Story By Khursheed Dinshaw
Images by Hemant Patil except where noted.
As dusk approaches I see them emerge from the shadows of the tamarind trees and step daintily into the fields in search of grain. Some walk with the village women who draw water from the well, to be used for drinking and cooking. The beautiful coexistence is refreshing between humans and the peacocks here in Morachi Chincholi (MC), located in west central India about 250 km from Mumbai in Maharashtra State.
Reports of peacock population dwindling on account of poaching, habitat loss and contamination of food sources have unsettled me. Officially, peacocks are protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, but the reality is that for their feathers or their flesh or even their fat which some claim is an arthritis cure, peacocks are mercilessly poached in Punjab, Haryana and around Delhi, known as a peacock-rich belt. And so in Morachi Chincholi where the wild peacock population is higher than the population of villagers, where the national bird of India is protected, revered and treated as an equal cohabitant, I am at peace.
Located on the central west coast of India, the villagers of this 1365-acre village, converted into a peacock sanctuary, are very particular about how visitors behave with the peacocks. Eco-friendliness is an essential of the local lifestyle. Visitors who smoke may do so outside the farm premises, and the villagers find consuming alcohol offensive. MC consists of individually-owned farms that have been collectively clubbed as the sanctuary, an informal decision taken by the community itself. Some farmers have been more pro-active than the others in providing accommodation and guided tours for visitors. Janardhan Thopate our guide and host welcomes us.
We leave our luggage in the accommodation provided, a room with satellite TV, mattresses for sleeping and a ceiling fan. Lunch is a rustic simple meal prepared by Nirmala, Janardhan’s wife and Suman, his mother. We enjoy this unhurried meal seated on plastic chairs, with the cool, unpolluted breeze blowing and picturesque green fields around us. The filling meal consists of fresh hot pearl millet, sorghum or wheat roti as unleavened flatbread, lentils, rice and a vegetable dish served with a fiery chutney of garlic and green chillies. It is topped off with a salad of radish, carrot and cut onion rings, all ingredients from this family’s farm.
Janardhan tells us he is improving his English from language CDs. As we chat, Janardhan mentions how a Japanese visitor heard about MC from an Indian friend. “She didn’t know English and learnt a little of our state language, Marathi, from her friend before she visited. We mostly communicated through sign language. He mentions that most of our international visitors like the ones who came from France and America knew English. A common Indian trait of the villagers is “Atithi devo bhav” translated as guests are like God, so these hosts will find a way to communicate their hospitality.
Mother Suman, who only speaks Marathi, enthusiastically tells us how she wakes up daily with the call of the peacocks. “They are more efficient than any time-showing device,” she laughs. Nirmala shares with us in Hindi about a group of 40 visitors from Mumbai, and how she and Suman cooked for them. “They liked our simple tasty homemade meal and marveled at our efficiency to serve fresh hot rotis one after another to them,” she declares proudly.
After time to relax, we are taken on an informative tour to learn about the cultivation and farming practices of the MC farmers including drip irrigation, seeding, watering and the tools used for cultivation. Guests are also shown videos of dancing courting peacocks and bullock cart races on Janardhan’s laptop, after which we are taken for a bumpy bullock cart ride and encouraged to enjoy an evening walk.
Visitors may interact with the 400 students, ages 5-15 years, who study at the MC primary and secondary schools. A villager walking towards the cowshed to milk his cows and buffaloes asked if we wanted to try our hand at it but I politely declined and opted for feeding the animals their fodder instead. Later I fed the few chickens he had with the little chicks scampering around uncertainly, confused as to which direction they were supposed to go. Visitors may pay respects at the old Khandoba temple where the locals regularly offer prayers. Nirmala suggested I try preparing roti on my own. This was not easy and the shape resembled the map of India rather than the neat circles that Suman made by hand in such a jiffy.
This quaint village gets its name from the bird that enjoys a privileged status here. In the Marathi language mor refers to peacock and chincholi to tamarind trees, both abundant here. The peacocks favor the area on account of the abundant tamarinds that offer both shade and coolness. Since the village is surrounded by densely-forested hills, the birds are naturally protected from wild animals that hunt for food in the forests above but do not venture into the villages below for fear of humans. The villagers themselves do have their problems with these birds, mainly when they eat the freshly grown grains or vegetables. To combat this, the villagers with foresight grow additional crops, keeping in mind the peacock consumption. The birds in turn earn their keep by keeping snakes at bay and eating harmful crop insects. Currently, the 2,500 peacocks feed on pearl millet, sorghum, sesame seeds, green chillies, potatoes and onions all provided by the villagers.
While the peacocks at MC are a part of everyday village life, for us they have become a colorful and pleasant memory of our travels. Their regal posture, their resting in the shade of the trees during the day and only coming out during sunrise and dusk, the devotion that the villagers show for the peacocks all have demonstrated lessons in the peaceful co-existence of Mother Nature’s creations.
Morachi Chincholi Tourism website: www.chincholimorachi.com.
Incredible India Tourism website, www.incredibleindia.org.
Getting there: Morachi Chincholi is 250 km from Mumbai, serviced by flights from Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi. At a distance of 85 km, Pune is the nearest city with a strong cultural and educational base. A car rental is advisable as, apart from visiting MC, one can travel further to Nighoj to view Asia’s largest natural potholes in a river 20 km from MC.
Accommodation: Visitors may stay in the village with local residents who have prepared their houses to receive international guests. The cost is 500 Indian Rupees (approx. US$12) per person for an overnight stay that includes a guided tour, breakfast, lunch and dinner, evening tea with snacks and accommodation. A day visit costs 250 Rupees (approx. US$6) per person and includes a guided tour, breakfast, lunch and evening tea with snacks.
Photo: Unlike their more familiar domesticated cousins, peacocks in the wild are usually photo shy, requiring great skill and a lot of patience to capture them on film.
Booking can be done through the website www.chincholimorachi.com. As MC has a water shortage, showers for bathing are not provided but buckets and mugs are available as are toilet facilities both Indian and Western style. As an alternative accommodation nearby, Yash Inn, is located at Ranjangaon, 10 km from MC.
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With Incredible Indian Tours, discover India or Nepal on your trip of a lifetime, blending cultural and heritage experiences to amaze and enthrall. We also offer specialist tours for women only or for country festivals and events. 60% of clients are over 45. www.incredibleindiatours.com
Khursheed Dinshaw is a Pune, India-based freelance writer with more than 555 published articles in major Indian newspapers and magazines in the last seven years. An avid traveler, she writes on lifestyle, travel, health, food, trends, people and culture. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.