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Light in the valley of the dark

Firefly tourism is taking off in India, with Maharashtra emerging as the top destination
 

Published: 04th April 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd April 2021 03:17 PM   |  A+A-

Travelling to watch insects in their natural surroundings has given rise to the phenomenon entomotourism.

Travelling to watch insects in their natural surroundings has given rise to the phenomenon entomotourism. (Photo | Thrillophilia.com)

Express News Service

Swing right from Solan town in Himachal Pradesh and take the temperamentally winding road to Dakpathar near the Asan barrage. You will come across a cluster of dhabas that sell chicken curry, delectable enough to make any city chef turn green. There is a break in the road, and a narrow crooked path steeply tumbles down from the ridge where the eateries are, down a broken elevation that debouches on a flat stretch of land nurtured by the Yamuna.

The foothills of the Shivalik Mountains glower in the twilight gloom. Dakpathar is a trekker’s paradise the river meanders through stooping shoulders of bluffs. Connecting it to the path is an enthusiastic rivulet straddled by an ancient rice mill, its wooden wheel churning the flowing water. The valley is a place of miracles, an expanse of dancing light when dusk falls. As the darkness deepens, and you walk towards the water feeling for the small hollows or abandoned anthills on the ground that can break an ankle if you are not careful, the stars come down to earth. Loops of light garland the darkness, trails of waltzing refulgence, enchanting you with the sorcery of luminescence.

Fireflies, thousands of them, dancing in the night is an arcane courtship ritual. The celestial bodies of the earth, pulsing and blinking like tiny sprites, romancing in the river wind. A review paper in the journal of The Society for Conservation Biology estimates that every year, bioluminescent courtship rituals of fireflies in a dozen countries such as America, Thailand, Japan, Mexico and India get over a million firefly tourists. Wildlife tourism is growing as the world becomes interested in the environment—the latest figures from the World Tourism Organisation assessed that in 2018, wildlife seekers enriched the world economy. It has grown by 30 percent in India.

Travelling to watch insects in their natural surroundings has given rise to the phenomenon entomotourism. Millions of people visit firefly caves, butterfly sites like Costa Rica’s butterfly gardens which is one of the largest in the world; Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom in Singapore; Shillong’s Wankhar Entomology Museum; insect zoos such as The Harrell House Bug Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and hives of the miraculous stingless Melipona bees in the Yucatán peninsula. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the US, the night gets carpeted by the light of a million fireflies spiralling to a simultaneous 
illuminating rhythm. 

However, entomotourism has begun to disturb the earth’s insect ecosystem as insect populations decline all over the world. The social media is abuzz with news of firefly festivals in Japan, Belgium and India. The ticketed yearly festival year at Purushwadi, 220 km away from Mumbai has become a wildlife traveller's magnet. Maharashtra is fast emerging as India’s firefly capital; the valleys of Shrivardhan and Manaranjan Forts at Rajmachi are aglow at night, mesmerising trekkers. Firefly camps are held at Bhandardara and Sandhan Valley this year between May 29 and 30. 

The nights in tiny Yelavali village deep inside in Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuary are illuminate by glowworms. Fireflies, especially during the monsoon season, have empowered rural tourism. The villagers of Ratanwadi below the Ratangad Fort have built cottages for tourists and pilgrims to the Amruteshwar Temple nearby, to stay over and watch fireflies. Fireflies help the local economy in other countries, too—for example, in the once-impoverished Mexican village of Nanacamilpa, the incandescent pinwheels of thousands of fireflies of the species Photinus palaciosi pull over 120,000 tourists from mid-June to mid-August. It has made the region prosperous. Scientists discovered the genus only in 2012.  

The authors of the review paper recommend that firefly guides and local communities in tourist dense areas must be trained to educate tourists on firefly watching. The insects’ full life cycle must be taken into account by cordoning off areas where the beetles lay larvae. And control light pollution from camera flashes, cell phones and flashlights that disrupt the mating dance. Author of the study Sara Lewis recommends, “When you go to a firefly tourist site, stay on the trails. Get comfortable in the dark.”  That’s where they are.

Fireflies, thousands of them, dancing in the night is an arcane courtship ritual. The celestial bodies of the earth, pulsing and blinking like tiny sprites, romancing in the river wind.



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