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.