About 4 hours from Bombay is a lovely little village that sits by the Pravara River, around 780 m above sea level. The region is a cornucopia of natural beauty, with several waterfalls, deep valleys, scenic vistas, and a lake surrounded by towering ridges and peaks of the Western Ghats. The village and surrounding valley is called Bhandardara, quite a mouthful we agree, and is also home to the seasonal natural phenomenon of the incredible fireflies. Fireflies are not actually flies as one might imagine, but winged beetles with the ability to use bioluminescence to attract prey or mates. This phenomenon occurs during the mating season in May and June, in certain areas in the Western Ghats, and so we headed to Bhandardara to experience this amazing sight.
Most people from Bombay head to Purushwadi, the section of the forest that is closer to the city, and upon looking around we realised the most popular group that conducted the fireflies excursion was Grassroots. But they only offer a whole package which was not what we were looking for, and so we tied up with an outfit from Nashik, which is a guided tour and dinner. And thus, on Saturday morning, we, along with four other friends, packed into our cars, and headed to the MTDC resort in Bhandardara. Like all other state tourism run resorts, the MTDC is clean and basic, with large rooms and standard fare at the restaurant; but with the most spectacular location and view. The weather was slightly better than Bombay and the constant wind was cool and pleasant by the evening. We had never heard of Bhandardara, or the even tinier village of Shendi, where the MTDC is, and were quite pleased with what we found. The resort sits on the edge of the ridge of hills that surround Arthur Lake, or Bhandardara Lake as it is locally known, which even in peak summer was fairly full. We learnt that you can drive all around the lake, about 50 km, which is supposed to be stunning, and we plan to come back in August and do that when the monsoons are in full swing!
After spending some time relaxing at the resort and admiring the pretty surroundings, we left to meet our guide and the fireflies. The winged creatures are extremely sensitive, we were told, and are best seen when it is pitch black with quiet surroundings. Flash photography, noise and other movement they might perceive as threats startle them and they will not emit light. We were taken to an area near the famous Amruteshwar Temple (another tourist attraction), parked our cars with all lights off and walked to the edge of the forest. It was rather eerie, but the minute our eye adjusted to the darkness we saw millions of brilliant bright stars above and all around us were the shiny yellow fireflies dancing on the trees. They moved in tandem, in large groups, creating different patterns and formations, making the trees and forest glow.
It was like Christmas and Diwali in May!
It was a surreal experience, with the dancing lights on the trees below and the constellations tracing patterns in the skies above, almost as if the earth and sky had been decorated with millions of tiny fairy lights. At 780 metres above sea level, the air was cool and clear, and as we settled down quietly to watch nature paint her palette a brilliant yellow, we felt we had witnessed something truly special.
The fireflies and the natural beauty of Bhandardara has ensured that scores of people come to experience this incredible phenomenon, leading to increased demand for tourist infrastructure. Whilst the local tribes and villagers welcome the added income it brings, and manage the tourist inflow in an eco-sensitive manner, we heard that rampant construction and development is the next phase for Bhandardara, with several land parcels already earmarked for numerous resorts. The road that circumvents the lake, whilst essential for access, has already ensured that large parts of the forest have been cleared, and with added construction one worries that over the coming years the light of the fireflies might gradually die out.
Some Useful Information:
How to get there:
Bhandardara is around 180 Kms from Mumbai, 160 Km from Pune and 75 Kms from Nashik. Being fairly remote, the best way to get there is to drive or book a private / share taxi. Nashik is also well connected by train, and from Nashik, Bhandardara is just an hour and a half away.
Where to Stay:
There are a few resorts in the area as well as some homestays and ‘camping’ options with tribals. We stayed at the MTDC which was basic and comfortable if a tad overpriced at Rs. 4000/- for an AC room. There is also the beautiful Anandvan Resort where one can book villas between Rs. 30,000 – Rs 45000 / night if you have a large group and a large budget!
Best time to visit:
Bhandardara itself is ridiculously lush and green in the monsoon, which is the best time to make the trip. However if your aim is to see the fireflies, you need to come just before the monsoons or during the first few showers, when the phenomenon is at its zenith. Once it starts raining heavily the fireflies bid adieu for the season, so timing is critical.
- Obviously the fireflies!
- The old, beautifully carved, volcanic rock temples like the Amruteshwar Temple and others in the area
- Kalsubai, at 1650m, is the highest peak in Maharashtra and if you fancy yourself a trekker, not to be missed.