If you have ever seen a banyan tree, you know what I'm talking about. They are enormous in size and breathtaking in beauty. The banyan (or banian) tree is also called a strangler fig as it grows on a host tree and using its aerial prop roots, it surrounds and finally kills the original tree.
They grow into huge, beautiful tent-like structures giving a real relief to travellers in hot countries.
We could feel it on our own skin when visiting the Pataleshwar cave temple in Pune. This temple was carved out from basalt rock in the eighth century as a shrine of Shiva, and now functions both as a shrine and as a sight of the city.
As soon as we entered the premises, we could feel a relief from the traffic of the city and the desire to sit under this magical tree. I could immediately understand why in Arundhati Roy's excellent novels (The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness), these trees have magic powers and special roles. You can literally feel that the hollow trunk of such trees can be the perfect hiding place for ghosts and spirits and you understand why locals respect them as gods.
But before sitting down by the banyan, we visited the shrine itself. This also, had a special atmosphere not only because when you enter from the heat into this shady rock structure, you immediately feel yourself better. We could observe how religious Hindus come here, ringing the loud bells placed outside the different shrines once, twice or even more times awakening the gods' attention. The main shrine is consecrated to Shiva, believers come here to anoint the Shivalinga with ghee or yoghurt, but other gods have small statues here as well.
When we finished the visit of the shrine, we finally joined locals, who were chatting, eating or resting under the mighty tree and collected some more strength before setting out on our return walk.