I was indeed blessed when we decided to drive down scenic bends and uphill views of the Kaas plateau. Eversince I moved to Pune from Bangalore, the wealth and biodiversity of the Western Ghats, the hot spot for tourists from all over, always beckons me. The drive to Kaas is 134 Km from Pune. Kaas is located in the Satara District of Maharashtra. Satara to Kaas is 24 Km amidst gentle hills and the most impressive views of deep gorges and valleys. My partner and I chanced upon this place, as it’s a bit unknown as compared to the great “Valley of the Flowers” in the Himalayas.
Our drive though languid was just right to breathe in the fresh air, the air an invigorating mix of green grass and the sweet, sweet scent of myriads of flowers, a heady cocktail set to give me a great high. My mind did most of the clicking than the camera, I just wanted to have the first impression etched within. The drive up to Kaas from Satara is gradual, hugging the hillside with a fascinating view of the townscape below but once you hit the summit you know the Kaas plateau is right there before your eyes and it’s infinite. Splashes of yellow and purple as hedges along the occasional dwellings along the drive finally throw away their pretences as the amazing openness of the endless fields of flowers opens up. Nature’s carpet, the colours of the rainbow and many others in between, spread ever so gently, takes one’s breath away. It humbles you.
The Kaas Valley in the Western Ghats just needs a spurt of rain and dew during post monsoons to get the great burst of colors, the flora and tiny flowers blossom in myriad shapes and sizes, and shades, thousands of visitors witness this flower show without knowing the botanical names or the local names. For nature lovers this small plot of the most fertile land is often referred to as the mini Valley of the Flowers! Looking at what nature had to unfold we were in two minds whether to stay on and leave the next day. A new Hotel, Nivant Hill Resort, midway up the Kaas Road was very tempting to stay on, but we wisely decided to return after a few days. Reason? The plateau takes on different hues according to the dominant flowers that usurp for more space! A veritable riot of colours.
The popular “Kaas Valley of Flowers“, blooming period commences as the monsoons season ends, for a very short time of 2 to 3 weeks, usually until the end of August. UNESCO is planning to give it a World Heritage status. Nearby are picturesque places like Kaas Lake, Bamnoli and Tapola. From Bamnoli to Tapola a short boat ride takes you through the Shivsagar Lake formed due to the Koyna dam. Vasota Fort lies near Tapola.
What is simply incredible is the wide carpet of yellow Bright Smithias commonly called Kavla locally, and just to contrast this carpet of yellow the purple hue is just side by side, these are Sky Blue Karvy and very Lavender looking Jambhali manjiri the local name for Pogostemon. Another aspect of colouring that astounds me is the contrasting of various other patches of flowers and they all grow in there side under the sun of Kaas Plateau. White tuberous Pipewort grows amidst a very common reference locally called Siteche aasave a purple very orchid looking plant. White and purple contrasts of different species are a common sight swaying in the wind. A sunflower species has a very apt local name Sontikli makes yellow so bright and when they are mixed with Linums another yellow flower, these bright yellow flowers in a bunch gives such an amazing effect under sunshine and the soft gentle wind swept plateau.
An interesting chat later with the owner of Nivant Hill Resort on the Kaas Road, Chandrasen Jadhav claims that the Kaas flower carpets changes its colours every 10-15 days, depending upon the dominant flowers during that particular time. Occasions of pink color lawns of Impatiens and white carpets of Eriocaulons were dominant. Last time of the year the same location was covered by the purple-blue colour flowers of Karvy, Strobilanthes sp this flower blooms every 7 years! Chandrasen also sells a field guide of the Kaas flowers to all guests at the Coffee shop of his hotel, one can often see them excitedly exclaiming as they spot the flowers seen in the book.
Kaas Valley is a treasure trove with surprises and different canvases to unfold year after year. Some dominant flowering plants we watched over there were Utricularia, Eriocaulons, Impatiens, with Impatiens having the lions share. Utricularia is another interesting flower apparently these plants are carnivorous, they feed on small insects. At Kaas another insect eating plant named Drosera is rare. What we lacked when we went there was a guide who could have helped us identify these plants, it is a pity that like many who come there, the ignorance of knowing more about these natures’ wondrous plants would have helped people respect them and admire them more.
The Kaas Valley as it’s often called, has a narrow road dividing the plateau, during peak season rows of cars are often found snaking for miles, and the worse sight to see on these pristine landscape are excited tourists treating the valley like a plant nursery! Some are often seen trampling the path, crushing the seasons wonders under human flatfoot shoes, men, women, and children are seen pulling out plastic bags to fill in nature’s bounty. I took the job of warden seriously, did rave and rant at a few for pulling at the plants mercilessly, I explained the futility of planting these wonders in pots as they would simply wither away. And for those who were cutting the flowers, hoping to adorn their vases back home, I came upon as a furious mother nature protecting her children. That was enough to dissuade them.
There are boards big and small proclaiming “Appeal to Public” in Hindi-Marathi and English, very explicit rules to accept the moral responsibility to protect the environment at Kaas Plateau. Many in bold announcements that proclaim Kaas as a reserved forest, enjoy the beauty of nature without causing harm to it, do not pluck flowers, do not uproot the flora it will affect the biodiversity, do not carry plastic bags, do not eat food in forest areas, but sadly we Indians follow rules in other countries while in our motherland rules are sadly meant to be broken!
There is a poignant Japanese haiku that goes thus: ‘Even though it is written on the sign, do not pluck the flowers, it is useless against the wind that cannot read.’ The winds along the Kaas Plateau however are far kinder to these exquisite flowers perhaps knowing well that these seasonal spread of colours are so ephemeral. So evanescent. Written by Jyoti Shetty and Nala Ponnappa= sketches by Ponnappa