Last year, around mid-Jan, I went to Nainital for a birding trip. Same time, back in Pune, two of my friends went for a 1-day birding trip around the Pabe Ghat region. Even though I had a big checklist of birds from Nainital to show off about, they had an upper-hand on me because of just one photo. Apart from birds, what they found was an extremely rare flowering "Son Ghanta" shrub. I haven't heard about any common name in English for this. Just for understanding purpose, you can literally translate it to "Golden Bell" (Son => Golden, Ghanta => Bell).
Son Ghanta is an endemic & restricted to Western Ghats of Maharashtra state only. Because of its narrow range and extreme rarity, it has been assigned to the Critically Endangered category. The scientific name, Abutilon ranadei, for this endangered species was given after N. B. Ranade who died of the plague in 1897. Son Ghanta is a shrub 3-5 ft tall characterized by bell-like hanging (upside down) golden yellow flowers. The five petals are orange yellow, veined with purple. Leaves are alternately arranged, big, heart-shaped, long-pointed, with toothed margins. It is found in moist deciduous forest on hill slopes, especially in thickets or stands of Strobilanthes callosa (locally known as "Karvi"). Sometimes it also grows in open spaces or roadsides.
Son Ghanta flower with leaf & buds
January is the perfect time to see the flowering of Son Ghanta. So I had no option than to wait to see this beautiful flower and the patience paid off this year. Beginning of the 2nd week of January, I got a lead from my friend (who has local sources in Torna region) about the possible flowering Son Ghanta plants in the region. I was immediately on it. Torna from my place is about 70+ kms. I tried to team up with a couple of others but being a weekday, no one was really available and I was not ready to miss the chance this year. So I finally decided to go all by myself (which I usually avoid but couldn't resist this time).
The route I took was Warje - NDA Gate - Khadakwasla - Donaje - Khanapur - Pabe - Velhe - Torna Fort. The road conditions through Pabe region was so bad that one could have easily given up driving on that road. But I kept calm and proceeded. I was so focused on seeing the flower that on the way to Torna, I did not notice or hear a single bird (which is unlike me). After reaching the spot, it took some time for me to locate the flowering plant but once I found it, I felt like I just hit the jackpot.
After spending a good one and half hour in the region looking for more flowers of Son Ghanta, I ended up finding multiple Son Ghanta flowers and other wild flowers like Fish Poison Bush (Gnidia glauca) and Wild Tobacco (Lobelia nicotianifolia) flowers. Even after clicking photos from all possible angles of the flower, I did not feel like leaving the area. Ultimately decided to leave as the clock ticked passed 2 hours.
Fish Poison Bush, Gnidia glauca (View)
Wild Tobacco, Lobelia nicotianifolia (View)
On the way back, as my wish of capturing Son Ghanta was fulfilled, I got my bird senses back. Even though, the bird activity was less due to the time of day, few birds showed up like Common Woodshrike and few commoners like Pied Bushchat, Doves, Babblers, etc.
Common Woodshrike (View)
Male Pied Bushchat (View)
That's it. 140+ kms of drive, a rare Son Ghanta flower, and a minor hairline fracture in my right hand. Oh right, while searching for the flower, I slipped on one of the hill slopes and fell down on my right hand, talk about excruciating. But as it is for the rare Son Ghanta, I took it gladly!!