both these places.

Sights in the Mahabaleshwir Area

Hanuman Temple is home to a rare statue of Lord Hanuman where he has his right hand raised in a slapping gesture. There is no mace (gada) or the mountain of Dronagiri in either of his hands. And unlike other temples where only the side of Lord Hanuman’s face can be seen, here one can witness his full frontal profile. Shivaji’s guru, Ramdas Swami, is credited with having this temple made here.The Hanuman Temple may be small, but it is quite beautiful on the inside. The devotees of the Lord come here to meditate in serene environs and seek his blessings. Early morning and evening are the best times to visit, as the afternoons can get quite warm, especially in summer.

Connaught Peak is the second-highest peak in Mahabaleshwar. Named after the Duke of Connaught,, it is popularly known as Mount Olympia. This peak is 5 kilometers from the bus stand, and 3.5 kilometers from Old Mahabaleshwar, and offers excellent views of Venna Lake and Krishna Valley, as well as Kamalgadh, Rajgarh and Torana to the north, Ajinkyatara to the south, Panchgani and Pasarani Ghat to the east, and Pratapgad to the west. Connaught Peak is also a favorite among visitors for trekking.

There are several other popular vantage, including Monkey Point, Carnac Point, Falkland Point, Helen’s Point, Elphinstone Point, Mumbai Point, Marjorie Point and Babbington Point. Wilson Point is the highest point in Mahabaleshwar.and is named after Sir Leslie Wilson, a royal marines officer. Also called Sunrise Point, it lies at a height of 1,439 meters above sea level, and is the only place from where one can see the sun both rise and set. There are three towers that collectively offer views of the Polo Ground, Panchgani Plateau and the route to Lingamala Waterfall, Old Mahabaleshwar, Elphinstone point and Connaught Peak point.

Panchgani (four kilometers east of Mahabaleshwa) is a beautiful hill station. Overlooking the pristine Dhom Dam Lake, which is created by the Krishna river, it is the meeting point of five hills of the Sahyadri range, and is thus called Panchgani. The five hills are topped by Table Land, the second-highest volcanic plateau in Asia that was formed due to pressure between the earth plates and is well-known for its scenic beauty. Panchgani is also home to several premier educational institutes, most of which are boarding schools. Freddie Mercury of Queen, and Kajol, the famous Bollywood actress, are both alumni of Panchgani’s boarding schools.

Kaas Pathar: Plateau of a Million Flowers

Kaas pathar, also known as Kaas plateau, is a plateau of a million flowers and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to some rare endemic forms of flowers and sees a riot of colors during the monsoon months – July, August and September. Every 15-20 days, the colors of the plateau change, as different species bloom and wither within a short span of time.

More than 850 species of plants and flowers have been reported here, and the large diversity of flora has allowed for a significant research in botanical studies to take place. Another attraction is the beautiful Kaas Lake, which is also the source of River Urmodi. Set amidst peaceful and picturesque surroundings, the lake is a popular picnic spot. Kaas was earlier part of the Deccan plateau that has had 29 volcanic lava flows over 20 crore years. As the newer layers of lava came, they continued to spread over the old lava and today there are several streams and rivers that eroded the layers to form pretty valleys and gorges. When the southwest monsoon arrives, the region receives approximately 2,500 mm of rain in three months.

Among the flowers you can find here are golden-hued smithias (Mickey Mouse flowers) and sonkis to the pink-lavender-purple balsams, white blooms of Gend-eriocalulon that look like heads and peach murdania that has a sprinkling of gold dust on its petals, the flora family of the region is simply breathtaking. You can also keep an eye out for the beautiful Seeta’s tears (Utricularia) that have small bladders around the roots to trap small insects, orchids like the greenish-yellow Habeneria digitata and the ceropegia that looks like a lantern and is also known as Kandil Kharchudi. The main attraction is the Pleocaulus ritchei, locally known as Topli Karvi or an upside down basket, which flowers once in eight years and then dies. The blooms look like baskets of purple flowers! And then there are bees, butterflies, insects and frogs and a variety of other fauna that leave tourists delighted.

Pratapgad Fort

Pratapgad Fort (outskirts of Mahabaleshwar) is perched at a height of 1,080 meters (3,540 feet) above sea level and offers spectacular views of surrounding green valleys and the imposing mountain range. It is divided into two parts. The sprawling lower fort has 10-12 meters high towers and bastions at corners on projecting spurs. It is built on the southern and eastern terraces. The upper fort, 180 meters long on each side, used to host the main proceedings. The Mahadev Temple is located on the northwest side of the upper fort and the royal darbar used to be held in front of it as Maratha leader Shivaji believed that no one would lie in this holy space.

The fort was commissioned by Chhatrapati Shivaji, and built by his prime minister, Moropant Trimbak Pingle in 1656, to control the officers of the Javali basin nearby, as well as to defend the banks of the Nira and Koyna rivers, and the Par Pass. It is said that at this fort Afzal Khan, commander of the Bijapur Adilshahi forces, came to meet Chhatrapati Shivaji. His intent was evil, and he tried to stab Shivaji as he embraced him in greeting. Shivaji was unharmed as he was wearing an iron armour and he swiftly took out his waghnakhi (iron tiger claws) that he had hidden under his finger rings and attacked Afzal Khan. Sambhaji Kavji Kondhalkar, Shivaji’s lieutenant, then beheaded Khan. On Shivaji’s orders, a dargah named Afzal Buruj was built at Pratapgad Fort. It is also home to a temple dedicated to Goddess Bhavani and it is said that Shivaji received a new sword from the goddess at this temple.

In 1957, former prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru unveiled a 17-meter-high equestrian bronze statue of Shivaji. Today, Pratapgad Fort is owned by Udayan Raje Bhonsle, Shivaji’s descendant and heir of the Satara princely state. Several of the great king’s descendants still live in this fort.

Belgaum

Belgaum (50 kilometers northeast of Goa) is located in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Karnataka. Also known as Belagavi, it has natural beauty and historical charm. At the heart of the city lies the oval-shaped Belgaum Fort that boasts grand ramparts and huge bastions, which leave one in awe of the grandeur of the Ratta dynasty (875-1250), under which it was built. The fort complex houses shrines, mosques and Jain temples, all of which are a legacy bequeathed by the rulers, who made it their seat. Several picturesque waterfalls dot the city's landscape and serve as ideal picnic spots for tourists.

For adventure enthusiasts, opportunities of trekking and river rafting are available. You can tread on splendid trails that wind through scenic waterfalls or head to Dandeli, on the banks of River Kali, which is an ideal site for rafting. Belgaum has a glorious heritage and lies at the confluence of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa. It is also known as Malenadu or Rain Country and the vegetation here is verdant throughout the year. What makes its more accessible is its location, exactly midway between Mumbai and Bangalore.

Belgaum Fort is one of the oldest forts in Karnataka. Built in the 13th century by the rulers of the Ratta dynasty, it boasts grand ramparts that protected the city from enemies. As you enter the fort complex, you will come across the shrines of Lord Ganpati and Goddess Durga, along with various mosques including the grand Safa Masjid. The minarets, domes and arches of the mosque reflect a seamless blend of Indo-Saracenic and Deccan styles of architecture. Built using stone and mud, the oval-shaped fort has huge bastions. The Deccan, the Indo-Saracenic and the Chalukyan styles of architecture can be spotted in the arches, domes and gateways of the fort. It also holds special importance in India's modern history as this was the place where the Britons imprisoned Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle. The fort is open everyday of the week from 8:00am to 6.30pm

Getting There: By Air: Sambre, around 10 kilometers from Belgaum, is the nearest airport. By Road: Good roads connect Belgaum to major Indian towns and cities. By Train: Major destinations like Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai are well-connected by trains from Belgaum.

Near Belgaum

Gokak Falls (50 kilometers northeast of Belgaum) is popularly known as the Niagara of India. Water from the Ghataprabha river crashes from leap of 170 feet over a horseshoe-shaped sandstone cliff after a long winding course. The cliff is nestled in a picturesque gorge of the Gokak Valley. A prime attraction of the Gokak Falls is the hanging 200-meter-long bridge that lies 14 meters above the bedrock. The Gokak Falls also holds immense historical significance as it was here that electricity was first generated in India, in 1887. The generating station can be reached through a ropeway, which makes for a truly lot of fun. Tourists can also visits monuments from the Chalukyan era situated on both sides of the rocky gorge. These include temples of Durga, Shanmukha and Mahalingeshwara built in the traditional Chalukyan style of architecture. Lying at a distance of about 60 kilometers from Belgaum, the falls is known for its beauty, speed and shape. June to September is the best time to visit here as the waterfalls is at its scenic best.

Military Mahadeva Temple is situated in the middle of a beautiful and well-kept garden. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple houses a large image of Lord Shiva along with a lingam (phallic symbol honoring Shiva). Two Nandi (bull god) idols can also be seen in front of the lingam (phallic symbol honoring Shiva). The foundation stone of the temple was laid in 1954 and it was made open to public in 1955 by Lieutenant General SM Shrinagesh of the Indian Army. The temple has undergone several renovations and a new dome was built keeping the original style intact. The temple boasts intricate carvings that are similar to the carvings found in prominent temples across South India. It has for long been used as a place of worship by Army personnel, which is why it is called the Military Mahadeva Temple. Devotees can also visit a mini zoo nearby that houses deer and emus. The temple can be visited everyday of the week from 6:00am to 8 pm.

Halasi (42 kilometers from Belgaum) was the capital of the Kadamba dynasty, which ruled the region for more than 500 years, Halasi is a prime tourist attraction in Karnataka that invites a large number of tourists for its ancient temples. The Bhuvaraha Laxmi Narasimha Temple is the most popular attraction in Halasi. Built during the 5th century, the temple stands as a fine specimen of the Kadamba style of architecture. The temple complex is surrounded by a stone wall and has arched doors on all its four sides. The main temple's pyramidical shikhara has been built in the Kadamba style of architecture and its top is adorned with a kalash. There are two sanctum sanctorum in the temple. The first one houses a four-foot-tall idol of Lord Vishnu in a sitting posture. Just behind the main idol are the idols of Lord Suryanarayana and Goddess Mahalaxmi. The second sanctorum houses an idol of Bhuvaraha Swamy. Other important attractions in Halasi include temples dedicated to Lord Gokarneshwara, Lord Kapileshwara, Lord Swarneshwara and Lord Hatakeshwara.

Gokarna

Gokarna (South of Goa) has beautiful beaches and temples and is good place to enjoy water sports. It has been known as a 'Brahmin town' and the gods have marked not just the hills and ravines in their names but also the beautiful beaches. One of the beaches is shaped like the spiritual symbol of Om while two peaks standing together, almost in conjugal harmony since time immemorial have come to represent the eternal love shared by Lord Shiva and His divine consort Goddess Parvati.Gokarna literally translates into 'cow’s ear', maybe referring to an area formed by the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers. The drive to Gokarana, passing through the imposing rocky cliffs of the Western Ghats on one side and the blue expanse of the Arabian Sea on the other, is very scenic.

No wonder people have ascribed a religious transcendence to these hills and beaches. Most of the beaches in Gokarna are surrounded by rolling blues of the Arabian sea and the cliffs, providing picturesque panoramas of the sea and skies as far as the eyes can see. Most of the beaches are separated from the town and the other beaches by these rocks and give the feeling of being a private enclosure. Some of the popular water adventure activities here include jet skiing, boating, fishing, dolphin spotting and banana boat rides.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is at Dabolim, Goa, about 140 kilometers away. The airport is well-linked to both domestic and international cities. By Road: Gokarna is easily accessible by good roads and regular buses ply to Gokarna, which is well-connected to other major cities of the country. By Train: Gokarna railway station is part of the Konkan railway system but not all trains stop here. The nearest well-connected railhead is at Ankhola, about 20 kilometers away.

Gokarna Area

Yana is a quaint village where the luxurious expanse of the Sahyadri Hills is interspersed with two unique rock outcrops that the locals know as the Bhairaveshwar Shikhar and the Mohini Shikhar. Both of these are easily reached by making a short trek of about half a kilometer through lush forests from the nearest road head. The Bhairaweshvar Shikhar is 390 feet high while the Mohini Shikhar is 300 feet high. Both the rock formations are solid black, crystalline Karst limestone. A religious attraction nearby is the cave temple below the Bhairaveshwara Shikhara, which contains a swayambhu lingam (self-originated idol).

Water drips from the roof just over the lingam and many believe that this increases the sanctity of the place. An interesting part of the annual Shivratri celebrations here is the car festival that attracts a lot of visitors. Thousands of pilgrims flock to this scenic spot every year. For an adventure traveler, the rock outcrops and hills provide many trails and routes for trekking. There are many excellent opportunities for birdwatching as well. Despite the constant buzz of tourists, Yana village has retained its rustic charm of mud roads lined with mushroom-like huts nestled securely between the verdant arms of the Western Ghats.

Om Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the area. Located on the outskirts of the town of Gokarna, Om beach derives its name from its shape. Fortuitously, it is shaped like the auspicious symbol Om and that has played a great role in popularising this quaint spot. The beach also appeals to adventure-lovers who can engage in water sports like surfing and sailing on speedboats. The seaside is dotted with various shacks where visitors can take a respite from sun. Moreover, tourists can take a stroll amidst the serene setting of the beach. One can spot fishermen boats in the distance and eat a hearty local fare at the various small cafes and eateries lining the beach.

Murudeshwar (South of Gokarna) is most famous for the second tallest statue of Lord Shiva in the world. What makes the experience even more awesome is the backdrop of the magnificent Arabian Sea and the lush Western Ghats. According to legend, one of the atma-linga (a divine linga) pieces fell on this exact spot on the beach and that is how the location of the temple came to be decided. There are a large number of smaller Shiva temples as well. This ensures that Murudeshwar attracts large crowds throughout the year. When visiting the town, don't miss out on the statue park that features a number of life-size statues of characters from the Shiv Puran as well as the Indian epic, Mahabharata. The park also features statues of Ravan handing over the atma-linga to Lord Ganesha, who is in the guise of a shepherd. A number of statues of sages from Indian mythology in meditative poses also feature in the park.

National Parks and Reserves in the Western Ghats

National parks and reserves that lie within the Western Ghats include Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Kudremukh National Park, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Nagarahole National Park, Bandipur National Park, Mudummalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Eravikulam National Park, and Periyer Tiger Reserve.

Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary (20 kilometers east of Goa) is nestled at the foothills of the Western Ghats and covers an area of 240 square kilometers. The largest of Goa's wildlife reserves, it is home to tigers, leopard, jungle cat, toddy cat, jackal, giant squirrel, bonnet macaque, sloth bear, hyena, sambar, spotted deer, hog, mouse deer, barking deer, ruby-throated yellow bulbul, Malabar pied hornbill, Malabar trogan, crested serpent eagle, crested honey buzzard, white-rumped spine tail, ashy wood swallow, black-crested bulbul, forest wagtail, scarlet minivet, chestnut-bellied nuthatch, velvet-fronted nuthatch and sulphur-bellied warbler.

The reptiles found at the park include bronze-back tree snake, cat snake, hump-nosed pit viper, Indian rock python, Malabar pit viper, rat snake, Russell's viper, Indian cobra and common krait. The most famous reptilian inhabitant of the park, however, is king cobra. The best way to explore the park is by hiking through it and one can choose from a number of treks and hikes conducted by knowledgeable guides. There is also an Interpretation Center, which has an invaluable amount of collectibles and data from the park.

Kudremukh National Park (75 kilometers northeast of Mangalore) is a 230 square mile park in the Western Ghats that was created in 1987 to help preserve the lion-tailed macaque, whose forest habitat has been fragment by human encroachment. The park itself is threatened by the presence of a destructive iron mine. The vegetation in the park is a mix of grasslands a stunted rain first called shola.

Bhadra Tiger Reserve (45 kilometers from Kudremukh National Park) is a 200 square in the Western Ghats with dense forests and green mountains situated next to a reservoir/ It is home of four kinds of bamboo — including one species that grows to more than 90 feet tall — which provided nourishment for elephants and gaur. there s also a healthy population of tigers,

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary (just north of Mysore) is home to birds such as spot-billed pelicans, painted storks and black headed ibis. The sanctuary was created by a local maharaja in 1940 to conserve a group of small islands in the Cauvery River

Bandipur National Park Reserve

Bandipur National Park Reserve (85 kilometers south of Mysore) occupies 874 square kilometers and is part of the lushly forested Deccan plateau. Covered with a mix of deciduous forest, evergreen forests and scrub, well irrigated by the Moyar river, Bandipur has a fairly open forest floor, making it easy for visitors to spot wildlife. There are lots of chitral and ungulates to provide plentiful food for predators such as tigers, leopards and dholes. People get around in the waters in bamboo-and-buffalo-hide coracles.

Animals seen here include Asian elephant, gaur, sambar, chital, muntjac, mouse deer, four-horned antelope, wild pig, black-naped hare, Indian porcupine, pangolin, giant squirrel, flying squirrel, giant fruit bat, slender loris, Hanuman langur, bonnet macaque, sloth bear, tiger, leopard, Asiatic wild dog, striped hyena, jackal, jungle cat, leopard cat, rusty spotted cat, small Indian civet, palm civet, and otter

Among birds spotted in the park are ospreys, grey-headed fishing eagle, crested hawk eagle, serpent eagle, buzzard, shaheen falcon, king vulture, cormorants, teals, herons, wader, ducks, grey jungle fowl, Malabar trogon, Malabar pied hornbill, great black woodpecker, Alexandrine parakeet, Indian pitta, firy blue bird, Malabar whistling thrush, imperial pigeon and hill myna.

Nagarhole National Park

Nagarhole National Park (adjacent to Bandipur National Park Reserve, 70 kilometers west-southwest of Mysore) ) is a 571-square kilometers (220-square-mile park) created in 1955 from a former hunting ground for the Maharajah of Mysore. Also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park, it is a good place to see gaur (a large cow-like, bison-type animal), tigers, elephants, leopards, crab-eating monkeys and crocodiles. There are 90 or so tigers in the park, It is one of the few places where tigers feed regularly on gaur. Nagarhole means snake stream in Kannada, named so after the serpentine river that runs through the jungle.

Visitors can explore the park by jeep or on foot on hiking trails. The landscape includes deciduous forests with rosewood, ebony and teak trees and swamps fed by the Kabini River. Among the other animals seen here are sloth bears, hyenas, dholes, Malabar flying squirrel, stripped mongoose, chital, sambar deer, marsh crocodile, star tortoise, rat snake, Russell’s viper and Indian python. The best time to visit is between October and March.

Nagarhole National Park is one of the premier tiger reserves in the world along with the adjoining Bandipur Tiger Reserve and is a part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Biologists estimated there is an average of 32,385 pounds of meat for every square mile, which is enough to feed large numbers of carnivores. With a healthy predator-prey ratio, the national park is home to tigers and leopards that feed mainly on chital and sambar deer. It is also home to 250 species of birds including eagles, hornbills, peacocks, green-backed woodpeckers, white-fronted kingfishers, buzzards, herons, storks, egrest, ducks, kites, falcons, partridges, lapwing, wagtail, sandpipers, sunbirds, warblers, babblers and owls.

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve straddles the area where three states -- Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu -- meet and covers about 5,500 square kilometers. That's about the size of Rhode Island: not huge, but in populous India, a pretty vast area to set aside just for wildlife, which probably is why UNESCO is considering making it a World Heritage Site to help promote its preservation. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“Most naturalists concur that South Indian preserves such as Nagarhole National Park and the publicly accessible 55-acre Kabini area adjacent to it are better managed than the ones in the north. They also are farther from China, a relative advantage when it comes to poaching for tusks and tiger parts. Much of the core area is off-limits to tourists; entry is controlled by the number of vehicles that are allowed to enter the park each day. Those are all good things for the wildlife.”

Kabina River Lodge at Nagarhole National Park

Many people stay at the Kabini River Lodge, made from a former hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore. The lodge offers early morning and late afternoon safaris, elephant safaris, and water safaris in coracles. Around the edge of the park are coffee plantations and 250 villages. In 1974 the Kabini River was dammed. Some 250 guards patrol the park to make sure the remaining tigers aren't poached. Goldie Hawn saw four tigers when she visited.

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “I drove five hours from Bangalore, the closest airport, to the Orange County Resort in Kabini for my tryst with a giant pachyderm, another charismatic megafauna: the Asian elephant. In the summer, when the water holes in the jungle dry up, the great elephant migration begins. Come May, some 500 of them make their way to the banks of the Kabini River, forming what naturalists say is the biggest congregation of elephants in Asia. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“I chose to stay at Orange County for two reasons: It is fairly new, and it offers a level of luxury comparable to that of the safari lodges of North India. With thatch roofs and adobe-style mud walls modeled after the huts of the honey-gathering Kuruba tribes that populate the region, Orange County's inaptly named Pool Huts blend into the land. Inside, the accommodation is more mansion than hut, with a separate living room, bedroom and bathroom (with tub and shower) and an aquamarine-blue indoor whirlpool bath or pool. The bamboo furniture and rustic-chic furnishings add to the organic feel of the place. The buffet meals (good Indian food and complicated Continental food) are included in the $400 daily price.

“What makes these safari lodges worthwhile is the incredible array of birds, beasts, flowers and foliage that make up the Indian jungle, those both familiar (thanks to "The Jungle Book") and eerily primitive. That, after all, is why we seek to experience wildlife: because it takes us back to the time when mastodons roamed the earth, because it peels back the layers of evolution and allows us to reach back to our souls, both as a species and as an individual.”

Safari in Nagarhole National Park

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “The jungle is an exercise in patience; it deals with visitors on its terms, revealing its secrets only when it chooses. During my safari, I saw hundreds of deer, a family of boars with the youngest trotting after the mother, a sloth bear sniffing its way through the undergrowth, and countless birds and monkeys, but no tiger or elephant. That perhaps is the difference between the jungle and the zoo: no guarantees. That night, I drowned my sorrows in mediocre local Big Banyan wine. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“I was luckier the next morning on a boat safari through the backwaters of the Kabini River. Mist rose from the water, making the landscape look like a Japanese painting. Ospreys roosted on branches, white egrets poked around the bank for worms, a Brahminy kite circled above, and pond herons skimmed the surface.

“An hour later, we saw a tusker right by the water. Our speedboat raced to the far bank, and the driver cut the engine as we got close. The elephant was busy eating. His long tusks were almost intertwined as he methodically tore off green bamboo stalks and stuffed them into his pink mouth to chew awhile before swallowing. Elephants have big molars and poor eyesight. Each day they need to consume about 350 pounds of grass and about 40 gallons of water. Of the pachyderms (the word means "thick skin"; the other members of the group are the rhino and hippo), elephants are the most interesting and, I dare say, the most intelligent. They follow a matriarchal system, and bulls in sexual must can trumpet all they want, but the female decides most things, including when to mate and where to take the herd. To watch a herd of elephants is magical. One emerges from the bushes, then another and another, and sometimes a calf. The phrase "amble majestically" seems like an oxymoron but is perfectly apt for these gentle vegetarian giants.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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