For about half the year, the laterite plateaus of Goa look brown. The ground is bare, save for patches of grass, scrubby trees, and reddish-brown laterite rock. The canopy is sparse, the tropical sun beats down, and geckos, snakes, and small insects are the only visible creatures. But around June, rain clouds blow in from the Arabian Sea, drenching the ground and changing the landscape to a vibrant green that pulsates with life.
Herpetologist Varad Giri writes of the richness of this habitat in an article for Saevus magazine called, Plateaus in the Northern Western Ghats — An Abode to the Unique Faunal Diversity. Giri has been studying the Konkan belt of Maharashtra and Goa for many years now and shares how “they metamorphose into a beautiful landscape during the rainy season,” with the “presence of varieties of endemic and ephemeral floral diversity.”
Within a week of rain, the rocky plateaus are covered with grass and other wild plants. Puddles give way to ponds, streams begin to gurgle, and the sound of frogs, toads, and other breeding insects fill the air. Flowers bloom, bringing more insect life, which in turn attracts birds, snakes, and other reptiles that derive their nutrition from hunting bugs.
The flora of these laterite plateaus is quite special too. Owing to the poor organic matter in the soil, the plants in the region have evolved to be smaller in size, with shorter life cycles that last only a few weeks. Some species flower en masse, cloaking the hillsides with white or pink blooms. Others derive their nutrition from insects and have evolved complex strategies to procure and digest their prey. Many are endemic to these plateaus, found nowhere else on the planet.
The Konkan region is one of the major geographic divisions of western India, writes Giri. “The uniqueness of this region is the presence of large laterite or basaltic plateaus on the crest of mountains close to the coast and Western Ghats mountains,” he says. “The forest, mostly semi-evergreen, is in the valleys. These plateaus, though look barren in non-monsoon season, they metamorphose into a beautiful landscape during rainy season.”