The wind howls, sweeping through the four windows of our car, and bringing with it smells of wet mud, green fields, and nostalgia. The gentle folds of the Sahyadri Range lead us to a 1,850 hectare plateau known as Kaas Pathar, which is scattered with more than 1,500 kinds of plants, including 33 endangered varieties (as recorded by the Bombay Natural History Society). Between July-early October, the plateau, which is made up of laterite rocks, evolves from shades of brown, to reveal sheaths of green, dotted by white, yellow, purple, blue, red, orange, and numerous other shades of blooming flowers.
Our journey begins in Mumbai, continues onward to Satara, and ends in Kaas, before we head off to Panchgani (3 hours from the plateau) for the night.
The internet is filled with photoshopped images of Kaas fields laden with acres of flowers with a seemingly endless horizon. But the reality of the plateau lies in noticing the details. Clumps of wildflowers peek out from the corners of thoughtfully marked-out trails that protect the flora and fauna of the region. Documented here is the Common Hill Borage, a flower similar to the widely popular forget-me-nots. As you walk along the naturally manicured bushes, you might see flashes of toads and tadpoles skipping across puddles, or encounter a slithering Buff Striped Keelback snake in search of refuge from noisy tourists.
Kaas was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012 and has seen an influx of tourism in the past few years. This has had an adverse effect on the biodiversity of the land, and since then, active efforts have been made to disallow private vehicles in the area and limit visitors to 3,000 per day. Government buses take tourists to the entry point of the plateau, where you then find a guide who accompanies you during the initial duration of your visit.
The guides orient you with the endemic species of flowers blooming at certain times of day, and point out the tiny specks of unnoticed blooms that might pass off as glints of light, or coloured dots sprouting from the soil. Pictured here are pink balsams interspersed with curious elongated herbs known as the Indian Arrowroot, whose powder is used to make porridges during upvas in Kerala.
Our expert, Hari Bhau, flails his stick around every chance he gets. It’s his way of ensuring the group’s attention hasn’t wandered to parts of the plateau that he isn’t guiding us through. Here, he points out a blooming orchid hanging from the bark of a winding tree and ensures everybody present takes a photograph of the unusual cluster.
When asked why this plateau is specifically rich in flora, he says “Pehle se he aisa hain. Abhi hum kya bole.” (It has always been like this, what else can I say?)
Further investigation reveals that the porous nature of the laterite does not allow the soil to retain water year-round. This is why the biodiversity thrives post July, when the rainfall is a lot more scattered but still present. The imbalance of nutrition provided by the thin layer of soil means that some of the plants are either insectivores or carnivores, and rely on the fauna for survival.
Seen here is the Drosera, which captures its prey by producing glue drops that are sticky and trap the insects that cross its path.
Sleeping amidst these bushes is the Topli Karvi, or Strobilanthes callosa, which blooms only once in seven years. Its lifespan only lasts for about 15-20 days after which it dies off soon after seeding. It also provides shelter for species of orchids and lilies, which flourish under its dense thickets.
Apart from the plateau itself, the journey from Panchgani to Kaas—albeit scattered with off-road drives—is worth the experience. Apart from deep valleys strewn with waterfalls and crayon-coloured skies, ginormous windmills line a portion of the route. Part of the Vankusawade Wind Park overlooks the Koyana Reservoir, and is the ideal pit-stop for the traveller who prefers to wander off the beaten track. Here, conversations between wind turbines and the passing wind are the only sounds, and wildflowers grow across boundaries with nary a person in sight.
The sonaki flowers are aplenty here, forming beds of yellow for the tired road-tripper looking for some shut-eye amidst golden fields.
Zahra Amiruddin is an independent writer, photographer, and teacher based in Bombay. She's published stories on art, culture, and travel with various publications. She calls herself a certified nomad who's constantly in search of the best light, and practices conjuring the perfect patronus in her free time.