Experience the magic of monsoon under the light of a million fireflies
This time, dear city-dweller, you’re not reading about an ordinary getaway. It is a surreal one that will take you to Maharashtra to witness a festival where you will be guided home by the light of a million fireflies
As summer makes way for monsoon, male fireflies wake up from their wintry slumber and call out to their female counterparts. This unique mating call is in the colours of orange, green, and yellow, emitting from their lower abdomen through a special organ.
This natural phenomenon called bioluminescence becomes a monsoon magic trick to our eyes. Purushwadi, a four-hour drive from Mumbai, is one of the villages where you can see this magic right before monsoon begins. And Grassroutes, a community-based rural tourism enterprise in Mumbai, hosts a Purushwadi Fireflies Festival every year.
Fireflies Festival with Grassroutes
This year, Grassroutes has chosen the mountain villages of Purushwadi, Wanjulshet, and Gundoshi for the festival, open till June 30.
Alongside hosting this visual treat, it also engages festival-goers in a sustainable affair with the locals. You get a chance to live among the villagers, interact with them, and eat local food in their homes. Visitors also get to explore beautiful villages, swim in the river, play village games, feast on freshly picked mangoes, and pluck jamuns and karvandas.
The festival is a sustainable, community-tourism project. Inir Pinheiro, Founder of Grassroutes, explains, “India is moving towards a monoculture. For example, the Kannada language has various dialects but they’re all converging towards one form causing the erosion of its richness. Whereas the cuisine, language, culture of each part of Karnataka is different from the rest. But nobody celebrates the diversity.
So, we host people who wish to come and stay with communities that are culturally rich and diverse. This makes for a brilliant holiday for city-dwellers and an enriching exposure to the villagers.”
How it began
Back in 2006, when Grassroutes began working closely with communities in Purushwadi, they found out about the bioluminescence phenomenon through the villagers. And by 2008, they began the Fireflies Festival as a full-fledged community-based experience. “The entire village prepares for agriculture during this transition from summer to monsoon. There are a lot of fruits and it’s a good feast! Fireflies are just the icing on top of the cake,” Inir points out.
He elaborates, “There are about 109 families staying in mud houses in Purushwadi. At a point, they told us about the constraints in sharing capacity. We realised that we had to limit the number of tourists. So, we went to the neighbouring two villages and helped those communities build capacity as well. Now we host the fireflies festival in Wanjulshet and Gundoshi too.” Inir adds that fireflies can be seen in regions where there are plenty of trees and no electricity.
Engage with rural communities
Grassroutes has been working with 19 communities spread across four states - Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat. Impact studies reveal that such a rural-based tourism project leads to 25-30 percent of additional income to villagers apart from agriculture.
“However, money is not the most important thing. Studies have revealed that what villagers seek and relish is interaction with outside world in the safety of their own villages. Young girls here now tell their mothers that they don’t want to marry at 16 and young boys don’t think that failure in class 10 or class 12 means zero livelihood,” Inir emphasises.
During curated tours, buyers engage with various artisans directly. “When customers directly give feedback to artisans, it helps them [artisans] understand the trends and needs of a customer. More than that, there is a sense of pride being recognised for who they are minus the middleman,” says Inir.
What’s in it for the urban dweller
Apart from the festival, there are year-long training and curated trips, irrespective of age and class. “We even host children to live amid the local communities. Schools are open to conducting events in which children from cities come and interact with children from villages,” Inir says. This not only sensitises children from the cities but also allows them to develop empathy and gain wider perspectives on life. “Children are also exposed to practical aspects of their curriculum like learning the functioning of Gram Panchayats, design studies, and geography,” he adds.
Even corporates get their share of learning. “We facilitate corporate training on two levels - behavioural and functional, and encourage teams to travel, live, work, and converse with each other. Activities like building rafts aids in team bonding within the village environment, thereby creating positive, shared story experiences,” Inir says.
“Nature awes us with her magic and reminds us that life is important. If you ever want to witness magic as a mixture of nature and community, come to the Fireflies festival,” he signs off.
If there is more than what meets the eye, then why not?
(Photo credits: Grassroutes)