Weekend getaway: Firefly spotting outside Mumbai

  • Sonali Shah, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 09, 2016 17:11 IST
Fireflies light up the forest at night (iStockphoto)

With just a few days left to catch the magic of glowing fireflies, head to the hilly ranges on the outskirts of Mumbai

OK, lights out, everyone.” Our trek leader Vishal Khond hushes us.

We’re under a large twinkling tree, at 1.30 in the morning. Its mighty canopy and the surrounding bushes light up erratically and, then, it’s all black again. The fireflies are putting on a good show. We stand in pin-drop silence, gazing at the hundreds of fireflies, until one of us gasps in awe. We all turn our heads to follow the sound, but the flies have hopped branches by then.

We’re at the Prabal Machi plateau in the Sahayadris, the base of which is Thakurwadi — a 45-minute rickshaw ride from Panvel railway station. Fireflies can be spotted only for two to three weeks before the onset of the monsoon, and night treks are organised by various groups.

We reach the base of the hill around 8pm, and start the hour-long climb. Post a terribly humid hike, we reach the rocky plateau and have a hearty dinner. Bhakri and chicken gravy for the meat lovers and baingan ki sabzi with jwari roti (a Maharashtrian speciality) for the vegetarians, alongside a helping of rice and dal. The only establishment there is one where 20 to 25 trekkers sit in a row and have their plates set on a long table. The cook doles out rotis at great speed for hungry trekkers. We then set out to explore the plateau for large trees that typically house fireflies.

Fireflies are bioluminescent insects (winged beetles, actually) that produce a yellow glow to attract mates. (Shutterstock)

Fireflies are bioluminescent insects (winged beetles, actually) that produce a yellow glow to attract mates. They don’t buzz around too fast like house flies, enabling us to trick a few into landing on our palms. When you spot one on a leaf close to you, hold your palm abutting it. The fly might think your palm is an extension of the leaf and, voila, it walks right on to it.

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Under a giant tree, we sit awhile, mesmerised, watching the flies shimmer. They aren’t like stars that have a constant dim glow; they’re more like blinking fairy lights. But, erratic — you can’t continuously spot a fly, because it glows only for a few seconds at a go. However, by the time the glow from that fly faints, others around it light up. Some of us try to capture the flies on camera. It’s not easy — without a flash or any light source, the camera registers nothing but darkness. And a flash, or a torch, would not only wash out the scene, but scare the flies away.

We walk back to our sleeping spots, discussing who’s planning to hike to the top to see the Prabal Fort, from which Prabalgadh gets its name. Summer nights are mosquito-free on the plateau, and the cool breeze makes it a great spot for camping. We did not have tents, unlike one other group that we came across. But that wasn’t a problem — some of us spread out newspapers, some had bedsheets, and a few lay on sleeping bags. Snoring trekkers, though, as we discovered, can be a problem. But the starry blanket above makes the noise worth it.

Prabal Machi branches out to Prabalgadh and Kalavantin Durg (Sanjoy Dhananjay)

The following morning, breakfast consists of poha and egg bhurji, and we begin our descent. Graded easy on difficulty level, Prabal Machi branches out to Prabalgadh and Kalavantin Durg. Both these peaks, at 2,300ft, are achievable for new trekkers, and can be reached the following morning, without much huffing and puffing. It’s best to continue the ascent at dawn, though, as it gets hot and humid post 7.30am. The reward of reaching these peaks is the beautiful views of the Matheran ranges and a glimpse of the peaks of Chanderi, Shrimallang, Irshalgadh, Karnala and Manikgarh.

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Before you go: 5 things to know, pack

-End of May to beginning of June is the best time to spot fireflies.

-Wear a good pair of hiking shoes. Avoid floaters and slippers at all cost.

-Things to carry on the trek: Two litres of water, a torch, a sleeping bag, and a tent, if you want the complete camping experience. Use a backpack to carry these, and not a sling bag or a jhola.

-In the company of fireflies, make as little noise as possible, and do not use the camera flash.

-On the trail, adopt the Leave No Trace policy and do not litter.

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