Rockscape: Life on the rocks

The Greater Hyderabad Adventure Club is shaping the city’s lifestyle and re-imagining its development by promoting the rocks for adventure and climbing

March 13, 2014 08:48 pm | Updated May 19, 2016 08:25 am IST - Hyderabad

Diyanat Ali, founder and director, Great Adventure Adventure Club (GHAC). Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Diyanat Ali, founder and director, Great Adventure Adventure Club (GHAC). Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Sitaphal roasted on fires in the rocks, Ber, Jaam, open rock ponds with drinking water and fish to catch, kite flying, treasure hunts, climbs, hideouts, naps on rocks... In the Hyderabad of today, all of this seems like so much impossibly picturesque nostalgia. But for Diyanat Ali as a child, these were routine activities among the rocks across his home on road number 5, Banjara Hills.

He remembers treks to Gachibowli with the stunningly beautiful rocks of Durgam Cheruvu and its pristine drinking water. Fakhruddin-gutta was another favourite with beautiful rock caves. “We used to go in summer and allot ourselves caves to sleep in: ‘Yeh tera ghar, Yeh mera ghar!’” This canvas of experiences instilled in him a lasting attachment to the rocks of the area.

His ancestors came to the area, during the Qutb-Shahi period, as hakims from Iran. “After Police Action my father chose to stay here, instead of leaving Hyderabad.” In 2008, in founding “The Greater Hyderabad Adventure Club” (GHAC), Diyanat cohered this long family affiliation with the city and connect with its landscape, with his passion for adventure. He found no response initially. “I used to go to people’s homes at dawn, wake them up and take them to see rocks.”

The first trip was to the scenic rocks and caves of Maula Ali. Now, GHAC is a big organisation with a membership of over 15,000 people. “There are over 150 leaders who we have trained in safety, map-reading and search and rescue operations such that they can lead expeditions.” Diyanat reels off names of people who joined the club quite unfit, even unhealthy, but who are now mountain climbers, Everest Base Campers and creative leaders who have started platforms for lost skills like tree climbing and caving!

He says with evident pride, “We are helping shape the city’s lifestyle. The youngsters in our membership do less clubbing / pubbing and enjoy outdoor activities like weekend camping, bouldering etc.”

Today the rocky hills of his childhood on Road No. 5 are gone, just like other rocky hills, all over the city. The beautiful rocks around Durgam Cheruvu are almost entirely privatised by the government for development and are being destroyed. The outskirts too are under siege. “People defend this as development but it affects the environment, the flora and fauna and the water flow and drinking water supply. We do not realise this long term impact.” If Hyderabadis realised what was happening and its consequences, they would not allow it to happen.

He rues the fact that rock destruction happens at such speeds, that, in just a few days irreparable damage is done. “In Venkateshwara-gutta, we used to do rappelling, clambering, caving. We did geo-mapping of rock boulders. We got senior climbers to come and set routes and graded routes by difficulty level. It took us years to accomplish this. Now those boulders have been broken for construction. The destruction was so fast that the rocks were gone even before we came to know it was happening.” If it were trees we could replant them somehow, but the rocks can never be brought back.

As a part of the solution to the issue, Diyanat envisions Hyderabad growing into a rock climbing destination. Like all good solutions, this comes from a space of personal history, passionate immersion in the area and application of first-hand experience. “In Badami and Hampi, I saw lots of people, foreigners and other tourists, coming to climb rocks. Supported by the government of Karnataka, an ecosystem has developed around this: locals provide logistics, information, and support. Hyderabad is blessed with lots of beautiful rocks, with the added advantage that these rocks are right in the city. The rock climbing and tourist traffic could also come here.”

An ecologically healthy re-imagining of our development must include the rocks and one dimension of the solution is to promote them for adventure and climbing, benefiting the city with ongoing income while retaining the stunning rocky silhouette that we are blessed with.

(Uma Magal is a documentary film maker, writer and teacher.)

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