Kaas – The Valley of Flowers
A Trip to Kaas Plateau – By Santham Narayanswamy
It was Wednesday, 4 September around 4 ‘o’clock in the afternoon. My daughter rang me from her office and said “pack a bag for an overnight stay for Kyra and yourself. But what about Kyra’s Computer test on 6 September, I asked? She has already covered her portions and can revise them over in the car. Moreover, we shall be back by tomorrow evening and she will still have the night to prepare for”. “Where are we going?” I asked her and she said it was a surprise and rang off. Kyra is my 10 year old Granddaughter. I asked our cook to make a light snack for the evening and pack the dinner to be eaten later on the way. We were to leave by 6:30 pm from our residence in Pune. It was typical of my daughter to plan such sudden impulsive trips. If we were in our old village, they would have said that she is born with wheels attached to her feet, (nowadays, that would indicate a skate). As luck would have it, she married a man having equal amount of wanderlust if not more. I have lost count of the number of trips we have taken in the last couple of years that I have been staying with them and each trip more enjoyable than the previous one.
So by 6:30 we left by car from Pune to Satara and reached the Kaas Plateau by around 9 o’clock. We had our dinner while traveling in the car itself (paper plates and napkins are really convenient items) and also booked a hotel online. Our hotel was on the outskirts of Satara, perched on top of a small mountain ridge. Our rooms had a balcony facing the town of Satara. Wow!!! Was the collective reaction of us all as we stepped out on the cool and breezy balcony. It looked as if the city lights were competing with the stars (these seemed much larger and nearer than those we see from the balcony of our flat in Pune) and the city lights won hands down. At the break of dawn, the sight of sun rising from behind a small mountain on the opposite side was an added bonus. The valley beneath, the lake, the sides of the mountains covered with lush green outgrowths, all these were a sight of delightful surprise as we had not see them the night before and did not know of their presence. Such a joyous start of the morning naturally makes one more eager to venture out to the day. There were framed photographs of colourful and wonderful flowers aplenty that gave one the clue that we were heading towards the Kaas Plateau.
The next morning, on the 5th of September, we set off after breakfast at 8:30 a.m. By God! What a trip it turned out to be. Ranges after ranges of mountains, a lake on one side, river and dam on the other side deep down, roadsides covered with all sorts of bushes and flowers. On one side the mountain rose with a leveled top and looked exactly like a man-made wall. The flat surfaces of the rocks were covered with small wild yellow flowers. The sight is unforgettable “why only yellow flowers here all over the place?”Kyra wondered loudly. ”May be God, the gardener, was carrying all seeds in different packets and the one with seeds of yellow flowers tore and the seeds got scattered around here” reasoned her mother.
My daughter is an avid photographer and on the way kept on saying -”stop and back a little” to capture the scenery. She did it so often that her husband exclaimed jokingly whether he was driving a car or a PMT bus. Soon we saw the board welcoming everyone to Kaas Plateau. The Kaas Plateau is a World Heritage Site, Maharashtra’s own valley of flowers hidden among the Western Ghats. It has become famous only a few years back. The flowering season is from August-end to early October. During this period the weekends get over crowded. The whole area is fenced off with boards of ‘No Parking Zone’ hung along the entire length. They say that many of the plants are rare and unique and hence need to be protected. The irony of man protecting nature from man itself! But paths are laid in many places so that we can wander among the flowers.
Since parking was a little far away we decided to go down to the lake as we had already got a glimpse of the paradise through the fences. At the Kaas lake, the car could be driven down almost to the edge of water. The place was so tranquil with the calm waters reflecting the mountains that lined the banks with clouds passing over their tops. Since it was a weekday there wasn’t much of a crowd. There was no boating facility at this part of the lake. We were directed to a place called Bamnoli as Kyra insisted on a boat ride. This is a small hamlet nearby and the road to it passed through thick forest. The boat ride was simply fantastic with picturesque views on all sides. Except for the ‘chuck – chuck’ of the motor everything was so still and serene. Due to the rains, the level of the lake had risen and many of the trees that were previously on the shore were knee-deep (if trees have knees) in water and it was an interesting sight.
The name Bamnoli reminded me of Vaman and Mahabali. For someone born and brought up in a remote village of Kerala, these names conjure up the Onam season in September. I started telling Kyra what I have often told my daughters about the Onam festival. How we used to decorate the courtyards with flowers for ten days preceding the Onam day and on that day it had to be the biggest decoration (Pookolam). There used to be a friendly rivalry over collecting flowers every morning among the girls. Even now I make a small do every year on Onam on the 3’x 3’ square tile in front of our flat even though I am sure Mahabali will not be dropping in to visit us. But this makes everyone entering or leaving the house do a jumping dance to avoid stepping on the floral rangoli. Even now the tradition of ‘Pookolam’ continues with much fanfare on T .V. shows, competition among clubs etc.
My imagination wanders. May be Lord Vishnu is watching from his celestial abode all the festivities held by Keralites year after year to welcome their adored king. He was really a great king. May be Lord Vishnu felt a little, just a tiny bit of remorse for having eliminated him by kicking him to the Nether region. So to appease his conscious (if Gods do have one) he arranged a Pookolam secretly amongst the hills, the biggest and prettiest of all every year.
Back from Bamnoli, my son-in-law dropped us at the Kaas Plateau area and went off to park the car. The sight that awaited us at Kaas cannot be described in words. Big and small patches of flowers- pink, purple, yellow, orange, white and blue all gently swaying in the breeze makes one forget time, place and everything else. Now I feel, I can understand what Wordsworth meant by ‘a thousand golden Daffodils’.
These were small flowers (I didn’t even think of inquiring about their botanical or common names), smaller than the regular Balsams. Some were star shaped, some with small white dollops at the tip of grass like leaves, some bigger brown with white sheaves on turmeric like plants and many many more. Seeing their beauty was enough for me and I did not bother knowing more (Ironical as years ago I graduated from college with a degree in Botany!). We have often seen well manicured and landscaped gardens, fields of cultivated sunflowers waves and waves of mustard fields in full bloom, marigold and other flowers cultivated by floriculturists. But nothing, absolutely nothing I have ever seen can surpass the phenomenon at Kaas (may be except Kashmir which I have yet to visit).
After clicking photos on cameras and cell phones, as every group there was doing, we decided that it was time to head back. The dark green trees at the far back, light green grass beneath, pink carpet of flowers interspersed with patches of blue and white and a few rocks strewn here and there, all these made wonderful snapshots. While waiting for the car to come up from the parking lot, I overheard a bevy of girls muttering their ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and ‘wows’. One girl dramatically flung her hands wide and quoted those famous words of the Mughal emperor (a little altered of course ) ”Agar Maharashtra mein koi jannat hai toh yehi hai, yehi hai, yehi hai “. I couldn’t help whispering “Amen”.
-By Santham Narayanswami
(Retired Banker, Traveler, Avid Reader and Crochet Expert)