A road trip to Satara brings with it many-hued delights, none more appealing than the sensational seasonal blooms of the Kaas plateau.
Maharashtra’s residents need no introduction to twin hill-stations Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Some might even consider themselves a bit too introduced to them! Fortunately, the Deccan plateau is not short of highland getaways. And in this case, a colourful and lesser-known wonder lies just an hour’s drive from Mahabaleshwar.
Picture green meadows, on either side of a smooth scenic road, under which shimmer turquoise waters of a majestic lake — the piece de resistance, a 10 sq km carpet of multitudes of multi-coloured flowers that peer through magical rainy mist at an altitude of 1,200 metres above sea level. The Kaas Plateau Reserved Forest it is!
And no, you don’t need to circle the Sahyadri Hills from Mahabaleshwar to reach Kaas. A three-hour drive from Pune or six hours from Mumbai will take you to this UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site that is about 25 kms west of Satara city.
What to expect at the Kaas plateau
The road is generally not infested with traffic, but visitors are advised to be mindful of route closures and diversions during the Satara Hill Half Marathon. Held every September, the event holds the Guinness World Record for ‘Most People in a Single Mountain Run’.
What you get upon making this journey, ideally from late August to October, is access to 850 kinds of flowering plants. What makes the trip worthwhile is that about 650 of them are reckoned to be endangered, with about 40 only being found on the Kaas plateau. These include orchids, shrubs such as the Karvy, and even carnivorous plants such as Drosera Indica.
It is remarkable that such biodiversity rests upon ancient volcanic rock that is covered by just 25 mm of acidic soil. The flowering requires a Goldilocks window, just after the cool-wet monsoons abate and far enough removed from the extreme temperatures of winter and summer (5-45degree Celsius!). During the short season, flowers change colour every couple of weeks to enthrall visitors who almost never stop coming. In fact, visitor numbers have been restricted to 3,000 a day to prevent damage to the delicate flora. Barricades and guided paths help maintain order and possible littering.
Beyond the blossoms
There is a lot more to look forward to once you have had your fix of the flowers. How far can butterflies be when there is so much nectar to be had? Small water bodies form amid the undulation in the rock, leading to a wealth of fish, frogs, and insects.
Larger animals abound on the more wooded areas of the plateau. Recent sightings include gaur, leopards, rusty spotted cats, barking deer, hare, mongoose, and civets. About 200 species of birds comprising the endemic Malabar Lark, among others like scaly breasted munias, doves, robins, and herons frequent Kaas.
We did a night safari with the Kaas plateau vehicle. While it was exciting to drive into the mist with only the headlights to light the jungle, the guides are more excited to take you to an ancient temple or tea stall on the Mahabaleshwar road in the dead of the night instead of more time closer to nature.
Seek more and you shall find!
There is a whole lot more to take in close to Kaas, even if Mahabaleshwar isn’t on your itinerary. Here are our recommendations…
Kaas plateau at a glance
Stay: At Nivant Hill Resort. If you haven’t had excellent views of the valley already, enjoy some from the balcony or watch Satara city lights come on in a shining array. Or go for the simpler homestay experience at Kaas Village Resort | Pay: Rs 100 per person above five years to book online entry to Kaas. Only 1,000 visitors each are allowed per time slot (7am to 11 am / 11 am to 3 pm / 3 pm to 6 pm). Rs 100 for a guide for a group of 10 | Rent: A bicycle at Rs 50 per hour, plus a deposit | Connect: Kas Pathar Office phone 9405830941 and 9595954661, email email@example.com, official website here.
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