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Hyderabad, on the rocks


STONE AGE: Laughing Rock overlooks Hyderabad, which is dotted with more such picturesque formations

When Frauke Quader moved to the city of the Nizams way back in 1975, what impressed the German the most about Hyderabad's leitmotif was the amazing collection of granite rocks scattered around the landscape. Stacked on top of each other, tilted precariously on the edge, perched on verdant hillocks and serene lake shores, these primordial rocks, typical of the Deccan Plateau, gave the city its intrinsic identity.

Geologists date these rocks to be approximately 2. 5 billion years old, when the earth's crust solidified and the molten magma pushed upwards and hardened into domes and sheets of granite. Millions of years of erosion and exposure later, these rocks retain their unique shapes.

So it was with some dismay that Quader and other likeminded citizens witnessed the fast-dwindling granite formations, thanks to a powerful mining and builders' lobby. "It was Mumbai-based artist Akbar Padamsee who prodded us to do something about it, beginning with awareness, " Quader says. A society aimed at doing just that started in 1992 with a series of rock excursions and brain-storming sessions amongst artists like Laxma Goud and others from the S N School of Fine Arts, environmentalists of the Deccan Development Society as well as people from other walks of life.

The idea behind the society was to survey and monitor rock sites of the city that were under threat of being decimated and to lobby for their protection with the government. The society was finally registered in 1996 and called Society To Save The Rocks. Quader became its secretary and city historian Narendra Luther the president.

Based on the society's rock excursions, at least 24 "heritage rock sites", bearing names such as Toadstool, Obelisk, Mushroom, Tortoise, Monster, Hamburger, Skull, Bear's Nose, have so far been notified under the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA). Safeguards too are in place, though many say they are not enough.

The path to preservation, however, is literally littered with the shards and fragments of 'blasted' rocks. "For example, in the case one of the notified rock sites, namely the Rock Park, the land had already been allotted to a developer by the time the notification was announced. As a result of this oversight, of the 24 rock sites one has lost its heritage status, " says Quader, who also happens to be on the heritage committee of HMDA.

Again, a part of another rock site called the Fakhruddingutta (which housed the dargah of Muslim saint Fakhruddin Baba Aulia) fell prey to the Lanco Hills project, which is claiming to build the world's tallest residential tower. "But we managed to fight for a cluster of rocks to be saved from the same building site, " adds Quader.

There have, of course, been small victories along the way - at the scenic spot of Durgam Cheruvu (or the Secret Lake), which has a group of hillocks surrounding a water body, for instance. "Way back in the 1990s, there was a proposal by the Andhra Pradesh government to build the national office of the Childrens' Film Society of India close to the lake, something that would have endangered the rocks. I met the then chairperson of the society, Sai Paranjape, who was convinced of the greater need for environment preservation and declined the offer made by chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, " says Luther. "However, with the growing IT office spaces, and with the APTDC (Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) building a Buddha Park, ampitheatre and restaurant, Durgam Cheruvu, which borders Jubilee Hills and Hi-Tec City, runs the risk of being overdeveloped. Add to this the ropeway project that is on the anvil. Durgam Cheruvu has surely lost its serene picnic-spot ambience and it's a matter of time before both the lake and rocks die out. "

Luther, who has also made an award-winning documentary on these rocks, aptly called 'Rockumentary', and his ilk are not closed to the idea of urban development. But, as he argues, "it doesn't have to be an either-or option;you can choose both human and nature development with a bit of planning. It is a heartening trend to see more and more modern offices displaying this sensitivity towards the existence of these rocks". One such example is the five-star hotel property Ista Hyderabad in Gacchibowli. Spread over 16 acres of rocky hillock, Ista provides a splendid example of how the rocks, when incorporated into the design structure of modern day buildings, can only accentuate their elegance.

"Right from the beginning we were sure that we didn't want to meddle with the topography of the hillock, which was a totally rocky terrain with a couple of natural water bodies, on which our hotel was to be built. So, we worked around the rocks and the water bodies, sometimes at the cost of our room spaces, " says Jaideep Anand, general manager at Ista Hyderabad. "To accommodate the rocks, our hotel is built at various levels;we even had to make adjustments for the swimming pool. Our yoga pavilion at the spa overlooks a jungle of shrubbery and rocks retained just the way it is. And when we hear our guests complimenting us on the use of nature in the hotel spaces, we stand vindicated. "

Educational campuses like the Indian School of Business and the Hyderabad Central University (which houses the famed Mushroom Rock), and IT offices, including the Computer Maintenance Corporation of India, have used rocks as a backdrop for their landscaped gardens. The challenge of preserving these timeless geological treasures, however, becomes stronger with increasing demand for realty space, especially with a rapidly growing MNC-software sector acquiring buildings in the rock-dense Gachibowli area. And though the 300 members of the Deccan Development Society, besides numerous other supporters, are passionate about their mission, there is also a feeling sometimes that they may be fighting a losing battle.

Luther, who is 78, says the society's chances of triumph against the relentless push of development and urbanisation is pretty bleak. "How long can I, at my age, run around with petitions? We want young and responsible citizens to come forward and help the cause now," he says.

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