Palakkad (or to call it by it’s previous name, Palghat) is a small (by Indian standards!) town in Kerala, close to the state’s border with Tamil Nadu. This town, famous for its banana chips, also gives its name to one of the more curious features of India’s geographical landscape.
The Western Ghats is a mountain chain that runs for 1,600 kilometres in an almost unbroken line all along the west coast of India. I say, almost, because just outside Palakkad, this range suddenly disappears, to be replaced by what is called the Palakkad gap. At an average elevation of just 140 metres, this gap with a width of around 25 kilometres is really not high enough to be called a pass.
And it’s not that this is pretty much the only such gap in the Western Ghats that makes it a curiosity. It’s also the fact that the gap appears at the very place where this 1,000 mile long chain has its highest peaks. About 80 kilometres to the north of the gap is the 2,637 metre (8,652 feet) high Doddabetta peak. And roughly a similar distance to the south is Annamudi peak. At 2,695 metres (8,842 feet) above sea level, this is the highest peak in India outside of the mighty Himalaya range in the north.
For a very long time, this gap was almost the only way in and out of the state of Kerala by land for the majority of the country. People in the extreme south of the state could travel to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu around the beginning (or end) of the ghats. While people towards the north could travel onwards to Mangalore and Mumbai along the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the Arabian Sea.
The opening up of the Konkan railway in the 1990s has opened up another rail link to the state, but the Palakkad gap continues to be the main channel for the majority of road and rail traffic to enter and exit the state.
I have crossed this gap numerous times (by rail and road), but always in the middle of the night. However, a change in circumstances during my most recent trip to Kerala meant that I had to reschedule my train journey out of Kerala from the original night train to a day train. And this meant that I was finally able to see this curious (and magnificient) sight by the light of day.
A few pictures below. Not the best as these were taken from a moving train, but hopefully it gives a sense of the landscape.