The forest fire occurred in Kurangani village in Tamil Nadu's Theni district. Photograph:( ANI )
"Welcome to Kurangani Hills, the Western Ghats for a glimpse into 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 wildfire, that snuffed out 10 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 on March 11.
The Tamil Nadu government has ordered a probe into the incident.
Nestled atop the Western Ghats, Kurangani Hill range 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 fast-changing weather and strong winds.
The hill ranges, with a peak altitude of around 8,000 metres, have several trekking trails to destinations such as Meeshapulimala, Top Station and Rhodo Valley.
Nearby Kolukkumalai hills are 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 hectares 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 such as 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 Nilgiri 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 site's high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern."