(Featured image of fireflies: Rivers and Ridges)
The sun caressed my back in the early hours of the morning, as I stood at the corner of a road, waiting for my bus. It would be evening before I got to village Samrad (Ahmednagar, Maharashtra) where I was headed, to see thousands of fireflies (insects) emerge with their tailed torchlights to cling and fly on tree tops, rendering a surreal glow. I saw the empty front seat right behind the driver (would have liked my usual spot, next to chatty drivers). More people boarded in, as the bus swayed and stopped, picked speed to a halt, gurgled and spat. I sprawled on my seat and pushed open the window. The city (Pune) looked cheerful in the orange bloom of gulmohar. The dried riverbed (Mula Mutha) filled with city filth was a trickle of hopelessness.
The Pune-Nashik highway was a trendy stretch of speedy roadway easy on the ill-kept vehicle. Towns with modern showrooms, “family” restaurants, cigarette vendors, gradually gave way to villages with ration stores (of regional spices, lentils, rice, flour), bicycle repair shops spilling with circular metal wheels, tubes and fittings, puja stalls laden with seasonal flowers, tea stalls with no-fuss tables and stools, jars full of local delicacies. Packets of chips and plastic bottles of imported cold drinks had become essentials.
The bus went off the highway and the road eased its pace, winding through village houses with slate roofs, sugarcane fields, lustrous trees, mango bloom, marigold plantations, vineyards, roadside temples. In a spell, my window opened up to an interwoven cluster of trees with delicate branches in warm embrace, touching the sky. And, as I held my breath to the beauty of bouldering ghats, with streaked layers of rocks, like a crayon drawing, the rain came in its joyous splendor in the hot summer afternoon.
And the world changed to one of succumbing wetness. Trees, fields, crops, plants, lakes, rocky plateaus, houses, cattle, humans showered to the seasonal succor. I stretched my hand out to spread my palm to receive the bounty. A drop fell on my parted lips. My shirt soaked a new, wet pattern.
As the vehicle finally grinded to park at village Samrad (our campsite), the rain got fierce. I wore my hoody raincoat and made a run to the nearest shelter with a tin roof. The newly-washed expanse of Sahyadris had dark clouds hanging above, few drifted below. The fading evening light held to the edges of foamy clouds, few delicate beams filtered through. The collected rainwater in the fields wore a silver glow. I walked around in my raincoat, few held umbrellas, to take in views of Ratngad and other surrounding hills. Soon after, I rushed under a tree to take refuge from the downpour, drenched below the waist. And as thunder came rolling and lightening sizzled, I waded through water, muddy ground back to the shelter. Here I stood sipping sweet tea in wet pants, soaked shoes, just watching the rain.
I was a bit worried now. I had come to see the fireflies. There was little chance, if it continued to rain. But it was still few hours before the night. And as I stood in the dark under the shelter, someone pointed to the flickering light in the bushes. I squinted in utter concentration. A fluorescent light jumped from tree to tree, playing hide and seek. More would be visible later, I was assured, after dinner.
I walked in the rain holding “our” torches to Mithal’s house, where his family of old and the young, had prepared a meal for the visiting group. I sat on the mud-basked floor, in a row, to be served a meal of pithla, bhakri, bhat, dal, in the warmth of flickering lamps. A clock hung on the wall abiding time. Containers held the harvest. Hens fluttered about, baffled by new company.
A small group of us started pacing back. We were guided to a dense patch. The floor was wet and slippery as I ducked branches and leaves to a forest of tall trees. As if in a magical land, there stood a giant tree that sparkled a fluorescent green. Thousands of fireflies glimmered in a stunning psychedelic rhythm in an attempt to attract female mates. I froze in the stillness of the night, numbed at the performance of this seasonal neon dance.
I felt the wet earth beneath my feet, the sheen of the bathed leaves, rhythmic drops of rain landing on my head, that fragrance in the air… buzz of insects in flight. Ah, to relinquish. I just stood there, watching the universe swirl – a live Van Gogh painting.
Taking pictures of fireflies at night requires a good camera and few photography tips. Do ask ahead. Do not let your excitement ruin viewing for others. Be sensitive to these insects when taking pictures and videos. Do not try and catch these.
*A 15-minute walk from village Samrad, the Sandhan Valley has a gorgeous gorge that opens into a stream. Climbing and hopping off/on these boulders of various shapes and sizes on your knees and hands is a good way to stretch your limbs, spend a day out. A certain level of fitness makes it easier. I suggest caution and helmets, as certain stretches can be misleading.