Field Notes Society

Hilly today, flat tomorrow: Hyderabad’s real estate boom is destroying its unique rock formations

Interesting rock formations in Khajaguda Hills

Interesting rock formations in Khajaguda Hills | Photo Credit: Serish Nanisetti

In most Indian metropolises, lakes, forests and parks are disappearing. But in boomtown Hyderabad, rocks are vanishing. Gigantic rock formations, some of them fantastically perched on top of each other as if by magic, are being blasted, bulldozed or covered up to create space for real estate. Super-expensive villas with pools are cropping up in places where there used to be rock formations older than the Himalayas. These rocks and hillocks, forming a ring around Hyderabad, have inspired poets, painters, photographers and more recently, makers of Tik-Tok videos and Instagram reels. All of them might be gone soon, if realtors have their way.

ALSO READ: Khajaguda rock flattened with mud and debris

In 2019, a citizen’s initiative, Society to Save Rocks, filed a PIL in the Telangana High Court to stop the destruction of a rock formation known as the Khajaguda Hills in west Hyderabad. The court issued a stay order which said that “the rocks must not be disturbed or damaged or destroyed.” Then came the prolonged lockdown, when people couldn’t leave their houses for months. Once it was eased, trekkers and nature-watchers were appalled to see the destruction at Khajaguda Hills. The eastern wall of the rock face had been shaved off and a new road had been laid on the southern side. A small cave temple had become bigger. On the western side, hundreds of trees and rocks were covered up with soil to create a parking lot for visitors to the temple.

Watch | Why are Hyderabad’s rock formations disappearing?

Gone groves

“Everything was done within a few months. The climb from the western side was a tough one, through a grove of wild  parijatam (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) trees. All that disappeared. We could find only the tip of a rock that we used to climb,” says Arun Vasireddy, a trekker who documented the destruction.

“The real estate sector is on fire in Hyderabad west, where people have become used to hearing muffled booms from midnight to early morning”

The tyres of his two-wheeler were slashed multiple times as realtors tried to dissuade him and other visitors. “I became friends with the puncture-wallah,” he says with a grin.

The landscape has visibly changed today

The landscape has visibly changed today | Photo Credit: Serish Nanisetti

One of the earliest campaigners for the rocks was Frauke Quader, 84, who started the Society to Save Rocks with a band of dedicated nature-lovers in 1992 and still leads monthly rock walks around the city. Her biggest success has been the inclusion of rock precincts of Khajaguda as protected areas under Regulation 13 of Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority in 1997. “It was a coordinated media campaign aided by our willingness to use contempt of court notice that forced the government to stop [construction] work. Some of our volunteers made dozens of trips to meet civic officials to stall the destruction,” says Quader.

ALSO READ: HMDA steps in to halt Khajaguda destruction

Rooms with a view

Despite this, the landscape has visibly changed today, some 25 years later. Gone are the rock-shaded spots where families would go for picnics, and children clambered about catching frogs or chasing butterflies. An eerie calm interspersed with the sound of a distant pneumatic drill prevails on the Khajaguda Hills, which used to be the regular haunt of goatherds from surrounding villages. On its eastern side, where the rocks are perched in a higgledy-piggledy manner, a cross marked in red shows how much more of the rock face will be shaved off.

The real estate sector is on fire in Hyderabad west

The real estate sector is on fire in Hyderabad west | Photo Credit: Serish Nanisetti

An apartment block coming up on the western side of Khajaguda Hills is charging ₹1.12 crore for a 1,326 sq. ft. flat without amenities. Once completed, buyers will have a stunning view of the Khajaguda rocks, apart from having easy access to shopping malls, international schools, manicured parks and workplaces. But if other builders succeed in flattening more rocks, home-buyers will end up staring at yet another set of apartments. The real estate sector is on fire in Hyderabad west, where people have become used to hearing muffled booms from midnight to early morning. A popular café has put up a sign barring property dealers from its premises because they tend to be noisy in their arguments.

The rock-shaded spots where families go for picnics

The rock-shaded spots where families go for picnics | Photo Credit: Serish Nanisetti

As I get down a hillock of Khajaguda, Yadaiah and his family are climbing up to pray at the  dargah of Baba Fakhruddin Soharwardi. “My mother-in-law had a  mannat (vow made to a god or saint and fulfilled after the wish comes true) and we are going for the thanksgiving prayer,” says Yadaiah, carrying a lamb’s head in a polythene bag as votive offering. The family, accompanied by drummers, makes the hike along an old path away from the newly-laid concrete road.

Isabel Burton, who travelled to Hyderabad in 1876, describes it as “an outcrop of huge granite boulders which is wild nature, but looks as if arranged by art, forms shapes like an ancient town with battlements and castles, and covers a radius of thirty miles round the city like natural defences.” With government officials looking the other way as realtors destroy the unique topography of Hyderabad, future visitors might only find a flat city made of glass, chrome and concrete, like any other city anywhere.

serish.n@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jul 3, 2022 8:00:15 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/society/ancient-rocks-being-bulldozed-to-make-way-for-highrises-in-hyderabad/article65509849.ece