Fireflies tree

Dance of Fireflies

India, Maharashtra Tourism, Mountains, Mountains By Jul 12, 2023 2 Comments

“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

Trees around Glitter,

Far and Near!

This was the scene on a dark night in the Panjare village in the Bhandardara, Maharashtra. The village away from the light pollution gives these little creatures ample scope to do their mating display to produce their next generation. Footlooseinme will take you to this village to watch the romantic dance of the Fireflies in Bhandardara. Experience this mesmerising show of Fireflies of Bhandardara with me.

What are fireflies? In simple words, Fireflies are tiny insects that emit glowing light from their abdomen. While a little elaboration will place these tiny creatures (also known as Lampyridae) in the family of elateroid beetles. They are the flying and glowing beetles and they undergo similar metamorphosis as the other beetles in their life cycle.

Kokankada Peak
Kokankada Peak

This light-emitting phenomenon of the fireflies is primarily explained as an act of attracting mates. Steady glow or flashing are the various modes of communication in the courtship pattern within the same species. There are more than 2000 species of fireflies and most of them are light emitting. The light produced by the fireflies is due to the chemical process of bioluminescence. This glow not only aids in mating but also helps to protect themselves from predators.

The lower abdomen of these fireflies are specialised light-emitting organ. An enzyme called luciferase acts on luciferin with the help of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen to produce light. There is also a defensive steroid called lucibufagen, which is present in the fireflies that imparts a bad taste and makes them unpalatable to predators. The predators associate the taste with these glowing creatures. Thus the glow of the fireflies not only helps them in finding a mate but also prevents them from predators.

Fireflies of Bhandardara
Fireflies of Bhandardara

I very well remember growing up in the suburbs, where power cuts were frequent. These moments gave me the opportunity to see the fireflies all around our locality. At times they mistakenly entered our home and landed on us. I used to be happy seeing these very common glowing insects. At that time they were just simple tiny insects (we used to call them ‘Jonaki’ in our mother tongue) of no such importance. 

Kalsubai Peak, the highest Peak in Maharashtra
Kalsubai Peak, the highest Peak in Maharashtra

Gradually as the suburban areas got converted into cities, power cuts were reduced. Then rapid urbanisation led to an increase in light pollution. These tiny little friends from my childhood vanished into nowhere. Honestly speaking, these fireflies silently got erased from such cities and from our thoughts too. Their reminiscent occurred only while recollecting the memories of dark nights. Though they were never the star of those memory stories.

Arthur Lake in Bhandardara
Arthur Lake

Today, after many years when I hear about the Firefly Festival of Maharashtra, I remember my childhood days and the tiny glowing friends of the dark nights. It seemed amusing that the things that were so common, natural and random have now turned into something of great importance. Yet, I did realise that I have not seen them for many years. I realised their importance and their dwindling numbers and probably species too.

The jagged mountain range on our way to see the Fireflies of Bhandardara
The jagged mountain range

I have been reading and listening to the Fireflies of Bhandardara (or Fireflies of Maharashtra) for quite some time. This time I finally took out time to travel to the Panjare village where we can see the Fireflies of Bhandardara. Or should I say the glowworms in their glory? So on a summer morning, we started from Pune and drove through the winding route to reach our pre-booked stay at Bhandardara. As far as I remember, we could see the fireflies in our childhood all through the year. But here in Bhandardara, there is a specific time frame every year when we can see these fireflies.

You must be curious to know when can we see the Fireflies of Bhandardara. From the third week of May to the mid of June, every year these beetles light up the forest here. Within this period the Maharashtra Tourism Department organises the Firefly Festival of Maharashtra (or the Kaswa Mahotsav in the regional language) here for two consecutive days. This festival is organised to focus on the conservation of these glowworms and increase awareness among the locals as well as the tourists.

The stars, fireflies of Bhandardara and the airplane
The stars, fireflies and the aeroplane

This festival provides the visitors with an opportunity to see the fireflies with the help of the locals, interact with them and know their culture, tradition and food. There are camping sites and trekking facilities available too, all of which are aided by the locals. We were lured to many such activities by our guide arranged by the resort where we stayed. 

We were clearly not interested in camping and with a few muscle pulls here and there we were not fit for the trek (even if the level was easy as they said) too so the only option we had was to go for the Bhandardara sightseeing. (Read about my previous visit to Bhandardara in monsoon.) We started at five in the evening. In that way, we saved ourselves from the scorching heat of the sun. Although reaching Bhandardara gave us a welcome relief from the sweltering summers of Pune this time. It was so windy that we could hardly feel it was the summer.

Find the Oriental garden lizard
Find the Oriental Garden lizard

We made an entry by paying and getting the slip at the forest gate near our hotel, though it was not like the conventional forest but yet was within the forest area. The local guide joined us and guided our drive. We drove through scenic sites and visited the spots that he claimed to show us before we embarked on this sightseeing tour followed by watching the dance of the fireflies.

Lofty mountains on our way to see the Fireflies of Bhandardara

Our stay was overlooking the Arthur Lake (of the Wilson Dam). Our first destination was Arthur Lake from the Table Top viewpoint. Then we went to the Umbardara, to watch the view of the Kokankada Lake from between the small pass within the mountains. Then in sequence, it was the Ghatghar Dam, the Kokankada and finally the Sandhan Valley or the Sandhandari. Sandhandari is a 3km long gorge within the mountains. 

Sandandari or the Sandan Valley on our way to see the Fireflies of Bhandardara
Sandhandari or the Sandan Valley

Trekking enthusiasts often trek through this long narrow gorge, which is filled with ankle to knee-deep water during the dry months. While in the monsoons the trek is not possible as the water level reaches high. The famous reverse waterfall is also in the same location. We just need to come out of the gorge and walk to the other side of the hill. It being the summer month there was no water in the waterfall. 

After moving around these serene landscapes and watching the astounding skyline marked with the strangely shaped mountains, close and afar, we spent a few more minutes catching the darkness before we get set on our return path. We were supposed to return through the same path crossing the Panjare village which is said to be the home of the fireflies of Bhandardara.

The sky and the mountains on our way to see the Fireflies of Bhandardara
The sky and the mountains

With the fall of complete darkness, we started our return. As we reached close to Panjare village our guide sometimes asked to stop the and showed us trees full of fireflies. This was not what I expected or thought of. I thought that there would be fireflies all around at the ground level rather they were thickly concentrated on a few particular trees. I became curious to know the reason behind it.

Our guide explained that they only show up on Arjun trees (Terminalia arjuna, native to the Indian Subcontinent). They lay their eggs on these trees as they have some medicinal value and the insect probably uses it in some way. I am not a naturalist nor do I personally know any, nor did I find any related topic on the internet, so I had to believe what he said. After many such scattered trees on the road, he took us to the place where the Fireflies Festival was held a few days ago.

Kokankada lake from Umbardara on our way to see the Fireflies of Bhandardara
Kokankada lake from Umbardara

There was a designated parking lot where we parked our vehicle and then walked in the dark to reach the spot where there were a few trees side by side all lit up with fireflies. There I had set my camera properly composing my frame and kept patiently waiting for the camera to do its work. But every good thing has its own defects. As this was the best spot and the designated spot, hundreds of visitors came within my frame. Some even making light pollution by taking flash photography.

The Sun through the wild berries
The Sun through the wild berries

There were volunteers all around the Panjare village with transparent polycarbonate batons to manage and help the visitors. These locals are temporarily appointed as volunteers by the Forest Department to prevent the light disturbance created by the visitors and help them stay safe from wild animals and other topographical features in the darkness. 

After getting a couple of satisfactory shots and a lot of photobombed captures we called it a day and returned back to our stay. I craved more and wanted to get a tree full of fireflies by myself. So we decided to go through the same track the next day too. Meanwhile, in the morning we did our homework. We spoke to many local employees of our resort and enquired about the fireflies. 

My photograph getting lightbombed as I was photographing the Fireflies of Bhandardara
My photograph getting lightbombed

All sounded the same at one point – the fireflies are mostly seen on Arjuna trees only. So our guide was correct. But again I could not derive any link from anywhere that pointed out the reason. The herbal properties are definitely a point but how it is linked is a big question to me. So we started while there was good light in the sky to get a proper idea of the Panjara village roads and locate the areas with a thick density of Arjuna trees. We did spot a few areas but how do we mark them? We took pictures so that we could take the location of the pictures and return in the dark.

Sunset from Ghatghar dam on our way to see the Fireflies of Bhandardara
Sunset from Ghatghar dam

We waited for the sunset near the Ghatghar Dam where a local doggo befriended us. She adorably followed us for the whole time we stayed there. She also did her antics by jumping on us and kissing us. With the darkness approaching we bid her farewell and went for our locations but as we feared there was no network and our plan did not work. With only faith on our eyes, we started and by dusk, we reached a small eating joint where there was a board in Marathi language saying “Kaswa Sthal” meaning place of fireflies. 

Rani, our new friend
Rani, our new friend

We had tea chatting with the man of the place. He spoke about his village about fireflies about his family and his farm. He said that with complete darkness you can see a lot of fireflies all around here. So to make the best use of the time we ordered a local dinner here while waiting for complete darkness. A windy dark night with stars twinkling above, a few fireflies here and there, and the faint light coming from the kitchen of this place created a dreamy scene. I was lost in the magic of the time and place. 

Beautiful landscape  on our way to see the Fireflies of Bhandardara
Beautiful landscape

But there were not many fireflies as the man described, rather they were scattered like the way I use to see them in my childhood. We waited and waited and finally requested him to serve the dinner so that we can go ahead and look for other spots. He seemed to be ashamed of his claims and justified them by saying that there are a lot of fireflies here but due to some reason they were not visible that day.

We did not mind as we had an amazing time in this tranquil set-up, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd.’ After finishing a tasty local meal of Jhunka Bhakri (Curried Chickpea flour and flat bread made of rice flour) we started off in search of Arjuna trees full of fireflies. We drove a little then turned off the headlight again drove and again turned off the headlights and thus we were able to spot the trees we were looking for.

Dinner served in semi darkness as we went to watch the Fireflies of Bhandardara
Dinner served in semi-darkness

Then the moment of truth, we got our desired tree, our desired setup and primarily crowd-free zone to capture the fireflies the way we wanted them. Two volunteers appeared from nowhere and stayed close giving us a sense of safety. We finished our photoshoot and happily returned back to our stay and slept well dreaming about the dance of the fireflies of Bhandardara.

Read my dark sky experience at Dubare.

Fireflies of Bhandardara - I stacked a few images here to enhance the visual experience
Fireflies of Bhandardara – I stacked a few images here to enhance the visual experience


  1. Mick Canning says:

    I love that there is a firefly festival! I have seen them in lowland Nepal in April / May, but never in India.

    1. O wow! So good to know that you have seen them in Nepal. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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