Dance of the Peacocks

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With the focus on the diminishing  wild life in India, quite  wonderfully, both rural and urban communities in Maharashtra  have worked hard to create miraculous ‘peacock sanctuaries and jungle habitats’  which are a tourist’s delight today.

Within a short distance from the pulsating  city of Mumbai, stand some of the most  magnificent peacock sanctuaries of India. The jungles around  Ahmednagar district and the wooded areas of Pune, both in Maharashtra,  resound with the cries of peacocks as the rainy season unfolds. With the first  showers, the forests become verdant and cool, making them a perfect background  for more than 6000 dancing peacocks that live in the hills and valleys of these  regions. On rainy evenings, they dance with their plumage spread like a halo,  creating a magnificent spectacle of nature.  

Dark  rainclouds gathering on the horizon to a slow beat of thunder; mellow sunrays  piercing through chinks in the cloud cover; rain drops beginning to fall one by  one on the sun-parched trees and flocks of splendid peacocks dancing under the  grey skies – this is a familiar motif of Indian life.  Not only does this scenario recur each  monsoon in thousands of forest landscapes, but it is also invariably woven into  India's  folksongs, literature, music, dance and miniature paintings.  Though the ever-present motif of a dancing  peacock is a deeply etched in every Indian's psyche and though the peacock is  the national bird of India,  it is often wrongly associated only with the northern states of the  country.  The arid deserts of Rajasthan,  the riverbanks of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the foothills of the Himalayas in  Uttar Pradesh and the forests of Haryana – these are considered to be the major  and commonly-known habitats of peacocks in India.

However,  in recent decades, the monsoon-dependent state of Maharashtra  has suddenly hit the headlines for being home to magnificent peacock  sanctuaries that have been nurtured by the communities living in this area.  The site of this sanctuary, given the status  of a wild life reserve in 1994, is among the forested hills of Ahmednagar district,  which is just a 50 km drive from Pune.   Along the Ahmednagar-Pune road, vast tracts of hilly forest lands have  come to be home to the largest single population of peacocks in India.   Newly discovered by tourists and wild  life lovers, the Moranchi Chincholi Peacock Sanctuary has almost 3000 birds  which live in the sprawling jungles with monsoon streams flowing through  them.  The entire area covering these  villages and valleys is thickly forested and thus offers the most suitable  breeding haven for not only peacocks, but also Teetars, Neelkanth, Bharadwaj  and Robin birds.  Small animals of the cat  family, monkeys and reptiles also inhabit the jungles.  Additionally, the 500 deer and stags ambling  around in the ringing silence of the jungle give the sanctuary a rare appeal  and beauty.  Travellers who routinely drive  along the Pune-Ahmednagar highway are often pleasantly surprised by herds of  deer scampering among the woods or flocks of peacocks perched atop leafy trees  or farmhouse roofs.  During the monsoon,  the incredible rain dance of these resplendent birds is an unforgettable sight.

The  sanctuary acquires its name from the village   of Chinchoni, meaning  tamarind. The sanctuary is supported by the Mauli Krishi Paryatan Kendra formed  by the village community. It presently has the largest population of peacocks –  3000 birds.  In other surrounding  villages, which are called Nirgudi, Pimpalgaon, Dhasla, Nalwadi and Domri,  there are 3500 peacocks and each year, this figure is growing. The reasons for  the burgeoning peacock population are two.   The hills around Ahmednagar are formed by a stone and soil mixture known  as Deccan Trap and the red soil mixed  with gravely-textured rock chips keeps the monsoon moisture locked under the  top soil layer for many months after the last rains have fallen.  The air is humid and warm and the tree cover  remains thick throughout the year.  This  environment is ideally suited to the growth of peacocks.

Secondly,  though the ever increasing number of peacocks often invade farms and grain fields  and destroy crops, causing serious damage to the income of the local farmers,  the villagers believe the birds to be divine and belonging to the temples in  the area.  Therefore, whatever nuisance  they cause, the villagers protect the birds from poachers and do not harm  them.  However, every February, at the  end of the winter, the birds shed their feathers in the natural course of their  growth, and forest folk collect these to sell to tourists!

Today  Moranchi Chincholi has gained such popularity among Mumbai and Pune citizens,  that the locals offer camping, safaris for bird watching, picnics, farm meals,  harvest feasts, jungle treks, a taste of rustic life and games for visitors to  enjoy their day with the peacocks. On rainy evenings, nature’s theatre offers  the most heavenly dance performance anyone has seen. Various websites offer  route maps, activities and facilities in this wonderful location.

More recently, yet another experiment in breeding peacocks has  resulted in stunning success right in the urban complex of Pune. 34-year-old Dr.  Ajay Kulkarni, a nature lover, has made Herculean efforts for 15 years to  create a sizeable population of peacocks in the midst of Pune, near the Paud-Taljai  areas, where there are forests. He has also been feeding peacocks on the hill  behind Maharashtra Institute of Technology’s guest-house. This man of medicine has walked with determination in the hills,  providing food grains and water to peacocks in the hot and humid jungle, to  increase their population from a mere three to several hundreds. A city-based  NGO called Prabodhan also provides water trays to senior citizens who wish to  join the community effort to increase trees and keep the peacock and other bird  populations safe and growing.

Kulkarni’s idea first took seed when he saw three peacocks while  walking along the hill. He decided to feed them. Well fed and cared for, they  laid eggs and the number expanded gradually. Today, more than 350 peacocks can  be seen along the hill, in addition to other birds. “Looking at the success of  the project, we can hope to create a tourist destination if we get the required  permissions,” says Dr. Kulkarni, “A grove with thousands of peacocks can be  created. The peacock is our national bird and such a grove can work wonders to  increase tourism to this area. Meanwhile, residents and regular walkers around the  Taljai forest have not only planted and watered trees but also created water  reservoirs and fed the peacocks. Such community efforts are unique and must be  emulated by all so that similar miracles can happen all over India to save many species of animals and birds  and to make India  a nature-and-wild-life-rich nation.”

The author was Editor  of Femina for 25 years. Vimla Patil is among India's senior most  Journalists-Media persons. She excels in writing lifestyle pieces, women's  concerns, travelogues, celebrity interviews, art-culture pieces about India.