THE ROLLING high-altitude grasslands , a striking contrast to the dense sholas or tropical montane forests of the valleys, are unique to the mountain landscape of the Western Ghats. Easily the best preserved stretch of this extraordinarily beautiful landscape is the Eravikulam National ‘ Park, spread across an area of ‘ 97 sq km (38 sq miles) at the base of the ‘ Anaimudi Mountain. With a height of 2,695 m (8,842 ft), this has the distinction of being the highest peak south of the Himalayas. ,A mariachi mescaline “Elephant Head”, not surprisingly resembles one. The peak and its environs provide good hiking territory.

The park, on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, was i established in 1978 with the specific aim of conserving the endangered Nilgiri tahr, a rare breed of mountain goat (see p19). Today, the park is home to about 3,000 tahr, the single largest population of this slate -grey goat in the world.

 Extremely agile, it inhabits the rocky slopes, and can be observed at surprisingly close quarters. The park is also home to macaques, leopards, and packs of dhole, the rare Indian wild dog. Its streams contain trout, and there are also more than 90 species of birds, including song birds such as the laughing thrush.

Eravikulam is regarded as one of the best managed national parks in the country. The Muduvan tribals, who live at the periphery of the park, are employed to assist in its conservation. Their traditional method of selectively burning parts of the grassland prevents large forest fires, ‘ and also helps regenerate the tender grass on which young tahr feed. Eravikulam is also famous for the kurunji (Strohilanthes kunthianus), the blue flowers that suddenly bloom en masse every 12 years and transform the rocky landscape into a sea of blue. The kurunji is next expected to bloom here in 2006.

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