The Fireflies File: Following fairy dust

Bright city lights, air-conditioned hallways and the sound of traffic are all things we have gotten used to over time, living in the city. I have been looking forward to a get away from these artificial and mechanical comforts to something more natural for a while now. With the weekend swiftly approaching and a unanimous nod from a couple of friends, we packed our bags and headed out on a dimly lit Friday evening towards Lonavala, for what promised to be a weekend we wouldn’t soon forget.

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For every Mumbaikar, the holiday destination closest to home is Lonavala. Now, this is a commercialised holiday hotspot surrounded on all sides by shops selling chikki (a sweet and sticky snack generally made of groundnuts and jaggery). I often wonder how many of these shops garner any profit from the public. Especially, since many of them are lined up, sometimes even nine in a row (yes I got bored in the city traffic and started counting shops to pass time). Commercialisation has affected the natural beauty of this hill station. However, it still holds a number of jewels hidden within the grooves and crevices of its green valleys. We were making our way towards one of them.

 

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We spent our night at a friends place in the city. Our destination was the majestic fort at Rajmachi to get a glimpse of the firefly festival. Visit the place between the last weeks of may and early June and you can find entire forests filled with fireflies displaying their warm yellow glow in the hopes of attracting a mate. It’s a 15 km long trek so pace yourself.

We left for the hills around 6 in the evening. Our drive suddenly coming to a grinding halt as we made way for a long line of sheep who skipped across the road so carelessly. Since we were city kids taking in the sweet country air for the first time in a long time we ended up watching the sky shift colours. We could see the bright red sky changing shades into orange and slowly a light blue. Before we knew it, we plunged into the darkness of a dimly lit sky. We decided it was time we embarked on our search for these “little fairies of the woods”.

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The trail, although long, was an easily motorable. Our SUV sped through the first half of the hill avoiding any boulders jutting out from the sides of the hill. With every turn, the altitude slowly rose and the climb got steeper. We decided to park beside the path in an empty spot and trek up the rest of the way. We hadn’t noticed the deafening silence the forest around us had to offer. 

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With only the light from our well-charged cell phones with no network to lead the way, we followed the trail uphill. The trail was a dusty one with light brown mud the texture of flour. The sound of crickets chirping and a loud but none the less eerie hoot from an owl followed us up the trail. The sound of trudging footsteps broke the silence. We saw around a dozen dancing lights make their way towards us. At first, we thought they were fireflies but slowly realised they weren’t. Fireflies don’t sing old Bollywood songs! It was a group of trekkers who were also making their way to the top.

Our humming slowly turned into loud singing as we followed them up the hill. Finally, the forest cover parted and revealed to us a sky filled with what looked like a million shining stars. You never know what a ‘twinkling star’ looks like until you’ve  seen so many together.

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The hikers made their way up the hill. We stayed back to gaze at one of the most beautiful sites that nature offers us. Yet, we choose to ignore because instead of looking up we are usually looking down at our phones. It takes a day off of work and a very bad network connection to truly appreciate nature. A lone firefly slowly made its way into our field of vision. A small warm light pulsating in a sea of darkness. We followed the light hoping it would guide our way to a few more of its bioluminescent friends; it did not disappoint.

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After gliding around slowly for a while the light stopped on a tree. A small light appeared on another branch of the same tree, then another, and another. Before we knew it we were surrounded by thousands of little flashes of light. Our gasps and shrieks of joy on finding this spot must have woken up half the forest. Up until this moment, I always thought fireflies would glow randomly, like creatures of habit, emitting light in a certain rhythm. But the entire tree would often glow in unison as if to agree with our choice of song. As the fireflies danced around, I couldn’t help but compare that tree to one of those fibre optic Christmas trees. After an hour of oohs and aahs, we finally decided to make our way back to the car.

Up until this moment, I always thought fireflies would glow randomly, like creatures of habit, emitting light in a certain rhythm. But the entire tree would often glow in unison as if to agree with our choice of song. As the fireflies danced around, I couldn’t help but compare that tree to one of those fibre optic Christmas trees. After an hour of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, we finally decided to make our way back to the car.

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 I knew this would be one of the moments I would cherish for the rest of my life. But I also feel sad about the fact that no picture would ever recreate the stars we saw that night, the voices we heard in the trees or the sweet serenade of the fireflies in the darkness.      

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