Fireflies, or lightning bugs were a memorable part of my childhood. With the onset of monsoons in Goa, evening power cuts were a daily affair. There was no generator or inverter installed at our old Portuguese home back then. No cell phones to while away the dark hours texting on.
So we’d light a candle in each room of the house, sit outside in the balcao (balcony) and listen to the wind whistle through the leaves, bringing with it that cool, uplifting smell of a storm approaching. It was then that we’d unfailingly see a twinkle in the darkness, and then another… and another. As kids, we’d try to count how many fireflies there were in the garden that night and if one happened to be crawling on our old wooden gate or painted balcony grills, we’d watch it up close, eyes wide with awe.
Mumbai has made me forget these memories. We don’t even have time to look up at the stars anymore. If we did, we wouldn’t see them anyway.
I first heard about the Firefly Festival organized by Grassroutes, a community based initiative that focuses on creating a conscientious society through promoting rural tourism. You could choose to go on the firefly expedition through Grassroutes where they will put you up in tents, arrange your meals and the whole experience in general at Purushwadi, another popular spot to watch fireflies. I preferred finding my own way.
On doing some research, I found that the fireflies mating season occurs during the last weeks of May and first weeks of June, just before the onset of the monsoons. Once the monsoon sets in, the droplets falling on their wings make it difficult for them to fly, causing their already short lifespan to end even faster.
The moment I got the news that the rains had started lashing Goa, I knew they’d be in Maharashtra in a couple of days, so I packed a bag and was road-trip ready for the opportune moment I found out that I had no commitments the next day.
The trip to Bhandardara was SPECTACULAR to say the least, and I’ve written about this jewel in the Sahyadri ranges, along with the review on MTDC, the Maharashtra Tourism Guest House I stayed at. If you’re a biker or someone who loves long drives, forget planning a trip to Leh Ladakh! Head three hours north for the most breath-taking views of the Sahyadri ranges and valleys.
Anyway, I left Mumbai at around 10 am and reached Bhandardara by 4 pm. The last half an hour got us drenched in the downpour and the drizzle continued for hours. The entire evening, I wondered whether my trip was in vain, since the rain could have washed away the fireflies and my hope of getting to see them light up the forest.
At 7:30, as darkness began to creep in, we headed out again, and just like Goa, there was a power cut, thanks to the rain. It was pitch dark, except for the headlights of cars driving down the narrow lane and halting to spot some fireflies among the trees on both sides of the road. Even in the day, there were plains and valleys for as far as the eye could see, with a few or no houses at all.
It drizzled incessantly throughout but we saw these magical lightning bugs instantly. The forest came alive with bright flashes all around, pulsating with a natural rhythm – thousands and thousands of fireflies looking for mates. It was like a natural disco party, but the only music was the sound of rain on the leaves and dozens of frogs croaking, breaking through the silence.
We stayed out in the rain to watch them until 10 pm, climbing over hillocks in the dark to see if there was an even more surreal view on the other side and riding up and down the 5 km stretch. At times, the fireflies blinked in sync, lighting up whole trees in a flash – and at other times, they were like fairy lights, twinkling to their own tune.
Try as we might, we couldn’t get any pictures of them using an iPhone. I tinkered with every possible setting but it failed to capture a firefly’s blinking in the dark even when it was a few feet away. Clicking an entire tree light up was impossible and one would need a DSLR for sure.
We left to get back to the guesthouse drenched but with memories that only the eyes can capture. The pitch darkness, twinkles of millions of fireflies, the occasional bright flash of lightning that defiantly showed these creatures who can light up the sky better and the smell of rain! Nature indeed puts on the best shows if you have the time to stop and watch.
The next day, the weather was perfect. Crisp, cool air, gentle breeze and not a cloud in sight. We decided to stay on to see if the fireflies would be more in number when the weather was pleasant, as they were supposed to be. It was a Monday, which meant that people had gone back to the city and there would be an absence of that steady flow of traffic and headlights that kept interrupting our lightning-bug gazing experience the previous day.
Not really! While there was a huge drop in cars on the road, there was no power cut. So a few houses had their lights on, the streetlights glowed, the full moon shone in the cloudless sky and in general, the fireflies seemed a little less in number. Either way, I’m blessed to have witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime experience TWICE!