“There are two kinds of light — the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures”, wrote James Thurber, the celebrated American author-artist. He may as well have been talking about one of nature’s most awe-inspiring spectacles — bioluminescence (certain living organisms glowing in their own light).
Thanks to light pollution, in today’s world, the beauty of the nighttime is all-too-often obscured by harsh man-made lights. But if one looks closely beyond this artificial glare, thanks to bioluminescence, one might see something special and rare: the quiet glow of ocean waves, the twinkling beauty of fireflies and the sparkling shimmer of forest floors.
Little wonder these unforgettable experiences rank high on every globetrotter’s bucket list. If you haven’t witnessed this surreal phenomenon yet, here are a few places in India where you can see nature come aglow with living light.
1. Glowing In Maharashtra
During monsoon season, the rain-soaked forests of the Western Ghats witness a spectacular show of bioluminescence. The cause is a unique species of fungus, called Mycena, that grows on rotting bark, leaves and twigs on the forest floor. When exposed to increased moisture in the air, Mycena puts on quite a light and special effects show.
In Maharashtra, the tribal hamlet of Ahupe (nestled within the Bhimshankar Wildlife Reserve) is the perfect place to see this otherworldly glow. The ample rainfall, sultry climate and lush forest canopy provide an ideal environment for Mycena to thrive.
Whether you call them fireflies, lightning bugs or glow worms (as the juveniles are called), these fascinating creatures are the best known bioluminescent organisms. These insects typically use their glow to attract mates, though some species use it to trick their prey into becoming a meal.
In Maharashtra, the small tribal village of Purushwadi is home to millions of fireflies and an official fireflies festival that happens in May. While these insects are visible year-round, they’re most active in the warmer months. During long summer nights (which is also their mating season), fireflies gather together and light up their habitat, like strings of twinkling fairy lights.
It makes perfect sense that bioluminescence is most widespread in the planet’s darkest environment: oceans. The startlingly scenic effect, called phosphorescence, is caused by blooms of free-floating bioluminescent plankton.
In Maharashtra, marine bioluminescence can often be spotted at night about half a kilometre away from the coastline. As for on the shore, they don’t happen every night of the year — in fact, scientists don’t yet know how to predict when they will happen. But when they do happen, they happen in an eye-catching way.
For instance, in January 2016, several visitors to Mumbai’s Juhu beach reported seeing the waves hitting the shore having a sparkling shade of bright blue. So who knows, if you’re in Mumbai (or even Goa), try taking a walk on a quiet beach at night. You just might be surprised!
2. Glowing In Goa
A walk through the rain-drenched forest trails of Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary (in Goa’s Swapnagandha Valley) on inky black nights will reveal glowing Mycena mushrooms on rotting twigs, logs and stumps. The surreal scene is made even more special by the unusual sounds of the Slender Loris hooting its approval and Malabar Gliding Frogs serenading their lady loves.
Interestingly, unlike many other forest reserves in India, the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary stays open during the monsoon months. Carpeted with lush greenery and cascading waterfalls in full flow, Chorla Ghat (as this stretch is also called) is truly a sight to behold.
3. Glowing In Lakshadweep and Andaman islands
In Lakshadweep and Andaman, when the algal blooms of bioluminescent plankton wash ashore at night, it seems as if someone has sprinkled cerulean glitter down the tranquil shoreline. This stunning display from the single-cell organisms almost mirrors the velvet sky above and is the reason why it has been fittingly nicknamed the ‘Sea of Stars’.
Visitors to these Indian archipelagos say they have had the most luck seeing bioluminescence between July to February (especially during the dark nights of the new moon). Interestingly, the best way to enjoy this gorgeous natural phenomenon is to go night-kayaking — as you paddle across, you’ll witness ripples glowing an electric blue. If you are very lucky, you can also watch fish leaving a glowing trail as they swim through the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon.