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The beckoning monoliths

AKBER AYUB

The granite formations near Ramanagaram on the Bangalore-Mysore highway have something for everyone.

PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR

Rugged destination: The hills of Ramanagaram.

PUSHING my sunglasses up over my tousled, windblown hair, I stretched my arms wide and breathed in the crisp cool air. Standing atop the Ramgiri hill, just two and a half kilometres off the Bangalore-Mysore highway, some 50 km from Bangalore, I took in the panorama, slowly becoming aware of a tingling down my spine. Open expanse of land as far as the eye could travel, punctuated here and there by green fields, groves and thickets, interspersed with sweeping grasslands and the sensuous curves of scattered hills on the far horizon. Bright nimbus clouds speckled the blue sky overhead. Leafy, luxuriant limbs of trees clinging tenaciously to the summit swayed, while hardy, flowering shrubs sprouting from patches of russet earth rustled noisily in the stiff breeze.

Local lore

Cruising down the smooth highway earlier, I was finding it hard to keep my eyes on the asphalt ribbon stretching in front, hugging the gently undulating landscape, and at the same time trying to enjoy the countryside, when the turning to Ramadevara Betta came up suddenly, even as the silk town of Ramanagaram appeared in front. A portal supported on four lofty pillars greets me as I turn right to the village road leading to the base of the cluster of hills. Surrounded by green fields, I drive through a hamlet ensconced under the cool shade of coconut groves. As I draw closer, however, three monolithic granite hills loom large. The largest, called Ramgiri, rears up directly in front. An immense monolithic mass of granite appearing to have split vertically is poised delicately on its summit. Local folklore has it that the cleaved rock represents seven rishis, meditating on the hilltop, who turned to stone anguished at the approaching kaliyuga.

In the movies

As the road begins to climb, the rocky landscape revealing perfectly naked rocks admitting little vegetation, amidst green leafy trees and shrubs, I come upon a bend skirting a gorge between a large dome-shaped rock and Ramgiri. "A wooden bridge was constructed to span the gorge, on which Amitabh Bachchan finally fell to the bullets of Gabbar Singh," says a lad shepherding his goats nearby. Indeed, "Sholay", the Hindi blockbuster, was shot extensively on these rugged hills, as also David Lean's "Passage to India" and Attenborrough's "Gandhi".

The winding road ends abruptly at an elaborately decorated archway, leading to a flight of steps stretching beyond. As I park my vehicle in a shady clearing and begin the climb, the heavily wooded environs make the task seem easy while the different birdcalls soothe the nerves. The summit holds a temple complex and a gazebo, offering a panoramic view of the plains below. A large pond adds to the charm of the place.

Dr. S.L. Thimmiah, a septuagenarian practising in his clinic in nearby Ramanagaram, and president of the Ramanagaram Renovation Committee, is ardent about these hills. "This is part of the Eastern Ghats," he says, "a narrow belt of scattered hills roughly 30 km wide that extends southward up to the lofty Nilgiri ranges." He continues, "The British called this place Closepet, after Barry Close, who settled here as the first adjutant general of the erstwhile Mysore state, under Lord Cornwallis during the time of Mummidi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. It was renamed Ramanagaram after independence." He further enlightens, "Tippu Sultan's army had made it their bastion during the many wars they fought with the British."

Haven for trekkers

Kootagal, another hill nearby, looks more like a cluster of massive pillars, seemingly tottering on their base, some leaning over, threatening to topple, others erect amidst a ruin of debris at their feet. Some distance away, outlined sharply against the blue sky is a great heap of granite with a pronounced hump at the summit, resembling a kneeling elephant. What's more, a wild elephant is said to have slipped on its summit once and fallen to its death. Nevertheless, today this is a haven for the adventurous, especially trekking and rappelling enthusiasts who are drawn here particularly in the cool winter months. In all, there is a group of seven hills within a radius of about 10 km. The river Arkavathi, flowing gently beside the nearby Ramanagaram — when the monsoon is vigorous — adds to the attraction of this place.

History, nature or adventure — these splendid, rugged hills have something for everyone. It's easy to succumb to the charm of these beckoning monoliths.

akbersait@yahoo.co.uk

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