14 November 2009

blues on the blue mountain

Sunrise in Coonoor
Photo: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©

The Western Ghats in India are home to many things that are wonderful - indigenous tribals, a plethora of wildlife, gorgeous scenery, tranquil trekking trails, deep mist-filled valleys and majestic mountains. The area gets its name 'Blue Mountains' due to the blue tint that the mountains get when seen from a distance. This area is also deemed a biosphere reserve due to the sheer amount of fauna and flora present. It houses some of the world's endangered species like the Nilgiri Tahr and the Lion Tail Macaw - both species are endemic and once gone from here, are gone forever.

Nilgiri hills also houses popular tourist destinations in India. Among them are the Bandipur National Sanctuary, Ooty and Coonoor. Due to influx of tourists from all over India, Ooty has been showing signs of stress and pollution. Now however the local corporation has been taking measures towards a 'cleaner and greener' Ooty. Coonoor which is about 45 mins downhill from Ooty is more a getaway spot rather than a tourist destination. It is covered in tea plantations and displays every shade of green there is - a walker's paradise. Both places are very close to my home city and they hold a special place in the heart of most people from Coimbatore.

Due to expansion of roads, poor management of soil, deforestation etc landslides are common in this area. The last major one occurred in 2001 and this year due to heavy rains there has been another one. This year the landslide has been blamed on the widening of roads that happened earlier this year. There are many reasons that landslides occur and one of the most persistent one is gravity. Since that cannot be altered, the design of man-made structures can be adapted in order to reduce the effects of gravity.

Groundwater table changes are also another reason for landslides which could be a possible secondary reason for the recent Ooty landslide. By directing excess water from heavy rainfall into drainage areas will make the slope less susceptible to slide. Soil condition and distribution of soil is finally very important. Soil condition depends primarily on forest cover and availability of vertical vegetation with extensive root systems, in other words trees - exactly the things we are cutting down in large numbers. It is also essential that there is enough soil to support the base of the slope and less weight at the top.

Furthermore, any construction and expansion projects being undertaken in hilly regions should be subject to extensive impact assessment especially in ecologically vulnerable regions like the Nilgiris.

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