By Amruta Dhamorikar
Situated close to the city of Pune, Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the easiest escapes for a traveler. And so during a long weekend of four days, I found myself longing for the wonderful dense forests of Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. Located in the Khed and Ambegaon talukas of Pune district, it was created for the protection of the state animal of Maharashtra – Indian Giant Squirrel in the year 1984.
Bhimashankar has a lot to offer to a wide variety of people. The forests and wildlife for a nature lover, exciting and adventurous routes for a trekker, scenic views of the western ghats and beautiful waterfalls for a tourist and an ancient temple for a religionist.
After a long travel of 6 to 7 hours, I reached the sanctuary in the afternoon heat of early summer. We were staying in a village 5 km away from Bhimashankar called Nigdale. Being a nature enthusiast, my purpose of visiting the place was to experience the forest and wildlife of Bhimashankar. Moist deciduous and semi-evergreen type of forests dominates the undulating hills of Bhimashankar that open into large plateaus with open grasslands at the top. These plateaus are covered with numerous herbs during the monsoon season with small streams passing through every small ridge. The flowers of these herbs form giant colorful carpets. However, in the dry season of summer and winter, these plateaus remain dry but still hold great diversity. The slopes and valleys of the hills are home to many evergreen and deciduous trees that form a dense canopy cover. Being a cluster of sacred grooves, the forest consists of many big old trees that support the subspecies of Indian Giant Squirrel – Ratufa indica elphenstoni, which is found nowhere else in the world.
As half the day was already through by the time we reached, we decided to go for a walk to watch the sunset. A small walk behind the Nigdale village opens up into a rocky plateau covered by small herbs and patchily distributed trees. These trees were now leafless, adorned with tiny flowering orchids called Dendrobium and Oberonia.
From the edge of the plateau, we could see the hills and peaks of Bhimashankar with the sun ready to set behind them. Looking down from the edge, the continuous canopy of trees could be seen, sometimes interrupted by small meadows. After watching the sun set behind the hills of Bhimashankar, we stayed back till the stars came out then walked back to the village. On the way back, we stopped at a fig tree that was packed with clusters of bright red fruits. Every now and then, a fig would fall off the tree and hit the forest floor with a loud thud. This tree had two large holes in the trunk, both swarming with some activity. In one hole, we found the White-cheeked Barbet quietly feeding on the ants passing by the opening of the hole. In the other, a calm Three-striped Squirrel had made its nest.
Early morning on the next day, we set out for Bhimashankar. Walking through the dense forests that regularly opened into open grasslands, we ascended and descended small hills to reach the Bhimashankar temple. The forest greeted us with some rather sudden surprises from the two fighting Hanuman Langur males and the quick slithering snake and the giant squirrels hopping from tree to tree in search of food. Behind the Bhimashankar temple and away from the crowd that it attracts, goes a small trail to Gupt Bhimashankar. This place holds a Shiva lingam in the rocks of the Bhima River, which is usually hidden by the water of the river, hence gupt or “secret”. For me, I feel the place is aptly called Gupt Bhimashankar, because of the homely feeling this forest gives you. The tall trees covered with long lianas, the frequent chatter of giant squirrels and the quite movement of birds and other wildlife – surrounding you and engulfing you – gives you a feeling of being a part of their secret. A giant squirrel and a White-bellied Blue Flycatcher came so close to us as though we were a part of their home and not something to shy away from. And so thanks to these wonderful creatures and the sacred forests, I was healed and devoid of any stress even after a long walk of 8 to 9 km.
Before we left Bhimashankar to go back home, the previous night we had a quick walk along the main road of Kondhwal village and crossed two Indian Palm Civets, working through the lands looking for food. At the end of my trip, I left Bhimashankar with a sense of calm and comfort, hoping to come back again for new experiences.