Purushwadi Fireflies Festival, Maharashtra
Rural tourism seems to be the next big travel thing in India. Most people now look out for vacations that are closer to nature, away from city life and where they get to experience something new. Rural tourism fits right in! We too make it a point to visit a village at least once a year and experience the village life, live like a villager. One such attempt took us to Purushwadi, a small village of around 100 houses in hinterlands of Maharashtra state in India. Purushwadi is mainly famous for 'The Fireflies Festival' as branded by Grassroutes, an organization focused on creating rural experiences for travellers and provide livelihood opportunities to villagers. However, we realized that Purushwadi is much more than the fireflies festival. In this article, we introduce you to Purushwadi and Firefly Festival. We also guide you to plan a trip to Purushwadi village.
Purushwadi is a small idyllic tribal village situated in the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is nestled in the Western Ghats between Mula River and Pravara River. It is located 190 kilometres away from Mumbai and 100 kilometres away from Nashik, Maharashtra. Purushwadi village has been made famous by an organization named Grassroutes. They have set-up a camping site and organize a 2-day trip to Purushwadi village for the firefly festival. They charge around INR 4000 per head per night for stay, food and activities. We felt that it was exorbitantly overpriced and not worth it. So we decided to do the trip on our own. In Purushwadi, we experienced staying at a village homestay, the traditional village lifestyle, delicious homemade food, wholehearted hospitality of the villagers and nature's magic of firefly illumination during the nights.
Read our other articles on Purushwadi village - A Photo journey and Things to do in and around Purushwadi by clicking on the images below
How to reach Purushwadi village: By Road - Purushwadi can be reached only by road. Since it is located somewhere in the middle of Mumbai, Pune and Nasik (closer to Nasik), you can reach any of these major cities through air, rail or road and then travel by road to Purushwadi. You can hire a cab or rent a bike/car in any of these cities and drive to Purushwadi.
By Rail - Igatpuri which is 70 km from Purushwadi is the closest railway station. You can reach Igatpuri by rail and then wait for a bus or shared cabs. Note that the frequency is not too good and you might have to wait longer for government bus to arrive or shared cab to be filled by enough people.
Mumbai to Purushwadi - We travelled to Purushwadi to witness the firefly festival from Thane, Mumbai on a motorbike. The highway from Thane to Igatpuri was excellent and we drove at a good speed. Just after Igatpuri, we took a right turn towards the Grand Garden Resort and Spa and drove on that road till Wasali-cross as suggested by our Instagram friend who had previously been to Purushwadi on a motorbike. This was a single road passing through villages but was very good in condition except for a lot of speed breakers. The drive on this road was one of the most scenic drives we have ever been to. The road was surrounded by small cute villages which were full of greenery and we stopped more often to take photographs than we thought we would. Not to forget, the roads were awesome as well. From Wasali-cross to Rajur, the road was good to drive but the last stretch of 15 kilometres from Rajur to Purushwadi was pretty bad in condition and it took us more than 40 minutes to cover this stretch.
Tip: There is no mobile network in Purushwadi (Airtel and Vodafone) - so make sure you download google maps of that area in advance. It will help you navigate better. However, you can anytime stop by and ask a villager for the directions.
How to find a stay in Purushwadi village: As we did not want to book our stay with Grassroutes, we had to find someone from Purushwadi village who would let us stay at their place. We soon found Sunil's number (a villager) who confirmed on the phone that we could stay at his place. We had no idea who he was or what his home looked like but we were happy to have a confirmation. As we reached Purushwadi, we weren't able to call Sunil due to loss of mobile signal. We saw a few people, asked if they knew Sunil and luckily Sunil was just nearby waiting for us to arrive. He quickly showed us the way to his house. This house was about to be our place of stay for the next 2 nights. You see, it was easy to find a place to stay without Grassroutes' intervention. And believe us, we stayed at Sunil's house and received outstanding hospitality at less than 25% the price that Grassroutes asked for. We, of course, did not have some of the facilities that Grassroutes provides, but we were satisfied that all the money we spent went directly in the pocket of a villager.
Note: There aren't any hotels in or around Purushwadi that you can pre-book. You will have to stay at either a villager's own house or in a tent set up by Grassroutes. We visited Purushwadi at the end of June when the peak season had just subsided. If you visit during peak firefly festival season, especially during the weekends, its better you call any of the villagers beforehand to confirm your stay at their house. You could also carry your own tents and sleeping bags and ask a villager to sleep around their house or farms.
Our homestay in Purushwadi village: The house that we stayed in Purushwadi village had just the bare minimum required necessities. The house had a clean mattress to sleep, intermittent but sufficient electricity, drinking water and proper washroom. And that was all! Their home was a brick, concrete cum mud house. There were 3 big rooms in total - a kitchen, a sleeping room and a guest room. The washroom was at the back side of the house which could be accessed only by a 1-2 min walk. The furniture inside the house was non-existent. The roof was covered with red clay tiles and only one of the room's floor was tiled; the other had cow dung and mud floor. At the entrance of the house, there was an animal shed for cows and buffaloes.
A few things that you should know before directly approaching a homestay in Purushwadi village
While not all houses in Purushwadi would be like the one we stayed at, below are few things one must know before approaching a villager to allow you to stay at their home -
There was no bed in the house that we stayed in. The mattresses were laid on the floor and we slept on the floor. The family slept in the other room.
There was no fan in the room that we slept but we never felt hot or warm. Instead, we slept under the blankets.
There was no locker in the house where we could keep our luggage. We kept our bags in one corner of the room. There wasn’t a moment when we felt unsafe.
Do not expect any privacy in the house. Remember, you are staying with a family in a small house.
Do not expect mineral water. We drank the same water the family members used for drinking purpose.
There was no attached bathroom in the house. Most washrooms in Purushwadi were made recently under the Swachh Bharat Yojana (Clean India movement) by Government and they are Indian style. While the Government claims successful completion of building toilets across India as a marketing agenda, note that these toilets were without a flush or running tap water. You use a bucket to flush. They did not even have a light bulb inside the toilet. Since most houses in the villages are built close to each other in narrow lanes, there is no space for toilets to be built just beside the house. Hence these toilets were 1-2 min walk away from the houses near the fields where there was ample space.
Water is a scarce resource. Government has built toilets but the village usually gets running water only once a day in the morning. Women gather around in a common tap area every morning with their vessels to fill water that lasts through the day or sometimes more.
There isn’t any restaurant in Purushwadi; hence you will not get any untimely meals. You will be served home cooked food that the family of homestay eats which we really liked. Carry your specific food requirements with you.
Electricity can be erratic. The house we stayed in had one electric plug which we used for charging our mobiles and camera batteries. Some other houses had TVs too. But one can never predict when electricity would come and go.
As you must have realized, staying in a small village at a villager's home is not easy. It requires you to adapt your lifestyle and live like them for a day or two. Spending 2 days with a local family in Purushwadi was an eye opener for us in many ways. It taught us how little it takes to be happy in life and how the consumerist society keeps pushing us to stock our houses and lives with unnecessary objects. Had we stayed with Grassroutes, not only would our interaction with the locals be limited and from a distance, but it would in many ways be staged. We learnt that the villagers are instructed to cook only puranpoli (a sweet roti recipe in Maharashtra) when a guest from Grassroutes is sent to their house for a meal (as included in Grassroutes package). While there is nothing wrong with this, it is a staged experience compared to the raw experience that we would prefer. We had all our meals at with the family we stayed with and had no problems satisfying our hunger with whatever they cooked.
If you feel any of the above facilities are too inconvenient for your taste, book your stay with Grassroutes where they provide you with a tent stay (common washroom separate) and may have generators running for electricity.
Fireflies and Firefly Festival in Purushwadi village Firefly is basically a glow worm or lightning bug found in marshy and wet areas. It chemically produces light from its lower abdomen which is green or yellow in colour depending on the species. This type of light production is called bioluminescence. Fireflies do not bite and live beneath the leaves of trees. Right after the first shower of monsoon, the eggs laid by female fireflies hatch and larva is released. The larvae and the adult fireflies, both glow. The glowing is either a defensive measure or a pattern to attract the opposite sex. There are a lot of species of fireflies prevalent in Purushwadi village for reasons unknown. They hibernate during winter and mate and reproduce during summer. They die in excess rain or heavy showers; hence the best time to see firefly glow is just before a rain or after first few showers of rain. The firefly festival in Purushwadi takes place annually in the months of May and June. Lots of tourists flock Purushwadi in these months to see the thousands of fireflies glow up the trees during the night time.
As soon as the darkness fell in the evening, the trees surrounding Purushwadi village used to lit up with glowing fireflies. Sunil, our guide, knew the best sites to spot maximum fireflies and we used to walk with him down the road in the darkness to get the best possible views. We saw hundreds of fireflies dancing to nature's rhythm. The trees were decorated with their flickering lights. A twinkle here and a twinkle there filled our heart with utmost happiness. Our cameras were not able to do justice to what we saw and after numerous trials to get a proper click we gave up. One could never predict in which direction they would see a firefly, at what distance from the camera, for what duration and would glow with how much intensity. All of these factors made it extremely difficult to get good shots even at very high long exposures.
We just stood there in the stillness - mesmerized and intoxicated by this natural phenomenon. Sunil even caught a firefly and put it inside a plastic bottle to show a close-up of how beautifully they glowed. We, on the other hand, did not want to trouble the tiny creature and let it fly back to its habitat.
Note: The photos of fireflies on the Grassroutes website and their Instagram handle or any other poster you see marketing Purushwadi are for representation purpose only. Our best guess is that these photographs are composited in Photoshop or picked up from the Internet. Do not visit Purushwadi village with hopes to see such extraordinary glow. However, we guarantee that you will be amazed by what you see.
Also, note that there is no festival as such. May-June is a tenure when there is the maximum likelihood of seeing fireflies and hence Grassroutes started branding it as fireflies festival. Sounds more fancy to catch reader attention.
Our opinion about Grassroutes in Purushwadi
Before ending this article, we feel it is important to clarify our stand on Grassroutes as it would differ from most other's who have been to Purushwadi.
We appreciate the concept behind Grassroutes and the efforts they are putting. Had it not been for Grassroutes, Purushwadi would be an unknown dot in a map and a place we would never have visited
A simple math would tell you that Grassroutes' prices are exorbitant with not enough facility to justify them. They obviously profit a lot from it and pass on little to the villagers
We learnt from locals that there were ~3 villagers employed by Grassroutes full-time. There are a few other boys who act as guides for the incoming tourists and are paid on need basis. We learnt that the payment numbers for these guides were miniscule compared to what Grassroutes charge from the visitors
We wish that Grassroutes would learn from other organizations like Indiahikes who also employs many local villagers, invests in their career growth and trains them. Indiahikes provides campsites in remote Himalayan locations, acts much more responsibly through green initiatives and charges their customers pretty nominally. We could do a week long Himalayan trek with Indiahikes in as much as we would pay Grassroutes for 2 nights in Purushwadi !! Our experience of experiencing the Turtle festival in a similar small remote village of Velas in Maharashtra tells us that there are better ways of giving back to the village than what Grassroutes does
To sum it up, do Grassroutes' initiatives have a positive impact on the village? It seems 'yes'. Do Grassroutes' initiatives have a positive impact on their own pockets? A biiiiig yes! But despite this, we would say the existence of organizations like Grassroutes in this world is better than their absence.
The village lifestyle always comes as a good break from city life. So, after our trips to villages like Velas and Purushwadi, we have made it mandatory to visit a rural village annually and participate in rural tourism in our own way. Right from the sweet smell of petrichor, the sound of flames crackling from the earthen pot on the fire, whispers of women gathered at the hand-pump and happy laughs of the children playing in open fields - anything and everything about Purushwadi village have etched a long lasting memory in our heart. And we would like to visit such places again and again!
Have you seen fireflies glowing? Are you aware of any other such village where we can visit next for our next year's village experience? Do let us know in the comment section below. Feel free to share this travel blog on your social media handles.
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