‘I get a thousand hugs from 10 thousand lightning bugs, cos they try to teach me how to dance’

If ever any song had come to reality in my life, it was this. Walking down the moonlit path of Rajmachi was nothing less than entering into my own fairytale. There were millions of fireflies and everything the Owl City described them in their song ‘Fireflies’ happened. They taught me how to dance, they gifted me thousands of dreams and they inspired me to believe in everything that is magically beautiful on our planet. 

This was my first trip to Rajmachi and before I had left, I was told that there were no fireflies. A few people told me ‘We just saw three bugs’ and ‘It is a long meaningless walk’  but I had to see thousands of fireflies flocked on a tree on my birthday weekend (a bucket list thing!) and so I decided to go.

We started in a local train from Lonavala and there were a few others who joined the PTC gang. From Lonavala, after a long wait, we were on the road to Rajmachi. There was a glitch at the Lonavala station, but I had learned the hard way that making a fuss over a bus that is missed or a car that is broken down would lead to nothing but unwanted stress. Hence, the time between the journeys in the train and the car was enjoyed by walking on the streets of Lonavala and eating. (Food is always bae!)

I missed a moped and my partner here!

As we left behind the glittering streets of  Lonavala, the road went from a smooth highway to a crumbly path. It was an off-road track and with every bump, I wished I had come here on an Activa with my riding partner. It would have been something else, maybe an awesome practice for the ambitious ‘Leh on Activa’ or a pain in the ass (literally!).

We reached a junction to meet the rest of the group members and while Kaustubh was busy taking a head count, I walked ahead to take a moment off from the chaos. 

And there they were – in the moonlit path I walked the road that diverged into the woods and when I went far from the group, I saw the fireflies dancing to welcome me into their world. There were countless of them blinking in a pattern and calling their mates.  

Not wanting to affect the headcount, I joined the group again. I decided to stay put with Vamsy, who was walking the last. But, there were certainly more glitches in this route taken to the village of Rajmachi.

To whoever is reading this and wants to take a walk in the forest to watch the fireflies, a humble request to you all. Please shut that speaker of yours because the fireflies dance to the music of the forests and not Honey Singh. Also, the moonlight is enough for our fully developed eyes to see the path and flashing lights will only kill the joy of watching the fireflies in the dark. One more thing, a picture or two is great.

In the words of Vamsy, ‘The fireflies are using their flashlight to photograph. We don’t need to capture all of them in our lenses’

All my ranting apart, it was a magical walk into the forests. The breeze was occasionally playing with my hair, the trees looked mystical in the dark and the moments when there was nobody around were beautifully peaceful. 

At one point, we saw a few of our group members watching a tree. That one tree probably had millions and millions of fireflies dancing, singing and blinking all in patterns. We were all speechless including the speakers. And I have no words to describe the feeling because I just stood there and stared. 

It was a 7 kilometers walk to the ten million fireflies and at the end of the walk, I got misty eyes as they said farewell. 

A midnight walk around the village!

The village of Rajmachi is a hub of trekkers, travelers and everyone in between. There were tents pitched, mud homes were bustling with city-dwellers – every corner of the village was playing host to a lot of us.

Like in Sandhan Valley, I had picked my corner outside the village homestay we were supposed to be staying in. It was almost midnight and everyone was either having food or resting after the long walk.

I looked at the sky that had started to get cloudy, hoping that my first rain of the season would be in the hills where I wasn’t even carrying an extra pair of clothing. Vamsy, my savior as always dragged me out of the crowded homestay after dinner to take a walk around the village.

It was a small place with a single street-light. There was a large space right at the beginning where a few tents were put up and people were seated in groups talking. The wind was getting colder and the fireflies had started dispersing from their groups. We saw a lot of them flying on their own to the direction they preferred to go to. They distracted me so much that many times I lost track of the conversation we were having. We were strolling around aimlessly, waiting for the clouds to shower till 4 AM.

It was when the birds started chirping and the fireflies started vanishing with a spark like a shooting star, that we decided to go back and rest for a bit.

Conquering the Shreevardhan fort – our small feat.

Having lived in a village for 13 months, I felt at ease peeing in a tap-less washroom and brushing in the open staring inside the cowshed. The ‘aaji’ of the house where we stayed had made some amazing tea, it energized me enough to agree to the group’s decision to walk up the two forts a little ahead of the village.

It was a small trail, not very tiring. But, like all hills, it had a good view from the top. Like they say, you just climb to see the world from the top and not for the world to see you. We had a good warm-up for the day and as noon was almost upon managing the heat was a struggle.

Back to the homestay, I went to the kitchen to help Aaji with the lunch preparations for everyone. Her granddaughter, Pari, was my source of entertainment as she kept me busy with stories from the school and village. This is one thing I like about kids in the village, they have the innocence that I easily fall for. I believe whenever we go to a village, we must try to spend some time with the local kids and grandparents. There are a lot of issues that come to light. Though we may not be able to solve any of them, they like to be heard by someone.

In this village too, there is an issue of water and villagers have to walk miles to fill their share. The villagers say that heat wave is affecting their agriculture and it is only tourism that gives them a revenue these days. Most of the houses have old grandparents living as their sons have gone to the city to earn a living.

‘Why not just spend a few minutes not playing cards and listening to the people who have been gracious enough to let you in their house and lives?’

What’s a journey that goes as planned?

We planned to leave post lunch, we knew our pre-booked cars would arrive to pick us up. But, as quoted by Lao Tzu, a Chinese writer, and philosopher “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving”, I was not bent on leaving soon but we had to. Something felt incomplete, everything was going as planned, which is exactly not how any of my trips go.

Being a Sunday, the train we were going to leave from was canceled and we had to be at the Lonavala station for over an hour. The station as crowded and the passenger was full already. We had to run to catch the train, a total of 20 people running to get to the first coach.

When the next train arrived, three of us from the group – Nehaal, Neha and I ran a few coaches more hoping to avoid the crowd flocking in the first few of them. We left the group behind and ran, Nehaal being a 16-year-old athlete made sure we did our bit of running for the day (or week, maybe)

As soon as we entered the coach S – 3, we realized it was going to be tough getting a seat. Someone, somewhere told us that the Ladies coach, S 11 was relatively empty.

The 16-year-old proposed that we get down at every station to reach the Ladies coach and Neha and me, the two grownups agreed to her. From the next station to Vadgaon, the three ran at every station to the next coach. When we got down at Kamshet, I thought we were going to miss the train as it was very much crowded. Neither could we run back to our coach as people had already crowded the door, we ran – ran like it was the last run of our life.

The only thing that ran through my head was Vamsy and Kaustubh killing me for doing this. But, we entered a relatively less crowded coach. By the time we reached S 9, we were doing this only for a silly adrenaline rush. An elderly grandmother heard us talk about our running and asked us exactly where we wanted to go.

“The Ladies Coach” we answered in unison.

“There is no Ladies Coach in this train. The seat opposite to me is going to get empty at Vadgaon, which is the next station, you three can sit there instead of running two more coaches for nothing’’

Reluctantly though, we agreed to her and settled down on the seats after the Vadgaon public was gone. The next one and half hours was gone in giggling and talking about our run. It was after this that the irrational bug inside me settled down.Though, I still wonder – if we had missed the train in Kamshet, would we have had the time to go take a dip in the river?