As the veil of darkness lifted from Chincholi Morachi, heralding a new day, it was life as usual for the villagers. The hurly-burly of daily life had begun in the non-descript village. Our host, Janardan Thopate and his family were busy preparing for the bevy of guests expected to arrive to watch the peacocks at Chincholi Morachi.

About 47 km from Pune, Chincholi Morachi has acquired renown as an open sanctuary for peacocks. On a rough count, about 2500 survive in the wild. The villagers assert that the peacocks have been cared, looked after and fed for the past several generations. No one captures or confines them. The national bird is the master of its own will in this corner of Maharashtra.

 

Peacock roaming freely in Chincholi Morachi

Peacock roaming freely in Chincholi Morachi

How and when the village came to be associated with peacocks is shrouded in mystery. “The peacocks have been there for over 100 years. My parents too took good care of them,” adds Ramdas Shingade, part of Jai Malhar Krushi Vikas Pratisthan, a trust formed to nurture agri-tourism and development of the village.

According to one legend, Peshwa Bajirao’s army used to camp at the village and planted tamarind trees to provide shade to his troops. The trees attracted the peacocks and soon enough, they were full time residents in the village. It may or may not be true, but I found it alluring.

As we stood chatting with Janardan, a muster of peacocks wandered into the fields adjacent to his house. In the winter morning, the peacocks gave us the Nelson’s eye and engrossed themselves in feeding. We stood immobile speaking in hushed tones, partly out of fear of scaring them, partly mesmerized by the unfolding spectacle. Some distance away, a peacock made fervent raucous calls. On a tree top, a peacock sat preening itself, as if preparing for the matinee we had come to watch.

Peacock, relatively speaking, is unremarkable when it comes to size and proportion. A swan looks more beautiful, a common eagle looks more regal. However, the vibrant colour, the plumes and the feathers is an engaging sight.

 

Spectacular Bird: Peacock

Spectacular Bird: Peacock

 

Left to themselves, the birds wander through houses and fields searching for food and fed by their inherent curiosity. “At times they even come into our verandahs. But they get scared if they spot outsiders,” Janardan adds. However, things are changing and very fast. As fame spreads, increasing number of tourists from Mumbai and Pune have been making a beeline for the village. “They can recognise us and aren’t afraid of us. However, when they spot strangers, they tend to keep away.”

Though Janardan might rue the cacophony that visitors often create on spotting the birds, it is a necessary evil which the villagers are actively courting nowadays. Visitors mean an additional and assured source of income for the villagers. Villagers have jumped on to the agri-tourism bandwagon to attract tourists.

Technological advances have fuelled the number of visitors to the village in Ahmednagar. Mobile phones help visitors connect with villagers in real time. Websites and travelogues have helped popularize the birds and their habitat resulting in a flood of visitors. So much so that Janardan has to turn down requests. “I can handle only a certain number of visitors. Crowds will only keep away the birds and be a burden for me to manage.”

 

Fabulous looking Peacock

Fabulous looking Peacock

 

Morning and evening are the best time to spot the peacocks at close quarters. It is the time when the birds come searching for food close to human habitations. Armed with the knowledge, we had raced out of Pune on the highway to Ahmednagar.

And true to their routine they came, one, then two and then the whole muster. Unhindered by human presence, though maintaining a distance, the birds continued. And of course, monsoon, when the peacocks woo the peahens, is the best time to spot them dancing with their full splendor on display.

Even as he directed us to watch the tableaux, Janardan kept a wary eye on his guests. Concern and looking after guests apart, Janardan didn’t want any trouble for the peacocks and consequent damage to his business.

PHOTOS CREDIT: Jai Malhar Krushi Vikas Pratisthan