The Nilgiris, which form a part of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve (NBR) in the Western Ghats, is home to moist, evergreen, and montane (shola) tropical forests. The Nilgiris in particular harbour a wealth of flora and fauna; much of which is endemic to the area such as the endangered lion-tailed macaque and the Nilgiri Tahr.
The Nilgiris forest ecosystem is, however, under pressures. Tea and coffee plantations, illegal logging, invasive species, rising populations, and commercial tree plantations with exotics initiated by the Forest Department all contribute to rising instability in the ecology of the region. The NBR also has a significant tribal population, dependent on natural resources for their livelihood; including the only surviving hunter-gatherers of the Indian sub-continent, the Sholanaikans in New Amarambalam.
The NBR includes all the important forest types found in South India, as well as some forest types that only exist within the belt. The types of forest found in the NBR is as follows: Tropical Thorn Forest, Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests, Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests, Tropical Semi Evergreen Forests, Sub Tropical Broad-Leaved Forests, Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests, Southern Montane Wet Temperate Forests, Southern Montane Wet Grasslands and Subtropical Hill Savannas. The sheer variety of flora and fauna in this region make the Niligiris one of India’s ecological treasures, that should be protected and nurtured for generations to come.
Kotagiri is the smallest and oldest of the three popular hill stations in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu, the others being Ooty and Coonoor. Situated at an elevation of 1800 metres (6000 ft), Kotagiri was originally the home of the Kota community, hence the name Kotagiri (mountains of the Kotas). Kotagiri is ranked among the top ten destinations with ideal climatic conditions in the world; surrounded by numerous plantations of tea and coffee, vegetable gardens and native forests, there is never a dearth of things to do or see. Keystone’s campus is situated about 2km from the center of town, on the northern edge of Kotagiri.
The NBR has a large number of indigenous groups, most of them forest dwellers who still practice some traditional hunter-gatherer techniques, such as the communities who practice honey hunting. These distinct ethnic groups have small populations and generally live in geographical concentrations which they have inhabited for thousands of years. It forms home to several Adivasi communities, including the only surviving hunter-gatherers of the Indian Sub-continent – the Sholanaikans of the New Amarambalam area. Apart from the Todas–a well known pastoral group in the upper Nilgiris–other groups include the Paniyas, Irulas, Kurumbas, Kuruchiyans, Mullukurumbas, Adiyans and Alyars. Unique cultural and social characteristics, as well as endemic languages and customs, form some of the distinguishing factors of these groups. Its richness in terms of cultural diversity is nigh-incomparable.