One Lakh Years of History on the Rocks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are driving from Bhopal to Bori in Madhya Pradesh on 30th of this October. On the way, my host, a forester friend, Shashi asks me, “would I like to see some caves, rock shelters and ancient rock paintings?’ I say, “Yes, I will love it.” In no case, I want to miss any of these hidden treasures.

And it’s not far. Just a little off our route. The place is called Bhimbetka and lies just 45 km from Bhopal in the adjacent Raisen district. As we get off the highway, I can see area is hilly and forested. Shashi tells me, “These are Vindhyan Hills. Interestingly, we are in Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary.”

Frankly, I knew nothing about Bhimbetka Shashi has been talking about, but the very first look blows me out of my wits. OMG, OMG, OMG… It’s massive, out of the world and unique. It’s ‘World Heritage Site’, and only one of this kind. I read the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Signage – ‘The site remained a centre of human activity right from lower Palaeolithic times up to medieval period’! Unbelievable.

The caves are actually rock shelters. This is not some normal stuff or tit-bit tourist destination. The first line of introductory signage of ASI makes you say ‘wow’. It’s not one, two, three, four, five but ‘750 rock shelters in seven hills in around 10 square kilometre area’.  Wow again.

I and Shashi know that our knees are good enough for few of them only. Luckily, about a dozen of them we see, we get good feel and hint of what all is here. I am of course, wonderstruck.

The first one is a massive rock protruding over, and providing shelter to few plane rocks, may be 30 square metre area. There is model displayed under the rock of a family busy in different cores.

Next to this is a massive rock shelter, with large entrance and towering top. This is interestingly called ‘Auditorium’.  Hindi word mentions this as ‘Sabha Grah’ i.e. Assembly Hall. As we walk through, we can see ages old nature’s wonder in the naturally carved rocks and man’s wonder in the shape of ‘cup-marks’ made on the rock surface. These cup-marks have been dated to one lakh years old! ‘How many generations would that be’, I wonder. A lay man cannot appreciate the importance of these cup marks. According to ASI, ‘this pushes back the date of the cognitive development of man at Bhimbetka to many thousands of years earlier than that of similar sites in various parts of the world. Making it one the earliest cradles of cognitive human evolution.’

Most of the rock shelters have ancient paintings. There are largely depiction of man and animals and tools. These are, of course, with theme e.g. family life, festive life i.e. music and dancing, forest, hunting, warfare…

At places, we have to step back to avoid disturbing the scene. Here and there, we find young couples, hidden in nukes and corners, real people, sheltering in these rock shelters to live some romantic moments similar to those the stone-age man lived.

Pushp

She lands in my lap

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are driving to Churna Forest Rest House (in Satpura Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, last month). My forester friend, Shashi and our host, Shib, talk of possibility of sighting a Giant Squirrel. I have read about it. In fact, STR logo carries the outline drawing of the Giant. I tell them, “I would love to see it.” In fact, I am excited. I have not seen this earlier.

As we arrive, after protocol salutes for senior officials, we are seated at a nice spot in the lawn, in front of the FRH. Soon, the table is laid and tea is served. It’s high tea in view of presence of senior foresters. It includes nuts, biscuits, sweets, fruits…

As soon as the fruit plate arrives, we are joined by an unexpected guest. And of all the possible guests, it has been least expected – Giant Squirrel!

It has been keeping a watch on us, from an adjacent tree, arrives behind us with stealth. It seems, it is unable to get a clear view of how the table is laid and how to target the favourite stuff. It leaps and lands in my lap to get a clear view of the table! I am taken aback and so are others. Nevertheless, I keep still. In no time, the squirrel grabs a piece of apple and dashes off.

The local forest guard in attendance tells us that this particular Giant has learned the art of getting /stealing food from visitors. It has become bold to pick the stuff from plate and has no fear of man.

There it is, feeding on the apple, sticking to the truck of the tree next to us, in typical squirrel style – upside down. The tail and hind legs provide grip while it holds the apple piece in between front legs. Oh! Interesting – it removes the peel before eating the apple. Does it know that these days apples are covered with insecticide, pesticide and a layer of wax.

We are able to look at the Giant close enough to count moustache hair, take number of photos. Shashi even takes my photo watching the Giant at close quarters.

After finishing the apple, it is ‘dil mange more’. The Giant returns back to the table but by now only biscuits and empty cups are left. It is disappointed.  A friend offers biscuit but it just ignores.

It is angry. It notices a kitten feeding on a biscuit behind us. The Giant gives the kitten a bite stiff enough for it to make sharp and shrill cry.

Local forest guard shows us two more giants in nearby trees but they are barely visible –feeding up in the trees. Giants actually love big trees and remain in upper canopy, rarely coming to ground. He also shows a giant’s home in the foliage – some tender leaves have been laid into a circular bed.

I notice, the friendly Giant is indifferent to us, and sharply looking at two new visitors. It notices a bag of eatables. It runs to them and immediately attracts attention. The story of grabbing a fruit goes on.

Pushp

 

Post Script

Indian Giant Squirrel is endemic to India. Its distribution is in the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats and the Satpura Range, as far north as Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the largest squirrels. It is dramatically coloured involving creamy-beige, buff, tan, rust, reddish-maroon, brown and black. There are some variations among the subspecies of which, ten have been described. The one mentioned in the blog is Ratufa indica centralis.