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The Blue Mountains of South India

A view of the rolling Nilgiri Hills

The Nilgiris literally translates to the Blue Mountains in the local dialect and gets its name from the blueish tinge that is omni present across this beautiful mountain range. Located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu the district sits in the intersection of the three states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and is spread over an area of 2543 square kilometres with a population of 735,394 people as of the 2011 census.

The Nilgiris sits on an elevation between 3200 to 8651 feet (1000 to 2637 metres) above sea level. Doddabetta is the highest point in the district and also the second highest point south of the Himalayas. The average temperature ranges from 5 degrees Celsius to 26 degrees Celsius with an average rainfall of about 1350 mm. This weather condition coupled with good soil makes the region a hub for agriculture including plantation crops such as tea, coffee and spices. The main economy of the region revolves around agriculture, plantations, tourism and education.

The Nilgiris is part of the Western Ghats and is known for its unique Shola eco system that exists at elevations above 6000 feet (1828 metres) across the district. The Sholas are high elevation stunted cloud forests that our inter spread with rolling grasslands. The stunted forests tend to be at the folds of the mountains and constitute about 20% of the Shola ecosystem while the rest of the landscape traditionally constituted grasslands. The total forest cover of the Nilgiris is estimated to be 142,577 hectares (about 56% of the district) of which the Sholas constitute about 10% of the total forest cover.

A Toda lady working on a traditional embroidered shawl

The major settlements in the region include the resort towns of Ooty, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Gudalur and the Wellington Cantonment which houses the Madras Regiment Centre, the oldest regiment in the country. The major communities living in the upper regions of the Nilgiris include the Todas, Kotas and the Badagas and the communities in lower hills include the Paniyas, Irulas and Kurumbas. Each of these communities have a distinct language and there are as many as ten languages spoken only in the Nilgiris.

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