My tryst with Kas Pathar

Kas Pathar…
One of my must-visit destinations this season spurred in good part by photos of what seemed like an endless carpet of flowers on this plateau (pathar). An earlier visit to this so-called Maharashtra’s Valley of Flowers was quite literally rain washed hence a second trip was absolutely called for.

So again we went, a group of enthusiastic amateur botanists making the best of a Sunday by a visit to Kas Pahtar. Accompanied by experts, armed with books and field guides and magnifying lens’ and cameras we expected to have a ‘rich’ haul in terms of a visual feast, botanical information and of course photo ops for the shutter bugs!!

And a treat it was… Kas is a lateritic plateau on the western ghats at a distance of about 22 kms from Satara via a long narrow uphill road that offers breathtaking views of the town, lake and water bodies below. Being September, the marigold fields were a shock of orange amid the postcard perfect view.

The flowers that bloom in August and September every year in Kas are endemic (specific to the weather conditions of this area- heavy rain. thin soil layer, strong wind, mist etc) and ephemeral (last a very short time) and the species may be lost forever if destroyed. Trampling by humans, vehicles are some avoidable factors. We had read reports of the local authorities banning vehicles from entering the ecologically sensitive plateau acting on environmental concerns. Hence we were not surprised that our bus was stopped about 6 kms short of the plateau. At last, the authorities seemed to have got their act right!

The trek to the plateau in blazing sun was made less weary with our efforts to identify trees growing on the roadsides. Our walk was constantly interrupted by vehicles zooming past us, all speeding to the plateau. Yet the number of vehicles kept on increasing and we seemed to be the only people walking up. The sole bus meant to ferry people was soon seen stuck amid several vehicles all trying to enter the plateau.

(You will need to click on this image to see the row of cars in the distance)

As mentioned before, this is a very narrow road with minimal space adjoining it, no laybys hence quite incapable of dealing with what was by now an army of vehicles and hundreds of over enthusiastic tourists. They walked all over the flowers, plucked or uprooted the delicate blooms, the vehicles drove over all over them and one family was even seen to have brought their dog along….

Thankfully we did not see a trail of plastic and other waste on the plateau. Miscellaneous vendors were not visible either… small mercies in an other wise ecological nightmare.

The beauty of the flowers was marred by traffic nightmare, thronging crowds and vehicle emissions. The police were in sufficient numbers but their actions did not seem effective at all. The Kas plateau was overrun with vehicles just that the thing the authorities claimed to want to avoid. Haphazard parking compounded woes of those on foot who at times had walk in the adjoining undergrowth as they had absolutely no place to walk.

There was no evidence of rising inflation, soaring petrol prices judging the number of cars and SUVs of all brands and high tech DSLRs (with accessories) on display.

Some blamed this as a Sunday effect but whatever the reason traffic management must be more effective. Here is my two-paise worth:

1. Limit number of vehicles to be allowed, based on the area available for parking- particularly on Sundays. Those desirous of visiting the plateau must register a day prior or pay a toll for the same. I am told that the number of vehicles entering Tadoba sanctuary per day is limited at different gates. A similar strategy can be adopted here. This road leads to Bamnoli and Vasota ahead hence such a rule can hamper their travel plans.
2. Do not allow private vehicles at all. Provide sufficient and frequent buses from Satara and to Kas on holidays for the duration of the flowering season.

I am told the story is entirely different on working days.

Dont let this account put you off. The Kas plateau is indeed worth visiting but here are my tips to make your visit more memorable:

  • Avoid weekends and Thursdays (that is an industrial holiday in Pune)
  • If you must go on a Sunday or Saturday, leave early and reach Kas by 8AM. That will give you a good two hours before the crowds descend and beat the sun as well.
  • Carry your own food and plenty of water and carry waste back with you
  • Walk on the tracks or rocks but never on the flowers or grass or greenery
  • Do not pluck or uproot the plants

The season may be nearing its end for this year. You can still catch them else wait for another year. More about the flowers themselves in another post..
Lets all work to conserve Kas so we do not have to say ‘Kash’! काश!!
Enjoy!
Archana

Sacred Groves (Devrai)

My first visit to a Devrai (as sacredgroves are called in Maharashtra) was both scary and exhilarating. Scary because I was walking over a thick carpet of dead leaves not knowing what lay or lived underneath with the sunlight barely filtering to the ground throughthe dense tree canopy. Exhilarating because I had the opportunity to see decades old trees that had survived Man’s relentless tree cutting due to unshaken faith in the residing deity in that forest. Some trees looked so huge that the cement statue was possibly installed later… So what came first, the idol or the trees?? 

The sequence is immaterial, the preservation of species is what matters.This has happened because according to folklore one is not supposed to take away anything from a devrai, no flowers, leaves, twigs, seeds.. nothing. That may have helped protect these trees from being destroyed in the insidiously growing cement jungle and kept it out of the clutches of the money-minded “land lobby”.



Loth, a tree seen in a devrai near Pune

Vatoli


The only sounds to be heard were our feet crunching on the leaves, birds chirping as they possibly discussed our presence in the devrai with their brethren(friend or foe?) and insects that set up the ocassional crescendo ending in an abrupt silence. The silence compelled us to stop meaningless discussions and focus on the beauty that lay before us.
 
Next time you are driving on a high way, do take time to walk through one and let the pervading peace seep into your very soul.
Visit these links to learn more about sacred groves in India and their locations:
http://www.ecoheritage.cpreec.org/innerpageof.php?$mFJyBfKPkE6

http://edugreen.teri.res.in/explore/forestry/groves.htm
Cheers!

Here they come…

Come September and my eyes are uncontrollably drawn to the stately Buccha trees that soar up to five storeys high… Its the blooming season for Millingtonia hortensis, locally called Buccha. There are several Buccha trees on my daily walk/cycling route and these are just about breaking into their first blooms. The next couple of months promise to be a fragrant delight for all those walking/ living near this tree…

According to the book “Trees of Pune” this is an exotic tree originating in Burma. Yet they grow quite comfortably in Pune and in plenty, with most trees lining our main streets… The tube like flowers can be easily woven (pleated) into a veni (like a small garland) . Millingtonia hortensis belongs to the Bignoniaceae family and rarely fruits in Pune but I am told that fruiting does occur in Mumbai.

One shower or a strong breeze and the white flowers come drizzling down, a beautiful sight resembling a shower of stars!! Walking is a pleasure while Buccha is in bloom and every morning there is a veritable flower carpet under the tree.

Am I going overboard with this description? I dont think so. If you haven’t already noticed this lovely blossom then do so…. you will not be disappointed!
Cheers!

Take a break…

Konkan has emerged as a popular weekend getaway for people from western Maharashtra and those from other parts as well. The west coast of Maharashtra is well known for its beaches and mangoes and cashews and temples. That’s for tourists. Konkan is a rich bio diverse habitat and there are over 1500 endemic species growing here. Despite being quite near we had never managed to visit that coastal belt other tourist destinations always won hands down..

So when the first opportunity presented itself in form of a study tour to the Konkan I did not hesitate for a second.

And there we were a motley group of nature lovers right from over 60 years-young to twenty something-years old. Armed with sturdy shoes, caps, water bottles, lens’, cameras, field guides and most of all knowledgeable instructors, we trudged across hill and vale, sand and stone in the blazing May noon sun, We looked at and learnt about the majestic tall and at times small flora growing there. Each told its own story, held its own place in the history of the evolution of the plant kingdom. Even a tiny pool of water on a depression on a rock held a tiny ecosystem.

As they say, to really ‘find’ good material for a bonsai, the place to look is not the front rows of nursery plant displays. One has to check out the trees languishing at the back that no one really bothers about. Similarly to see diverse habitats and plant types, move away from the tourist attractions on a beach to the low tide, near the rocks and the edge of the sand. And then see what treasure awaits you!

The bare rock was a lateritic plateau that was seemingly bare. Note ‘seemingly’. One shower was all it will take to get the hidden herbs to spring to life. The monsoon months are said to be a pure delight with a changing colourful kaleidoscope every week as each and every plant blooms. The same phenomenon is seen at Kaas pathar- an otherwise bare stony region.

And how can one forget mangoes? and cashews? Several residents of Konkan have thrown open their homes or some have created spaces specifically for ‘city folk’ so as to get a ‘taste’ of living among mango trees – inside a mango grove…

Many villages in India have what are called ‘sacred groves’ (devrai). Its a subtle method to conserve nature and biodiversity. We did walk through a couple of them and the experience is quite something. There are parts where the sunlight does not reach the soil even as the air is filled with bird and insect sounds. Clamber over rocks, several inches thick layers of dead leaves and twigs to reach an amazing buttressed roots of Ficus nervosa or a dry looking fern called Dryneria or orchids blooming unassumingly high on tree branches, just to name a few…

The bottom line: do visit foreign lands, other parts of India but before that take your next holiday to visit the interiors of your own state and try to understand local culture. There is much to learn…
Cheers!

Empress Garden


The Empress Garden is one of the jewels of our city one that activists and nature lovers are striving to protect. This is the link to its website: http://empressgarden.org/

Situated in the Cantonment area, it has several huge and old trees that offer cool respite from the heat. While you may have read of the ‘cooling’ shade, one needs to experience it to truly understand. For this there is no better place than the Empress Garden.

On a recent visit, we were mesmerised by a huge creeper that seemed to rise up from the ground and soar to the tree tops. It formed a natural canopy of white flowers that no decorator can match. The vine had some kind of a tall stand erected for its support, but the plant had long left it behind and had used other trees to spread around the entire garden.

A bit of searching and we learnt that it was the Bauhinia vahlii. Some flowers were white, some yellowing with typical bilobed leaves of the Bauhinia. Here is a link to some botanical details: http://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Maloo%20Creeper.html

Our camera proved incapable of capturing its glorious bloom but I have added our meagre efforts just to get an idea. Experts say the creeper blooms till June, so those lucky may still be able to enjoy this spetacle.
Enjoy!

Exotic Trees: Good or bad?

We often read and hear ecology experts criticising trees growing around us. Wait a minute, the criticism is about their species and not trees per se. Their contention is that these trees are exotic (non-native) hence not suitable for our environment.
I was surprised to know that trees like the Gulmohor (Delonix regia) and Glyricidia that grow rampantly everywhere are exotic. Other commonly seen trees that are exotic are the rain tree (Sanabea saman), Shewga (Moringa oleifera), Buccha (Millingtonia hortensis) and Tabebuia varieties. Ecological experts opine that only native trees must be grown in any particular region and not exotic ones because:

  • Exotic species attract pathogens that may damage native species.
  • They compete with local trees for water and space.
  • Their leaf and soil chemistry may adversely affect our native trees. (there may be more reasons, these are just an example)

Their arguments seemed convincing to me till I heard another point of view from learned botanists.

  • The much maligned Glyricida actually is very useful in rural regions as fuel wood. Its branches can be broken easily into short straight bits that can easily be put in the wood stove. The tree grows back rapidly hence provides fuel again. In barren regions, trees like these grow rapidly and provide a green cover.
  • Trees are trees and they carry out their basic function namely photosynthesis. Hence they provide us with useful oxygen and remove CO2. In a highly polluted city this is highly desirable.
  • If our environment was unsuitable to these species, they would not have survived and flourished in our land all these years. We know from our evolutionary history that species may die if environmental conditions are unsuitable.
  • 60% of the food we eat in Maharashtra is said to be exotic. Potato, wheat, tomato, chillies, guava and chikoo are examples of non-native plants that we eat, experts told me. So then what do we eat if we shun these exotic species??

I guess we cannot just kill off trees growing around us. They give shade and greenery in a cement and concrete jungle. What can be done is to make sure that native trees do not suffer, there are new plantations of native species.
What do you think?

By the way, an excellent resource to know about trees around Pune is a book called ‘Trees of Pune’ by Shrikant Ingalhalikar and Sharvari Barve.
Cheers!

Botany at Forty

I love trees, plants, herbs, shrubs… in fact almost all green (and not green) things that grow in nature. When setting up our home at each posting the sight of similar vegetation growing in our garden or even our residential campus gave a comforting familiarity. I almost looked upon the trees as a friend. While the Neem was rampant in Bidar, this tree was not as easily found in Assam. I never did think I would miss Neem even amidst the widespread greenery of the East. Yet miss I did. Ditto for the bamboo when we moved out from Assam. Often I recognized the tree or the blooms but did not know their names… I did try to Google their identity but success was not assured… The feeling was akin to not knowing the name of a close friend…
A course in Field Botany seemed just what the doctor ordered. I would be able to learn not only know names but habitat, classification, growth patterns, characteristics of many many more green friends. Full of josh, I made copious notes, referred to my old photographs and supplied notes. The first discordant note appeared after a few lectures. It was March on the Tekdi and being a dry/moist deciduous forest (my newly acquired gyan!!) the trees that had become bare in winters were just springing forth with tender shoots. While previously I would have admired their different shades of green and so on, I now found myself trying to analyze shape of the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, the stipule (if any or if modified), petiole, venation etc etc.
I started carrying my Cell Phone just to take photos of leaves for my homework. I did not have time to admire the forest that was bursting back to life nor for the few flowers in full bloom that tried to attract my attention with the fragrance…. Walk became work and study. Suddenly it began to lose its charm particularly when confronted with an unidentifiable specimen… I seriously contemplated going back to an indoor work out…
On the botany front, we had progressed to inflorescence. This is not to be confused with flowers. Our module was so designed that we would be able to view (study) most angiosperms that grow in our part of the world. Naturally my bonsai too were blooming. My daughter and I were admiring my Kamini (Murraya panniculata) with when she suddenly dropped a bombshell. At least that was what it was to me…
“Aai what is this type of inflorescence called?”
“Hmmm… Looks like the inflorescence is of the determinate type…”
“Yes- that is cymose. Go on…”
She has a biotechnology background so I knew I would not be able to bluff my way through this one…
“Is it a dichasial cyme?”
“You tell me…”
I started at the bright red fruit looking for inspiration. How come that branch had escaped my pruning shears after the flowers had wilted? I felt about three feet tall and was immediately transported back to the early 1990s but with roles reversed. To be specific, I was the child answering a viva!! I wished the flower would talk back to me describing itself. I did talk to my plants did I not?? There was no help in sight…
The Cell phone rang and took my daughter’s attention away and I breathed a sigh of relief… That call saved my day.
I still have to work on a presentation and luckily I have the freedom to choose a topic. Mainly I have to describe in details whatever trees I choose. That means I would have to undergo more of what I have just described and plus some more. I have to describe the stem, leaves, inflorescence, fruits etc etc… Is it an herb or a shrub or tree?
The timetable shows that our ‘abbreviated course’ will have four lectures on the flower even though we will not be studying microscopic characteristics. Will I ever be able to enjoy the fragrance of a Tuberose or admire the colours and shape of an Orchid without analyzing its petals, sepals etc etc. Does it have to be beauty or science and can the two not go together?
Suddenly I hated myself for joining this field botany that did not allow me to enjoy my flowers or greenery around me. Did one really need to know the name and biodata of every tree around me? Would I like the Nerium lesser if I did not know that its leaf arrangement was decussate or that the ‘flower’ of my Anthurium was actually a spadix? Would I be less aware of my responsibility to maintain the fast disappearing green cover over my city? I don’t think so….
I have to rush now, my books are waiting…
Wish me luck!

Tulips in Pune

A very popular song of my childhood (Dekha Ek Khwab…) in the movie Silsila was shot against the backdrop of tulip fields.. Since then I have been wanting to see these flowers up close and luckily for me I did not have to go all the way to Holland for it, nor to the local florist…
I was privileged to see Tulips grown with extreme love and dedication, not to mention hard work by the mother son duo of Madhumati and Ashutosh Sathe. Not only did they generously allow us to view the flowers but gave us a detailed explanation about how they managed this feat (getting the flowers to bloom) in Pune weather, which is not their natural habitat. Mrs Sathe and Ashutosh have been growing Tulips since 2000 and the secret of their success is in the ‘forcing technique’ that they use to get the bulbs to germinate and grow.
According to Mrs Sathe, yellow, red and purple varieties bloom quite well in our climate. Once a flower blooms it stays fresh on the plant for eight days and then fades away. The flowers have a mild fragrance and ‘close’ every night and ‘open’ the next morning.
This year, they were happy to have a flower blooming on Valentines day itself and expect their flowers to continue to bloom till March end. Presently the tulips are the star attraction of their garden.
These flowers are indeed a sight for sore eyes.
Cheers!

March on Tekdi


March was a month of hectic activity on our Tekdi. Instead of putting everything down in words, I have a few photos that will better convey developments on the Tekdi.

As the sleeping earth awoke (from whatever winter we have here) some trees burst into fluorescent shoots that always glittered as the caught the early morning sun. It was also time for others to shed whatever remaining green garb they wore as the reserve forest plantation took on a sad brown hue.

Man made or accidental fires raged in parts that often destroyed this dried up undergrowth and grass but often took along with it some healthy trees as well …

Some trees bloomed despite global warming or whatever is the latest ecological blip. Gliricidia (pink inflorescence- also called undir mari) spread their delicate fragrance. Yet another tree covered by delicate white blooms made a stark contrast to the brown landscape (I have yet to find out the name of this plant).
Like wise fruit of the Harandodi tree burst (see the first photo) spreading millions of seeds that created snowy cotton beds on the ground!

As the parched earth thirsted for water, morning walkers enthusiastically watered the trees using discarded plastic bottles. The forest department ensures (tries to) that cement water tanks specially built for this purpose are refilled regularly. To goad those who prefer to just walk past, many voluntary organisations and activists put up posters urging every one to do his/her bit. I have one photo of a sample poster but there are many more similar interesting ones put up on trees.

March on the Tekdi shows signs of hope.
People marching on the Tekdi all have a common aim- to stay fit and healthy and conserve this unique feature of our city.
Cheers!

Annual Fruit and Vegetable Show

The Pune Municipal Corporation organised its annual fruit, flower and vegetable show at the Sambhaji Park recently. In view of the recent explosions at German Bakery in Koregaon Park, public participation was less enthusiastic. Every year the organisers go the extra mile to decorate the Park in a unique way. In fact, one will not recognise Sambhaji Park in the Show to be the same as the one seen all year round.

This year, the entrance and walkway thereafter was bedecked with orchids, anthurium, gerberas and carnations in many different colours. A deer created out of sphagnum moss was a lovely look alike to a real one. With Shiv Ratri being round the corner, the organisers had created a ‘shiv ling’ of flowers. The backdrop to the imposing statue of Shiva (NOT made of flowers!!) was … more flowers of course with a layered border of pansies, salvia, balsam etc.

Behind they created a landscape depicted a river, trees etc. and in front of it a flower train…

Other than this the show had the usual displays (all wonderful) and a superb display by the Friends of Bonsai.

If you missed the event this year, here are some photos. But keep track of the newspapers next year, and its a not-to-be missed display .
Cheers!