The Nilgiris District

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The Nilgiris district
நீலகிரி மாவட்டம்
Nilagiri Mavattam
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway
Location in Tamil Nadu, India
Location in Tamil Nadu, India
Coordinates: 11°25′N 76°41′E / 11.417°N 76.683°E / 11.417; 76.683Coordinates: 11°25′N 76°41′E / 11.417°N 76.683°E / 11.417; 76.683
Country India
State Tamil Nadu
District Nilgiris
Established February 1882
Headquarters Udhagamandalam
Talukas Udhagamandalam, Coonoor, Kundah, Kotagiri, Gudalur, Pandalur
 • Collector & District Magistrate Dr P Shankar IAS
 • District 2,565 km2 (990 sq mi)
Elevation 2,789 m (9,150 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
 • District 735,394
 • Density 421.97/km2 (1,092.9/sq mi)
 • Metro 454,609
 • Official Tamil
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)
PIN 643001
Telephone code 0423
ISO 3166 code [[ISO 3166-2:IN|]]
Vehicle registration TN-43
Coastline 0 kilometres (0 mi)
Largest city Udhagamandalam
Sex ratio M-49.6%/F-50.4% ?/?
Literacy 80.01%%
Legislature type elected
Legislature Strength 3
Precipitation 3,520.8 millimetres (138.61 in)
Avg. annual temperature −6 °C (21 °F)
Avg. summer temperature 6 °C (43 °F)
Avg. winter temperature −12 °C (10 °F)

The Nilgiris District is in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Nilgiri (English: Blue Mountains) is also the name given to a range of mountains spread across the division between the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The Nilgiri Hills are part of a larger mountain chain known as the Western Ghats. Their highest point is the mountain of Doddabetta, height 2,633 m. The small district is mainly contained within this mountain range, with its headquarters at Ooty (Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam). It ranked first in a comprehensive Economic Environment index ranking districts in Tamil Nadu (not including Chennai) prepared by the Institute for Financial Management and Research in August 2009.[1] As of 2011, the Nilgiris district had a population of 735,394 with a sex-ratio of 1,042 females for every 1,000 males.


The Nilgiri hills have a history going back several centuries. They were probably called the Blue Mountains because of the widespread blue Strobilanthes flower, or perhaps the smoky haze enveloping the area.

A 1917 photo of Eucalyptus globulus plantation

It was originally tribal land that was occupied by the Todas, Badagas, Kotas, Kurumbas and Irulas. The lower Wynaad plateau in the west of the district had a different tribal population. Todas and Kotas were widespread across the Nilgiri plateau. The Badagas are a major non-tribal group, the largest indigenous group in the Nilgiris District. Unlike elsewhere in the country, no historical evidence is found of a state on the Nilgiris, or that it was anciently part of any kingdom or empire: it was originally a tribal land. Todas had hamlets (“mund”) across most of the plateau.The Kotas lived in seven dispersed villages ("kokal"). The Badagas had 435 villages ("hatti”) in central and eastern parts of the plateau, but they and the Todas had only a few hamlets on the lower Wynaad plateau and the nearby Biligiri Rangan hills. The Badagas have numbered about 135,000 in recent decades (18% of the District population), while the Todas are barely 1,500 and the Kotas just over 2,000. The hills were developed rapidly and peaceably under the British, beginning in 1819. There were then forty mud-forts in the area, but all were disused.[2] During the British raj Ooty (the popular name for Ootacamund) served as the summer capital of the Madras Presidency from 1870 onwards. The several District Gazetteers published by the Government (1880, 1908, 1995) were reliable reports on the Nilgiris, its economy, demography and culture, but have to some extent been superseded by the Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills (2012). According to the Bibliography of publications on just this one district,[3] it is probably the most heavily studied rural area anywhere in India, with close to 7,000 items in that list. Over 120 doctoral and master's theses have been written on this one district, in the natural and human sciences. This huge output was largely the work of Indian and foreign scholars, only recently augmented by numerous publications by local people. Although over a dozen languages are spoken in the Nilgiris, there was no literacy among indigenes until German and Swiss missionaries opened schools for boys and girls in a number of Badaga villages beginning in 1847. Ten of the Dravidian languages found only here have now been studied in great detail by professional linguists. Local placenames are derived mainly from the dominant Badagu language, e.g., Doddabetta, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Gudaluru, Kunda, etc., but Ootacamund is of Toda origin and Udagamandalam is a very recent tamilization of it. Before British-owned tea and coffee plantations were established, the dominant plateau landholders were Todas, Kotas and Badagas, but with other janmis in the Wynaad. A great deal of linguistic and other cultural evidence[4] indicates, though, that the Badagas have lived in the area for some four centuries, having for the most part migrated during 1565-1617 from a block of villages near Nanjangud in southern Mysore (now Karnataka), though some came later, and Badaga elders have regularly stated this as fact. After all, their language is very close to Kannada. During that same period the first European set foot on the hills: an Italian priest named Fenicio who came to explore them. He interviewed people calling themselves Toda and Badega, the latter occupying just three villages at that time.[5] After him the Europeans in India ignored the Ghats for some two centuries, until Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, conducted a short military operation in the Wynaad in 1800.

During 1804-1818 several East India Company personnel briefly visited parts of the district.[6] More persistent was John Sullivan, then the Collector of Coimbatore, just south of the Nilgiris, who sent two surveyors to make a comprehensive study of the hills. They reached the site of Ootacamund, but failed to see the complete plateau. These two men were W. Keys and C. McMahon, and their mission (1812) was significant because they were the first British to make a cursory survey of the Nilgiri plateau and produce a map. A more detailed exploration, however, was done by J.C. Whish, N.W. Kindersley and Mohammed Rifash Obaidullah for the Madras Civil Service, who made a survey in 1818 and then reported back that they had discovered "the existence of a tableland possessing a European climate"[7]

John Sullivan, the Collector of Coimbatore, became the first European resident when he went up the next year and built himself a home. He also reported to the Madras Government on the mildness of the climate.[8] Europeans soon started settling down here or using the plateau as a summer resort and a home for retirees. In 1870 the practice of moving the key government personnel to the hills during summer months also began. By the end of the 19th century, the hills were completely accessible with the laying of several Ghat roads and the railway line.

In the later 19th century, when the British Straits Settlement shipped Chinese convicts to be jailed in India, some of these men were settled on the Nilgiri plateau near Naduvattam, where they married Tamil Paraiyan women, and had mixed children with them. One Chinese gardener was critical to the district's future, however, for he worked with Margaret B.L. Cockburn in Aruvenu, near Kotagiri, to open the first Nilgiri tea plantation, Allport's, in 1863. Her father, Montague D. Cockburn, had already opened the first coffee plantation there just after 1830.[9]

Geography and climate[edit]

The district has an area of 2,552.50 km2.[10] The district is basically a hilly region, lying at an elevation of 1000 to 2,600 meters above MSL, and divided between the Nilgiri plateau and the lower, smaller Wynaad plateau. The district lies at the juncture of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats. Its latitudinal and longitudinal location is 130 km (Latitude : 11°12 N to 11°37 N) by 185 km (Longitude : 76°30 E to 76°55 E). The district is bounded by Chamarajnagar district of Karnataka to the North, and Wayanad, Malappuram and Palakkad districts of Kerala to the West, Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu to the South, and Erode district of Tamil Nadu to the East. In this district the topography is rolling, with steep escarpments; about 60% of the cultivable land is slopes ranging from 16° to 35°. The rolling hills of the Downs look quite similar to the Downs in southern England, and were formerly used for such activities as hunting and picnicking.

The Nilgiris was preferred by the British for its 'English-like' climate

The elevation of the Nilgiris results in a much cooler and wetter climate than the surrounding plains, so the area is popular as a comfortable retreat and good for tea cultivation. During summer the temperature reaches a maximum of 25 °C and a minimum of 10 °C. During winter the temperature maximum is 20 °C and the minimum 0 °C.[11] The district regularly receives rain during both the Southwest Monsoon and the Northeast Monsoon. The entire Gudalur and Pandalur, Kundah Taluks and parts of Udhagamandalam Taluk get rain from the Southwest Monsoon while part of Udhagamandalam Taluk and the entire Coonoor and Kotagiri Taluks get rains of the Northeast Monsoon. There are 16 rainfall registering stations in the district, and the average annual rainfall of the district is 1,920.80 mm.

The principal town of the area is Ootacamund, Ooty or Udhagamandalam, the district headquarters. It has several buildings which look very British, particularly the churches, many of them designed by the architect Robert F. Chisholm.[12] There is even a road junction known as Charing Cross (as in London and Lahore). The other main towns in the Nilgiris are Coonoor, Kotagiri, Gudalur and Wellington. Several tourist spots in Coonoor include Lambs Rock and Sims Park, where a Fruit Show is held during each summer. Ooty too has a flower show then.

District administration[edit]

The Nilgiris District has been headed by a government-appointed Collector since 1868. The first was James W. Breeks, who was called Commissioner, and since him there have been over a hundred successors. All were responsible for overseeing the various Departments active within the District. The latter comprises six taluks; viz., Ootacamund, Kundah, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Gudalur and Pandalur. These are divided among four Panchayat Unions; viz., Udhagamandalam, Coonoor, Kotagiri and Gudalur, besides two Municipalities, Wellington Cantonment and Aruvankadu Township. The District consists of 56 Revenue Villages and 15 Revenue Firkas. There are two Revenue Divisions here, Coonoor and Gudalur. For local concerns the Nilgiris also has 35 Village Panchayats and 13 Town Panchayats.[13]


Hut of Toda tribe in the Nilgiris
A tea picker in the Nilgiris

According to the 2011 census, the Nilgiris district had a population of 735,394 with a sex-ratio of 1,042 females for every 1,000 males, much above the national average of 929 females.[14] A total of 66,799 people were under the age of six, 33,648 males and 33,151 females. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes accounted for 32.08% and 4.46% of the population respectively. The average literacy of the district was 77.46%, as compared to the national average of 72.99%.[14] The district had a total of 197,653 households. There were a total of 349,974 workers, comprising 14,592 cultivators, 71,738 agricultural labourers, 3,019 in household industries, 229,575 other workers, 31,050 marginal workers, 1,053 marginal cultivators, 7,362 marginal agricultural labourers, 876 marginal workers in household industries and 21,759 other marginal workers.[1]

Anthropologists, who have worked intensively in this district for the past 140 years, recognize 15 tribes living here, whose origins are uncertain as they were traditionally nonliterate. The best-known of these are the Toda and Kota, whose culture is based upon buffalo, and whose red, black and white embroidered shawls, and silver jewelry are much sought after.[15] The district is also home to the Kurumba, Irula, Paniyan and Kattunaicken or Nayaka, as well as the Badagas.[16]

In the 2001 India Census, Hindus formed the majority of the population (78.60%), followed by Christians (11.45%), Muslims (9.55%) and others (0.4%).[17]


Tamil is today the principal language spoken in the Nilgiris, but many thousands speak and understand English too. Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi and Hindi are also used to an extent. The Nilgiris is also home to a dozen tribal languages, all Dravidian. In earlier times Badagu was the lingua franca of the area. This language, which has no script, is spoken by about 135,000 Badagas in some 432 villages here.[18]

Basic infrastructure[edit]


The Nagapattinam–Gudalur National Highway passes through this district. The Nilgiri Ghat Roads link Nilgiris with nearby cities in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. All the taluks are connected with major roads. Ooty bus stand serves as the central bus stand for the district along with Municipal Bus Stand, Coonoor (built in 1960). Several crucial Ghat roads were cut in the 19th century.[19] The village roads are maintained by the Panchayat Union. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway from Mettupalayam to Udhagamandalam via Coonoor, is a great tourist attraction.[20] It was used in the film A Passage to India as the railway to the caves. It is a Swiss-designed rack railway as far as Coonoor, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[21] It services many of the more heavily populated areas of the district including Coonoor, Wellington, Aruvankadu, Ketti, Lovedale and Ooty. There is no seaport or airport in the district: the nearest airport is Coimbatore.


There are 10 Hydel Power Houses (hydroelectric) in this district.[22]

  1. Pykara Power House – Location, Pykara
  2. Pykara Micro Power House – Location, Pykara
  3. Moyar Power House – Location, Moyar River
  4. Kundah Power House I – Location, Kundah
  5. Kundah Power House II – Location, Ketti
  6. Kundah Power House III – Location, Pillur
  7. Kundah Power House IV – Location, Paralli
  8. Kundah Power House V – Location, Avalanche
  9. Kundah Power House VI – Location, Kattukuppam (Emerald)
  10. Kateri hydro-electric system – Location, Kateri

Health infrastructure[edit]

There are one District Headquarters Government Hospital, 5 Taluk Hospitals, 28 Primary Health Centres, 194 Health Sub-Centres and 5 Plague circles in the district.


A tea factory next to a tea plantation

The Nilgiris District is basically a horticulture district, and its economy depends largely upon the success or failure of crops like potato, cabbage, carrot, tea, coffee, spices and fruits. The main cultivation is plantation crops, viz., tea and coffee, but with some cardamom, pepper and rubber too. Tea grows at elevations of 1,000 to over 2,500 metres.[23] The area also produces Eucalyptus oil and temperate-zone vegetables. Potato and other vegetables are raised throughout Udhagamandalam and Coonoor Taluks. Paddy, ginger, pepper and rubber are grown in Gudalur and Pandalur Taluks. Paddy is also grown in the Thengumarahada area in Kotagiri Taluk. Besides these crops, millets, wheat, fruit and vegetables, etc., are also found throughout the district. There are no irrigation schemes here. The crops are mainly rain-fed. Check dams have been constructed wherever possible to exploit natural springs.


Sigur Ghat
A view of the Nilgiri hills

Two ecoregions cover portions of the Nilgiris. The South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests lie between 250 and 1000 meters elevation. These forests extend south along the Western Ghats range to the southern tip of India, and are dominated by a diverse assemblage of trees, many of them deciduous during the winter and spring dry season. These forests are home to the largest herd of Asian elephants in India, who range from the Nilgiris across towards the Eastern Ghats. The Nilgiris and the Southwestern Ghats are also one of the most important tiger habitats left in India.

The South Western Ghats montane rain forests ecoregion covers the portion of the range above 1000 meters elevation. These evergreen rain forests are extremely diverse. Above 1500 meters elevation, the evergreen forests begin to give way to stunted forests, locally called sholas, which are interspersed with open grassland[24] The high grasslands are home to the endangered Nilgiri tahr, which resembles a stocky goat with curved horns. The Nilgiri tahrs are found only in the montane grasslands of the Southwestern Ghats, and number barely 2000 individuals.

Nilgiri tahr in the Nilgiris

Three national parks protect portions of the Nilgiris. Mudumalai National Park lies in the northern part of the range where Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu meet, and covers an area of 321 km2. Mukurthi National Park lies in the southwest of the range, in Kerala, and covers an area of 78.5 km2, which includes intact shola-grassland mosaic, a habitat for the Nilgiri tahr. Silent Valley National Park is just to the south and contiguous with these two parks, and covers an area of 89.52 km2. Outside these parks much of the native forest has been cleared for grazing cattle, or has been encroached upon or replaced by plantations of tea, eucalyptus, cinchona and acacia. The entire range, together with portions of the Western Ghats to the northwest and southwest, was included in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in 1986, India's first biosphere reserve. In January 2010, the Nilgiri Declaration set out a wide range environmental and sustainable development goals to be reached by 2015. In January 2010, the Nilgiri Declaration set out a wide range environmental and sustainable development goals to be reached by 2015.

The region has also given its name to a number of bird species, including the Nilgiri pipit, Nilgiri woodpigeon and Nilgiri blackbird.


Botanical garden at Ooty

Tourism is an important source of revenue for the Nilgiris.[25] The district is home to several beautiful hill stations popular with tourists who flock to them during summer. These include Udhagamandalam (district headquarters), Coonoor, Gudalur and Kotagiri. The Nilgiri Mountain Train, popularly known as the Toy Train, attracts tourists as the journey offers spectacular, breathtaking views of the hills and forests. Mudumalai National Park is popular with wildlife enthusiasts, campers and backpackers, though one must always be alert to the wild animals there. The annual flower show organized by the Government of Tamil Nadu at the Botanical Garden in Ooty is a much-awaited event every year, known for its grand display of roses. Nilgiris is renowned for its eucalyptus oil and tea, and also produces bauxite. Some tourists are attracted to study the lifestyles of the various tribes living here or to visit the sprawling tea and vegetable plantations. Other popular tourist destinations in the district are Pykara Waterfalls and the Ooty Lake, Avalanche and Doddabetta peak.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "2011 Census of India" (Excel). Indian government. 16 April 2011.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "2011census" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  2. ^ Hockings, Paul (2013). So Long a Saga: Four centuries of Badaga social history. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 51–67. ISBN 978-93-5098-018-7. 
  3. ^ Hockings, Paul (1996). Bibliographie générale sur les monts Nilgiri de l'Inde du sud 1603-1996. Bordeaux: Dymset. ISBN 2-906621-27-7. 
  4. ^ Hockings, Paul (2013), So Long a Saga: Four centuries of Badaga Social history, New Delhi: Manohar, pp. 13–29 
  5. ^ Paul Hockings, ed. (2012). "Fenicio, Giacomo, S.J.". Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 314–321. ISBN 978-81-7304-893-7. 
  6. ^ Hockings, Paul (2012). "History". Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. p. 422. 
  7. ^ Hockings, Paul, ed. (2012). "Whish, John Clinton, and Nathaniel William Kindersley". Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 989, 991. 
  8. ^ Hockings, Paul, ed. (2012), "Sullivan, John", Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills, New Delhi: Manohar, pp. 881–888 
  9. ^ Mulley, Philip K. (2012). "Cockburn Family". In Paul Hockings. Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 213–214. 
  10. ^ Noble, William, & Paul Hockings (2012). "Nilgiri Hills". In Paul Hockings. Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 646–648. 
  11. ^ Noble, William A. (2012). "Climate". In Paul Hockings. Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 208–211. 
  12. ^ Hockings, Paul, ed. (2012). "Chisholm, Robert Fellowes". Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 189–190. 
  13. ^ "Home: District of The Nilgiris, Tamilnadu, India". 
  14. ^ a b "Census Info 2011 Final population totals". Office of The Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  15. ^ Rivers, W.H.R. (1906). The Todas. London: Macmillan. Walker, Anthony R. (1986). The Toda of South India: a new look. New Delhi: Hindustan Publishing.  Wolf, Richard K. (2005). The Black Cow's Footprint. Delhi: Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 81-7824-126-9. 
  16. ^ Hockings, Paul (2013), So Long a Saga: Four centuries of Badaga social history, New Delhi: Manohar 
  17. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Pilot-Raichoor, Christiane (2012). "Badaga language". In Paul Hockings. Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 97–104. 
  19. ^ Hockings, Paul (2012), "Ghat Roads", Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills, New Delhi: Manohar, pp. 383–387 
  20. ^ Hockings, Paul (2012). "Railway". Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. p. 751. 
  21. ^ "Mountain Railways of India". UNESCO. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  22. ^ Welcome to Nilgiris
  23. ^ Muthiah, S. (2012). "Tea". In Paul Hockings. Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 895–899. 
  24. ^ Davidar, Priya, and Deborah Sutton (2012). "Sholas". In Paul Hockings. Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 818–821. 
  25. ^ Krishnan, Siddharth & Paul Hockings (2012). "Tourism". In Paul Hockings. Encyclopaedia of the Nilgiri Hills. New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 955–959. 

External links[edit]