Power to the flower
Enchanted areas, endless expanses of flowered carpets, kaleidoscopic slivers of flora and fauna quite unlike anything you've imagined. We aren't quoting fanciful heaven by Wordsworth despite the fact that numerous poets and botanists have actually been inspired by this area's beauty.
Pic Courtesy/ M Asif
Well hidden from the probing eyes of mankind lies a destination of unmatched beauty for nature enthusiasts -- The Valley of Flowers in the Himalayas. Quite a common feature on most people's bucket list, this valley has an alluring quality that has drawn people from across the globe.
Valley of flowers
However, Maharashtra isn't far behind. The Kaas Plateau in Satara district makes for a stunning spectacle. So perhaps it's time to beg the ubiquitous question -- Are these two regions truly birds of a feather?
Both places are known for their wonderfully diverse biospheres with over 1,000 different species of flowers in bloom in either site. While The Valley is home to poppies, wild roses and marigolds, Kaas is orchid heaven. Most are in bloom for 3-4 weeks in late August until September In fact, the Queen of Khandala Orchid (India's largest orchid) is found in large numbers over here. However, "a real comparison of the type of blooms we see in both locations is not feasible simply because the climactic zones are so different," reasons Bibhas Amonkar, wildlife photographer who has visited both regions.
Expect to spot rare species including the Himalayan Black and Brown Bears, Golden Eagle, Grifford Vulture and even the ever-elusive Snow Leopard in the Valley of Flowers. Kaas, being a plateau isn't ideal habitat for wild animals due to lack of protection yet being a bio-diverse area there is a good chance to spot jackals, leopards and perhaps even the rare Rusty Spotted Cat. Both regions are excellent for butterfly spotting.
If it's peaceful quiet that you seek, nearly every expert we spoke to feels that Kaas does not fit the bill. Fast emerging as a tourist attraction combined with easy accessibility leads to serious crowding. Thankfully, given that the Valley is situated at an altitude of 10,500 feet you can be assured of pin-drop silence in the Himalayan counterpart.
"The valley is systematically well-protected since it is a biosphere and there is no destruction of flora and fauna. However, Kaas Plateau has not been afforded the same kind of protection that it deserves due to which the degradation in the last 4-5 years is sordid, to say the least," says M Asif of Nature Knights.
Amonkar not only agrees with him but furthers his point by stating that the tourist profile in both regions is vastly different and the ones who visit Kaas are seemingly diffident towards the spectacle of beauty around them. He, along with several nature enthusiasts believe this jewel of Maharashtra needs to be declared a sanctuary to prevent any further dilapidation.
Adesh Sivkar, head of Nature India Tours, says, "Wherever you decide to go keep abreast of the situation and spread awareness. Make an effort not to leave a trail, whether it is garbage or the trampling of wild flowers so that future generations too can enjoy the immense beauty that Maharashtra's greatest bio-diversity hot spot has to offer."
How to get there
Valley of Flowers: Getting to this Himalayan flower paradise could take you anywhere between 3-4 days of rail and road travel simply to get to the beginning point of a trek (14 kms long), which will actually take you into the depths of the biosphere. The nearest airport is Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, which is about 319 km from Valley of Flowers National Park. The nearest railhead is at Rishikesh, 302 km. Dehradun and Haridwar railheads are also can be accessed which are about 320 km. Joshimath is the nearest town at a distance of 17 km from Valley of Flowers. From Joshimath the distance has to be trekked. Bus services are available to Joshimath from Dehradun and Rishikesh.
Kaas Plateau: State Transport and private buses run frequently between Mumbai and Satara but the journey time is a minimum 5 hours and the ride can be quite strenuous. If you take your own vehicle or a private taxi and leave Mumbai before 6 am, you can make it in just over 3 hours via the Mumbai Pune Expressway and NH4. A third option is by train -- the Koyna Express, where you reach Satara in eight hours.
Best time to visit
"The one real similarity with the two areas is that they both have a monsoon flora. This means that the flowers are in full bloom for just a few weeks during and after the rains," says Amonkar. July to August is the peak flowering time in the Himalayan Valley and thus the best time to visit while September is better for Kaas Plateau. Naturally, this is subject to slight variation due to the sensitivity of nature.