The car jerked while taking a turn and broke my slumber. Outside, the Mumbai traffic and the muggy summer weather had been replaced by a slight chill in the air. The high-rises had been replaced by a brown rocky landscape, interspersed with a house here and there. “This is Bhandardara,” said Omkar, my charioteer for the journey, as we whizzed past farmers tilling bajra and rice fields, blooming marigold patches and umpteen mango trees. My phone suddenly came to life. “Make your calls now,” he advised.
He was right. We reached Rajur, the last major town, 16 kilometres from my destination, and my mobile service died. But it was all okay. It gave me time to appreciate the natural beauty of rural Maharashtra. The brown earth and rocky trajectories, coupled with the various shades of green trees and fields gave me a sense of tranquility–often missed in a fast-paced city.
I was on my way to Purushwadi, a small village in Maharashtra, about six hours from the state’s capital, to see fireflies.
As a city dweller, we often feel a disconnect with our primordial roots. While we decorate our homes with artificial fairy lights, it is a lot more thrilling to see nature’s fairy lights in the wild, or so I imagined. I smiled as we came to our pit stop.
A tall lanky man with a wide loveable smile greeted me. Introducing himself as Tahnaji, he played out my itinerary over cups of sweetened lemongrass tea. I was putting up at the Grassroutes campsite, a short walk from the village. A rural community-based tourism organisation, Grassroutes gives visitors a taste of the rustic life. Purushwadi is one of the villages the organisation works with.
“You know what’s funny?” Tahnaji asked en route to the village for the first order of business–lunch. “The village is called Purushwadi but there are more women than men here.” I laughed with him as we walked up the winding road; he nonchalantly, me reminding myself to increase my cardio activity. Suddenly, he stopped and plucked a few blackberry-like fruits from a shrub. I hesitated but my cast-iron stomach reminded me that it would be fine. So all fears aside, I popped one into my mouth. Fair warning: the taste of fresh karonda berries is addictive.
The village itself was very picturesque. Made up of about 110 families, the main income is from agriculture–groundnuts, rice, bajra. Fruit trees were abundant– jamun, dates, mangoes. The houses were made with cow dung and painted in vibrant colours. Chickens and roosters ran around, cows mooed, shy children soon lost all
fear and greeted me, and the village folk made me feel welcome. We crossed the primary school located next to a temple and the general covered space used during festivals. The school walls were brightly painted, depicting numbers, alphabets and even a cartoon of Tom and Jerry! Tahnaji informed me they plan on introducing computers soon.
I was taken to Meera bai’s house, with bright pink exteriors and cool and welcoming interiors. We sat on the floor to eat traditional Indian fare of rotis, daal and sabzi that her daughter-in-law, Savita, served. It was simple Maharashtrian food, but I swooned at the first bite. The villagers make do with some fresh produce while the utilities and essentials come from a weekly market at Rajur. Despite running a household of 10 (six family members and four chickens), Meera bai was cheerful and urged me to eat till I could have no more.
Stuffed and sleepy, all I wanted to do next was curl up in my tent. But that could be a bad idea–I could very well sleep through the fireflies phenomenon. So, with Tahnaji, I took the road downwards, towards the river. Just beside it, there was a groundnut field. As locals went about separating the nuts from the leaves (which are dried and used as fodder), I was given some freshly pulled ones to devour. But the snacking didn’t stop there. Along the road, I learnt about fruits and berries which have medicinal and Ayurvedic properties–and let me warn you, most of them tend to be bitter in the raw form. But it never hurts to devour some fresh mangoes and dates, plucked straight from the trees.
The afternoon quickly gave way to dusk and a walk back from the Mora nadi (river) showcased a spectacular sunset. But more than the pretty pictures captured on my camera, my excitement grew at the thought that it was nearly showtime.
Darkness descended slowly as we made our way back. I squealed–I could see fireflies near a tree! Best spotted during the weeks leading up to the monsoon, fireflies have a short lifespan but they bring so much joy to those around in that limited time frame. Tahnaji promised me a much more spectacular show after dinner.
He wasn’t kidding. At first, I thought too much puran poli had made my imagination run riot. Fireflies were everywhere. This was Enid Blyton’s enchanted forest with thousands and thousands of shining little dots all over trees, bushes and shrubs. Whole sections of greens lit up like a Christmas tree before plunging into complete darkness. As we walked towards the river and groundnut field, the glow from the fireflies literally guided. Street lamps and torches seemed so mundane. One particular tree near the river attracted the most fireflies, making it sparkle like it was Diwali. I was told fireflies glow to communicate with one another. Staring mesmerised at the tree, I didn’t realise there was a glow right next to my ear. The alert Tahnaji quickly captured the firefly and transferred it to my open palms. I was amazed at the beautiful creature as it lit up. It explored my hand fearlessly. “Earlier we used to capture fireflies and keep them in bottles to use as sources of light. Once we learnt it was wrong, we simply stopped,” my guide said, as the firefly flew away.
My city body was exhausted and it was a long walk back to the camp. But I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the Disneyesque sparkles around me. “We can see more along the way back,” wise Tahnaji pointed out. As we walked back, bushes and shrubs lit up, as if clearing a path just for me.
Back in my tent that night, I dreamt of the beautiful forest. I just knew that I had seen nature at its enchanting best.
Grassroutes organises the Fireflies festival in May—June; stay in tents or a village homestay (from Rs 2,500 for singles) at Purushwadi; vegetarian meals, guided activities and tours are included. For more information, visit grassroutes.co.in