My love for the Western Ghats of India is no secret. The temperate weather all-year-round, the winding roads along the lush green hills, the magical monsoon, the wildlife – the Western Ghats is what dreams are made of. Have you ever thought of embarking on a Western Ghats Road trip spanning the whole stretch of the world’s hottest ecological hotspot? Thanks to my stay in Bangalore, I have visited the different parts of this UNESCO natural heritage site more times than I can count. Every time, I fell in love with it a little bit more. So this post is my tribute to the mesmerizing landscape that inspired the travel writer in me. I have a disclaimer to make if it’s not clear already. I have never been on this week-long road trip or any such long road trip before. But I have been to many (a lot) of these road trips on an extended weekend, enough to select the best for what I would call the Western Ghats Dream Route.
The Western Ghats is the name given to the Sahyadri Mountain range, which happens to be the oldest mountain range in India. This 1600 km long mountain range that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula. With over 300 endangered species of flora and fauna speckled over an area of 14000 square kilometers, the Western Ghats is one of the world’s eight “hottest biodiversity hot-spots”. Another name given to the Sahyadri Mountains is “the Great Escarpment of India”. Geographically, the Western Ghats start from Dang region in Maharashtra and ends at Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India.
Unfortunately, this amazing region was exploited first by mass deforestation under the British government and later by illegal mining. It was declared an ecological hotspot in 1988 through the efforts of ecologist Norman Myers. In 2012, 39 sites of Western Ghats across Maharashtra, were awarded the status of UNESCO world heritage site. Following this, there was increased awareness and measures taken by environmentalists to protect the mountains and wildlife. The ecosystem of the Western Ghats regulates the monsoon pattern of the country and the climate of the Indian peninsula. So next time you plan a trip to India, do not restrict yourself to the Taj Mahal and palaces, come down south and take a road trip across the Western Ghats.
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Total distance -1295 km. Route.
The Western Ghats start from Maharashtra and there are some pretty spectacular spots there. However, this itinerary is designed especially for the best 7-day road trip, so I had to exclude them. I would give a special mention of the Kaas plateau of Satara, Maharashtra which is just one of its kind and still on my bucket-list. The plateau is filled with blossoms during monsoon, from June to early September. Its floral biodiversity makes it one of the 39 heritage sites in the Western Ghats. If you plan to start from Mumbai, you may do a trip to the Kaas Plateau and then take a train to Goa before embarking on this road trip.
This itinerary will take you through two of the tallest waterfalls in India, multiple wildlife reserves, the amazing Konkan coast, grasslands, tea gardens, spice plantations among the many natural wonders. You will also come across several hill-forts, ancient temples, monasteries, and churches. Are you excited about the drive now?
Discover a different face of India’s most famous hippie destination, the beach paradise called Goa. Mollem is a small town in Goa near two beautiful forests – the Mollem wildlife sanctuary and the Bhagwan Mahavir National Park. Together they are home to some 722 species of wild plants and a variety of animals and birds. The biggest attraction of the Mahavir National Park is the Dudhsagar falls, the water of which is considered holy by the locals. You can see it from the Mumbai-Goa express train that runs on the bridge across the waterfall or avail a jeep safari into the forests. If you have time you can go for a private spice plantation tour here or simply save that for the rest of your trip.
Related: 3-day itinerary for Goa
Compare prices for hotels and resorts near Dudhsagar Falls on Hotels Combined. It is a hotel aggregator site which I have just started using to compare hotel prices across multiple sites like Booking, Agoda etc.
Next morning, have a great Goan breakfast and set off for a drive from Sonalium, Goa to Karwar in coastal Karnataka. You will come across some beautiful white churches of South Goa on your way to Karnataka. You can drive about 260 km straight to the Sharavati Valley of Karnataka or give in to the temptation to stay at Karwar or Gokarna for one night. The long drive will take you along the mesmerizing Konkan coast with the Green Mountains on your left and the Arabian sea on your right. I would suggest you stay near the Devbagh beach resort to experience the tranquil beauty that inspired the poetic genius Rabindranath Tagore in his youth. You can visit the Indian Naval Museum and a Shivaji fort during the day and relax at the Tagore beach in the evening.
Check Hotels in Karwar on HotelsCombined.
It will take you about 4 hours to drive from Karwar to the Jog Falls, and a little lesser if you chose to stay at Gokarna instead. If you start at say 10 am after a heavy brunch, you will reach the Jog Falls at 2 pm. Watch one of the tallest cascades in India from the viewpoint and take a boat ride in the golden waters of Honnemaradu lake. Otherwise, you can skip the Honnemaradu Lake and head straight to Agumbe which is 147 km away from Jog Falls. At 825 meters above the sea level, Agumbe is an ecological spot famous for sunset. I missed Agumbe on my trip to Shimoga last year, but I can’t stop talking about how beautiful the lakes of Shimoga were. So if you want to drive a little less and relax at the Honnemaradu lake, you wouldn’t regret.
Related: Trip to Shimoga and Jog Falls
Check hotels near Jog Falls.
Coorg is often called the Scotland of south India because of the vast grasslands, misty mountains and temperate climate. Coorg is quite a huge district of Karnataka which earlier used to be a separate state. There are two major towns where you can stay in Coorg – Madikeri or Virajpet. If you have only half a day at Coorg, I will recommend you to stay in Madikeri, as you can see check out some of the best attractions within a small radius. Start with Abbey Falls, then visit the coffee estate and then walk into the Madikeri Fort. Watch the sunset from Raja’s seat to make up for the sunset point at Agumbe. If you have time, you can drive 35 km to the famous Namdroling monastery at Bylapkuppe before you retire at the Madikeri Fort. Bylakuppe is a mini-Tibet in South India.
Check hotels in Madikeri.
Waterfalls, hills, and sea being done, it’s time to experience the real wildlife of Western Ghats. Bandipur, Nagarhole (also in Karnataka), Wayanad (Kerala) and Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu) are four interconnected national parks which the largest Tiger Zone of India both by area and by number (an estimated 570 tigers in the zone, most of which is in Karnataka). In order to protect wildlife, connecting roads are narrow and transport is highly regulated. You can visit any of these national parks and go on a jeep safari to see leopards, black panthers, tigers, spotted deer, sambar, elephants, peafowls and many more exotic wild creatures.
Related: Bandipur tiger safari
Check hotels in Bandipur
From Bandipur, you can visit one of the best hill stations of Tamil Nadu -Ooty, Coonoor or Kodaikanal. I am fortunate to have visited all of them but my favorite is Kodaikanal. Nestled in the Palani hills, Kodaikanal stands at a height of almost 2200 meters above sea level. Due to this elevation, you can enjoy cool climate and pure air throughout the year at Kodaikanal. It is 314 km away from Bandipur. Start early so that you can reach Kodaikanal by 5 pm. What you can enjoy now is an evening walk at the famous Croakers walk and the scenic Mannavanur Lake.
Next morning, visit the beautiful Pine forest of Kodaikanal before driving towards our last destination of the Western Ghats road trip – Munnar.
Check hotels in Kodaikanal.
Save the best for the last they say. So there is no better way to end the road trip than with a scenic drive along the rolling hills of Munnar. Can I just say once and for all that Munnar is the most beautiful hill station in South India? Wherever you look you can see lush greenery – either forests or tea gardens. stay in Munnar for at least for one full day to experience the beauty of nature. Walk into any of the tea gardens, visit the Matupetty dam and go kayaking to watch the elephants at Anairankal Park.
Munnar is beautiful all year round but due to its temperate weather, it is a great summer destination in India.
Related: Monsoon in Munnar
Check hotels in Munnar.
If you have another day in Munnar you can do a half-day trip to the highest tea estate and tea factory in the world, the Kolukkumalai tea estate. Taste the orange pekoe tea at the highest tea estate of the world while watching the clouds at nose level.
One of the reasons why I recommend the Western Ghats road trip so much is because the roads are pretty awesome. And remember that you can’t say that for the roads of India in general. In fact, in my personal experience, the road to all the places I mentioned in the itinerary was better than most of the city roads. Even when we went to Munnar last November after the flood, the road was quite okay, except specific areas where rock excavation was going on.
Having said all that, you will still be driving in the hills, sometimes through really narrow bends, lots of hairpin turns and high altitudes. To add to that, you may encounter some of the worst drivers on the way. So here are a few tips you should keep in mind. I will publish a detailed post about driving tips in the Western Ghats, but these are some basic thumb-rules.
Rent a self-drive car from Myles.
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The Western Ghats of India is truly special, just like the great Himalayas of the north, the Sundarban Delta of the east and the Rann of Kutch in the west. Personally, I don’t understand this extravagance in creating new landmarks for tourism like the statue of unity, when there is so much already to preserve. From palaces of Rajasthan to the hill forts of Western Ghats, from the Mughal Magnificence in the north to the Hoysala architecture of the south, India is a country loaded with natural and architectural wonders. The illegal mining in the forests of Goa has caused great hazards for the multitude of rare species which thrived there. Recently there are demands of widening roads of Bandipur which will lead to further destruction of wildlife. Irresponsible tourists often cause forest fires in the humid forests which are not prone to natural fires. It pains me to see plastic bottles littered in the most beautiful places of Western Ghats, wherever there are more tourists. The same reason why I included slightly offbeat places in this itinerary, most of which are highly regulated.
Can we not invest in preserving this glorious gift of God instead? I don’t know if I can make the government channel their resources more into preservation than into the creation of new tourism interests. But through this blog, I will continue my endeavor of raising awareness for responsible tourism. Have you been on a road trip in the Western Ghats? What is your favorite place? Tell me in the comment section.
Hey Sinjana, this is awesome! I had never thought of a week long road trip on the western ghats. To me it always meant the drive between Pune and Mumbai. I’d love to do this trip sometime and your post perfect for it.
Wow that was quite a drive..I have visited these places individually but never at one go..I love long drives and would love to hit the roads
The Kaas Plateau will its abundance of wildflowers looks magical! Thanks for the itinerary…we’d love to try this route.
I love road trips! Never really considered doing one in India, but it’s definitely on my list now. Such an awesome post!
Your guide has made my road trip through Western Ghats easy. Thanks for the effort and helping fellow travellers. Cheers
I have done this stretch in bits and pieces and yes, loved it too. I want to now do the Konkan side above Goa towards Ratnagiri and further down till Diu. I have heard that it is incredibly beautiful. In the stretch you did, as you hit Honnavar near Jog Falls, there is a place called Apsarakonda that is absolutely gorgeous. The next time if you get here, you should try that. Loved reading through your journey and seeing the lovely pics.
Western Ghats looks amazing. Never heard of it before your post. Love to go, especially to tiger reserve.
I am from Maharashtra and am always been in love with the western ghats. Especially in the rains when the greenery comes alive. Jog falls, Coorg, Kodaikanal are magical.. The best trip I ever had was to Coorg.
Your road trip sure sounds like a fruitful one! The scenery is amazing, especially those at Jog falls. The tiger reserve also seems like a wonderful (albeit heart-stopping) experience.
I love the idea that you’ve turned your travels into a road trip, that’s such a great idea. I absolutely love waterfalls, and feel like I could sit and listen to one all day long. Your waterfall recommendations would be on my list for sure. Are these areas family-friendly?
I’ve never heard of the western ghats of India until now. There are some incredible places to visit on the way; Jog Falls is particularly beautiful as is Munnar and all that green! I’m also intrigued by Coorg, the Scotland of India, it sounds amazing.
That’s like India in a nutshell! It seems to cover most of the things tourist should see. I think I would love to get an overview of India like that, because I have never been there
hi, this looks like so much fun. We LOVE a road trip and whenever we can, this is the way we travel. Ho safe is it with kids. Sorry but never have been to India but this looks so beautiful and quite family friendly. Would love to see the tigers for sure.
In 2017 we made it to Munnar but we should have travelled further. The Western Ghats look beautiful. I enjoy waterfalls and visiting Jog Falls is now high on my list when I next travel to India. Thanks for highlighting this area.
What a great trip! I’d love to see the sunset at the “Scotland of India” and that Tiger reserve seems like an awesome experience too! Although I’m curious if there have been any fatalities there. hehe
Wow, what an incredible adventure! I’m coming to India next month and will definitely consider taking this route
This looks amazing post. I’ve been till Mumbai so far in Southern India but I’m planning to visit Coorg first.
Super cool article. Western ghats are always open for the love of roads and the view that it gives out cannot be surpassed. I have ridden to jog falls, munnar, bandipur and coorg as listed and to be honest it just remembered me my days riding through those ghat sections while reading. Thanks for sharing.
This looks an amazing Indian itinerary. I love it when people do all the hard work for me lol. And if I came as close to a tiger as in that photo, my life would be complete:)
This is a beautiful part of India. I have seen the Dudhsagar Falls from the train and would have loved to have had the time to explore further, they were stunning
I love the Western Ghats and it is good that you shared an amazing itinerary. I did this trip from Gujarat when I was in High school but till Mangalore and till there all was very beautiful. But now I am again thinking to take my kids with all reference points listed in your post. My favorite location is driving through Konkan coast.
I always got through pictures first. Some may call it a bad habit and say that it is unfair to judge a post by the photos. Sorry, I can’t help it. The tiger purposefully moving along the road certainly caught enough of my attention to raise curiosity about what’s going on there. More I read more I realized that sooner or later I have to visit India in general and Goa in particular. Waterfalls are my weakness. Whenever I go, I try to look for them. Hence, the Jog Falls found their way on my virtual bucket list. The only thing that’s left is to actually schedule a trip.
This looks and sounds like an epic road trip. We love road trips and this would be right up our streets. The waterfalls look spectacular and ending the trip by the tea plantations would suit me down to the ground.
I have always dreamt of doing this long trip visiting all that the Western Ghats has to offer. Have visited Coorg, Goa and Udupi separately but would love to do this stretch all-together again. Thanks for attaching the road map. This will help a lot in planning out the route
This is definitely one of the most elaborate posts that I have read on Western Ghats. I felt nostalgic too to see some of the places in Goa and Kerala and in Maharashtra. Western Ghats are rightly the hotbed for variety of flora, fauna, adventure activities and more. And road trips are the best way to explore them. I did no know hat Sahyadri Mountains are also called “the Great Escarpment of India”. Thanks for sharing that.
I have had a chance to visit some parts of the Western Ghat when I was based in India and must say a lot on offer here. There is so much to see and do from mountains to beaches and wildlife. I was not aware that the Sahyadri Mountain range is the oldest mountain range in India so some great learning here thanks. I particularly like the Konkan coast and the food around the area as well. Overall it seems to be a great ideas to drive down this route and have a great few days.