Welcome to the Nilgris
In Nilgiris, the native landscape environment has been changed considerably since independence, with once vast areas of virgin grassland now planted with exotic trees like eucalyptus, black wattle, and pines to supply raw material to the viscose industries in the plains. Large wetlands have also been inundated by numerous reservoirs to meet the hydroelectric power requirements of Tamil Nadu, while much of the remaining area is now under tea and vegetable cultivation. As a result, the globally significant shola-grassland mosaic is under threat of disappearing altogether unless action is taken to revive both degraded sholas and grasslands. Although shola restoration has begun to be undertaken by the government, there is as yet no move by them to plant grass species in degraded pastures and wetlands. For decades the montane grasslands of the Nilgiris have been treated as wastelands – this attitude is finally changing, but much more needs to be done. The fact that a majority of the floral species that are endemic to the upper Nilgiris are found in the high elevation grasslands, should have established their biodiversity value a long while ago. Secondly, recent peat bog studies of plant pollen grains, have established how the Upper Nilgiris looked 40,000 years before the present time. We realize that grasslands have coexisted with sholas for at least forty thousand years. Hence we find the use of the term ‘high rainfall grasslands’ as annual precipitation can often exceed ten metres. The Upper Nilgiris gives rise to the major river systems of this area. The Toda homeland, albeit small, provides the plains below with their principal sources of water. Many of these river sources have now been dammed and around a dozen hydroelectric reservoirs have inundated some of the most sacred Toda sites. These reservoirs contribute a major share of Tamil Nadu State’s hydroelectric power generation. A significant characteristic of the Western Nilgiri hydrological system is that more or less the entire annual rainfall flows into streams and rivers. The indigenous groups: Todas and Kotas on the higher reaches, along with Kurumbas and Irulas on the slopes, have occupied the Nilgiris since ancient times. There are a number of Kurumba men gathering Apis dorsata honey on a sheer cliff face Rock art prehistoric sites scattered throughout the hills that could be related either to one or more of the indigenous peoples. These prehistoric sites comprise stone and earthen circles, cists, dolmens, shrines, and rock art.