Hiking With Fireflies

Renata Pavrey

© Copyright 2021 by Renata Pavrey

Photo of fireflies by Renata.
                                                        Photo by the author.

The world was aglow with sparkling delight. It was Christmas in the middle of June, as nature lit up in celebration of life itself.

My love for nature has often taken me trekking and hiking on the outskirts of the city. I enjoy exploring the outdoors, climbing up forts, traversing trails, and appreciating life under the blanket of a night sky. Itís an enchanting experience to skedaddle from the busyness of city life, even if only for a few hours or days.

A few years ago I experienced my first night trek, at the village of Purushwadi in India. The overnight trip required us to drive down to the base village during the day. Specific families from the village took care of small groups. The excursion is an initiative of Grassroutes India that works towards creating rural experiences for city dwellers. This helps generate an income for the villagers as they host guests for a day, from one evening to the next. The host family provides meals, and each family member takes it in turn to look after a group of 2Ė4 guests. They cook and serve meals, take people around the village, and introduce guests to activities that make up their day-to-day life.

Purushwadi is nestled in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, between the rivers Mula and Pravara. The nearest city is Nasik at 100 kilometers away, followed by Mumbai at 190 kilometers away. Our host family gave us a warm welcome with topis Ė white, cotton caps traditionally worn by Maharashtrians. The topi is also known as the Gandhi Cap and is symbolic of the Mahatmaís homespun khadi attire; his message of cultural pride in Swadeshi goods (traditional clothes). They even let us keep our topis, and I still have mine.

We learned how to separate grain from husk and pound it into flour. The villagers taught us about the insulating properties of cow dung. Under their guidance, we applied the dung to walls and courtyards, believed to keep the heat out in summer and within in winter, kill bacteria, and protect against viral infections. We also hiked to the local dam and saw how the villagers caught fish. The other activities we engaged in included swimming in the nearby river, eating locally grown and home-cooked food, and drinking traditionally prepared tea. We listened to stories about village life, slept in tents put up around the villagersí farms, and awakened with the sunrise into a new day.

The highlight of the trip, however, was the anticipated night trek that followed a premature dinner at sunset. Early and mid-June mark the onset of the monsoon season in India; a time when humidity rises and fireflies are at their bioluminescent best. Pre-monsoon is the finest time to watch them light up the forest. Grassroutes India has aptly named this yearly adventure trip as the Fireflies Festival, which takes place for 2Ė3 weeks around May and June.

The dancing fireflies transform the sky, trees and forest floor into their personal performance stage. The glowing beetles include different species of fireflies that dissipate light during mating season to attract the opposite sex.  As an antecedent to the monsoon the fireflies emerge between the third week of May and the third week of June. The males showcase distinct patterns of flashing light, and the females respond with their own spellbinding flashes of light that leave onlookers stunned with natureís display of light. Right after the first monsoon showers, the eggs hatch to release the larvae. The adult fireflies die in the heavy rains, while the larvae grow to glow in the next pre-monsoon season, and the unremitting cycle continues.

Our village guide knew the best spots where the fireflies clustered. We followed him through the light in the darkness. The dancing, flickering, illuminating exhibition mesmerized at every step and turn. The insects twinkle on and off of their own accord. Thereís no way of knowing when which one would light up, and their erratic flashing creates an intoxicating rhythm of its own. Itís like being transported to fairyland and being showered upon by diamond drops in a whirlwind of shimmer.

The beauty of hiking with fireflies is that one canít do anything else besides follow the twinkling lights and watch them flash on and off in a dance to their own tunes. As the sun sets, nature switches on her lights! Torches and flashlights are rendered redundant, because external light causes the fireflies to turn off their glow. Hikers need to feel their way through uneven terrain and forest cover by following the light provided by nature herself. A camera can never do enough justice in capturing the glowing shapes that sprinkle the night sky with glitter. I tried the night vision feature on my camera, and ended up with green swirls against a purple backdrop. The camera no doubt seeing something entirely different from what my eyes did! Or maybe the fireflies donít want to be recorded. You need to see and feel them and capture the fluorescent greens and neon yellows with memory.

Purushwadi is an enchanting place with its old-world charm, rustic lifestyle, warm food and warmer hearts, and its swarms of fireflies that bring surrealism to life in silence and darkness. There are no hotels nearby and one needs to either stay at a villagerís house, or set up camp around their farms. While we were welcomed with topis, we were presented with tiny potlis (simplistic etui bags made from jute) containing homegrown peanuts as farewell gifts. There is something about the calmness of farm life that moves in sync with high physical activities. A quality of movements far removed from the busyness of city life. Nature teaches us so much without saying a word. Sometimes when you canít find the light in the darkness, you need to make your own light and forge the path ahead.

Renata Pavrey is a nutritionist and Pilates teacher. Her writing covers a broad spectrum of subjects including dance, literature, languages, sports, health and fitness, nature and music. You can find her @tomes_and_tales on Instagram.

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