Pachmarhi - New Biosphere Reserve


Areas rich in bio-diversity and encompassing unique and representative ecosystem are identified and designated as Biosphere Reserve by Government of India so as to facilitate conservation of India s immense biological diversity and unique landscapes. The emphasis of the programme is on conservation of landscapes, ecosystem, species and genetic variation, promotion of economic development which is culturally, socially and ecologically sustainable and on providing support for research, monitoring and education related to local, national and international issues.

Looking at the vast natural resources, diverse and rich flora and fauna, unique topography and geographic situation, inhabitation of large tribal population in the State of Madhya Pradesh, there are several potential areas which can be designated as Biosphere Reserve (BR). Pachmarhi area is one of the such sites which has been designated, as Biosphere Reserve by Government of India on 3rd Mach, 1999 on the basis of project document prepared by Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation, an advisory body to the State Government of Madhya Pradesh.

Location and Project Area

The Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve lies in between latitude 20 10 to 22 50' N and 77 45' to 78 56 E longitude and covers part of three civil districts viz. Hoshangabad, Betul and Chhindwara the State. The total area is 4926.28 sq km. It envelops three wildlife conservation units viz. Bori Sanctuary (518.00 sq km), Satpura National Park (524.37 sq km), and Pachmarhi Sanctuary (461.37 sq km). Satpura National Park comprises the core zone and the remaining area of 4501.91 sq km surrounding the core zone serves as buffer zone. The area comprises 511 villages. The altitude varies from 320 to 1385 m. Satpura hill ranges run east to west. The area exhibits variety of geological rock and soil formations. The Pachmarhi BR has typical monsoonic climate with three distinct seasons.

Landuse Pattern

The landuse of the area based on Land Sat Imagery of April 1990 and November-January 1991- 92 comprises forest (65.20%), agriculture (27.7%), water bodies (4.2%), wasteland (2.5%) and built-up land (0.5%). Of the total forest cover, the closed forest constitutes 85.3%, open forest 8.2%, degraded forest 4.2% and forest blank 2.3%. The Tawa reservoir is the major constituent of the water bodies. This indicates a bit of consistency in the effects of human use on the ecosystem. Thus the area is large enough to be effective as a conservation unit.


Conservation History

Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve has a long conservation history. The scientific management and conservation of the Indian forests started in 1865 by demarcating Bori Reserve Forest which lies in Bori Sanctuary. Thus the area finds unique place in the history of management of forest of India.

Floral Attributes

The area is virtually a junction of forest representative types prevailing in the State. It is natural junction of two most important timber species viz. Teak and Sal. The entire forest can be broadly classified into three major types viz. moist deciduous, dry deciduous, central Indian sub tropical hill forest. However, it can further be classified into seven types based on microclimatic conditions, soil types, topographical features etc. The moist deciduous forest can further be classified into moist teak forest, slightly moist teak forest, moist mixed deciduous forest. The dry deciduous forest can be classified as southern tropical dry teak forest and southern tropical dry mixed deciduous forest. The central Indian sub-tropical hill forest are confined to hill top of the Pachmarhi Plateau, specially in the Pachmarhi Sanctuary. The site is exposed and has very poor soil. The area supports more xerophytic vegetation which closely resembles the tropical dry deciduous forests, though rather enriched by higher proportion of ever green vegetation.

The BR area is rich in plant diversity and gene pool . As many as 30 species of thallophytes; 83 species of bryophytes belonging to 34 families, 56 genera; 71 species of pteridophytes belonging to 16 families; 7 species of gymnosperms belonging 3 families; 1190 species of angiosperms (flowering plants) belonging to 127 families and 633 genera have been reported in the area. About 50 species of angiosperms are yet to be identified. The flora, as known today, is distributed in 180 families of which 54 are represented by just one genus each, and 29 are represented by two or three genera each. Many of the thallophytes, bryophytes and pteridophytes are found here exclusively because of the special topographical and climatic features of the locality, and are not to be found for hundreds of kilometres around in other areas. The presence of so many plant families with just one representative and half, and as many as again with just two or three representatives points to the relict nature of the vegetation.

The occurrence of relict population of Sal (Shorea robusta) in the predominant teak bearing area is a unique ecological phenomenon in the biosphere reserve. This patch is separated by a distance of about 160 km from the nearest major body of Sal forest in East Mandla and North Balaghat Divisions. The area is the upper limit for the growth of Sal. It is also the western limit of Sal growth, thus making the area unique.

Out of the 21 preservation plots identified in the State covering various representative forest types, four plots lies in the Pachmarhi BR. The Government of India has identified 26 endemic centres all over the country. The Pachmarhi-Satpura ranges located in Pachmarhi BR is one of these endemic centres. The occurrence of sub tropical hill forest at Pachmarhi also makes the area unique.

Pachmarhi Plateau is a Botanist s paradise. Presence of deep gorges on the Pachmarhi Plateau have resulted in creation of several water falls, marshy places, perennial streams and hills of various elevations. Some of gorges are deep enough with narrow bank resulting in stoppage of the sun raise at the bottom of perennial streams. Such perennial streams and dark shady gorges has resulted in growth of several moisture loving species of ferns, orchids, bryophytes, algae and many tiny herbs of immense ecological and economical values. Some of the rare and important species which are observed to be localised, may be considered as gene bank of rare species in these localities. Out of 71 species of pteridophytes, 48 species belong to ferns and rest to fern allies. Several angiospermic plants are also observed to be rare in the BR area. Some of the important species of ferns - Psilotum, triquetra, Isoetes panchanaii, Selaginella exigua, Ophioglossum nudicaule, tree ferns i.e. Cyathea gigantea, and C. spinulosa etc. are found in Pachmarhi BR. The existence of several species like Psilofum nudum, Lycopodium cerenum, Polybotrya appendiculata, Lygodum flexuosum, Cyathea spinulosa, Polysticum ambile and several medicinal plants are in danger due to constant visits of students of Universities/lnstitutions. A few clumps of rare and endemic species of bamboo (Bambusa polymorpha) occurs in the moist teak forest of Bori Reserve. In Pachmarhi BR there are several species like Melastoma melabaricum, Murraya paniculata, Holmskioldia sanguinea, Blumea lanceolaria and Sophora interrupta which are not found any where else in the State. It is one of the areas where natural forests support large-sized wild mango trees whose offsprings have arisen along suitable site, dispersed by man and animals. However, these trees, even in the National Park area, are not safe from ravages of development. The gene pool rich sites are visited by tourists constantly and local medicinal plant collectors for exploitation, thus threatening the existence of these rare and endemic species.



The faunal composition represents the Deccan Penninsular zone of biogeographic classification of India. The Satpura National Park as well as Bori and Pachmarhi Sanctuaries have a much better population of wildlife than other reserved forest areas. The area has a long history and tradition of wildlife conservation. Once upon a time major animals like lions, elephants, wild buffaloes, Barasingas were present in the area (Forsyth 1919). However, these animals have disappeared now. Most of the Pachmarhi BR is covered with dense forest vegetation and forms an ideal habitat for wild animals. The wildlife belonging to schedule I, II, III & IV occur in the area. As per 1992 census 42 tigers, 74 panthers, 3475 wild boar, 964 barking deers, 1223 guars, 981 cheetals, 981 samphars, 1282 Rhesus macaque, 6 crocodiles and several other animal species have been reported in Pachmarhi BR. The reptiles population, specially, lizards, gecleos, skinks, amphibia etc. are yet to be thoroughly studied. Similarly, birds are yet to be studied in detailed. As per the working plan of Bori Sanctuary a total of 101 species of birds have been recorded in the area. Submergence of the Tawa reservoir and Denwa river provide ample habitates for fishes, crocodiles and otters. Rhesus monkeys, giant squirrels, flying squirrels are endemic to the area. The crested serpent eagles are also rare species.

Archaeological Caves / Centres /Manmade Heritage

In the vicinity of the Pachmarhi plateau, there are large number of cave shelters of great archaeological interests. Contained in them are a number of rock paintings executed by the tribes at some remote date yet undetermined. Among them Mahadeo, Cata comb, Jatashakar Pandav caves and Mandiadeo are important from the archaeological point of view. The paintings depicts warriors with sword and shields, bows and arrows and also elephants, tigers panthers, Cheetals, dogs, peacock, horses etc. Painting of women are less common than men. The old public building constitute the most valuable cultural heritage handed down from the past.

Cultural Attributes

The area is rich culturally. It was inhabited in the past mainly by tribals. The hills around Pachmarhi were supposed to be sacred because of Mahadeo or Shiva of Hindus. The Handi- Khoh, a deep gorge, is said to be the retreat of a monstrous serpent. Jambu-Dweep is also a gorge cut into the soft rock at the bottom of which is a cavern in the rock which has been cut by water action to resemble a giant lock of matted hair and sure enough called Jata Shankar . In geological terms they are called Stalactites and Stalagmites. Two important Hindus festivals are observed in this locality with great fan fare. Nagpanchmi is observed in Shravan (July-August) and Maha Shivratri is held in March. More than 12,000 pilgrims come to attend these festivals.

Aesthetic Attributes

The Pachmarhi plateau is famous for its beautiful landscape. It is also famous as a hill station par excellence for those who wish to retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. The hill tops and slopes are fully clothed with vegetation, whereas the level lands on the plateau are vast open grassy glades (meadows), the likes of which are not to be found in any hill station. These ecological glades, are the unique phenomenon.

The area includes Dhupgarh, the highest peak (1385 m above MSL) in Madhya Pradesh followed by Chauragarh and Mahadev caves. Chauragarh is a spectacular flat topped peak and is topped by Shiv Shrine a much venerated site and visited by people from surrounding plains, specially from Maharashtra. The Asirgarh Fort (in ruins) in Betul district is an old seat of Gond/Korku rule.

The hills of Mahadeo sandstone which is made of soft rock is cut into deep gullies by water erosion creating spectacular water falls all around Pachmarhi plateau, aided by rifts in the geological strata. Tamia in Chhindwara district is a scenic spot, closeby which is Patalkot, which is small hamlet of Adivasis approachable by a steep footpath and hence insulated from civilisation, an Anthropologist's paradise.

Socio-economic Attributes

The area is largely an agricultural rural setting with preponderance of forest indicative of its hinterland situation. Agriculture is the mainstay of the population. Out of the total population of 2,17,820 (1981 census), the scheduled castes account for 14.3% and the scheduled tribes account for 41.5%. The average family holding is only 3-4 ha. The literacy rate is low (21%). The cattle and goats are reared in large numbers in the area. Agriculture is the main source of income. Working in the forest area is the supplementary source of income for the villages in the vicinity of the area. The village houses are generally constructed with mud and wooden poles. Common Hindu and Muslim festivals are observed in the area.

State of Tourism

The title Queen of the Satpura is richly deserved by Pachmarhi. As one begins the bone jarring road journey from Hoshangabad to Pipariya, one wants to question the wisdom of setting out to enjoy a holiday in the hills of Central India, but once beyond Matkuli, the visitor is more than adequately compensated when the sheer calm and beauty of the plateau take completely by surprise.

More than 80,000 tourists, mainly domestic tourists, visit the Pachmarhi area. Maximum number of tourists visit in May-June followed by October-December. Every year several groups of students visit Pachmarhi area mainly for Botanical excursions and adventures.

R P Singh, EPCO, Bhopal and
R K Rai, MOEF, New Delhi