Priol: Away from Goa's sunny beaches, where beer and bikinis rule the roost, butterflies have found home in three eco-parks located deep in the tropical hinterland.
For married couple Yashodhan and Jyoti Heblekar, what began initially as a passion soon turned into a business - converting a dry patch of land into what is today the Butterfly Conservatory of Goa. It is one of the three eco-parks located 40 km from state capital Panaji.
"It was more of a passion than a full time job," Yashodhan said. "Our idea is to provide an environment which the butterflies would want to choose as their home. It's an open conservatory. If the butterflies find it nice, they will come and live here," he said.
"If we start bringing in tourists, butterflies may not come because of vehicular activity," he said, adding that a steady trickle of visitors is just about right.
The idea was first mooted by his wife, a practicing homeopath, who shuffles between her twin passions.
The duo has till date documented more than 130 different species of butterflies within their area. "There may be more, but we'll claim only what we've documented," Yashodhan told IANS.
Some of the species commonly sighted in the park are Southern Birdwing - the biggest butterfly in India, Common Rose, Crimson Rose, Blue Bottle, Common Jay, Common Mime, Imperial, Spot Sword Tail and the Lime Butterfly. Endemic species include the Malabar Banded Peacock and the Blue Oakleaf.
The Heblekars, with the help of another couple, Animesh and Jigisha Sahay, have plans to expand the venture slowly to promote an eco-friendly form of tourism.
For now, the conservatory receives the occasional tourist, besides wide-eyed schoolchildren who come in hordes to experience this.
While Yashodhan admits that they are yet to break even, he's hopeful of working out a commercially viable model where both humans and butterflies can co-exist.
"The park is essentially a conservation effort. It is designed to be like a walk in a riparian forest, almost like how it is in a wildlife sanctuary (and unlike a zoo) where the sighting of butterflies is not guaranteed," Yashodhan warned.
"The best time to visit is between October and February. That's the time butterflies come in plenty," Yashodhan said.
The Heblekars are not alone in who have faith in butterflies.
Former state power minister Nirmala Sawant, having tried her hand at politics, now devotes her time to the Atreya Vedic Farm located on the edge of the Molem Wildlife Sanctuary, 75 km from Panaji.
"All you need to do is look around you. Spring is when butterflies are at their best," Sawant told IANS.
The 36-acre venture also boasts of an exquisite collection of butterflies that are free to flutter about.
The Goa government's Forest Department is also setting up a Butterfly Park in the Eco-tourism Complex at the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, 90 km from Panaji. Soon be spread over 5,000-sq mtrs, the park will be home to more than 40 species of butterflies, making it a tourist attraction. The park will have around 50 nectar plant species, a lily pond and a rock garden among others.
How to get there:
Butterfly Conservatory of Goa, Priol
40 km from Panaji
60 km from Dabolim airport
50 km from Madgaon railway station
Atreya Vedic Farm, Mollem
75 km from Panaji
90 km from Dabolim airport
10 kms from Collem railway station.
Butterfly Park, Cotigao
90 km from Panaji
100 km from Dabolim airport
15 kms from Canacona railway station