Ian Lockwood


Kukkal: Beyond the Last Ridge

with 4 comments

Lysimachia leschenaultii in the valley below Pāppalamman.

In the remote western edges of the Palanis Hills is a surviving vestige of the vegetation and landscape of the undisturbed high altitude Western Ghats. Here the topography of the lofty 2,000 meter plateau of the Palanis falls into the valley of Manjampati. It is a convenient place to separate the Palanis from the Anaimalais and High Range that lie to the west on the Tamil-Nadu-Kerala border. These three ranges, in essence, do serve as a single contiguous block of mountains and heterogeneous landscapes. The Kukkal area straddles the border area, both ecologically and from an administrative point of view and it offers a sense of the hills before large scale non-native tree plantations and developments made the changes that we are well aware of.

The village of Kukkal sits on the western edge of the Palanis and is a several hundred (if not more) years old settlement of rice cultivators. The community depends on monsoon rains as well as a modest man-made reservoir that is fed by the enormous catchment of the Kukkal Shola. The shola is thought to be the 2nd largest in the Palanis (Matikatan near Berijam is considered the largest). On its western shoulder a ridge of undisturbed montane grasslands extends in a north-western direction. This continues to be one of the least disturbed areas in the entire Palani Hills range and still retains a flavor the once dominant shola/grasslands mosaic. The Dindigul and Coimbatore district border runs along this ridge. Thus, much of the area is now under the Anaimalais Tiger Reserve jurisdiction, though the access is very much through the Palanis side. Access is limited by the presence of the shola and its large, fearsome leeches!

For people willing to brave the leeches the 2,2000 meter peak called Pāppalamman is a sublime destination to take in the landscape and ecology of the area. Above the shola the ridge is covered in native grasslands (as well as seasonal flowers and Kurinji plants). A modest, dome shaped Shaivite temple crowns the peak. It commands an impressive view over the Kukkal shola and is flanked by vertical cliffs on its eastern side. The view back to Palangi and Cloud Land’s Peak is impressive on a clear day. The distinctive volcano-shaped -profile of Perumal peak is also visible further east. To the west across Manjampati there is a fine view of the undisturbed grasslands-dominated plateau of Eravikulam and the Grasshills area of the Anaimalais Tiger Reserve. From Eravikulam’s two high points at Anai Mudi and Katu Malai Pāppalamman shows up as a dominant eastern peak and ridge. In recent years a herd of Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) has made itself comfortable on the nearby cliffs and their dropping can now be found inside the temple shelter! We have been seeing them regularly on visits to Pāppalamman…a significant change from visits in the 1980s and 90s when there was no evidence of these emblematic ungulates. To the far north west the ridge drops down to a saddle at 1,400meters and then rise to a small range of hills with heights up to 1903 meters. These are “sister” island mountains of the Palani Hills and they are veritable islands surrounded by drier forests of the Anaimalais Tiger Reserve. Several of the pictures in this album were taken in these remote, rarely-seen ranges.

Navigating Kukkal shola and its infamous leeches on the way to the temple at Pāppalamman.

Kukkal ridge looking north-west to the cave and further ridges. A herd of Nilgiri tahr ran in front of us shortly after this was taken. Mudi Malai is the high point to the left of the center,

Looking back eastwards to Pāppalamman from the Mudi Malai ridge. The boulders had piles of pellets and urine staines from a group of Nilgiri tahr saddlebacks.

Mudi Malai the 1,903-meter high peak overlooking the Manjampatti and Amarvathi Valleys. It is the refuge for an array of large mammal species, rare plant and other life forms. View taken from the north looking south west into Manjampatti and towards the High Range.

Rock cut steps leading up along perilous cliffs to Pāppalamman.

Further Information: There are some excellent write-ups, with scholarly links on Manjampati and Kukkal in Wikipedia. Marcus Sherman has been at the forefront of research articles and links to the Palani Hills area in Wikipedia. For maps of the area see my previous post for a Landsat map of the Palanis with Kukkal (village) located on it (taken in 1974).

Written by ianlockwood

2012-09-11 at 4:27 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Ian, Excellent photos and writing as you always do to stimulate public awareness of the beauty and uniqueness of the Palani Hills.


    2012-09-12 at 8:08 am

  2. Lovely shots. Brings back fond memories of hikes long ago.

    Bob Edwards

    2012-09-12 at 10:12 am

  3. Ian-no words to express my joy on seeing ur fotos n reading thro ur writings-U seem to have an in-depth knowledge on the whole topography of western ghats n all the mountain ranges-Splendid interest u have -an in-born one!kudos!!


    2012-09-12 at 4:23 pm

  4. Nice pics & good write up. Took me for a virtual tour along the terrain once again..


    2012-10-05 at 11:04 am

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