Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wildflowers of Kaas- Part I

About a fortnight ago, a friend suggested me that I join him for a day's excursion to see the wildflowers of “Kaas.” To be frank, I was quite apprehensive at first, perhaps because of my ignorance. I had imagined the place to be just acres of cultivated farm flowers like say tulips or roses, stretching before my eyes. I had felt that such farm acres, though no doubt looking stunningly beautiful, they were not worth a day's excursion. I however, did some browsing and research on the net. What I read and saw on net, was difficult to grasp fully, but nevertheless I realised that it was a different kind of a dish altogether and I booked my ticket for a bus for a round trip excursion along with a couple of friends.

Kaas” is a plateau on mountain tops, located deep in the ranges of Western Ghat mountains that are spread north-south, along India's western seaboard. It is at a distance of roughly 115 Km from home town Pune and can easily be approached, since there is an excellent road leading right up to the plateau. After having taken the plunge, I am now off to see this plateau, popularly known as “ Plateau of flowers.” The bus has left my home town around 6.45 AM and we are cruising at about 80-100 Km/Hour on the busy Pune- Bengaluru Highway. “Kaas plateau” (17 d 43' N, 73 d 49' E) is situated about 25 KM west of the historic city of Satara and we need to pass through the town.

Meanwhile, everyone in the bus appears hungry, having started rather early from home. We stop at a highway food joint for our breakfast with a typical Maharashtra style fare; “Kandapoha” ( Flattened rice flakes, moistened and cooked after lightly frying with mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder and finely chopped onions ) and “VadaPau,” (round cakes of hash brown mixed with spices; dipped in gram flour paste; deep fried and inserted like a patty in two halves of a fluffy bread piece) and finally, sugary, milky tea- the way it is prepared all over India. While others are ravishing on the spicy grub, I have a look at our motley group- travelling together. There are four of us middle aged( with my exception being a senior citizen) and who have come to see the wildflowers. There is group of three families with full complement of kids of various ages, who probably have come for a picnic or an excursion. Then there is a group of IT guys wearing black rimmed frames, Bermudas, printed Tee shirts and above all, expensive DSLR cameras hanging from their necks and telling the world that they are on a serious photographic expedition. Then there is a group of young student type group of boys and girls, fun loving type. Finally there are couple of ladies travelling single, one of them very talkative.

I find out that I am the only senior citizen in the group, a black sheep or an odd man out. I feel slightly dejected, but I finish my Tea, buy some “Chikki,” ( A sugary sweet bar made from peanuts and sugar), share it with my friends and then slowly walk back to the bus. Soon, the bus leaves for Satara. Relaxed, I put on my iPod earphones and doze off listening to the music. I wake up to the hourly-burly noises of a city, which means that we have reached the Satara city. Soon the bus takes a diversion and we are on the “Kaas” road. The bus soon starts climbing uphill, which means that we are now climbing the ridge that connects the “Kaas” plateau with Satara city. This ridge consisting of several hills in tandem is fairly a long one; about 20 Km.

As the bus climbs up, I can see the landscape changing slowly to beautiful lush green meadows, interspersed with shallow valleys and small ponds, full of muddy water. This is natural because the south-west monsoon rains are just withdrawing. Within next two or three weeks all this will change, with lush green meadows changing over first to yellow brown and then disappearing altogether, exposing the reddish Lateritic soil underneath and patches of blackish basalt rocks. I, however leave the future scenario at bay and concentrate on the things around me as on the moment.

I also notice the change in weather, which is turning surprisingly pleasant with a cool refreshing breeze. The altitude of “Kaas” plateau is above 1200 meters (4000 ft). This is the reason for this sudden change in the weather, which ensures that our trip is likely to be a pleasant experience. We cross some wooded groves, perhaps with trees planted by forest department, but they make the environment soothing to the nerves and rather charming for the first time visitor like me. I see more green meadows ahead but now stretched longer and flatter.

The total area of “Kaas” plateau is huge, about 1800 hectares (4500 acres) and as we enter this pristine land , what could be a better welcome for us than the sudden appearance on both sides of the road of stunning beautiful clusters of golden yellow flowers, swaying with the breeze and dazzling on the widespread background of lush green grass. The yellow wildflowers are known as Sonki (Senecio bombyensis.) These are members of the large Asteraceae family to which many commonly known flowering plants like the aster or daisy belong.

The bus moves among the flower meadows of yellow wild flowers. Soon I see a barbed wire fence stretching on both sides of the road. I try to look beyond the fence, I can clearly see small dots of pink, white and purple in the greens. I know, we have arrived at “Kaas.”

(To be continued)

1st October 2014

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