Come September, the Kaas plateau comes to life. Tiny blooms, shrubs, orchids, even carnivorous plants blossom on the plateau, which is located in the Satara district of Maharashtra. Most of it is a reserved forest, but a few sections are open to visitors during the monsoon. For this is when the UNESCO natural heritage site is brimming with flora and fauna, changing hues every few weeks.
It’s covered in pink the week I visit. The tiny blooms, called Impatiens oppositifolia or the opposite-leaved balsam, have dwarfed the rest, forming a carpet this misty morning. The plateau though has much more to offer. It is said to house more than 850 different species of flowering plants, some 39-odd species endemic to Kaas and endangered. What’s fascinating though is its topography. Made of basalt and the porous laterite rock (jambha), the plateau can’t retain water for longer periods. This is why the thin layer of soil supports vegetation only during the rainy season. Even then, as the soil can’t provide enough nutrition to all plants, several of them are carnivores.
On the surface of it, my short walk to the open field is full of the pink balsams. It’s takes effort to find the blue Cyanotis tuberosa, away from the visitors trying different poses. The yellows dot the rock ends – the sonki and linum mysorense. The pretty purple flowers or Sita’s tears are the sneaky ones. They are bladderworts, which means that tiny insects attracted to the bladders get caught and provide the plant with the much needed nitrogen and phosphorous. The red Drosera Indica, also carnivorous, eludes me. Both of the these are native to Kaas. Then there’s the Smithia hirsuta, which is a miss again. Most of these plants – the names of which I’ll google later – flower annually. Some like the Topli Karvi are much rare and flower only once in 7 years. It takes a keen eye to spot these tiny blossoms. In fact, the rare flora is best explored with groups such as BNHS, which has weekly trips to the region in the season.
(Clockwise from top – Cyanotis tuberosa, Sita’s tears, sonki, white Eriocaulon tuberiferum, pink blasams)
The lake nearby is a serene spot to soak in all of it. The adaptability of the species, the topography that makes it happen, the scientists who have painstakingly identified so many varieties in this section of the Western Ghats. Also, the fragile state of the site and the calls to lower the number of visitors as you see some trample the delicate flora around. Scientists already lament the loss of species, with 47-odd flowers declared critically endangered. Be mindful of where you step when you do visit. As it stands, an online booking is a must to enter the plateau. The website is also the best place to keep track of the flowers as it is updated with pictures every week.
The trip is a day’s visit, roughly a four-hour journey from Mumbai. The state local bus leaves from Satara station twice in the morning to Bamnoli village and heads back the same route. It’s the way to go if you aren’t getting a car. It’s a different thrill passing the ghats on a local bus though, the mist in your face, the chatter around. Stay at the local cottages instead of the town, which look so inviting. Head to the Bamnoli boat club if you have time on your hands. There’s also a fort nearby which is a good vantage point, try the famous kandi pedas and a thali before heading back home.