It’s hard to imagine that an innocuous, small break on the Western Ghats between the ranges of the Nilgiris and the Anaimalai hills – roughly the area between Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Palakkad in Kerala, points to an event that shaped the Indian subcontinent, quite literally. Once upon a time, this piece of coast and mountain was attached to the island of Madagascar in South-East Africa, more than 4,600 km away!
Geologists refer to this gap in the Western Ghats as the ‘Palakkad Gap’. Look at the map and you will able to see the pieces of land like a jigsaw puzzle. The Angavo Entrapment in Madagascar and the Palakkad gap in Kerala fit into each other perfectly.
Palakkad gap is where the Indian plate broke from Madagascar
Over 160 million years ago, the supercontinent of Gondwana began breaking up and the continents of Africa, Australia, Antarctica and South America were separated over millions of years.
Madagascar and India, however, remained attached for much longer as part of the Dharwar Craton the oldest rocks found in the Indian subcontinent. About 88 million years ago, a major underwater volcanic explosion, the Marion Hotspot which went on for 2 million years split India and Madagascar and the ever-flowing lava widened the gap, to what it is today.
Noted French geologists, Yuri Gunnell and David Harbor from the Washington University did a comparative study of the geology of Madagascar and the Western Ghats. In their research published in 2008, they found that the Angavo entrapment in Madagascar geologically matched with the Western Ghats and the Palakkad Gap matched with the Ranotsara Gap in Madagascar.
The Palakkad gap in India fits like a jigsaw puzzle with the Angavo entrapment in Madagascar
It is thanks to this close link between India and Madagascar that even today, the flora and fauna of Madagascar shows a closer affinity to Indian than to Africa.
Pranay Lal in his book Indica states that ‘This period (cretaceous) saw an explosion of flowering plants, along with grasses that tried to keep pace with them, and benefiting from this floral abundance were small mammals which were steadily growing in size and ambition. The life form that is still found both in India and Madagascar today include the fly-trapping pitcher plant, found in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya.’
Inputs from: Structural Underprint and Tectonic Overprint in the Angavo (Madagascar) and Western Ghats (India), by Yanni Gunnell and David Harbor
Indica; a Deep Natural History of Indian Subcontinent by Pranay Lal
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Palakkad gap is on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The nearest railway station is Palakkad station, 14 kms away from the Palaghat Gap. Coimbatore International airport is the nearest airport about 80 kms away.
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