Friday, 22 June 2012

Dot Your Sunday with Butterflies

Ovalekar Butterfly FarmStarted about fifteen years ago by Rajendra Ovalekar, ‘Ovalekar Butterfly Farm’ is now home to 110 out of 150 varieties of butterflies present in Bombay. Once a farm land, the Ovalekars’ property on Ghodbunder Road in Thane is now a flourishing butterfly farm thanks to the efforts of brothers Rajendra and Bhupendra.
Located 12 kilometers from Mumbai on Ghodbunder Road that connects Thane to Borivali, this farm is a hidden treasure trove of nature’s wonders. Once you reach Ovla Village, you must tread the narrow winding roads that lead to this farm. The instance you enter this farm, you will get the unmistakable whiff of the fragrance of innumerable varieties of flowers.
ButterflyButterflyAs you walk past clusters of food plants and feeders in the almost jungle-like layout, you can spot butterflies of various kinds. Starting from the Striped Tiger, the most common variety, to the Blue Tiger to the Great Orange Tip and Blue Oak Leaf, you will see nature’s magic in abundance. The irregular quaking of the two ducks present in the farm is the only sound you will hear (of course, if you keep speaking, it’s a different deal).
One is instructed to tread silent and maintain restricted movements that are slow and soft so as to prevent the butterflies from being disturbed. The Ovalekar brothers cherish this farm that they so painstakingly set-up and do not prefer to have their prize visitors (I mean the butterflies!) disturbed.
They also claim this to be the reason why this pretty little park is open to visitors only on Sundays. They say it takes a while for the butterflies to recover from heavy human presence. Hence, after one day of human presence a week gives them six days to recover and have them exist peacefully in their natural environment before they are visited by humans the next time.
ButterflyButterflyButterflyA guided tour of the farm by Rajendra Ovalekar will take you into the enchanting world of butterflies. The rare colours of these magnificent creatures simply awe the mind.  Often present during these briefings is Mr. Makrand Kulkarni, a photographer and an expert on butterflies. He has over 35 years of experience in this field and happens to be the Education Officer of this farm.
This farm is also frequented by researchers and other members of Bombay Natural History Society, photographers and dedicated nature enthusiasts from across the city . Most butterfly researchers and naturalists throng this place on Sundays and one cannot miss the insightful briefings they get from their research guides.
This park is also open to schools who want to give preliminary education to young kids about the life cycle of these insects.
ButterflyMothFor example, how many of us knew the way to differentiate between a moth and a butterfly is by the way they sit? Moths sit with their wings open and butterflies with their wings closed. So if you see an insect that looks like a moth but sits with its wings closed, you know it’s a butterfly and not a moth!
For all it offers, this park deserves much more attention and government aid to expand its efforts to conserve innumerable varieties of butterflies.  Even with a measly average of 7200 visitors per year and no government support, this private farm has not lost its heart when it comes to conserving the colourful wildlife.
ButterflyButterflyThey are going strong and have stuck to their main principles. No chemicals will be used to maintain the park. They only use cow-dung to fertilize and earthworms to till the soil that holds the flowering plants.
With the presence of their 2-acre of land in their vicinity, they hope to expand this park. They are now on a hunt to gather food plants and larvae house plants to set up a system to attract the remaining rare varieties of butterflies.
How it came to happen?
It all started fifteen years ago, when Rajendra Ovalekar, a physical education tutor in St. Pius X High School in the nearby town of Mulund in Mumbai attended a seminar on butterflies organized by Bombay Natural History Society.
ButterflyButterfly“I became extremely interested in knowing about butterflies when the speakers at that seminar mentioned the fact that Ovla village in Thane is a good breeding ground for them. Ovla happens to be my native place and I was surprised I did not know that. There were many butterflies in my farm when I was growing up but one generally doesn’t pay much attention to such things when they are a common sight.”
This seminar changed his life. He decided to convert his agricultural land into a butterfly farm and planted mango and chickoo trees for starters. As the years went by, he planted many a food tree. He also sought help of Issac Kehim, also known as the butterfly man of India. Issac Kehim with his expertise in butterflies and their breeding grounds educated Rajendra about all the plants and flowers butterflies are attracted to and the latter then started his process of obtaining those plants.
ButterflyButterflyThis wasn’t an easy task, for most of those plants are not grown in nurseries. One has to go to actual butterfly breeding sites in the woods and collect those plants. Rajendra wasn’t deterred by this. He traveled to forest areas near Kolkatta, Goa, Kerala, Surat and many more to obtain the necessary plants.
Once that was done, he started planting his precious saplings in a planned manner in his farm. Setting up the whole farm what it is today took a whole ten years. A completely organic farm, this butterfly park is not among those who keep butterflies in netted cages.
Ovalekar Butterfly Farm is an open air farm where the butterflies come and go as they please. With over 100 species of larvae enhancing food plants present, the recurring number of butterflies has only increased in the recent years.
They say keeping it open air is the best way to keep the butterflies from coming back.  The butterflies feed on both nectar and fruits and they have plenty of it in this farm.
“Nectar alone does not attract our colourful friends into the open. They seek sunlight as well,” says Rajendra Ovalekar.
He is assisted in this project by his brother Bhupendra Ovalekar, son Pranav Ovalekar and friend-cum-educator Makrand Kulkarni.
ADDRESS – Ovalekar Butterfly Farm, Takkada Road, Ovla Village, Opposite Abhyudaya Bank, Off Ghodbunder Road, Thane West (12 kms From Mumbai).
CONTACT - +91-9820779729 – Rajendra Ovalekar & +91-9664580106 – Makrand Kulkarni
TIMING – 8.00 am to 11.00 am
DAYS OPEN – The park is open only on Sundays.
FEE – Entry fee is Rs 50/- per head and snack fee is Rs.30/- per head.
BEST TIME TO VISIT – September – December & March – May
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