Bhandardara Fireflies Festival

Imagine yourself passing through a dense forest in the middle of a quiet, dark new moon night. Apart from the rev of the vehicle engine, only thing you can hear is the chirping and the buzzing of the insects in the night. And from the woods, around the trees, you observe a glitter, which leaves you spell bound and make you think about the magical world we live in.

Lampyridae is the scientific name for family of winged beetles, which are commonly known as fireflies, are the lovely creatures which use bioluminescence to attract their mates. When 1000s and 1000s of fireflies, or ‘jugnus’ as referred to in Hindi, hover around your head in search of their mates, emitting glittering light, it creates a mystical and beautiful phenomenon, one which remains in your mind for the rest of your lives.

The fireflies are found in large quantities in and around the forests surrounding the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. Year on year, it draws large number of tourists and adventure enthusiasts from all around the country to witness this limited edition spectacle. Rajmachi, Purushwadi, Prabalmachi, Malshej and Bhandardara are the famous locations where firefly sighting is the highest in the months prior to the onset of the monsoon.

As the night sky took charge and the mercury dipped, all the eyes were now fixed on the windows as the bus took the serpentine turns up the hill towards the firefly sighting point. A thrilling experience in itself, roaming out in the pitch dark night, using only the sense of your judgment for the next step you take, out on trees, you see 100s and 1000s of fireflies, glowing and glittering at specific intervals as if they are practicing a routine in excellent synchronization.

After 3 dozen clicks and mud slain shoes, as we looked around the woods where we had set up the camera, we were left mesmerized and spell bound by the harmless little glowing insects, merry-making all around us. All that glitters is not gold, but this glitter definitely brings a smile to your face, sanity to mind and peace to heart.

Velas Turtle Festival

How many times it happens with you that you reach your journey destination and the first thing you do is this….

That was the 1st time ever in our life that we milk a buffalo and this marked a very good beginning of an eventful trip.

Where were we and why were we there?

We were at Velas, a rustic village situated on the western coast of India in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Velas is one of the beaches where the endangered Olive Ridley Turtles come ashore every year and lay their eggs.

Since the odds of survivals of these creatures are 1 in 1000, the villagers with support of an NGO, Sahayadri Nisarg Mitra, took up the onus of conserving this unique species.

The eggs that are laid by the mother turtle on the beach are collected by the villagers and brought to a hatchery where they are incubated under a controlled environment so as to protect them from falling prey to predators.

And hence we were present on that very location to witness these tiny little hatchlings take giant steps towards the sea, out in the unknown and on their own.

The Turtle Hatchling Experience: What to Expect

The turtle festival was started back in early 2000s, but has gained a lot of popularity in the past 3-4 years, kudos to Social Media. There are many tour operators based out of Mumbai and Pune that organize a weekend trip to Velas to experience the hatchings.

Since the footfalls on weekends tend to reach around 500-600, being punctual is the key for an unperturbed view of the turtles making their route to sea. The volunteers check the hatchery twice in a day, 6.30 AM in the morning and 5.30 PM in the evening. Hence, make sure you reach there on time.

An important thing to keep in mind here is there is a significant distance of this hatchery from the sea.

The hatchlings are carried in the jute baskets till the cordoned area before releasing them, hence it is advisable that you reach the designated area before it gets submerged in the crowd rush.

The cordoned area from where turtles are released

If you are a photographer, be prepared to get your clothes go muddy, as you’ll be sitting/sleeping on the beach to get the perfect shot of the turtles going in the sea.

When form comes to life

Trust us when we say, despite the chaos when you see the tiny little reptiles crawl their way towards the ocean, it is an out of the world feeling.

Welcome to the world, little friend

The joy of watching them inch past the spectators is beyond what the words can express.

Now my adventure begins!!

The Rural Experience

In our opinion, one must take a break in a rural setting for a day or two. The environment itself will relax you up and shed half of your worries, tensions and work load.

Your day begins with chirping of these cute birds and you can complete your day of cardio while chasing these chickens back to their sty.

As seen earlier, milking a cow/buffalo and then having a cup of tea from that very milk will charge you up for the day.

Take a walk in the beautiful betel nut farms around the village and refresh up on the cool water from the well.

As the lunch time approaches, you feast upon an exquisite and authentic Maharashtrian cuisine. Cooked on wood fire, the flavours give that “dhungar” taste as you indulge in the platter. Our personal favorite was the Jackfruit Sabzi.

One of the finest meals ever

Travel Responsibly

As a foot note, we would appeal to all to be a responsible traveler basis our first hand experience. The tourism department are doing their fare share in promoting and spreading awareness regarding the Olive Ridley Turtles.

But it is the moral responsibilty of each and every person present there to observe and abide by the rules and instructions given by the volunteers there.

We observed that many tourists were trespassing the cordon in an attempt to go near the hatchlings. Some were even entering the ocean despite repeated warnings of not doing so for 15-20 minutes after the hatchlings enter the sea.

Our learning from the incident is that though promotion of eco tourism is necessary, there should be concrete steps taken to ensure hassle free experience. This could be as simple as limiting the number of footfalls per weekend. And it also is the utmost responsibility of the tourists to respect the rules and sanctity of the place while travelling. Enjoy responsibly.

Kaas Pathar

A UNESCO heritage site, a pure natural bliss stands a mere 7 hours drive from Mumbai. In the hills of Satara, Kaas Plateau boasts a huge variety of flowers that bloom in the period just after the monsoon bid adieu in the region.

Morning is the best time to view the flowers as they are have bloomed fresh in the cooler atmosphere. The dew drops on the petals give a soothing feeling to the eyes and definitely wears off your tire from the journey. And it is also the best time as not many tourists would have reached to the place.

Now, we are not much into botany and bio life, so we do not know the names of the flowers. But their beauty is par excellence. Especially when you see an ocean of the flowers all around you. Below given are a few photos that testifies the above statement.

Flora, Flora Everywhere!
Pink Revolution
In love with the shades
Surrounded by Flora
A bed of Yellow flowers, followed by a bed of Pink ones, the green shades of trees & blues of the skies.
Icing on the Cake: A Pond full of Water Lilies

Kaas Pathar – Entry Fees & Related Details

The entry fees for the visiting the park is Rs. 300 per person and is open from 7.00 AM in the morning to 5.00 PM in the evening. We got our tickets from the entry gate itself, however it is advisable to book your tickets online on their official website as sometimes they limit the number of footfalls if the tourists increase in number.

There is a short hike of around 1-1.5 km from the parking area and the entry gate of the plateau. You can either walk or use their transport facility. They have a few Tempo Travelers to ferry the passengers to the main gate, and charge a minimal of 10-20 bucks for the same. However, you must reach early, because once the crowd starts gathering, it takes a lot of time waiting in the queue and heat will tire you up.

Snacks & Refreshment Options

There are no restaurants or tea counters within the park. However, the locals there sell some authentic local snack items like Pithala-Bhakri, Buttermilk, Lemon Juice and Cucumber salad. We tried the Pithala-Bhakri, it was heaven early in the morning and gulped it down with a glass of lemon juice.

Pithala-Bhakri with the spicy Peanut Chutney

Best Time to Visit

The flowers bloom during September-October only and you will have to rely on your luck to see the bloom we saw. But it is worth taking a shot, although it is advisable to confirm with locals or the officials at the plateau.

That being said, it is a wonderful place to witness the beauty of nature.