The Dream Western Ghats Road Trip (With Map)
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.
Western Ghats of India – an introduction
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 the Dang region in Maharashtra and end 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.
Check out this book by a retired Forest Officer to learn more about it.
Western Ghats Road Trip – 7-day itinerary
So let’s chalk out our Western Ghats itinerary covering my favorite spots in 7 days. Problem is, I just have too many favorites and just 7 days. So this is truly more about the journey than each destination. You can shorten it or extend your stay at one or more places.
- Day 1 – Mollem and Dudhsagar Falls of Goa
- Day 2 – Drive through the Konkan Coast
- Day 3- Explore the Sharavati valley
- Day 4 – Coorg
- Day 5 – Bandipur/ Mudumalai Tiger Safari
- Day 6– Kodaikanal
- Day 7– Munnar
Save the western ghats road map below. Though I imagine this as a long drive it could also be a route for Western Ghats bike trip.
Use Myles to rent self-drive cars in India.
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?
Day1 – The other side of Goa
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 take 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.
Day2- Drive through the Konkan Coast
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.
Day 3: Drive to Jog Falls and Honnemaradu
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 the Agumbe rainforest 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. This can be your starting point for a 5-day western ghats road trip from Bangalore. Just follow the same route from Day 3 to Day 8.
Related: Trip to Shimoga and Jog Falls
Check hotels near Jog Falls.
Day 4 – Drive to Madikeri, Coorg
Coorg is often called the Scotland of South India because of the vast grasslands, misty mountains and temperate climate. Coorg is 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.
You can also choose Chikmagalur as a stop for the day instead of Coorg.Check hotels in Madikeri
Check hotels in Madikeri.
Day 5: Drive to Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka
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
Day 6: Drive to Kodaikanal
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 the 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 Coakers walk and other parks in Kodaikanal. Read more about places to visit in Kodaikanal.
Day 7: Drive to Munnar, Kerala
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 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.
Check hotels in Munnar.
Day 8 (optional): Kolukkumalai
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 the nose level.
Some Quick Driving Tips for the Western Ghats
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 on the Western Ghats roads, but these are some basic thumb-rules.
- Avoid driving in the hills in the dark.
- It’s very important to adjust your seat so that you don’t have too much of a blind spot on the right-hand side. In India, you drive on the right.
- Have ample legroom so that you can fully engage the clutch whenever required.
- Maintain your lane in the hills, but always keep about 4ft-5ft space on the left when you are taking a turn.
- Respect the trucks – they are the king of roads. Respect all large commercial vehicles in general. They are usually the most disciplined drivers on the road.
- Most importantly, never drink and drive.
Rent a self-drive car from Myles.
Read more about the Bountiful Western Ghats of India
Interested to know more about the world’s hottest ecological hotspot? Here are some incredible books that you can read. You can get the Kindle version of these books within Rs. 200 (that’s less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks).
- The Western Ghats and the Bounteous Services Showered on the Planet
- The Road to Puthukkad – The Birth of Tea Estate in South written by Gordon Alexander, A British officer who spent 13 years in the Western Ghats of India
- Whispers from the wild – An invaluable collection of unpublished work and photographs of renowned naturalist ERC Davidar who made remarkable contributions to the studies of Western Ghats of India.
Western Ghats Road Trip – Some closing thoughts
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I loved reliving the moments while I wrote. If you liked it, don’t forget to share it with your friends. You can pin the image below to save it for later and subscribe for weekly post alerts.
The Western Ghats of India is truly special. Just like the great Himalayas of the north, the Sundarban Delta of the East and the Thar Desert 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 that 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.