The hilly terrain of Ramanagara lured Sippy and Krishna Shah to make films like Sholay and Shalimar respectively. But the stones, shrubs and air of Kootagal Hill, a favourite trekking haunt, have a tale of their own, discovers B V Prakash
As one drives from Bangalore towards Mysore, after about 50 kilometres the landscape takes a dramatic turn. From the vast agriculture fields little rocky outcrops rise on either side. Some are boulders, some are huge hills. And you know for sure that you are passing through Ramanagara. This is the town that shot into fame time and again for blockbuster movies like Shalimar and Sholay that were made here.
This is also the favoured destination for trekkers and rock climbers given the wide variety of rocks and boulders strewn around here. With many feudatory chiefs having ruled here in the pre independence era it is no wonder that you will find ruined forts or shrines on many of the hills. That is not all. Some of the boulders and monoliths not only bear unique shapes but have interesting legends too woven around them.
During our last visit we decided to explore a couple of hills that were scattered among the wilderness beyond the town. Even as we branched off from the highway and drove along the lonely road the desert like wild country opened up.
Among the scrub jungle and a dry brown landscape a few shapely boulders and pillars stood out here and there. But our attention was arrested by two tall pillars on a hill that looked like two statues from the distance. We realised they were natural rocks only when we got closer.
A villager told us this was called Kootagal hill and he shared an interesting story as we walked up to its base. Long ago there was a couple, a washer man and his wife (Agasa and Agasagitti in Kannada) who were deeply in love. But as destiny would have it they were separated and could not live together. They were so deeply in love that unable to bear the pangs of separation they decided to die together by jumping off from the hill top. But at the appropriate moment a saint appeared before them and prevented the couple from ending their lives. The husband and wife then asked the saint to turn them into rock so that they could be together forever at least as stones. Their desire was granted and they became an eternal couple. As if to justify the story the rocks do look like a man and a woman frozen in time.
The clusters of beehives and the thorny bushes prevented us from getting to the base but we could admire the beautiful shapely boulders popularly called Agasa and Agasagitti rocks!
The Kootagal hill is also known as Thimmappaswamy Betta after the temple of Thimmappaswamy or Venkataramana here. Built into the rocky plateau the shrine in Mysore style has a front porch and the sanctum with colourful patterns and designs on the pillars. Adjacent to the temple is a stone pond with an image of a lion and a brindavana. For those who want to trek up the hill there is a flight of steps from the village.
This path would be buzzing with devotees on the last Saturday of Shravana month for the annual fair. To the south of the temple and the twin rocks is a hillock on top of which is a spring called Chakratheertha. It is perennial and has sweet water. To the north west from Kootagal we could see a cubical hill jutting out from the surrounding bushes. This is Talawadi hill with ruins of a fort built during the times of Kempegowda. A rectangular mantapa on the top is all that remains now. The approach to the top is only from the north along a near vertical ascent. The eastern horizon was lined with a continuous chain of hills.
And the view to the west was indeed panoramic with an arid terrain interspersed with rugged rocky outcrops. This was, we felt, our own Wild West!
How to get there
Kootagal can be approached from Ramanagara (50 kilometres from Bangalore on Mysore road) by taking the road to the right for Shanubhoganahalli (seven kilometres) and three kilometres further. Private buses go to Kootagal from Ramanagara. Watch out for bears that frequent this area though not during the day.