|The Giant Squirrel: Photo by Shweta Ramappa.|
|Multiple shades of Forest green!|
We decided to make a one day trip to the Bhimashankar Forest Reserve, which is located at around 3100 feet above sea level, in the Sahyadris, in Pune district. We went with The Western Routes, and such a fulfilling trip it was. Even according to Jayesh, the founder of TWR, it was the most amazing trip. For the first time, he said, in all these years and times he has visited, he as well our group were fortunate to see all the main species of beautiful creatures that inhabit the Bhimashankar forest, namely, the Malabar Giant Squirrel, the Bamboo Pit Viper, Blue Mormon butterflies, The Atlas Moth, the Hawk Moth and the Moon Moth, all in a day!
|The Bhimashankar Temple.|
We were doubly lucky as we also got to enter the 13th century Bhimashankar temple which houses one of the sacred 12 Jyotirlingas. I had read on tripadvisor.com that on weekends, one has to wait in queue for almost four to five hours to enter the temple.
|Beautiful carvings of deities on stone.|
And we were going on a Sunday. I'm not an avid temple goer as such but have a fascination for ancient ones. The forest reserve is beyond the temple and when we were passing by, we noticed there was no queue at all. So we quickly went and paid our obeisance at the sanctum sanctorum. The entire temple is made of stone, although it’s not a monolith. The interiors are also made of stone with simple yet beautiful carvings of deities and temple motifs. Photography wasn't permitted inside, so there are no photos of the interiors.
|An Indian Gargoyle.|
|Statue of a Rishi.|
Outside the temple, we saw many vendors selling roots and herbs collected from the forest. For many villagers who live on the fringes on this forest, selling these herbs and roots is their livelihood.
|Medicinal herbs, roots and leaves being sold outside the temple.|
|This is a medicinal giant onion called the 'rankanda' or the Wild Onion.|
There were also various stalls selling flowers, sweets and items for offering the deity.
|These flowers are called 'Tadtadi' and last a couple of years without drying.|
|Items to be offered to the deity being sold outside the temple.|
|Various kinds of milk cakes and pedhas being sold.|
Mighty pleased with our luck, we had a spring in our walk as we proceeded to the forest. A few steps beyond the temple, is the origin of the Bhimashankar river, which flows through Karnataka and Telangana before entering the Krishna River. The area around the origin of the river was strewn with garbage. After wading through this eye sore, we were in for a visual feast inside the forest.
|The Blue Mormon Butterfly: Photo taken from Delson Roche|
|My favourite picture with two blobs of blue light.|
The entire trail passes through lush greenery, a million shades of emeralds, jades and green dipped in sunlight. We were accompanied most of the time by the sound of the gurgling water from the river and its streams that criss-crossed the forest.
|An old stone carving of a deity near a stream.|
Right from the beginning we were on the lookout for the Giant Squirrel, for that was the main reason why we had come.
|A large nest of the Giant Squirrel: Photo by Omkar Nikam|
|The beautifully pleated trunk of a tree.|
|A closer look of the Bamboo Pit Viper: Photo by Shweta Ramappa.|
|The cutest!! The Giant Squirrel nibbling away at a fruit.|
The first sight of this squirrel sent a shiver of joy through me. It is incredibly cute, with a rust-red-brown body, two small flaps of velvet for ears and an off-white furry tail, a little longer then the length of its body. This one was nibbling on a fruit high up on the branch. The paparazzi was again at work! After spending some time with the first squirrel we saw, we proceeded ahead. We saw many squirrels thereafter, each, invariably nibbling away at some fruit. One squirrel that we spotted was just about 15 feet away, on a low branch. It was nibbling on a fruit, looked up at us, from time to time and nibbled away thinking we were not much, worth giving attention to!
|The Karvi flower which blooms once in 7 years.|
We saw purple Karvi flowers which bloom only once in seven years. I didn't know these grow in forests too and had thought it was unique to Kaas. Different kinds of fungi made me stop and marvel at Nature’s infinite beauty.
|Fungus on a log of wood resembling a cluster of crystals. Photo by Shweta Ramppa.|
|Water collected in a bracket fungus.|
Another interesting insect was the Jewel Beetle. My college campus abounded with these insects and I used to spend long hours gazing at them on the pretext to studying in the garden. With an iridescent green with tinges of yellow body and a bright orange belly, it is indeed a gorgeous self-propelled jewel.
|The Jewel Beetle.|
After walking in the forest for four hours, we went to the Blue Mormon resort for lunch. After we had finished eating, the staff of the resort alerted us about an Atlas Moth which was resting in the backyard. We scampered to where it was resting.
|The Atlas Moth.|
|The Moon Moth.|
Just as we were satiated with the Atlas Moth, another staff member informed us about Moon Moth, named so, maybe because of its soothing moon-like appearance. There were other brilliantly patterned moths on the same wall of various colours and sizes.
|Talk about Aztec prints on a moth!!|