I had heard of the Kaas plateau as few of my friends had visited in the recent months and seen the wonderful pictures.. we read about it before going, but the real life experience is simply inexplicable and wonderful! The beauty enthrals you and leaves you enchanted forever…
So we drove to Kaas, the valley of flowers in Maharashtra, Koyna back waters and Kolhapur. Now I’ve been to the original Valley of Flowers up in Uttaranchal, way back in the 90s, when I visited the Himalayas once a year, without fail. That’s another story altogether, but the memories linger till today. I was hoping for the same andh believe me the anticipation grew every mile we drove.
Road trips have become a theme for Hindi films of late. As a journalist, my life has been spent on the roads in this city Mumbai and western coast. Apart from that A and I have done quite a few roads in this country. Ladakh, Punjab and Kaas. Believe me there is a lot to appreciate in our own country. So we booked an Innova, 4 ladies and a young son of our friend too came along for 2 days. This was around the long weekend of August 15, when half of Mumbai was venturing out of the city. The good part was we left very early in the morning and it was much later at night when we were enjoying the chilly weather in Satara that we were informed of long traffic jams, wherein people were stranded on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway for 7-9 hours. We faced no such problem. Yes, the signs were evident, that a lot of people had left the city and in the fine delayed monsoons all wanted to make the most of getting to the hills. We skipped going to the food mall at Talegaon and Lonavala. Our driver halted at a the pump to fill diesel and just seeing the crowds we decided to skip the expressway food malls. We survived with biscuits till Pune and we turned around to go to Joshi’s vadewale. Instead we went to this place adjacent. Some spice restaurant, more like udipi. It was drizzling so we wanted to go sit in a place and use a toilet. It was a good decision to go there.
I’m glad we didn’t have vadas, which spared us acidity problems. Also,since we were in the car to avoid gas one shouldn’t eat vadas. We had some good butter idli-remember in Pune they give white butter in decent quantities, that’s the best part about Pune food, dosas and decent coffee. After this halt we faced the problem of severe jam at one pocket while approaching Wai. We just have no traffic discipline, so while the main old Mumbai-Bangalore NH was jammed, smart alecs began taking the closed service road and chocked the mouth of the NH. If that wasn’t enough many impatient, actually majority in this country seem to be in some sort of a race), actually went on the other side of divider and drove towards the toll plaza from the wrong side. So for a while there was honking, indiscipline driving and moments when I’d have love to get into road rage..it was also warm then, because that stretch there was no rain.
However, the saving grace was the greenery all along the highway. The first sight of waterfalls greet you as we turn on Vashi bridge and after that it is only lush green, hills and hundreds of tiny waterfalls like little white strips running down the mountains. Once we hit the Expressway, the experience was altogether different. One glaring fact that hits you is, we pay such a huge amount of toll and forget the whole expressway, right after the toll plazas one encounters baaps of potholes! Rest of the expressway was a breeze and once we turned towards Lonavala and Khandala, it was a dream. It was sheer nostalgia, as this was how these 2 hill stations since our childhood have been. Scores of waterfalls across the Western Ghats,greenery and suddenly one is engulfed by clouds..they linger on as we move along the expressway. Now I had the print out of the road map, yes, I am NOT a google-map savvy person, I rely on having a hard copy of a map, seeing, asking around. We were directed by some local people and went to Satara city. We turned right to go to Satara city and went along the road which is called a ‘Powai naka.’ (Yes, many names are common in this country, like there is a Bandra in UP, Powai in Mumbai and Satara).
Once notices that this part of the state is developed. We see a more IT, modern, urban type till ahead of Pune and once we approach Karad,it is semi-urban and rural. This is our honourable CM’s constituency, well his family was Congress loyalist from this belt, but ofcourse he served Delhi and 10, Janpath more loyally. The area does need more resources, employment opportunities and overall looked less developed than even small towns along the highway. The vast expanse of fields indicate that this whole region gets good rainfall and sugarcane, amla, other vegetables and fruits grow well here. We were enjoying these small pleasures, this green that completely rejuvenated our eyes and now the anticipation had begun building. We were dying to see the resort.
As we were guided to go along the narrow path towards the Kaas plateau, you come to a fork, straight ahead is the tunnel and we took a left that said ‘wayto the plateau.’ Glad we were on the right path as I called the owner and he said “come up the mountain road and in the middle you will see the only structure.” How do I explain the first view? It was misty, drizzling, we drove along the mountain path and suddenly to our right we saw a huge valley, while all around us was forest area. It was like walking in the clouds and dream-like.
We stopped at the resort and realised that there were many day, passer -by visitors, revellers. Many who had stopped by for ‘drinks and meal we checked in and went up to our rooms. This experience was like straight out of any Hollywood film. We opened the balcony door and a gush of cold air welcomed us. Serene, untouched beauty, trees, forest, sounds of a brook passing near the resort, sights of monkeys, calls of a peacock and breath-taking view! Our lungs must’ve taken a while to suck in this amount of pure air!
After a short while we went down to the restaurant to eat lunch and I must say the quality and taste of food in Nivant resort is by far superior. We decided against resting and went in our car to travel around. We ofcourse didn’t know the directions, so we went around with more drizzle, moving in the clouds with intermittent breaks of lake, river, greenery, cattle heading back home and more rains. We went up and down the mountains, driving to the rhythm of the rains. We had no specific goal, no specific destination, except to greedily take in as much beauty and pleasure as we could. We decided to go along the road
to the plateau, which is the valley of flowers, but the light was going and rains had got heavy.
Back at the room, A insisted we see Zindagi and for next three nights I was made to see the Pakistani dramas. I have general aversion to television soaps, which ever language. And after the Zindagi channel we’d go for dinner. The hotel owner a young man he, spoke to us about the valley, the time for us to leave and what to expect. We were aware that we should early (yet another day of early morning, which results in assault on the stomach). He told us often the city revellers, who can be very disturbing, come with their diesel cars creating long traffic queues along the forest road. He suggested we don’t get out of
the car if it rains and drive along the road straight down to the backwaters of River Koyna.
One important point I must mention here is that one needs fine, compatible friends. We were in no hurry and while taking pics if i requested the driver on occasions to reverse, stop to click, nobody complained,in fact within few hours all had begun alerting me to the flowers. They were colourful, rare and beautiful to say the least. Have I mentioned beauty, speechless and clouds too often, by normal Bombay standards? Well that’s how much of it we saw every minute.
Now the one problem I have with us Indians is that we have something so exceptional like a heritage value valley of flowers, then why can’t we maintain it with as much care and respect? Do we stop ourselves to ask and let our conscience take over a few seconds before some quarter glass bottle of alcohol is chucked out in the forest? Do we hold ourselves back with as much passion as we’d do to keep the insides of our cars clean? Then with why throw lays and wafer wrappers, bisleri bottles, other non-degradable and environmentally harmful trash around?? it is so frustrating…Anyways, through the rains we went to the backwaters of Koyna. It is unbelievably breath-taking. And there one saw the evidence of the nature’s revenge. Whatever was thrown in the waters of Koyna, the river had thrown back on the shores with as much vengeance! There the boat owner told meone should come after the monsoons to see the sanctuary across the backwaters. One has to take a boat and it is worth the try. I’m happy to see any bird other than crows and pigeons, who I’ve come to despise.
We decided to go grab a nice breakfast and we went to the waterfalls and yet another place. What a disappointment! Obese men, in complete holiday mood had stripped to their bare chaddis, boxers in varied sizes are NOT for public good and is yet another peeve about Indians. The men strip down to nothing and the women with them it is permissible. Aargghhhh…just listening to the joyous screams sounded scary to say the least, we women refused to step out of the car. We drove to the foot of the Sajjangadh Fort. My favourite King, Shivaji’s fort. This was the first time I found easy steps to a fort, but scarily slippery, thanks to the green moss on it. I had to hold onto the railing. I can’t keep repeating about the beauty, but I inhaled every bit of clear air that I could, as if it is soon going to run out forever. Drops of rains had collected on the wild plants and grass that was along the path, which made the climb more bearable, I stopped listening to my panting and I am aware as long as I am on the move it won’t last. I just saw the huge oval door of Sajjangadh with a welcoming sign. One flight below is a shop where people can pose in the pagdi and sword of Shivaji. No, I’d rather imbibe his intelligence and policy of governance and his immense vision which I wish we could replicate in our times today. So the lone hiker went to the entrance where I got totally put off seeing people remove their shoes. Now speaking of shoes, on my descend I barely managed to take hold of myself and not fall flat on my face, The sole of my shoes had come off thanks to the rains and wet ground all the while.
Anyways, the time had come for those keds and it also meant buying new chappals for the remaining trip. We went to the town market and we then went to a restaurant that had advertised along the highway and across Satara, I’d say do NOT waste your time. We went to the waterfalls and all i can say is, I’ve blanked out the shrill sounds of catcalls and mawalis who were vying for attention. This deterred us from even rolling down our window glasses and we just asked the driver to speed away. Within a short while we decided to revisit the Kaas platau area. Along the way since the morning, I had already seen three rainbows. Now, I do believe I am a rainbow catcher or spotter. I saw the three and within seconds they began fading.absolutely exquisite!
The impression I was given, that there are long queues and traffic jams, well it wasn’t that bad, but yes a huge cacophony. Loud shrieks, whistles, honking –we are Indians and we love to honk-my friends did not wish to get out..this is what I had come for and I volunteered to go out in the slippery but splendid view. We had not had enough. This was straight out of a dream!
As I crossed slippery, muddy puddles trying to avoid making a spectacle of myself (I usually am the first to trip and slip), I stood still as I saw in the misty haze the whole plateau full of buds, just-blossomed blush pink coloured flowers, white flowers that looked too pretty. I got an urge to roll on that grass and mud, but alas, I had to ensure that I don’t trample upon those dainty shrubs and plants.
Some of us replanted few plants as fellow countrymen and women walked upon them- many died and many more wilted. It broke my heart. The weather was so weird this year, these rare plants deserved more respect and love. But since we need to adjust to this world, I decided to behave touristy and began taking photos. Walking around the muddy paths is best advised as no flowers or plants come under one’s feet. There to my luck, I saw numerous wrappers thrown into this carpet of plants and flowers. Yeah, I went around collecting like an idiot, but I’m sorry i’e realised I’m just getting older and finicky.
I returned to the car a happier, thankful person who reached yet another nirvana. First was in Tadoba, where i saw innumerable birds, animals and i admit the Tigress with her cubs gave me the ultimate nirvana. I love nature and I am grateful that I’ve been fortunate to visit such beautiful places. We went back to the rooms, back to our lives of viewing television, Pakistani serial, reminiscing the whole day’s experiences and recalling the Kaas visit. The next day we set out for Kolhapur, we went in search of some place for lunch and ended up at Dehati. Absolutely delicious, mouth-watering authentic Kolhapuri food. Now the popular misconception is Kolhapuri is spicy food, it is NOT. Their chilly paste and chutneys, pickles are like missles, but not their regular food. It is by far the best. For the meat eaters, they give meat along with tambda rassa and white rassa, The vegetarians can ask for the rassa (gravy) and it is worth it. I ate the vegetarian thali which was beyond filling. We drank sol kadhi to digest this heavy meal and returned to our cars like Mogambos and stuffed pumpkins.
We travelled around the city, saw the Mahalaxmi temple, beautiful lake and later went to the palace and Shivaji museum. There in the premises, for over two hours we were treated to an exclusive sight of deers and a peacock special. That the deers are petite, quick and agile we were aware. But that they were adorably loving was a new facet I experienced. Few of them posed merrily and their sharp ears were sensitive to all sounds and murmurs, The peacock true to its personality took his own sweet time to give an appearance. I’ve not put in such energies and patience for even a man in my life! That bird takes the cake for showing what a personality means.
We went for dinner and little did we know we would be involved in a huge drama, Initially we sat inside the restaurant and the young owner, Chandrasen came and asked us to sit out to enjoy the chill. It was far too windy to sit through the whole dinner. We ordered our appetisers and chaas and requested that we sit inside. Adjacent to our table, across the aisle was a group of men. They were drinking and honestly looked shady. They were quite loud and few times we saw the man with the earrings open and shut the window. I was distracted and found that slightly irritating. My friend A thought they were feeling hot and that is why they wanted some fresh air. However, L had decided to pay detaled attention to this threesome male group. She told us that the man with earrings was behaving badly and trying to draw the attention of two teenager girls sitting out on the deck.
The girls were very attractive and must have been his daughter’s age. They were sitting with their parents and brother. Slowly the other two men went away and so did this pervert. By then L had began hyperventilating, all set to go to the parents to tell them how cheap he was behaving. We then saw the pervert come from the garden end to the deck right where the girls were sitting. He tried to signal to the girl while holding onto a cell, talking into it. Now L had told us so we 4 women began watching the course of events. On our left side was the wall and a huge fish tank and across it was the lobby. Within minuted we saw the father of the girl had accosted the pervert in the lobby, We got excited, we wanted this man to be beaten for what he had done. He was shamelessly defiant and his accomplices came wanting to drag the father of the girl outside. We feared these ruffains were ganged up and the father alone, not realizing who was more powerful. A asked me to tell the girl’s father not to go out alone. He tried to assure us he won’t beat the man, thinking we didn’t want to see these events. At that time we all women said, no we had no problem if he was handed over to the police because we saw him behave lewd with the young girl and he deserves a tight slap. Suddenly the manager and the workers from the hotel ran out.
Later the girl’s father came to the fish tank with folded hands bowed and thanked us, We felt he was pucca like a politician. Soon, he came with the owner’s father and said “I’ve come all prepared, but didn’t do anything, Please tell uncle I wasn’t at fault and just protecting my daughter,” This father was a rather young man and we looked across his daughter was still crying. Then all was fine and we all said byes and retreated to our rooms to prepare for journey back to Mumbai. The next day as we left the resort, along the highway, the driver asked us if we knew what had transpired. We recounted the incident that had unfolded in front of us, After which he told us what had occurred outside. The man was beaten and after he tried to hit the father, the hotel staff rushed to pin down the pervert, Wait, now is the interesting part. The pervert’s wife came and begged forgiveness, her grown up son tried to defend the father and was given a tight slap and then the wife begged to leave him, as they had a daughter of the same age as the girl! The father of the victim turned out to be the brother of the late Vilasrao Deshmukh’s wife, And yes, the driver excitedly told us he too gave two tight slaps to the pervert, On the way we did stop at Joshivade wale and we were not disappointed. The typical Marathi authentic vades are the ones which have thin layer of gram flour, not thick like leather. Satisfied, like our journey to Kaas we ate the guavas, roasted peanuts in the pods and yes this time we even had boiled sweet corn!
We returned to a rainy city, but noisy, with traffic jams from Chembur and scores of people having baths along the highway and road, all in the name of Dahi Handi. A thorough let down from the near-heavenly abode to stark reality of loud noise, dirt and urban madness.