THENI: "Welcome to Kurangani Hills, the Western Ghats for a glimpse on the forces of Nature," says a welcome signboard ahead of the pristine mountain ranges near here.
It is an irony that it is the force of nature, a wild fire, that snuffed out ten lives in the high hill ranges on the Western Ghats in this picturesque district, located over 500 kms from state capital Chennai and about 30 km from here.
Seven women and three men, part of a trekking expedition, were killed in the devastating forest fire in the hills yesterday.
Nestled atop the Western Ghats, Kurangani Hill ranges is a nature lover's paradise albeit not as popular as Kodaikanal or Udhagamandalam (Ooty) in Tamil Nadu.
With its, waterfalls, caves and rock crevices, diverse flora and fauna, tea, coffee and cardamom estates Kurangani dotted by remote tribal hamlets is truly a paradise for trekkers.
Kurangani hills, which has been attracting adventure tourists, including from overseas, is known for its quickly changing weather, and strong winds.
The hill ranges, with a peak altitude of around 8,000 metres, have several trekking trails to destination like Meeshapulimala, Top Station and Rhodo Valley.
Nearby Kolukkumalai hills is stated to be the home to highest tea estate in the world located at an altitude close to 8,000 feet, according to Tamil Nadu 'favtourism' blog.
It roughly takes about four to five hours to complete the trek from Kurangani village, which is at the foothill, to reach the Top Station, whereas two-and-a-half hours are enough for the return trip, it says.
Bordering Kerala, Theni district, surrounded by the Western Ghats, is home to about 35,481 hectares of reserve and 31,094 of unclassified forest.
The district is also a favourite destination for film shoots.
According to government data, Theni is also a key route for the nature lovers to important tourist destinations like Munnar and Thekkadi in neighbouring Kerala.
Coffee seeds, cardamom, and mango, are among the main produce of the district.
Several Tamil films including Myna and Kumki were shot on the Kurangani hills.
According to Green, an NGO working in the region on "Endogenous Spices Tourism Project," Kurangani is unexploited and unexplored.
"Kurangani region is a sea of ridges and mountain peaks separated by valleys filled with virgin forests of silver oak and eucalyptus and various plantations like tea, coffee and cardamom.
" Trekking trails are available from Kurangani to Top Station (16 Kms) via Central Station and Muthuvakkudi, it says adding soaring mountain peaks en route Top Station is a "quintessence of the forces of nature.
" Also, several endemic species are found in the shoal forest near the Central Station, its website says.
The NGO says that the region is popular for its wonderful faunal diversity.
A vast spectrum of birdlife and other biodiversity is found in Central Station, Top Station and in the mountain ledges.
The common animals that inhabit this mountainous area are Nillgiri langur, lion tailed macaque, common monkeys, and panthers.
They are found in the Central and Top Station areas.
Western Ghats is on the world heritage list and according to UNESCO website, the ghats are "Older than the Himalaya mountains.
The mountain chain of the Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes.
The sites high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern.