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On a Wing: Titli Utsavs in Uttarakhand

Butterfly and moth festivals in Uttarakhand open up new vistas for nature lovers and encourage the appreciation and conservation of lesser-known species

By Sanjay Sondhi

Four people lay on the ground on their stomachs, their cameras trained on something tiny. We were in the Sridev Suman Titli Eco Park, in Chiana Khud, which is part of the Devalsari landscape of Uttarakhand’s Tehri Garhwal district. This area is a butterfly habitat created and protected by the local community, with support from an NGO called the Devalsari Paryavaran Sanrakshan awam Tekniki Vikas Samiti. The group of enthusiastic photographers on the ground had come from cities as far away as Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Mumbai to attend the 1st Devalsari Titli Utsav, in June 2018.

Festival participants at Chiana Khud, Devalsari photograph an albocerulean (Udara albocaeruleus), a tiny, uncommon lycaenid butterfly, protected under the Indian wildlife act. Photo: Sanjay Sondhi  A mating pair of the sexually dimorphic lichen moth, Cyana coccinea leaves visitors enthralled at Pawalgarh. Cover Photo: Sanjay Sondhi

Festival participants at Chiana Khud, Devalsari photograph an albocerulean (Udara albocaeruleus), a tiny, uncommon lycaenid butterfly, protected under the Indian wildlife act. Photo: Sanjay Sondhi
A mating pair of the sexually dimorphic lichen moth, Cyana coccinea leaves visitors enthralled at Pawalgarh. Cover Photo: Sanjay Sondhi

What is a Titli Utsav?

Annual Titli Utsavs or butterfly and moth festivals are held in Devalsari and Pawalgarh in Uttarakhand. They are usually held in the months of May and June.

Who organizes it?

Titli Utsavs are organised by two rural youth groups, Devalsari Paryavaran Sanrakshan awam Tekniki Vikas Samiti and Pawalgarh Prakrati Prahari, supported by an NGO called the Titli Trust.

What is the idea behind the butterfly festivals?

The idea is to redefine the way in which conservation and livelihoods are viewed. These festivals hope to draw attention to this area of Uttarakhand though nature-linked tourism initiatives, using lesser-known fauna as the star attractions. The festivals encourage responsible travel, with the local community as the main stakeholder and beneficiary.

What is the theme of the Titli Utsav?

Titli Utsavs are focused primarily on observing butterflies and moths, but they also include seeing and documenting lesser-known fauna such as birds, odonates, cicadas, amphibians, and reptiles. The festivals are all about showcasing and recording the area’s biodiversity. They end up contributing significantly to local checklists of butterflies and moths.

The butterfly festivals encourage young children to get involved. Eleven-year-old Gargi enthusiastically poses with a popinjay on her arm. Photo: Sanjay Sondhi

The butterfly festivals encourage young children to get involved. Eleven-year-old Gargi enthusiastically poses with a popinjay on her arm. Photo: Sanjay Sondhi

What can a visitor expect?

The visitor experience is personal and immersive. No more than twenty paying visitors come to the festival. Groups on trails are even smaller. The emphasis is on ensuring visitors see as many things as possible in natural surroundings, supported by trained naturalist guides belonging to the local community. The emphasis is on small, focused groups, and a personalised experience. Children are encouraged to participate. There is a huge effort to be eco-friendly. No fancy inaugurations are planned, no sound systems are used, loud music is a no-no, use of plastic is banned onsite, and visitors are encouraged to take back any non-biodegradable waste they bring in.

What are the logistics for attending this festival?

Titli Utsavs are four-day events which cost Rs 8,500 per person and include board, lodging and activities. The amount goes to the local community. Food served is simple and locally grown, prepared by members of the local community. Accommodation is provided in individual or community homestays and tents. Online registration makes it simple to join.

The hairy angle, a rare hesperiid butterfly, was photographed at Devalsari in May 2019. There were no published records of this butterfly from Garhwal since Mackinnon & de Nicéville reported it from Mussoorie in their butterfly paper in 1899 (left). The majestic stately nawab, which is seen at Devalsari only in the month of May, visited animal droppings repeatedly, giving everyone ample opportunity for close-up photographs (right). Photos: Sanjay Sondhi

What is the evening activity like?

Evening sessions involve presentations and discussions around moths and butterflies, as well as on diverse topics such as photography, species identification, and citizen science. To support biodiversity documentation visitors are trained in the effective use of popular websites of the Indian Foundation for Butterflies www.ifoundbutterflies.org for butterflies and www.mothsofindia.org for moths. Sessions on archival and retrieval of natural history data are held. These provide tips on how to organise and store photographs in a meaningful manner. Moth screens are set up in the evenings and this allows many first-timers a glimpse of the incredible moth diversity in our world. Moth screens involve a having a special light bulb in front of a white screen or wall. Presentations by experts, such as one on funky moth behavior add to the participant’s knowledge.

A moth screen at Kyari village, at the edge of the Pawalgarh Conservation Reserve threw up about 1,700 moths of which 700 were Cyana species, a common lichen moth. Photo: Sanjay Sondhi

A moth screen at Kyari village, at the edge of the Pawalgarh Conservation Reserve threw up about 1,700 moths of which 700 were Cyana species, a common lichen moth. Photo: Sanjay Sondhi

What unique species have been spotted by participants during these festivals?

Festival participants have recorded the hairy angle, an uncommon hesperiid. They have also variously recorded the stately nawab, dark blue royal, water hairstreak, wonderful hairstreak, and siren amongst many others. At one of the Devalsari festivals participants were enthralled to see the small paa frog at a stream, and the rare many-banded cat snake during a night walk.

 

A mating pair of the sexually dimorphic lichen moth, Cyana coccinea leaves visitors enthralled at Pawalgarh (left). The caterpillar of this moth spins an igloo-like structure from the hair on its back, and suspends its cocoon inside this structure (right). Photos: Sanjay Sondhi

When is the next festival?

The 3rd Devalsari Titli Utsav will be held from 11-14 June, 2020 and the 2nd Pawalgarh Titli Utsav will be held from 14-17 May, 2020.

Sanjay Sondhi
Sanjay Sondhi

is a Dehradun-based naturalist with an interest in Lepidoptera, avifauna and herpetofauna and anything else that moves (apart from humans!). He is founder trustee of the Titli Trust.

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