Maharashtra’s valley of flowers

, Breathe

Kaas plateau turns into a colourful carpet immediately after monsoons with more than 200 varieties of wild flowers, herbs, orchids, shrubs and insectivorous plants

Words: Khursheed Dinshaw

One of Maharashtra’s valued treasures and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kaas is a picturesque plateau of invaluable biodiversity. The plateau is a three-hour-drive from Pune and is tucked in the Western Ghats, one of the biodiversity-rich hotspots in the world. Due to their unique location, the Western Ghats receive excellent rainfall during monsoons, often as high as 2,500 mm.

As we entered the plateau, we saw delightful flowers in purple, yellow, magenta, red, orange, rust brown, pink, and white, set amidst the backdrop of the blue–grey Sahyadri mountains. The air was crisp, fresh and unpolluted. While shutterbugs were clicking nature’s marvellous creations, other visitors were occupied with their field books, patiently trying to correctly identify as many flora and fauna as they could. Kids were particularly enjoying the Mickey Mouse flowers (or Smithia Hirsute). With yellow petals and a red centre, these flowers aptly resemble the famous cartoon character.

floral extravaganza

The beautiful yellow sonki flowers complimented the tiny pink gestacia procumus flowers. Near some of the wet patches, we found the popular mahabringraj plant from which the mahabringraj ayurvedic oil is made. The purple insectivorous flower eutricularia eats small insects, which are not visible to the human eye, through bladders that trap the insects on their surface.

On the plateau, there is a pattern known as the gallery forest where because of volcanic eruption, layers of soil and basalt have been formed naturally. So wild flowers and six inch-high shrubs grow on a thin layer of soil beneath, which is hard basalt rock. Thus, a heavy shower is enough to make them sprout.

Because of this peculiar composition of layers, typical plants that grow here are known as annual monsoon plants. They complete their lifecycle within three-four months of the monsoon. Watching flowers at Kaas is an aesthetic hobby that satisfies children, botanists, and nature lovers alike.

During the monsoons, the basalt layer formed during volcanic eruption gets eroded, dissolving the soluble nutrients and leaving behind iron oxide, which gives Kaas its distinctive brownish-red colour. As we walked around, dew from the grass collected on our footwear even though it was 11 am. The grass itself was of various colours and textures; some of them with long stems resembled wheat in appearance.

Sunlight was playing hide and seek with the visitors. We composed our photo as the sunlight fell on the flowers and before we could click, it started drizzling almost instantly. Disappointment was writ on our faces only to be replaced by big smiles once the sun came out again. This hide-and-seek has its own charm.

winged beauties

Kaas plateau and the surrounding areas are also on the itinerary of bird watchers as crested buntings, Malabar crested larks, oriental white-eyes and bonelli’s eagle are usually sighted. As this plateau has the characteristics of a highland mountain grassland, one finds grassland-inhabiting birds along with birds of prey. For me, the butterflies active in the sunlight, the light green of the plants, the dark-hued trees and the brown of the laterite rocks resembled nature’s painting, while the flowers were motifs of her creativity and generosity.

While walking, we also got to see a greyish-green substance on the trees, known as lichen, which is a combination of algae and fungus. Algae containing chlorophyll makes its own food, while fungus ensures that there is adequate moisture available, as both live together in harmony. A major threat to the flowers and shrubs on Kaas comes from Karvi, an abundantly growing shrub. Some of the species that are under threat due to Karvi include seropagia, dipcadi, drossera, flamengia, murdania and smithia among a variety of orchids and ferns.

Adding another dimension to the beauty of the Valley of Flowers was the Kaas Lake, situated close to the valley itself. Interestingly, underwater flora is quite abundant here, which makes the Kaas Lake a delightful expedition for botanists. It is also a perennial source of water for the western part of Satara City.

When it was time to leave Kaas, we left leaving nothing behind but our footprints and taking nothing away but memories just the way mother nature would have wanted.

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