Wednesday

Wildflowers of Kaas Plateau - Paradise Lost?


This Sunday we went to visit Kaas plateau near Satara (Maharashtra, India). A much awaited trip to see the millions of delicate and breathtakingly beautiful wildflowers that suddenly spring up post-monsoon on this volcanic table atop a mountain range. 
  
“UNESCO heritage site” proclaims the board at the start of this vast table land. A few years ago, the government discovered the tourism potential of this site and decided to ‘develop’ it.  Whole stretches of the plateau have been imprisoned in metal wire fences. The left part of the plateau is now apparently off limits atleast to normal tourists. This might be alright to protect flower species, but probably interferes with the free movement of wild animals found in this part of the mountain range. 
On the right side, there is a small gate at one point in the fence, with a guard who lets you in for a fee of Rs.60 (Rs.10 entry + Rs.50 camera charges).  I am ok with fees if indeed the money collected is used for the conservation of the natural flora and fauna found here. (It must be huge. Do the math.)

Now we come to the issue of traffic. Along the narrow road that divides this plateau, cars, buses and other vehicles were stretched bumper to bumper in both the directions, for 2-3 kilometers.  There is a parking lot a few kms from the entry gate. How a person is expected to go there, park a car, walk back all the way and then walk back to get into the car again, is a mystery to me. All the while we were there, the traffic never diminished. More and more vehicles kept coming. The amount of air pollution caused by the diesel and petrol fumes - does it not have a destructive effect on the flora of this region? 

Vehicles stretched out in both directions for a few kilometers

What hits you once you get inside is the sea of humanity in this enclosure. What kind of visitors? Most seemed to have come there to do ‘timepass’ with their family and friends.  Ladies in zari sarees and chappals, with small kids who could not have possibly even been aware of wildflowers at this age. Romantic  couples. She flaunting the scarf like a model so that he could take photos of her. College gangs out to have a good time. Groups cracking jokes and chattering away with their group of pals. All this while the poor flowers were being royally trampled upon. Very few bothered to take any real interest in the flowers themselves, or to realize their importance even. One even came across stray food wrappers here and there. Not many, but the process has begun.
The few bushes in the area had been captured by the women, children and families as canopies under which to shelter themselves from the sun and have their food. How many of them were really interested in the wildflowers one truly wonders. These people would have been equally happy in an artificial plantation.

People people everywhere..

As for the flowers, there were mostly a few varieties of impatiens (Balsam) growing in patches, here and there. Most of the yellows like Smythia were missing. The white button-like flowers too had met the same fate. Nowhere did one see the endlessly stretching swathes of purple, pink, violet, yellow and white, as in the past. The ground was hard and mostly bereft of grass. There were bunches of Topli Karvi plants spread all over. Reports from others who have visited Kaas this year give similar information.  The number of species flowering seems to have reduced this year as compared to previous years.  Let us hope that the cordoned off areas help in survival of the species.

The fence. And what are these bags doing here?

The most worrying development is the number of hotels, tea stalls, and shacks that have come up on the approach road to this place over a stretch of almost 3-5 kilometers. There was not a single one about 4 years ago. Such places bring with them all the problems of garbage, hygiene and sanitation. Something that should have been strictly avoided at a place where rare botanical species grow wild.  At this rate it will not take long to bring in merry-go-rounds and the remaining circus often found at such centers of ‘urban entertainment’. Urban living brings pests such as rats, and other invasive plant species along with them. Once they gain a toehold in the surrounding area, it is easy for the existing and delicate bio-diversity to be destroyed. There are a few boards near the fence informing visitors about the importance and diversity of plants seen here, but this is very clearly not enough. 
While one might say that every person has a right to visit Kaas, the concept of responsible tourism is nowhere in evidence. Over a period of time this region might well become species poor in its flora due to the invasion of urban elements. Is this what is meant by ‘development’ and conservation of our natural heritage? 
©



4 comments:

  1. Sad reality, indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting, Max.

      Delete
  2. I went to Kaas a few years ago with the same expectations only to find them similarly dashed. Your post brings out valid concerns, though from what I had heard the barricades had been put since some people would even play football over the flowers! Unfortunately most of our people have no respect for nature (or even history for that matter).

    http://monsoontrekker.blogspot.in

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the comment monsoontrekker. I can easily believe what you say after having seen visitors with a similar attitude. There are solutions to this which our tourism dept happily neglects to implement.

    ReplyDelete