She has been there even before the first buds of civilization sprouted, nurturing the land, sheltering its life and guarding its riches. She could be rightly called as one of the oldest ecosystems in the world - the Western Ghats. This unique mountain system caressing five States in India covers approximately 1,60,000 sq km and runs nearly 1600 km. Starting from the north, near the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra, south of the Tapti River, it runs through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala ending at Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India.
The mighty Western Ghats, intimately called by the people as Sahyadri, originated not as a mountain but as the faulted edge of the Deccan Plateau that separate the plateau from a narrow coastal plain along the Arabian Sea. Being one of the eight hottest hotspots of biological diversity in the world, the Western Ghats is home to more than 5000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species and 179 amphibian species. Not just this, about 325 globally threatened species take refuge in these mighty mountain ranges. Some of the rare animal species found in the Western Ghats include the Malabar large-spotted civet, lion-tailed macaque, Asian elephants, tiger, Black Panther, leopards, great Indian hornbill and Wroughton's free-tailed bat.
Apart from this natural wealth these mountain ranges give shelter to numerous tribal settlements and their culture. These indigenous people have been harmoniously coexisting with nature for centuries. The Toda, Soliga, Hallaki, Vokkal, Paniya, Adiya, and Kuruma are few of them. In their harmonious cohabitation with nature they have identified countless secrets lay hidden in the broad bosom of the Western Ghats including several medicinal plants unknown to the outside world.
The land of Kerala is also blessed by the Western Ghats sumptuously. About 40% of its ranges lie in Kerala. Among the 44 rivers of Kerala 41 originate from the Western Ghats. Kerala has the highest point (Anamudi in Idukki District) in the Western Ghats, which is also the highest south of the Himalayas in India. Around the moist-deciduous and evergreen forests of the Western Ghats are plantations such as coffee, tea and cardamom. Moderating the tropical climate of the region, the Ghats present one of the best examples of the monsoon system in the planet.
Recognition came the way of this silent guardian when 39 of her serial sites made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Among the 39 serial sites selected by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), 19 are in Kerala. The inscribed sites include the Silent Valley Park, Eravikulam National Park, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary, Neyyar, Peppara, Chinnar and Aralam Wildlife sanctuaries, which are some of the preferred ecotourism destinations in the State.