The Western Ghat mountains shadow India’s southwest coast, extending for a thousand miles from Gujarat down to the southern tip of Kerala. Despite running through one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, the range is amazingly empty and wild for much of its course. There are good reasons for this. In the far north, where the mountains are known as the Sayadhris, the uplands are parched and uncultivable; while in the south, the forests, tea and coffee plantations cloaking the lush, subtropical slopes are strictly off limits to visitors, allowing wildlife free rein.
I’d crossed the Ghats many times on updating trips for the Rough Guide to India but never really explored their remotest corners until 2010–2014, when I made a series of three trips to different regions, beginning with the striking, twin-peaked massif of Mangi Tungi on the Maharastra-Gujarat border.
Despite appearing deserted, the mountains in this rugged and remote district are in fact riddled with ancient temples, pilgrimage paths and astonishing Maratha forts which locals still like to visit on weekends. I also came across numerous villages many hours walk from the nearest roads, where Adivasi (‘tribal’) people survived from monsoon crops and honey gathering.
Further south, the Ghats assume immense proportions as they march along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, creating a corridor of wild land high above the surrounding tea estates. One of the most beautiful corners is the valley dividing Top Station from Kolukkumalai where peninsula India’s second highest mountain – Meeshapulimalai – rises imperiously above patches of shola forest and grasslands roamed by elephants, tigers and rare Nilgiri langur monkeys.
The following selection also includes some shots of, and from, the wonderful little hill station of Matheran just outside Mumbai, which is one of the unsung gems of India.