As the monsoon sets in every year, Maharashtra’s Kaas Plateau comes alive with millions of wild flowers blooming. With waterfalls everywhere and the hillsides bursting with green, this is one of Maharashtra’s most scenic monsoon getaways. According to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), this 1,850 hectare plateau is home to more than 1,500 kinds of plants, including 33 endangered varieties. The array of colours is reason enough to visit the area. Most visitors are astounded by the scenery on their first visit to Kaas, and many continue to be overawed even after a fourth trip. While driving in, you start with glimpses of crystal clear lakes among velvet green hills. Turn a corner and there are hillocks covered with wild flowers; turn again, and see a canopy of trees with moss-covered branches. The mist may roll in as you drive down the meandering roads, and then, there it is suddenly—the expanse of rock with carpets of wild flowers. Many call this Kaas Valley, after the better known Himachali destination Valley of Flowers, but this is a mesa, a plateau atop a hill.
Kaas Plateau has a unique topography. It is made of extremely porous laterite rock (jambha) and a thin layer of soil. It does not retain water around the year and can only sustain plant life after heavy rain. Since the thin soil doesn’t provide enough nutrition to all the flowering plants, several of them are insectivores or carnivores like sundews and bladderworts.
A visit between late-June and September guarantees an awe-inspiring view of millions of colourful petals. But to see even half the variety of flowers that bloom here, one would have to make a trip every ten days during the four flowering months. A new species flowers every fortnight or so, with the plateau literally changing colour each time. It starts with white ground orchids in mid-June, goes to the yellow of sonaki and mithia flowers, turns purple with Sita’s tears in August, then red, and so on all the way to the end of the monsoon.
The drive from Satara to Kaas is full of interesting stopovers and great views.
Yuwateshwar This Shiva temple at the beginning of the Kaas road (6 km/20 minutes from Satara) offers a view of Satara city and the Kanher Dam on the River Venna.
Shivpeteshwar Petri (15 km/30 minutes from Satara), a small village on the Satara-Kaas road, has a temple inside a large cave. The Urmodi River is also visible from here.
Ghatai East of the plateau, a small road (heading south, just before the flowers begin) leads to Ghatai village (20 km/40 minutes from Satara). Notice the thin forest cover leading to this village that changes dramatically to thick forest. This is a sacred grove (devrai), around the colourful Ghatai temple, that the villagers worship and do not interfere with. As a result the forest here is dense and evergreen. Birds like the Asian paradise flycatcher and crested serpent eagle can be easily spotted here.
Once at the plateau, wander through leisurely and look out for these interesting flowers.
Sita’s tears/Sitechia asawe Don’t be fooled by this pretty purple flower with a rather pitiful name. Sita’s tears (Utricularia purpurascens) are carnivores. Their stems and roots have pores that trap protozoa swimming in the wet soil, which they suck in and slowly digest. They flower in August.
Lantern flower/Kandilpushpa This odd-looking flower has five petals that are fused at the tips, forming a little cage. Tiny hair trap flies that are attracted to the smell inside their bulb. The more the fly struggles to escape, the lower it is pulled. The surprise here is that these flowers are not insectivorous; this is just a hostage drama to ensure pollination. Once pollen is stuck on the fly, the hair withers and the insect can escape. They flower throughout the season but are hard to spot.
Cobra lily/Saapkanda This flower mimics a cobra, complete with a hood and bifid tongue. The saapkanda is male when born and turns female as it grows. In fact, these flowers are capable of changing their sex several times during their life; depending on the nutrition available and genetics. They flower in June-July.
Kaas Lake To the south of the plateau is Kaas Lake, which supplies potable water to all of Satara and forms a pretty backdrop to the flowers.
Temples and forts are but a short distance from the city.
Sajjangad fort The ruins of Sajjangad Fort (earlier called Parali Fort; 15 km/30 minutes from Satara) enclose a complex that houses the samadhi of saint Ramdas Swami. There are several temples, a prayer hall and living quarters for devotees (free). Walk to the cliff for a panoramic view of the Sahyadris and the Urmodi River. Past the temples, follow the signs to see the ruins of the fort. A tiring climb of 250 steps leads to the fort, but there are refreshing masala taak (spiced buttermilk) and kokum sharbat (juice) stalls on the way.
The temple serves prasad, which is really a thali, at noon each day; a filling lunch of rice, vegetables, dal and dessert. Stalls at the fort entrance serve pithle bhakri, thick jowar roti served with spicy besan (gram flour) gravy and raw onion.
Chalkewadi Chalkewadi village (30 km/45 minutes from Satara) is located on a wind-swept plateau where thousands of windmills have been installed by power companies like Enercon, Suzlon and Vestas. These windmills are massive and their sheer number makes for an interesting sight. Cars can drive right up to the windmills, making it a fun science lesson for kids. The Thosegar Falls, located right before the windmill plateau are the highest waterfalls in the district.
Pateshwar Pateshwar is an old Shiva temple complex located atop a hill (12 km/30 minutes southeast of Satara). The route goes through Degaon village, which is the last place to stock up on refreshments (In Degaon, look out for a cola called Zen CheerUp, which tastes salty). A further 4 km drive takes visitors partly up the hill, followed by an easy climb on foot (about 30 minutes). A Ganesh statue marks the start of the climb and a pond at the top, used by the priest and his family, its end. There are two main temples and several small caves with Hanuman idols, Nandi statues and shivalingams of various sizes (said to number almost 10,000). Giri, the temple priest, is hard of hearing, but enjoys meeting visitors. “Sometimes there are no visitors for days, and sometimes there are 50 in one day,” he says in Marathi. He explains that three generations of his family have lived and served at this temple, over the last 100 years.
Shivsagar Lake The village of Bamnoli (30 km/45 minutes from Satara) is popular for boat rides on Shivsagar Lake, formed by the Koyna Dam. There are various boating options that include an hour-long ride on the lake, a trip to Vasota Fort, or to Tapola, which is a good lunch stop.
Kaas is 22 km/40 minutes from Satara, a city in western Maharashtra, in the district of Satara. Satara city is 120 km from Pune and 256 km from Mumbai.
Road NH4 connects Mumbai (250 km/ 5 1/2 hours) to Satara; the roads are smooth throughout the journey. From Satara, drive 22 km along the road leading to Bamnoli; Kaas is along the way.
Rail Several trains connect Mumbai and Pune to Satara (about 7 hours).
To Kaas from Satara The most convenient way to Kaas is to drive. You can also hire a car from Satara for the day. Local State Transport buses from Satara to Bamnoli stop at the plateau too. However, bus timings change frequently so confirm them at Satara depot to avoid being stranded.
To Mahabaleshwar from Kaas The plateau next to Kaas is Mahabaleshwar. Technically, it is 20 km away but the connecting road is a mud track and only recommended for a fourwheel drive, or an 8-hour trek. Other cars will have to drive to Kaas through Satara on the Medha-Satara road.
Visit between June and September to see the flowers. June and July see heavy rains; the flower carpet is young and fresh but views are misty. August and September usually deliver clearer skies and flowers in full bloom. During the rest of the year, the plateau is brown and barren.
Satara is the closest city. The hill station of Mahabaleshwar is about 70 km/2 hours away, so for those who prefer staying at a hill station, it is possible to stay there and drive to Kaas Plateau for the day.
Aakar International, Satara is a two-minute walk from Satara’s bus depot. There is no restaurant but it is surrounded by shops and restaurants. Rooms are basic and the staff friendly. (02162-236081; doubles from ₹2,200.)
Radhika Palace, Satara has an uninviting exterior but the interiors are clean. Bathroom fixtures are ancient, but work. The restaurant serves a good vegetarian Gujarati thali. (02162-233133; www.hotelradhikapalace.net; doubles from ₹1,899.)
Nivant Hill Resort, Satara is on the Satara-Kaas road, a 15-minute drive from the flowering plateau. It sits at the edge of a cliff, so all the rooms have a view of the valley. It is 6 km from the city but is self-sufficient and very quiet. (099229-99226; www.nivantresort.com; doubles from ₹2,000 on weekdays, ₹2,500 on weekends.)
Maharaja Regency, Satara is Satara’s most comfortable hotel, but quite basic by big city standards. It is centrally located, has Wi-Fi and courteous staff. (02162-233667; https://www.maharajaregency.com/; doubles from ₹1,950 plus taxes.)
Brightlands Resort, Mahabaleshwar is located on the outskirts of the hill station. The resort has a spa, swimming pool and gym. (02168-260700; www.brightlandholiday.com; doubles from ₹7,000 plus taxes.)
Citrus Hotels, Mahabaleshwar is near the town’s market, rooms are spacious and facilities include a swimming pool, spa and a kid’s play area. (1800 3001 4001; www.citrushotels.com; doubles from ₹5,500 plus taxes from Sunday to Thursday and ₹7,000 plus taxes on Friday and Saturday.)
When in Satara, try some kandi pedhas. Pyramids of these round, milky sweets can be found all over the city. Try them at Latkar Sweets in Powai naka. Vada pav is the staple local snack and everyone in Satara has their favourite stall to buy it. The market outside Satara bus stand is lined with vada pav carts, each selling these freshly fried balls of mashed, spiced potato, served in soft bread, and topped with spicy, garlic chutney. Manali Hotel (a restaurant actually) in the market yard, near the bus stop, serves a good Maharashtrian thali which comprises sukka mutton or chicken, tambda rassa (red gravy), pandhra rassa (white gravy), dahi kanda (onions with curd) and wheat bhakri (thick chapati).
Appeared in the July 2012 issue as “Monsoon Flower Fiesta”.
Satara resident, Dr. Sandeep Shrotri is a laparoscopic surgeon, who has written a mini field guide on Kaas, entitled Kaas Plateau of Flowers that can be purchased at the BNHS in Mumbai. “The plateau was an extremely well-kept secret. It was only in 2003 that we noticed tourists coming just to see the flowers. Digital photography was getting popular and more people were seeing photographs on the Internet. The number of tourists grew rapidly and last year there were over three lakh visitors to the plateau. If tourism is not managed, this could be a complete disaster for the flowers,” he says. He suggests some visitor etiquette to preserve the place: never drive off-road on the plateau as you could destroy thousands of rare plants and flowers; never pluck or plant any flowers; don’t leave any trash behind, even if it is organic waste. He also recommends visitors carry a magnifying glass to appreciate the tiny flowers better.