Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Walk the Rock

Raison d’être
When people are told that Hyderabad has a ‘Society to Save Rocks’, one of the usual reactions is disbelief. Of all the things that need saving in this world, why on earth would we need a society to save rocks? We are barely able to keep enough to save ourselves, people tend to ask, why must we waste energy on saving rocks?

There are many answers, and they come in shades both simple and complicated. If the sheer beauty of the rocky Deccan landscape moves you, then that is one. If the evolution of the planet earth interests you, then you will be convinced utterly by geology: the story of their birth, and their existence. If you revere ancient things, a shelf life of over 2500 million years must command your attention and your respect. If you’ll be convinced by ecological arguments, you must know of how rocks represent not just themselves but ecosystems, with their unique flora, fauna and micro-organisms depending on them for survival. Put those together and you come up against one – if you’ll excuse the pun – rock-solid argument: rocks, particularly rocks like these, must be saved because they are irreplaceable. Because you cannot grow them, and once lost they are lost forever.

The back story

Hyderabad, in fact the entire Deccan Plateau, is littered with stunning rock formations. The city still has a few within its limits but as you leave the kilometres behind, these rocky outcrops become more abundant and lie in every direction from Hyderabad. Moula Ali, Shameerpet, Gachibowli, Jubilee Hills all boast some unique shapes. There are tall proud structures, some notable for their elegance, and others for their arrangement, as if some giant had casually piled them up in play.

The remarkable Obelisk in Jubilee Hills is a dignified rock. On the other hand, Mushroom Rock in Gachibowli is a perennial favourite with picnickers. This domed rock is in fact two layers of rock separated by natural pillars, with enough room between them for a tallish man. Then there is the very graceful Hamburger arrangement in Gachibowli – rounded flat boulders placed neatly in a tapering column – which leads to absurd fancies of a child in nature’s playschool. There is another, the Pathar Dil Rock, also sometimes called the Pav Bhaji rock, which is a set of four rocks, curiously arranged in a bunch, not unlike the pav bread that gives it one of its names. Not surprisingly, the rocks frequently seem to invite locals to prayer. The Plateau is dotted with temples and mosques formed at the heart of such formations, such as for instance, the famous Maula Ali dargah.

How did these bizarre shapes come to exist? About 4.6 billion years ago, when the earth was newly formed and its outer crust very thin, molten magma pushed up to the surface and hardened under the crust into domes and sheets of granite. Gradually, as the top layers of the crust eroded, they revealed the hard granites underneath. The crystalline granites have been weathered by millions of years to what they are today. Horizontal and vertical cracks developed and a phenomenon that geologists call ‘onion peel weathering’ was responsible for the typical rounding. The results are breathtaking.

Sadly, man-made pressures have taken their toll on the land. Quarrying is incessant, both to use the granite as building material as well as to clear space for human occupation. Rapidly the Deccani landscape is being cleared of its most distinctive physical feature.

Making a difference
The Society to Save Rocks has been working to preserve rocky landscapes since 1992, and it has met with a remarkable degree of success: it has succeeded in bringing up rock-preservation as a priority; by persistently pressurising the authorities, it has brought nine formations under protection and has proposed a further list of 20 sites that will benefit from being categorised as heritage sites. The Society won the INTACH Heritage Award for 2003, but most importantly it has brought the campaign to save rocks in the public eye and kept it there. The people of the twin cities have become sensitised to their heritage and today when people look over their sites and plan their homes, they no longer call for dynamite to clear away the stones. Instead they call their architects and painstakingly chalk out how to incorporate rocks into their homes. Consequently it is not uncommon to see Hyderabadi houses with a boulder separating the living room from the reading nook.

On the rocks
What keeps the Society truly buzzing are their Rock Walks. On the third Sunday of every month, a few hours before sundown, groups of people set off enthusiastically to look at these magnificent boulders. The modus operandi is simple: the company gathers at a pre-determined point, and eventually sets off in a little cavalcade. As the group reaches the chosen rock site for the day, the members unfurl themselves from the vehicles and amble on between the rocks and of course, if the site permits it, on them. Children particularly delight in rocks, scrambling over with merry ease while adults follow with grunts. The photographers and the sketchers tend to spread out, walking away to find the best vantage points or the most interesting lighting. The rest of the group chatters, meeting old friends and making new ones as they soak in the raw, elemental beauty of the rockscapes. Interesting shapes are pointed out, crevices are examined for lizards and insects, photographs are taken and after an hour, sometimes two, the walk is done. Biscuits are munched and tea is passed around if someone has been kind enough to think of it. And so, with the rocks silhouetted magnificently against the dying sun, ends another tribute to these silent sentinels to the passage of time.

Ms Frauke Quader,
Secretary, Society to Save Rocks
Tel: 91-40-23552923
Web: www.saverocks.org
*All pictures here courtesy Society to Save Rocks


Sunday, 18 March is going to be a busy day for nature lovers in Hyderabad. The Birding Society is going to the zoo again (in the morning) and the Society to Save Rocks is having an outing to Maula Ali Dargah that afternoon. Some enthusiastic people are intending to do both. God be wi' ye, and carry plenty of water.


i wonder why said...

Nice story Sheetal. This is the jetwings one right?

Sheetal said...

N: Thanks :-)
Yes, Jetwings, March issue. Should've said.

footloose said...

patthar dil, eh? :D

i think the only way to save the rocks is to guard them with snakes or scorpions. TCS' campus was very carefully built around some beautiful formations, only for them to be hacked away later by some casual laborers.

Sheetal said...

Footloose, if timid snakes and scorpions could protect anything, we'd have miles of wilderness left, ra. Nothing stands in our way, doncha know.

aashiq aawara said...

some needlessly over enthu log bolo..planning to do both.

Sheetal said...

AA: who did you think I meant? :D

footloose said...

snakes and scorpions too tame, u say? well then, i might have the perfect solution. bees, of course. u can't stomp them. u can't take 'em by the tail and whack them. u can only run away from them rocks!!!

Sheetal said...

Heh heh. I suddenly had this image of well bodied men, armed with hammers and chisels all doing that Shakuntala thing.

The creator said unto the creature:
What manner of being shalt you bee?

‘That which man may not stomp,
nor may he hold by tail and er...whack.
One with wings and terrifying sting,
with a buzz that causeth him to flee.'

Creator: Go forth and be Bee.

Sicut apis operosa. how that brings it all back.