On a Sunday morning, a group of walkers heads to a site outside the city where ancient rocks have been standing for millions of years.
The rain last Sunday could not dampen the enthusiasm of the rock walkers of Hyderabad who were on their way to Ghatkesar, around 30 km from the city. The journey started with a group that included a few foreigners and some IT professionals. From the Hyderabad-Warangal national highway, our vehicle took a narrow road to reach Ghatkesar at around 1 pm.
A challenge loomed before us — towering natural rocks, the spectacular, ancient granite formations which are unique to Hyderabad and the area around it. These rocks in the Deccan plateau have been around for 2,500 million years. Passing through thorny bushes, and without ropes or support, we managed to climb the rocks guided by the instructor of the day, Vasu, who is an active member of the Society to Save Rocks which conducts the rock walk.
The society, which has 280 members, organises the walk on the third Sunday of every month. On an average, 40-50 people take the walk which aims to create awareness about these rocks.
Meenal Poddar, an employee of Tata Consultancy Services, is here because she believes that the lessons she learns from the adventure will also give her an edge in her career. Like the thrill of taking on challenges, teamwork and the joy of achieving something out of sheer determination and will power. There are others who are here either to test their fitness, to try out something new or simply for a picnic. But ultimately, they all go back more informed about the heritage rocks they have spent the day with and to spread awareness about the need to protect them.
Among the favourite rock sites are Rachakonda, Durgam Cheruvu, Shamirpet, Mahendra Hills, University of Hyderabad and Ghar-e-Mubarak. “The popularity of rock walks is growing over the years, especially among the outsiders,” says Hina Gokhale, a member of the Society to Save Rocks. “We get special requests to organise these walks in addition to the regular one from visitors both from abroad and within the country.” The society has also given individual identity to several rock formations by naming them after the things they resemble. So, there is Mushroom Rock, Hamburger Rock, Mother-Child Rock, Pav-Bhaji Rock, Pather Dil Rock, Crocodile, Monster, Bear’s Nose, Tortoise and United-We-Stand Rock, to name a few.
P Anuradha Reddy, convenor of Intach, Hyderabad, says, “Religious structures like mosques, temples, monuments and water tanks have also become a saviour for the rocks in some places. People are not destroying them due the religious strings put around them.”
Not long ago, as economy boomed and the need for urbanisation grew, the city saw many of its beautiful rock formations being destroyed to make way for high rises, says the society's administrator Frauke Quader, a German national who has been on the mission to save Hyderabad's rocks for the last 15 years. This brought together people from all walks of life — environmentalists, historians, artists, photographers, students, teachers and intellectuals — to form the Society to Save Rocks in 1996. Ever since, the society has been organising walks under its president, writer-historian Narendra Luther.
Besides conducting awareness programmes, rock painting exhibitions, cultural shows and concerts, the society advocates the integration of rock formations into the architecture. The result is visible in many corporate offices, hotels and bungalows which have made these rocks part of their interiors.
Today, Andhra Pradesh is the only state in the country where rocks are under government protection as natural heritage. Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and the state tourism department have come together to develop rock gardens in the city. The state government also plans to set up the country’s first rock park with an investment of Rs 8 lakh. The society has proposed to make Fakruddin Gutta near Gachibowli road into a rock and adventure park. Awareness is also being spread at panchayat level, says Gokhale.
In 2008, 15 rock sites were registered under Hyderabad Urban Development Authority in and around the city. Now, in all 26 rocks sites are notified. Despite these efforts and initiatives, heritage rock sites continue to be intruded and destroyed by realtors, contractors and rock cutters.