Last year, around the same time, when I settled on my Ceropegia quest due to the end of season, I had definite plans (and even bigger plans) to continue the quest next year so that I can take a big jump in my Ceropegia tally. But come 2020, and since March, all the plans had gone in vain due to pandemic; so my mission actually seemed impossible. In the first week of September, I had an unexpected nature trip to Torna Fort (Prachandgad). Usually, by the time of September, Ceropegia's pollination is over and it starts fruiting. During that trip, I saw flowers of 3 species of Ceropegia. Even though none of the 3 species were lifers for me, I felt lucky to see those in flowering.
Taking clues from the Torna trip, I and few of my like-minded friends, decided to take a chance and go look for more species of Ceropegia. We decided to do an overnight trip to Kolhapur region so that we can cover as many species as possible. For obvious reasons, there was a lot of resistance at family-level while planning the trip. But the Ceropegia passion over-powered and I managed to convince my family.
Right then, all the planning was done. The first few things that we packed were, masks, sanitizers and a small bottle full of kitchen salt (why? you will come to know about that as you read on...). Everything else came next. The farthest point that we wanted to cover on this 2-day trip was Dajipur, so we started early in the morning at 4:30. During this pandemic, looking for food was challenging, as most of the food joints on the highway were closed. While planning for this trip, another challenge that we faced was that of finding a place where we can rest overnight. With no luck in finding a place in Kolhapur, we decided to take shelter at one of our friend's house at Patan (near Koyana Nagar).
A view of Shivgad Fort near Dajipur
With a breakfast break and a couple of bio-breaks, we reached Dajipur around noon and started searching for Ceropegias and other wildflowers. The area was full of Blue Mormon butterflies, our state butterfly. I haven't seen so many Blue Mormons in one place before. We had to spend more than a couple of hours to find the first Ceropegia of the trip. It was Evan's Ceropegia to begin with. The Evan's Ceropegia is a twining climber with underground storage tubers. The lower part of the flower is light grey or whitish in colour and sometimes shows faint greyish lines. The petals are white in their lower half and pale yellow in their upper half.
Evan's Ceropegia (Ceropegia evansii)
After taking enough photos, we decided to try our luck with one more Ceropegia species which was not too far from Dajipur. We drove towards Vaibhavwadi. On our way, while exploring the hills, we found Anant's Ceropegia on one of them. The Anant's Ceropegia is a rare herb endemic to hills around Phonda and nearby regions. The flowers are quite large. They appear on a pinkish stalk and are more or less completely yellowish green. The petals make up half of the flowers length, they show two dark dots on the inside.
Anant's Ceropegia (Ceropegia anantii)
With our cameras filled up with a number of photos of this amazing flower we decided to move on. Only after starting the journey towards Patan, we realized that we skipped our lunch. Everyone was so engrossed in looking for the enticing Ceropegia flowers, the thought of having lunch didn't even come to anyone's mind. We stopped at one small shop in a village on our way back and had quick snacks. Some of us brought a few snacks along; so we just ate whatever we could get.
On our return journey, we fancied our chances to spot two more species of Ceropegia enroute, but were not lucky as it got dark quickly and it started raining too. By the time we reached Kolhapur, it was 9:30 pm, and now finding a place for dinner also posed a problem as most of the restaurants were closed in Kolhapur city. Fortunately, we found one restaurant on Kolhapur - Pune highway, right outside of the city. After having a stomach-full of dinner, we continued our journey towards Patan and by the time we reached there; it was past midnight. With so much travel since morning, nothing relaxed us more than a good sleep!
An Indian Tiger Centipede, near Dajipur
The next day, we woke up early (not very early) at around 6:30, had a quick cup of black tea and left the friend's house without troubling his family further. We had breakfast at a small restaurant at Patan, and drove towards Kumbharli Ghat. On our way to Kumbharli Ghat, we saw a Crested Hawk-eagle. It was sitting on a perfect perch, perfect light with a great background and it was close enough from us to give us a good clean shot. As we focused our cameras on that majestic bird of prey; "1 .. 2 .. HONKKKK!", a car passing by honked for no reason, which disturbed the bird and it flew away. As a result, no photo! All of us were in shock, on not getting the perfect shot.
We did not have much in our hands other than muttering some nice colourful words for the people in that car. So we did that and continued to Kumbharli Ghat. After reaching there, we had to search for the flower that we were looking for i.e. Santapau's Ceropegia. As it was close to the end of Ceropegia season, we could find only one climber with just 3-4 flowers on it. In addition to that the climber was way too high on the hill slope and was out of reach. Luckily, I was carrying a tele-lens, so I tried capturing a couple of record shots and that's about it.
Santapau's Ceropegia is an erect, tuberous twinning herb, endemic to Western Ghats of Maharashtra. Flowers are white to pale pink with an ovoid inflated part below and a straight tube. The petals on top are broadly ovate to heart-shaped with the tips fused together, forming a depressed globe.
Santapau's Ceropegia (Ceropegia santapaui)
After walking for some distance in the hope to see at least one climber at decent height, we decided to move on to our next stop, which was Koyana nagar. Once we reached Koyana nagar, we parked our car on the roadside at one place and decided to do a jungle trail. While walking through the jungle like Koyana nagar has, the biggest challenge is to avoid a small yet deadly creature called a Leech. On the first day, as we were dwelling mainly through the plateaus we did not encounter these blood suckers. But today was a different day and since it had rained last night, we knew that leeches would be more active than usual. The damp weather conditions and lots of leaf litter on the ground is the perfect home for leeches. This is the exact reason why we were carrying the salt with us. The salt helps keep leeches away from you. So we sprinkled lots of salt in & on our footwear before stepping into the jungle.
At the beginning of the trail itself, we were greeted by a wild Russell's Viper snake, who was almost getting done with its breakfast. We kept a distance from the reptile as we could sense that the reptile did not like our company because of its angry hiss. Few minutes later, we both decided not to trouble each other and continued our respective ways. I was continuously keeping eyes on my feet as even with the salt guard on, the leeches were trying their best to enter my footwear. As I was walking, I could literally see at least 6-7 leeches approaching me from all directions. You literally have to play tag (pakada-pakadi) with leeches. We could not find any Ceropegia species here but we spotted a few orchids.
Thick leaved Habenaria (Habenaria brachyphylla)
Plantain Habenaria (Habenaria plantaginea)
Butterfly Orchid (Pecteilis gigantea)
With the looming fear of leeches all the time, I was the one who was eager to wrap this trail as early as possible. So I was the first one to come out of that jungle. When I reached the road where our car was parked, I realized that there is still a leech attached to my floaters; desperately trying to stick to my skin. I somehow managed to get it off my footwear. This is how it looks and moves.
Thanks to the salt that we were carrying, which helped us in completing our trail by successfully avoiding leech threat without a single drop of blood loss. It was almost noon by then and we were getting close to the end of our 2-day trip with just one last destination left, which was Satara outskirts. We started driving towards that. My friends already started planning for yet another trip. There was no way that I could be part this new plan, as I had already annoyed my family enough before coming on this trip. With a lunch break enroute, we reached the spot at around 4 pm. There was one small waterfall where we found this elegantly beautiful Noorjahan Ceropegia.
Noorjahan Ceropegia is an erect perennial herb. Flowers are slightly curved, externally pale green in the lower part, pale to dark purplish-brown in the upper part, green with longitudinal purple lines inside.
Noorjahan Ceropegia (Ceropegia noorjahaniae)
Then we decided to climb up the waterfall to reach the plateau. That was a very "Baahubali" kind of moment for me, even though I am nowhere close to him. On the plateau, we found another species named Bulbous Ceropegia. Actually, Bulbous Ceropegia, which I saw last year in Pune was different. This one was a another variety of the same. This one is called Bulbous Ceropegia (variety lushii). The easily visible difference between two varieties is in the shape of leaves. The lushii variety has slender & pointed leaves as opposed to ovate leaves for other variety.
Bulbous Ceropegia (Ceropegia bulbosa var. lushii)
After spending enough time with the flowers, it was time to conclude the trip and head back. We reached Pune at 9:30 pm. It was a fully flower-packed trip for 2 days with lots and lots of driving. Overall it was a little over 900 kms of drive but I enjoyed it thoroughly. With 5 new Ceropegia species and a handful of orchids and other wild flowers, I could not have asked more from this trip.
I doubt if I will be able to see any new Ceropegia in the rest of 2020. My target for next season is to cover a few endemic species from the southern Konkan region. Hopefully, things will be much better next year!