Nilgiri mountains

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The Nilgiri (Tamil: நீலகிரி, Badaga: நீலகி:ரி or blue mountains), often referred to as the Nilgiri Hills, are a range of mountains with at least 24 peaks above 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), in the westernmost part of Tamil Nadu state at the junction of Karnataka and Kerala states in Southern India. They are part of the larger Western Ghats mountain chain making up the southwestern edge of the Deccan Plateau

Conservation

The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), including all of Mukurthi National Park in the south-eastern corner of the Nilgiris, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.[3]

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which includes the Nilgiri Hills, is part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

History

A Toda family and their home, from, Richard Barron, 1837, View in India, chiefly among the Neelgherry Hills

The first recorded use of the word Nila applied to this region can be traced to 1117 AD in the report of a general of Vishnuvardhana, King of Hoysalas, who in reference to his enemies, claimed to have “frightened the Todas, driven the Kangas underground, slaughtered the Pallavas, put to death the Malayalas, terrified King Kala and then proceeded to offer the peak of Nila Mountain (presumably Dodabetta) to Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth.[4]

The original inhabitants of the Nilgiri Hills were the Toda, Badaga, Kota, Irula and kurumbas. The Nilgiri Hills were part of Chera Empire in ancient times. Later, the area came under the rule of the Western Ganga Dynasty, and then Hoysala empire in the 12th century. They then became part of the Kingdom of Mysore of Tipu Sultan who later surrendered them to the British in the 18th century.

The first Europeans to attempt the grueling climb to the Nilgiris included an enigmatic Jesuit priest, Father Fininicio, in 1603. They struggled up the mountains, avoiding elephants, tigers and other wild beasts, and met the Todas at the top.

From 1799 these mountains were seen daily by the British authorities from the plains of Coimbatore. Revenue was collected from them for the British East India Company by a native renter. Excepting Dr. Ford and Capt. Bevan, who traversed the hills in 1809 with a party of pioneers, and some deputy surveyors under Colonel Monson, who partially mapped the area, no British had ventured to explore the all but unknown region.

In 1814, Mr, Keys, a sub-assistant, and Mr. McMahon, an apprentice in the Survey Department, ascended the hills by the Danaynkeucottah Pass, penetrated into the remotest parts, made plans, and sent in reports of their discoveries. As a result of these accounts, Messrs. Whish and Kindersley, two young Madras civilians, ventured up in pursuit of some criminal’s taking refuge in the mountains, and proceeded to reconnoitre the interior. They soon saw and felt enough favorable climate and terrain to excite their own curiosity and that of others.[5]

In 1819, John Sullivan, the British Collector of Coimbatore, set out to explore the Nilgiris after obtaining an order from the British East India Company charging him to investigate the “origin of the fabulous tales that are circulated concerning the Blue Mountains to verify their authenticity and to send a report to the authorities”.

With a detachment of Europeans and Indian sepoys, he set out on his mission on January 2, 1819. The journey involved crossing rough and harsh terrain, steep precipices and danger from wild animals. After an expedition that lasted for six days and loss of the lives of some of the expedition members, Sullivan finally reached a plateau from where he proudly hoisted the British flag.[6]

In May, 1819, the same tourists from Coimbatore, accompanied by Monsieur Leschnault de la Tour, naturalist to the King of France, repeated their excursion. They asserted the temperature in the shade to be 74 °F (23 °C) at a time when the temperature of the plains was up to 100 °F (38 °C). Such a climate within the tropics was considered so great an anomaly that few at first believed its existence.

Front of Stonehouse, 1905

John Sullivan occupied the area by buying land from the native tribes people, often buying up many square kilometres in a day for the price of a few meals. In 1822, he began construction of the first house in the Nilgiris on a hillock in Ooty, to the east of the hollow where the racecourse now lies. In 1823 his wife, who had the distinction of being the first European woman in the Nilgiris, and his infant son moved into the house called Stonehouse. Government House was soon built a few meters away. Stonehouse now serves as the administration building for the Government Arts College, which is the former Government House.

After the early 1820s, the hills were developed rapidly under the British Raj because most of the land was by then privately owned by British citizens. It was a popular summer and weekend getaway for the British during the colonial days. In 1827 Ooty became the official sanatorium and the summer capital of the Madras Presidency. Many winding hill roads were built. In 1899, The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was completed by influential and enterprising British citizens with venture capital from the Madras government.[7]

Peaks in the Nilgiris

Topographic map of Nilgiri Hills
showing some peaks

View of Nilgiri hills from Doddabetta

Doddabetta Peak, 4 km east south east from Udhagamandalam,11°24′10″N 76°44′14″E, with a height of 2,637 metres (8,652 ft) is the highest point in the Nilgiris and the southern extent of the range. . Hecuba (height: 2,375 metres (7,792 ft)), Kattadadu (height: 2,418 metres (7,933 ft)) and Kulkudi (height: 2,439 metres (8,002 ft)) are closely linked peaks in the west of Doddabetta range and nearby Udhagamandalam.

Snowdon (height: (2,530 metres (8,301 ft)) 11°26′N 76°46′E is the northern extent of the range. Club Hill (height: 2,448 metres (8,031 ft)) and Elk Hill (height: 2,466 metres (8,091 ft)) 11°23′55″N 76°42′39″Eare significant elevations in this range. Snowdon, Club Hill and Elk Hill along with Doddabetta, form the impressive Udhagamandalam Valley.

Devashola (height: 2,261 metres (7,418 ft)), notable for its Blue gum trees, is in the south of Doddabetta range.
Kulakombai (height: 1,707 metres (5,600 ft)) is east of the Devashola. The Bhavani Valley and the Lambton’s peak range of Coimbatore district stretch from here.

Hullikal Durg (height: 562 metres (1,844 ft)), 11°19′N 76°53′E in the Kannada language, Hulikal Durg means Tiger Rock Fort. The Sanskrit name of his place is Bakasura Parvata. It is 3 km. south east of Coonoor. Tropical Pine forest flourishes at the base of this hill, while the valleys support green foliage.

Coonoor Betta (2,101 metres (6,893 ft)) is also called Teneriffe. It is on the northern side of the gorge, accommodating the Nilgiri Mountain Railway to Coonoor.

Rallia Hill (height: 2,248 metres (7,375 ft))11°25′N 76°53′E is in the midst of a reserved forest and almost equidistant from Udhagamandalam and Kotagiri.

Dimhatti Hill (height: 1,788 metres (5,866 ft)) 11°26′N 76°01′E is above the Gajalahatti pass, which provided a short cut from Mysore to the Carnatic plains and was of much strategic importance in the eighteenth century. This peak, dedicated to the Deity Rangaswamy is considered holy by the people of the surrounding villages.

Nilgiris Peaks in Mukurthi National Park

On the Nilgiri Plateau, the Kundah range of the Nilgiri hills is a ridge on the south-western side of Mukurthi National Park bordering Kerala. With elevations greater than the general level of the plateau, the range possesses some peaks close to the height of Doddabetta.

Avalanche hill of this range has the twin-peaks of Kudikkadu (height: 2,590 metres (8,497 ft)) and Kolaribetta (height: 2,625 metres (8,612 ft)).
Derbetta (or Bear Hill) (height: 2,531 metres (8,304 ft)) and Kolibetta (height: 2,494 metres (8,182 ft)), south of the Ouchterlony valley, are a continuation of the Kundah range.

Mukurthi Peak

Mukurthi Peak 2,554 metres (8,379 ft)) 11°23′29″N 76°31′38″E, Pichalbetta (height: 2,544 metres (8,346 ft)) and Nilgiri Peak (height: 2,474 metres (8,117 ft)) 11°24′0″N 76°30′4″E are the important heights of this area. These 3 hills of the Wayanad district are generally low in relation to other heights of the district; but are distinguished in relation to the generally uniform level of this area.
Maruppanmudi hill (height: 1,528 metres (5,013 ft)) 11°31′N 76°27′E is 10 km. northwest of Gudalur.

Other heights deserving notice are: Needle Rock, Hadiabetta Hill (height: 1,155 metres (3,789 ft)), Glulur hill (height: 1,148 metres (3,766 ft)).
Chinna Doddabetta (height: 2,392 metres (7,848 ft)) 11°28′N 76°45′E is about five km. south of Udhagamandalam.

Konabetta Peak

Konabetta: (height: 1,880 metres (6,168 ft)) 11°30′N 76°46′E is about 5 km, north-northeast of Udhagamandalam. This is also called Sigur Peak.
Koodal Betta (height: 2,183 metres (7,162 ft)) 11°28′N 76°50′E means Echoing rock. It is about 13 km north-east of Udhagamandalam.
Kundah Betta (height: 1,998 metres (6,555 ft)) 11°07′N 76°43′E is About 10 km south-southwest of Udhagamandalam.
Kundah Mugi (height: 2,344 metres (7,690 ft)) 11°24′N 76°51′E is about 11 km east of Udhagamandalam,

Dolphin’s Nose 11°22′N 76°51′E is a promonotory over the Kotagiri valley about 6 km east-northeast of Coonoor. The place provides an excellent view of the Catherine falls and a vast expanse of verdant plains.
Ibex Hill 11°27′N 76°35′E is about 17 km., west-southwest of Udhagamandalam. It is a straight cliff in the proximity of Sigur Pass.

Muttunadu Betta (height: 2,323 metres (7,621 ft)) 11°27′N 76°43′E is about 5 km, north northwest of Udhagamandalam.
Tamrabetta (Coppery Hill) (height: 2,120 metres (6,955 ft)) 11°22′N 76°48′E is about 8 km. south east of Udhagamandalam.
Vellangiri (Silvery Hill) (height: 2,120 metres (6,955 ft)) is 16 km west-northwest of Udhagamandalam. [8]

List of peaks in the Nilgiri Hills

No.↓ Local name↓ Height↓ English name↓ Location↓
1 Anginda peak 2,383 metres (7,818 ft) 11°12′26″N 76°27′51″E
2 Chinna Doddabetta 2,392 metres (7,848 ft)
3 C 2,448 metres (8,031 ft) Club Hill
4 Coonoor Betta 2,101 metres (6,893 ft) Teneriffe
5 Derbetta 2,531 metres (8,304 ft) Bear Hill
6 Devashola 2,261 metres (7,418 ft)
7 Dimhatti Hill 1,788 metres (5,866 ft) 11°26′N 76°01′E
8 Doddabetta Peak 2,637 metres (8,652 ft) 11°24′10″N 76°44′14″E
9 D Dolphin’s Nose 11°22′09″N 76°51′33″E
10 E 2,466 metres (8,091 ft) Elk Hill 11°23′55″N 76°42′39″E
11 Glulur hill 1,148 metres (3,766 ft) 11°28′N 76°45′E
12 Gulkal Malai 2,467.7 metres (8,096 ft) 11°14′47″N 76°28′1″E
13 Hadiabetta Hill 1,155 metres (3,789 ft)
14 Hecuba 2,375 metres (7,792 ft)
15 Hullikal Durg 0,562 metres (1,844 ft) Tiger Rock Fort 11°19′N 76°53′E
16 I Ibex Hill 11°27′N 76°35′E
17 Kattadadu 2,418 metres (7,933 ft)
18 Kolaribetta 2,625 metres (8,612 ft)
19 Kolibetta 2,494 metres (8,182 ft)
20 Konabetta 2,066 metres (6,778 ft) Sigur Peak. 11°30′N 76°46′E
21 Koodal Betta 2,183 metres (7,162 ft) Echoing rock 11°28′N 76°50′E
22 Kudikkadu 2,590 metres (8,497 ft) Avalanche Hill
23 Kulakombai 1,707 metres (5,600 ft)
24 Kulkudi 2,439 metres (8,002 ft)
25 Kundah Betta 1,998 metres (6,555 ft) 11°07′N 76°43′E
26 Kundah Mugi 2,344 metres (7,690 ft) 11°24′N 76°51′E
27 Muttunadu Betta 2,323 metres (7,621 ft)
28 Mukurthi Peak 2,554 metres (8,379 ft) 11°23′29″N 76°31′38″E
29 Maruppanmudi hill 1,528 metres (5,013 ft) 11°31′N 76°27′E
30 Nadugani Peak 2,320 metres (7,612 ft) 11°13′48″N 76°27′37″E
31 N 1,438 metres (4,718 ft) Needle Rock
32 Nilgiri Peak 2,474 metres (8,117 ft) 11°24′0″N 76°30′4″E
33 Pichalbetta 2,544 metres (8,346 ft)
34 R 2,248 metres (7,375 ft) Rallia Hill 11°25′N 76°53′E
35 S 2,530 metres (8,301 ft) Snowdon 11°25′27″N 76°43′45″E
36 Tamrabetta 2,120 metres (6,955 ft) Coppery Hill
37 Vellangiri 2,120 metres (6,955 ft) Silvery Hill

Rangaswamy Peak rangaswamy Pillar Kilkotagiri bettu

 Waterfalls

The highest waterfall, Kolakambai Fall, north of Kolakambai hill, has an unbroken fall of 400 feet (120 m). Nearby is the 150 feet (46 m) Halashana falls Second is Catherine Falls, near Kotagiri, with a 250-foot (76 m) fall, named after the wife of M.D. Cockburn, believed to have introduced coffee plantations to the Nilgiri Hills. The Upper and Lower Pykara falls have falls of 180 feet (55 m), and 200 feet (61 m), respectively. The 170 feet (52 m) Kalhutti Fall is off the Segur Peak. The Karteri Fall, near Aruvankadu had the first power station which supplied the original Cordite Factory with electricity. Law’s Fall, near Coonoor, is interesting due to its association with the engineer Major G. C. Law who supervised building of the Coonoor Ghat road.[2]

Flora

Wattle plantations in Nilgiris

Over 2700 species of flowering plants, 160 species of fern and fern allies, countless types of flowerless plants, mosses, fungi, algae, land lichens are found in the sholas of the Nilgiris. No other Hill station has so many exotic species.[9]

Much of the Nilgiris natural Montane grasslands and shrublands interspersed with sholas has been much disturbed or destroyed by extensive tea plantations, easy motor vehicle access and [10] extensive commercial planting and harvesting of non-native eucalyptus and wattle plantations (Acacia dealbata, Acacia mearnsii and cattle grazing. In addition there is one large, and several smaller hydro-electric impoundments in the area.[11] Scotch broom has become an ecologically damaging invasive species.[12]

Threatened plants of the Nilgiris include the Vulnerable species: Miliusa nilagirica, Nothapodytes nimmoniana, Commelina wightii and
Rare species: Ceropegia decaisneana Ceropegia pusilla, Senecio kundaicus and endangered species: Youngia nilgiriensis, Impatiens neo-barnesii, Impatiens nilagirica, Euonymus angulatus and Euonymus serratifolius.[13]

Visitor information

Foothills of the Nilgiris at Mudumalai National Park

The Nilgiri hills can be reached by the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and by motor vehicle over five separate Nilgiri Ghat Roads.

A good way to enjoy the beauty of the Nilgiris is to trek its slopes. Some of the trekking routes are:

  • Ooty, Parson’s Valley, Porthimund, Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association hut (NWLEA), Mukurthi Peak, Mukurthi Dam, Ooty.
  • Ooty, Upper Bhavani, Emerald, Avalanche via Kolaribetta, Ooty. (Accommodation at Upper Bhavani Forest guest house)
  • Ooty, Western Catchment 2, via T.R. Bazaar, Nilgiri Peak, Mukurti Peak, Sispara Pass via Western Catchment-2 and 1, Bangitappal, Ooty.
  • Ooty, Ebbanad, Segur, Anaikatti, Sirur, Theppakadu, Ooty.
  • Ooty, Pykara, Glenmorgan, Singara (Hydro PowerStation), Mudumalai, Solur Village, Ooty.
  • Coonoor, Lamb’s Rock, Lady Canning’s Seat, Dolphin’s Nose, Law’s Falls, Droog Fort, Coonoor.

The best trekking seasons are April–June and September–December.[14] Application for trekking permits should be made in advance with the Wildlife Warden, Mahalingam buildings, Coonoor Road, Udhagamandalam – 643 001 ; Phone: 0423- 2444098[15]

The Tour of Nilgiris is a week-long annual bicycling tour that traverses the Nilgiris mountains with the twin objectives of exploring the Nilgiris while promoting cycling as an eco-friendly mode of transport and leisure.


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