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Home Cover Features Nature's Sculptures - Hyderabad's Rock Formations

Nature's Sculptures - Hyderabad's Rock Formations

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Andhra Pradesh is endowed with spectacular rocky formations, which at many places, are simply awe-inspiring. They are indeed a natural wonder of stony ridges and hillocks shaped into picturesque balancing forms through millions of years of weathering and wearing. The Deccan Plateau, that is the vast expanse of peninsular India, south of the Vindhyas and composed mostly of grey granite, is among the oldest and hardest rock formations in the world. Geologists date these rocks to a period 2,500 million years ago. That is the time when the earth’s crust solidified. Molten magma then pushed upwards from the interior and hardened under the crust into domes and sheets of granite. Then horizontal and vertical cracks developed and slowly the top layers of the crust eroded and these very hard granites were exposed. They weathered over millions of years into their present forms - resulting in the bizarre, awe-inspiring, wonder-striking and almost man-made-kind-of formations.

Taking its Toll
Hyderabad itself boasts of many such rock formations. These natural monuments offer picturesque beauty and come in various shapes and forms which are limited only by the onlooker's imagination. While one captivates our imagination, like that of a child with his new-found surroundings, with its shape akin to that of a mushroom, the other calls for attention with its similarities to a bear’s nose. Yet another seems to be like a giant tortoise set in rock and might just come to life any minute to walk around the serene surroundings.

But serene no more, are these surroundings! Hyderabad’s (India's newest boom town and hub for multi-national high-tech and pharmaceutical companies) wonderful rock formations are being jeopardized by economic development. Weathered, lonely, strong and peace-with-oneself souls - these gigantic rocks stand alone and bear mute testimony to the merciless and uncared destroying of their clan.

Unfortunately, rapid urbanization is taking its toll on these spectacular architectures of nature. The city landscape is fast changing, courtesy new constructions, and what rocks are left, are soon vanishing. While this disturbing trend upsets most nature lovers, environmentalists are more concerned about the effect it can have on water management system of the city. Geological studies show that rock formations have a bearing on channelizing rain water and thereby affecting the underground water system.

Initiatives for Protection of Rocks
But there is hope, like there is light at the end of the tunnel! The ‘Society To Save Rocks’ (STSR), with help from the government has been quietly and steadily doing more than its share to save these wonderful natural creations. It aims to preserve and protect the spectacular ancient rock formations of the Deccan Plateau, a natural wonder of stony ridges and hillocks shaped into picturesque balancing forms.

To address the primary concern of protecting the rocks and to prevent the indiscriminate destruction of this natural, historical, and environmental heritage, a group of artists, photographers and environmentalists from Hyderabad have been working for the protection of this rocky landscape since 1992. In 1996, they formed themselves into a registered society, and since then, the STSR has expanded to include many other citizens, from students to housewives to businessmen and bureaucrats and has about 400 members.

Writer and former civil servant, Narendra Luther is the President of the society. The society tries to put pressure on the landowners, developers and the government to say that our beautiful granite boulders could be preserved in houses, gardens, colonies and park areas.  

The society’s most remarkable success is Durgama Cheruvu in Jubilee Hills, a lake surrounded by magnificent rock formations. Durgama Cheruvu means ‘secret lake’ because its existence was unknown to public for a long time. In its erstwhile era, it was supposed to supply water to the Golconda Fort in the time of need. The area is now a bustling tourist place and a popular picnic spot.

A very interesting program arranged by the society is the ‘Rock Walks’ held on the 3rd Sunday of every month. For its efforts the society earned the National Tourism Award 2002-03 for the Best Non-Government Organisation (NGO) in the Sphere of Tourism, from the Government of India. It also won the Heritage Award 2003 from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and a Certificate of Excellence for service in the field of Tourism Promotion 2003 from the Government of Andhra Pradesh. 

While some like Mushroom Rock in the University of Hyderabad campus already had a name, the STSR christened others depending on their shapes. Exhibitions highlighting the formations have also been held which have helped build compassion about their value and beauty.

After vigorous campaigning the government has awarded heritage status to some of these rocks. But many more are still awaiting attention. A handful of 24 rock formations find place in the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) heritage list, which would be preserved but other rocks which are not part of these are probably ready to be destroyed, waiting to be reduced to rubble, to end up as fodder (read granite here) for another high-rise building.

Rock walks, painting contests for schoolchildren, greeting cards with photographs of the rocks and T-shirts and caps with STSR slogans have made several enthusiasts join the society. The success of this environmental protection group is largely due to its awareness campaigns. Rock walks are organised regularly and rock excursions arranged for school students. Exhibitions of rock paintings and photographs by leading Hyderabad-based artists are also held.

Rock Formations in the City
‘Bear’s Nose’, ‘Mushroom Rock’, ‘Cliff Rock’, ‘Monster Rock’, ‘Tortoise Rock’, ‘Obelisk’, etc., are names that have been given to these natural beauties. These formations can be found in various pockets of the city and beyond, like the Central University Campus, in and around Hi-Tech City and Gachibowli, Old Bombay Road, near Nandi Hills and Mahindra Hills, close to Durgama Cheruvu, Jubilee Hills and Banjara Hills. All it takes is a trip around the place with a two-wheeler in tow to rediscover the rocks, which are a part of Hyderabad’s unique topography.

Places of worship too have existed in or on the rocks. One can find innumerable shrines, from small one-stone places of worship to big temples and dargahs in and amongst many rocks. India’s hottest rocks, beyond diamonds and emeralds that belonged to its kings and queens, are these billions-of-years-old rocks. These rocks are home to many birds and smaller animals. To quote Late Siraj Taher, President Emeritus of A P Birdwatcher’s Society, here, “Rocks are not just barren and lifeless monoliths with only an aesthetic or sentimental value, but contain a plethora of life forms. Geckos and mongooses live among them, and Great Horned Owls, Spotted Owlets, vultures, mynas and swifts nest in their crevices and openings. What a wealth of wildlife, and we thought the rocks were ‘dead matter’!”

List of Heritage Rocks and Sites
The Government must play an important role in the preservation of the Deccan’s stunning granite formations. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has taken the first step by including rock areas in Regulation No. 13 of the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA) for the protection of Heritage Buildings and Precincts. Hyderabad is the only city in India where rocks are protected as a natural heritage. HMDA, the Municipal Corporation and the Tourism Department have already started to develop rock gardens in the city.

The first 9 Formations proposed by the Society in 1997 and protected under Regulation 13 of the HUDA Zoning Regulations 1981 are as follows:
1. Rocks around Durgama Cheruvu
2. Rock Park
3. Bear’s Nose
4. Mushroom Rock, Hyderabad University
5. Cliff Rock
6. Monster Rock
7. Tortoise Rock
8. Toadstool Rock
9. Obelisk

The Society had again proposed a list of 20 Rock Sites to be notified under the HUDA Heritage Regulations, on 22nd May 2006. Out of these sites, 15 have been notified as Heritage Precincts by the Government of AP, G.O. 68, on 3rd February, 2009:
1. Sharmirpet 
2. Moula Ali and 2 adjacent Hillrocks 
3. Sentinel Rock, near Moula Ali Hills 
4. Pahar-e-Shareef 
5. Skull Rock
6. United-we-Stand, Urdu University
7. Pathar Dil, Urdu University
8. Hamburger Rock, NITHM
9. Fakhruddingutta
10. Rocks behind Malkam Cheruvu
11. Ghaar-e-Mubarak, near Taramati Baradari
12. Peeran Shah Rocks, near AP Police Academy
13. Rock on which Dattatreya Temple is situated  
14. Allabanda Hill
15. Gangabowli ka Pahar

Three sites had been proposed in the Secunderabad Cantonment area, and since they are not under HMDA Jurisdiction, they have to be protected by the Cantonment administration.

Integrating Rocks in Your Life
What damage is done cannot be reversed, but the need of the hour is to protect what is existing and ensure that it remains protected. And the only way to save these rocks is to integrate them into the fast-changing landscape of the ever growing city. Narendra Luther could be considered a pioneer in this regard. But he himself draws his inspiration from the late Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung who built himself a house with minimal disturbance to the existing rock scape.

“The STSR has strived to canvas public and government support, but there has been more interest from foreigners in our rocks. Scientists discovered the ecological value of these rocks. And because of their position, the drainage of the Deccan region has been determined by these rocks. When it rains, it goes down and settles to the lowest level and lakes are formed. Now even lakes have been destroyed. One of the earliest lakes to be destroyed was the Picket Lake in Secunderabad which stretched from Secunderabad Club to St. John’s Church! Others like Masab Tank, Vengal Rao lake (now a park) have also disappeared,” laments Luther and further adds, “Many others have been encroached upon and destroyed by people. The ecological importance of these rocks has not been appreciated properly. The point is, some rocks have been declared protected. But what steps are you taking to protect them, is the question. We are not getting anything more than lip service, I would say.”

Luther’s house in Banjara Hills has a rock face wall in the living room and another room on the first floor. Rather than destroying the rocks, building houses around them is the best way to maintain a balance between development and environment.

Fortunately, some private developers also are now showing interest in constructing around the rocks at least for their aesthetic appeal, if not for environmental purposes. Also, more and more landscaped rock gardens are emerging near company and corporate buildings that are aware of the great asset they possess in the beautiful natural rock scapes around them. With the Tourism Department developing rock gardens in the city, many individuals too are trying to emulate them, albeit, in a much smaller way in their gardens.

The Rock Museum and Rock Heights at Shilparamam are indeed nature’s poem; where the natural formations stand un-swayed in a scenic form providing one with the needed refreshment and rejuvenation, away from the crowd. Others that have managed to be at peace with the gigantic spectators are the ITC Kakatiya (the rock is the main feature in the garden here); the Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (KBR) Park (which has an entire walkway over the rocks without disturbing the layout); the Naubat Pahar (a 100 m high hill of flowing rock shapes whose summit is said to have been used, in the Qutb Shahi and Asif Jahi times, for the beating of the naubat (drum) before royal proclamations); the Birla Planetarium (which occupies the top of the hill); Birla Mandir (this twin peak of Naubat Pahar is known as the Kala Pahar); Gibraltar rock in Hussain Sagar Lake; Falaknuma Palace (built on a steep hilltop, which now though, has not many rock formations left); and a handful of houses in Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills and Mahendra Hills that have incorporated the rocks as part of their home.

What Can You Do to Help?
“Rocks cannot be duplicated. Under the UNESCO law, rocks come under physical heritage and it needs protection,” says Luther and further adds, “Out of the rocks that must have existed earlier, less than 40% must be existing today.” He laments the fact that these mute rocks are being done away with mercilessly. “In the name of development, rocks are getting rid of. First, in the name of globalization, colonization and then modernization. Both can co-exist; rocks can be incorporated into the house that people build,” he says and reiterates that children need to be educated about rocks and its history.

You can do your bit by spreading awareness of the Deccani rocks. You can approach property owners, architects and builders and make them aware of the treasure of rocks in their lands and educate them to use those as a part of their design without destroying them. You can become a member of STSR and help them in their initiatives like rock walks, exhibitions, concerts, film screenings and lectures in schools and colleges.

The rocks have survived a few billion years; let us hope they survive human greed too! Do your bit, before it is too late!

Rocks - The Bedrock Of Civilization
Hyderabad has long been known by its 400-year-old symbol, Charminar. A long-neglected feature is now beginning to get associated with the city, its ancient rocks.

Rocks make a fascinating landscape. They are nature’s sculptures in various hues of pink and gray. Like clouds in the sky, they have assumed numerous shapes and size, only more permanent. These rocks are one of the oldest features of the world. They are older than the Himalayas. It is estimated that these rocks are some 2,500 million years old. As against that, humans emerged only 6-7 million years ago. That gives us an idea about the antiquity of these rocks. Some rocks are so delicately poised on each other that one fears that they might fall any time. They seem to defy the law of gravity. These rocks fall in what is called the Stable Continental Region. In this region, the earthquakes are rare.

Rocks are an integral part of ecology. They help form the natural drainage system of the area. At places, they have yielded good aquifers and are tapped locally. The drainage is characteristically controlled by structures such as faults and joints parallel to lineaments. The Musi River and Osman Sagar Lake, Hayathnagar Tanks and their inlets form major drainage network. Local ponds and lakes support the irrigation needs of the vicinity.

It is for their antiquity, their fascinating and awe-inspiring shapes, their support of fauna and flora, their varied ecological benefits, and sometimes their difficult accessibility that many rocks have become objects of worship.

Vendikol on the Sangareddi - Jogipet Road, Gonapur near Toopran, Mysamma cave-temple and Vedupayalu in Medak are prominent examples of rocks associated with Hindu temples.

Moula Ali, the Dargah of Hazrat Baba Fakhruddin Aulia in Khajaguda village, about three kilometres off the old Bombay highway, Pahadi Sharif, and the mazar of Baba Sharfuddin are some of examples of Muslim mosques and shrines associated with rocks.

In 1930, the late Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung built himself a house with minimal disturbance to the existing rock scape. It still exists on Road No. 4 of Banjara Hills. In 1933 the Nobel Laureate poet of India, Rabindranath Tagore stayed with him for some time in his rock house. He was so captivated by the place that he said if he didn’t have his Shanti Niketan to care for, he would have liked to settle down here.

In 2004, the Society To Save Rocks was given a national award for being the best NGO for its efforts to save a great physical heritage of our country.

Not long ago, Banjara Hills was a museum of rocks. Many of them became a casualty to the increasing colonization of uninhabited areas. That also affected the ecology adversely. A few persons, following the example of Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung, have designed their house with due deference to these rocks.

These pre-historic rocks are as much a part of our heritage as our fauna and flora and our historic buildings. In a way, they are even more precious because fauna and flora can be made to grow again and even cloned. Buildings and monuments can be renovated and recreated, but these massive and hard-looking rocks once destroyed will never grow back again. They are a part of vanishing wilderness. Henry Thoreau warned more than a century ago: ‘ wilderness is the preservation of the world.’

Need I say more?
- Narendra Luther, President, Society To Save Rocks

Spectacular Rocks
Citizens are more enthusiastic now to make a difference. After rocks have been included in the heritage list, people in the government too are more aware now. The fact that they put the second list is a testimonial that they are interested in helping in nature preservation.

As per the HMDA regulation, 30 metres around the rock should not be touched and nothing can be constructed or changed without the permission of the heritage committee. All the mines in the Hyderabad region have been closed down years ago. The ones in Ranga Reddy district are slowly moving out, so that we can protect whatever is left. This is a nice initiative by the government. It does increase awareness that we cannot just do away with a national treasure here. Rocks are really quite spectacular.

We are doing a survey in Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy district to know more about these ancient rocks and to help identify more. Geologists, botanists, zoologist are all involved in this vast survey. We are constantly in need of funds for the same. We have printed a Volume 1 book called ‘Rock Sites of Andhra Pradesh’ talking about it. We have to bring out the next volume. It is nice as long as it creates awareness.

We organize various events like concerts, plays to create awareness and hold events such as Enviro Mela to raise funds because getting sponsors is difficult. The tourism department gave us the venue for free when we held an event.

My message to people is: help in the work of the society, become members and help create awareness in children’s schools, tell the builders to keep the rocks in the layouts and not destroy them. Do whatever is possible to help in the programme.
- Frauke Quader, Secretary, Society To Save Rocks

Rocks of Ages
The wondrous rocks of Hyderabad and the Deccan have been silent witnesses to the history and changes to the environment that have taken place over the centuries.

Initially rocks and humans co-existed with rocks being part of the conscious and sub-conscious architecture and landscape of the Deccan plateau, but sadly as Hyderabad city grew to absorb new inhabitants, rocks became helpless victims to the need and greed of burgeoning populations.

Rocks have their role in water conservation, in being home to birds and animals and are strong foundations to forts, temples, mosques, look-out points and dargahs, among other historic uses.

As I look around me at the changes to the precincts that were once familiar, it comes to mind that the rocks that are home to these historic buildings and entities are being protected by their guests. On a recent visit to the Osman Sagar (Gandipet Lake) area, I noted and photographed with mixed emotions that the Anjaneya Temple at Narsingi village protected a huge outcrop of rocks but on the other side quarrying was going on at an undisturbed speed. Elsewhere, another rock was protected as it carried the flag of a dargah nearby. Another huge rock at Gandipet is home to a look-out point overlooking the valley. The enjoyment of rock climbers in the area was very evident.

Citizens and Governments are both responsible for protecting this fast disappearing heritage and a time may come when a newcomer to the city may not even be aware that such a heritage existed. Laws exist but strict implementation is necessary. Individuals must be aware and share this information so others also realize the importance.

I see a huge change in the topography of the city and grieve at the irreplaceable loss. Love and value your surroundings; and rocks may still have a chance to survive. Give them that chance so that coming generations may see and wonder at what nature endowed us with.
- P. Anuradha Reddy, Convenor, INTACH, Hyderabad Chapter

Month: November 2010.

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