I thank Mike for inspiring this post with his beautiful post on the American Chickaree.
Reading that took me back to my childhood when I first heard the story about how the Indian squirrel got the three stripes on its back.
In our epic The Ramayana, when Rama uses the army of monkeys and bears to cast rocks into the sea to build a bridge from the Indian shore to Sri Lanka, a squirrel wanted to contribute as well, and starts picking up small pebbles and casts them into the sea. Seeing this, Ram is overwhelmed and picks up the little creature and caresses it to express his gratitude. That caress on its back leaves a permanent mark on its back and since then lore is that all Indian squirrels have had the three stripes on their backs. This story was repeated ad infinitum to drive home the moral that no effort is too small for a worthy cause.
I still remember the time that I told my mother that I most decidedly did not want three stripes on my back and got a hoot of laughter for a reward.
India is also home to the Malabar Giant Squirrel found mostly on our Western Ghats.
There is a sanctuary just about sixty five Kms from my home called the Bhimashankar which is also famous for its temple. I have had the privilege of visiting the temple and the sanctuary on a few occasions and have sighted the giant squirrels there. It is heartening that the once endangered species is making a strong and sustained comeback thanks to the conservation efforts here and elsewhere.
I bet that Mike would be zapped that his innocuous post would lead to this rather unusual, for me, post.
Accompanied by three other friends and a professional driver, I went on a pilgrimage on Sunday to Bhimashankar. The trip was comfortable and very satisfying but as I write this, I am suffering from sore calf muscles which were very much in use during the climb down to and up from the temple to the plateau on top. A small price to pay for a long over due visit to a famous temple.
I had been hearing about Bhimashankar for the past twenty two years. That is ever since we moved to Pune. It is just 125 Kms away from Pune and I had often used the Pune to Nashik highway on my way to Igatpuri during the nineties. The road to Bhimashankar branches off from that highway, but I never had the urge to take a diversion to visit Bhimashankar. I suppose that the correct time had to come as decided by Shiva for the visit to be made.
This pilgrimage was not only about a visit to a shrine. For me it was a revealing drive as the old empty stretches of highway lined on two sides by dry and barren land has now been transformed into an almost fully occupied stretch. On either sides of the highway, we could see signs of progress, factories, rural homes, work shops and so on and the road itself was occupied by a variety of automobiles that could not have been imagined those days.
The contrast that is India was also very much present with the fairly frequent sighting of bullock carts, motorcycles, ancient jeeps ferrying rural passengers as the only efficient public transport availabe and also tractors, yoked bullocks on their way to farms etc.
Signs of prosperity in the off highway rural areas were heartening too and since it was the weekly market day in two towns on the way, we were able to see some rural marketing skills of merchants and the crowds that thronged the bazaars.
All in all, it was a very satisfying outing. I intend going again but will refrain from going to the temple as I doubt that my legs can take the strain once again.