In 2007, when insurance salesman Yashodan and his wife Jyoti Heblekar, who runs a homeopathic practice, decided to leave the claustrophobic city life and settle down in the spice and temple town of Ponda, they had no idea how hard it would be. But just as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can unleash dynamic change, as the Chaos Theory would have you believe, the Heblekars’ life also underwent a sea of change, thanks to butterflies.
They began by constructing a house with large windows on a 4,000 sq metre plot. The house was built on rainwater tanks and a garden was built on the roof. Now, they were left with a barren hill slope, which was too small to cultivate. So, they planted indigenous plants that attract butterflies on it and irrigated it with the rainwater tanks they had. And that’s how Mystic Meadows: The Butterfly Conservatory Of Goa came into being.
The house has a garden on the roof that is open to visitors. It was built on rainwater tanks.
During every holiday, they read up and chatted with butterfly experts and shepherds, for information on which weeds attract butterflies and planted them in the conservatory. Every morning they paid a visit to the fruit seller for their discarded pile of rotten fruits. They also had to dig compost pits around the house.
Up and running
Speaking about the experience, Yashodan says, “The biggest challenges were time and money. We have built the Conservatory bit-by-bit using whatever disposable surplus remained from our salaries. A huge chunk goes to paying salaries of the person employed there so not much remains. After we have started charging visitors, we have been able to generate some revenue.” The Heblekars hope to have an operating break even this year.
Time is also a constraint for them since he works for an insurance company, which demands a lot of time. So, it’s only Sundays and public holidays when I am able to invest into it. “I do most of the new development and infrastructural work while Jyoti manages most of the operations,” he tells us via email from Ponda.
Another problem that the couple faced was from their own neighbours who created bushfires or vandalised the garden, as they were worried the green cover may re-zone their excess land from settlement to forest and cause it to lose value. While there aren’t too many visitors around, the Heblekars are happy that their children are familiar with flora, fauna and streams and get to enjoy a childhood surrounded by the beauties of nature.
Butterflies and the bees
At present they have around 122 species of butterflies at the park (they started with 20 species). It is possible to spot around 25 species on any given day. You can also watch the butterfly evolve from its egg to caterpillar to a chrysalis and a butterfly. They also added elements to the park including an artificial stream, bamboo-bridge, a Koi (fish) and a turtle pond. The park is recreated to be like a walk through a typical tropical forest.
“November to January are the busiest times at the Conservatory. Not only is it full of butterflies but the climate in Goa is also perfect. We get a lot of visitors from England and Australia. We also host sessions such as Breakfast With Butterflies during that phase,” he adds.