Nestled near the industrial town of Coimbatore, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is India’s first International Biosphere Reserve. Currently under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reserve covers over 5,500-square kilometres of unique land that is resplendent with fauna, flora and indigenous tribes who have lived among its trees and tigers for thousands of years. Over 130 species of plant within the reserve are endemic to the area, including eight rare orchids. Vulnerable species of animals abound as well, making the reserve not only an important conservation area for India, but for the entire world.
The next time you plan a city break, aim for Coimbatore. Just a short half-hour drive from one of the most bio-diverse spots in the world, Coimbatore is an ideal holiday location for anyone hoping to wander among Nilgiri Reserve’s 175 orchid species, countless macaques, roaming tigers, elephant herds, lush swamplands and verdant evergreen forests. Even a short stay will provide you with an unforgettable experience as the wonders that await you in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve cannot be had anywhere else.
Mukurthi National Park
A small, 78-square kilometre space within the reserve, Mukurthi got its start as a conservation area in hopes of providing protection for the state animal of Tamil Nadu, the nilgiri tahr, an endangered, stocky mountain goat that is endemic to the Nilgiri Hills. Other endangered and vulnerable species call this park home, too, including the royal Bengal tiger and the Asian elephant. A handful of rare and endemic species of plant are only found in this park’s small area as well.
Bandipur National Park
A forest reserve that includes both deciduous and evergreen trees, Bandipur National Park was created out of Maharaja Voodiyar’s hunting grounds during the 1930s, and while it is a wonderful place to see any number of wild creatures, if you hope to see elephants in their natural environment, Bandipur is the place for you. In 1973, it was designated as a tiger reserve, and you can still see those big cats, as well as wild boar, gaur, leopards, sloths and much more there, today.
The Nilgiri Orchids
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is considered an orchid haven — not just because it is home to so many different types of orchids, but also because these complex flowers need such specific conditions for survival. One of the most biologically advanced plants on the planet, orchids can grow on land, trees, rocks and decaying matter, but over the course of the millions of years that they’ve been in the Nilgiris, their unique physical variations — so adept at reeling in pollinators — can lead to a lack of reproduction if those pollinators aren’t present, climate conditions aren’t ideal or their beauty leads to their getting plucked too soon by locals. Remarkably diverse in colour, shape and scent, if you love flowers, the reserve is a one-of-a-kind orchid paradise.
The fauna found within the reserve represents a remarkable diversity, the likes of which only exist in kind in a couple of other areas on the planet. On any given day in the reserve, you will find over 350 bird species, 100 species of mammal, 80 different reptile species, 39 species of fish, over 300 distinct species of butterfly and 31 species of amphibians. The growth of plantations that continue to bring people closer, as well as the threat from climate change have made the preservation and protection of these animals’ habitat more and more vital to their survival.
Even more impressive than the sizable variety of fauna found in Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is the diversity of its flora. More than 3,300 different species of flowering plants alone can be found within its borders, many of which can be found nowhere else in India or the world. In fact, whole genera are endemic to the reserve — not just individual species. Threats like monoculture, global warming and deforestation abound, but efforts at conservation are thoughtful and heartily underway. Some of the areas of focus include, but are not limited to:
- Garnering local populations and tribal support in conservation and long-term sustainable use of the area
- Making sure that those who bear the most cost regarding conservation (like bans on fishing) reap the largest proportional benefits (like tourism dollars)
- Utilizing indigenous knowledge to help manage and support protected areas
- Keeping local populations in the role of stewardship as opposed to government agencies
If you seek an Indian holiday that will bring you face to face with a world that is both lush and vulnerable, look no further than Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Just a short drive from Coimbatore, this protected space and its inhabitants need ongoing sanctuary and support, and well-meaning visitors from around the globe can provide much in the way of needed help.
Sunset image by Prabhu B Doss from Flickr’s Creative Commons