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Western Ghats travel guide
Tiger reserves, woodsy cardamom forests, mist-sunk British hill stations, high altitude meadows – holidays to the Western Ghats delve deep into one of the world’s most biodiverse landscapes. This hulking fold of low mountains is powerful stuff. It singlehandedly shapes India’s monsoon season, creating the moderate tropical climate that causes forests and rivers – and tea and spice plantations – to boom.
Ghat comes from the Sanskrit ghatta: a series of steps leading down to holy water. It’s just a hint at the reverence attached to the Western Ghats.
The numbers tell the story. The Western Ghats cradle over 300 threatened animal species (51 are near extinction), 650 tree species, 5,000 different flowering plants and 30 percent of the world’s Asian elephants. And the makeup entirely transforms as you move from north to south. Amongst the deep, dark canopy you’ll feel far removed from the coast, but it’s only ever about 40km away from Goan beaches and Keralan waterways. Not sure where to begin exploring a mountain range that spans the whole length of peninsular India? Read our Western Ghats travel guide.
The Western Ghats are…
one of world’s greatest (and most threatened) wildlife spots.
The Western Ghats aren’t…
Himalaya-huge. But the low altitude mountains are much more accessible.
Our Western Ghats Holidays
Western Ghats map & highlights
You’ll need at least two weeks to get your head around the Western Ghats, although you can make do with a week if you’re concentrating on a specialist subject like birding or cycling. Kochi (Kerala) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) are popular starting points. Some tours can last up to a month, travelling from Mumbai to Kochi in a series of flights, hikes, safaris and rail trips. They sometimes even bolt on an extra week for a Golden Triangle tour, Goa beach break or Kerala houseboat cruise. Most of our Western Ghats holidays are tailor made, so you can choose which kind of accommodation you’d prefer, whether that’s a planter’s bungalow or a shabby-chic Portuguese mansion.
1. Cardamom Hills
You’ll smell the woodsy forests of the Cardamom Hills before you see them. The deepest cardamom groves look practically prehistoric, alternately protected and farmed along this border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. You might spot pepper and coffee being grown under the misty canopy, too. Thanks to the smooth roads snaking between the spice and tea hills here, the Cardamom Hills are the stomping (or freewheeling) ground of cyclists.
2. Kodagu (Coorg)
The Kodagu district in Karnataka is one of the lesser visited tea regions of the Western Ghats. Hike the 1,748m up to Tadiandamol Peak via coffee plantations and pharmacy forests; Ayurvedic medicine is big here. Meet the Kodava people, who are thought to have been here for 1,000 years. Or head southeast to peek at the Bengal tigers, elephants, langur monkeys and 250 bird species at Nagarhole National Park.
There’s Mumbai and then there’s Mumbai. Hop on a city tour to see the colonial cluster of the Gateway of India, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station and the National Gallery of Modern Arts. And then tackle it yourself to fully realise the gamut of backstreet bazaars, hipster hangouts, film studios and sprawling slums that jigsaw the city. On balance, it’s a good place to start before backing away to the cool Western Ghats.
A one-time hill station for the British Raj, Munnar perches in the cool cloud forests of Kerala. Tea museums, guesthouses and lakeside viewpoints are mostly open for business after the 2018 floods crashed through the surrounding villages. Hop northeast to the Kannan Devan Hills, where mist wraps around archaic churches. Or cycle through waterfall-threaded eucalyptus forests to Kodaikanal (2,133m), the ‘island in the sky’.
5. Nilgiri Hills
The Nilgiri Hills mark where the Western Ghats step down into the Eastern Ghats. A biosphere reserve, they contain some of the world’s most species-rich forest. Up to 10,000 Asian elephants plod the paths – that’s the largest population on the planet. And 10 percent of the world’s tigers stalk the grasslands. The Blue Mountain Railway chugs through it all, through tea hills, tunnels, and up to British hill station Ootacamund (Ooty).
Periyar National Park
6. Periyar National Park
From flowering grasslands and river valleys to evergreen forest and lakes – the medley of landscapes in Periyar National Park tempts in a huge variety of animals. In fact, about half the endemic species in peninsular India settle here. Leopards, tigers, elephants, mammoth gaur oxen and 320-plus bird species are residents, including punky chestnut-winged cuckoos and Asian fairy-bluebirds.
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More about Western Ghats
The Western Ghats are a handy natural heat relief to the hot, humid highs of inland India. A tropical climate is the theme, with a monsoon season that stretches between July and September. It also gets cooler the higher you go – sometimes below 10°C in the highlands.