What is a 'cloud forest'? Simple explainer ahead of Bengaluru's Nandi Hills habba

The vegetation on Nandi Hills, located 4,851 feet above sea level, sees a lot of moisture from the clouds that settle on the hill.
What is a 'cloud forest'? Simple explainer ahead of Bengaluru's Nandi Hills habba
What is a 'cloud forest'? Simple explainer ahead of Bengaluru's Nandi Hills habba
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This weekend, Bengalureans will get to be part of a day-long celebration of Nandi Hills. The government of Karnataka, in collaboration with the tourism department, United Way Bengaluru and Namma Nimma Cycle will celebrate Nandi Habba on March 4, 2018.

"Nandi Habba is a celebration of the iconic Nandi Hills, home to south India’s only cloud forest. It is also a source of history and tradition, dotted as it is with traditional water bodies and historically important structures," the organisers said in a statement.

The activities are aimed at creating awareness among communities about the need to preserve the rich biodiversity and heritage of Nandi Hills.

Cloud forests

"A cloud forest is essentially a montane forest that is usually covered in clouds and the vegetation gets a regular supply of moisture. The trees are typically bedecked in mosses and liverworts – plants that need a lot of moisture. The term is far more popularly applied to the forests on the high Andes and some other parts of the world," explains Shyamal Lakshminarayanan, a Bengaluru-based independent researcher.

These forests are usually at high altitudes where trees will typically show a luxuriant growth of moss, liverworts and other epiphytic growth.

But is Nandi hills a cloud forest?

Around 60 km from Bengaluru, Nandi Hills is a popular spot for tourists and those looking for a quick getaway from the city. The view from the top of the hill, located at a height of 4,851 feet above sea level in Chikkaballapur district, is quite breathtaking.

Experts think that while the phenomenon may be similar, Nandi Hills may not exactly fall in the category of a cloud forest, primarily because of its small area and the lack of research done here.

Delving into the history of Nandi Hills, MB Krishna, an ecologist, says, "The Nandi area was like a scrub before the eighteenth century. From then on, trees were planted on the hills intentionally. Since, it is located 1,000 ft above the surrounding area, clouds tend to settle on the hill top at night. Night dew collects on the leaves, and flows down the stems and bark. The process might be similar, like that of a cloud forest, but on a much smaller scale."

"Any place with trees and hills will have clouds settle on top. I don't think it is exclusive here, but if you take a dry area like this where one hill is jutting out then it may be unusual," he adds.

Cloud forests in India

"Some of the vegetation on the Western Ghats forests in Agumbe, the Nilgiris and the Palani ranges, and the hill forests of northeastern India may well get a good deal of their daily moisture from condensation," Shyamal notes.

However, he adds, dated instruments are unable to record this source of moisture and also not many researchers are interested in studying the phenomena. "Whether these are termed as cloud forests or not is more a matter of convention."

What next?

As the city prepares to celebrate Nandi hills, the discussion must not end here, MB Krishna asserts.

"Can the process be implemented in hills across the peninsula, and should we? Are there seedlings in the forest? Because in any forest, if there are no new seedlings and young trees, it indicates a sorry state. Though this phenomenon similar to a cloud forest has occurred and it is man-made, will it continue the way we are maintaining it? What happens if these existing trees die? Is there a future of Nandi?" he asks.

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