Mumbai to Kaas Plateau: Blossom time
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The Kaas Plateau, better known as Maharashtra’s Valley of Flowers, possesses a sublime quality. Its magic lies in the wildflowers carpeting the rocky plateau right after the monsoon—the natural phenomenon lasts only for a few weeks. The region is home to a staggering 175 flower species, besides 33 endangered varieties of plants. Kaas is one of the 39 sites in the Western Ghats with a Unesco World Heritage tag.
We had started early from Mumbai on a Saturday, and were headed to our base camp at Nivant Hotel, 7.8km from Satara, a major junction en route to Kaas. From here, Kaas is about 17km away. The route from Satara to our hotel were covered with flowery tufts and vibrant greenery. The hotel was cocooned in a wild patch of green in a horseshoe curve in the mountainside.
The early evening drive promised a spectacular view of the sunset over the meadows of Kaas Plateau against a backdrop of ridges. The ground seemed spray-painted with flowers in various colours—yellow, blue, magenta and violet—all the way to the horizon. It is recommended to carry rain gear, snacks and water to the plateau. Exploring the plateau, a 1,850-hectare natural habitat of 1,500 plant species, is like strolling inside a painting of the Gardens of Giverny by Claude Monet. Flowers fluttered in the soft breeze and the whole plateau blushed in the afterglow of the setting sun. Our first vision of Kaas left us speechless.
The intractable geography dominated by basalt and porous laterite and baked by a hot dry climate along with frequent forest fires doesn’t augur well for plants. Yet, a critical monsoon resuscitates dormant vegetation, springing bare ridges to life. This tiny window between late July and September end kindles a blossoming spree in rainbow colours that switch every fortnight, almost like a rebellion against the brutal October sun that withers them.
The sex-changing cobra lilies (capable of changing their gender several times in a lifespan) and terrestrial orchids are followed by blue-and-white inkblots of bladderworts and eriocaulons. The pinks and magenta of impatiens give way to sunny shades of yellow Smithias. A guide shared their local names, often scented with folklore and mythology.
Utricularia purpurascens, a purplish-blue flower, is called Seeteche aswe in Marathi, which translates to “Tears of Sita”. It is said when Ravana whisked Sita off to Lanka, her tears fell on these flowers, staining their blue petals with a white tear-shaped dot.
We looked around for the famous bright purple Strobilanthes sessilis, or topli karvi, named so because it looks like an inverted topli (basket). The guide said we would have to wait until 2022, as it blooms only once in seven years, when the flowers carpet the entire countryside of the Western Ghats. It is this synchronous flowering that also gives it the local name in Maharashtra, mel karvi, mel being Marathi for together.
A 4km drive down the road towards Bamnoli leads to Kaas lake, the source of the Urmodi river. We spent the rest of the evening here.
At first light the next day, we headed to Kumudini lake just off Rajmarg, a dirt track to Mahabaleshwar used by the British. We wanted to make a quick stop before heading back to Mumbai. The lake was covered with water snowflakes or kumuds. We squatted on a rock and watched the flowers bloom as the sun rose over the horizon. Also called floating heart, these fluffy white flowers are like wispy French lace, attracting bees and dragonflies.
That morning, we were the only ones privy to this divine sight. Such moments where nature reveals her purest form are rare and fleeting. And that is the quintessence of Kaas.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The authors tweet from @anuragamuffin and @priyaganapathy