A green makeover

A green makeover

A green makeover

The rain-drenched greenery is resplendent and pleasant. Sprouted leaves, tender twigs and blooming flowers appear like just-born infants. This is Sandur for nature lovers. The verdant range of hills is only 10 km away from the town and 60 km away from Ballari city.

Avid trekker and naturalist Srinivas Ramgad, along with his camera and a bunch of inquisitive children, is on a trekking trail in the greenery of serene Sandur. The children are trying to trace the rich history of the region through the eyes of Srinivas.

He begins with the most loving memory of Mahatma Gandhiji's visit to Sandur in the early 1930s, during the freedom movement. Gandhiji fell in love with this paradise on earth, aptly called the Kashmir of Karnataka. Then the struggle for the country's independence was gaining momentum. The Father of the Nation was here to motivate people to join the struggle for freedom. But alas, little did Gandhiji know that Sandur would soon lose her freedom to the mining barons...

In those days, aloof from the chaos of outside world, Sandur remained 'pure' in the absence of rampant mining activities. Unlike Ballari, which is notorious for its two-season cycle of summer and peak summer, Sandur remains green and cool for most part of the year, barring summer when the hills are covered with a layer of red dust. The transformation into green vegetation begins in June and lasts until September.

The range of hills and the entire landscape transform into a green canopy and remain so for the remaining part of the year. No wonder it is called the 'oxygen tank' of the region. Sandur is a popular destination among trekkers and nature lovers, and tourists can experience Sandur in all its splendour in September.

Mounds of red dust

True, Sandur has been in the news for wrong reasons. The saga of deterioration began when the region was opened for mining in the early 2000s. As a result, the face of the paradise began to change drastically. With more mining companies entering the region, plundering of natural resources became rampant. The innocent farmers who knew nothing beyond agriculture, had to throw away their ploughs and sickles, and were forced to pound their land for ores. Everyone seemed to encash nature to such an extent that the green cover soon turned into mounds of red dust.

Shreeshail Aldahalli, a leader with the social organisation Jan Sangram Parishat, shares his memories with the young trekkers. "In the earlier days, when vehicles entered the forest the headlights had to be turned on to navigate the dark interiors of the forest even at noon. The stretch between Kumaraswamy Temple and Devagiri used to be covered with trees that touched the skies. One had to travel all the way from Sandur to Taranagar to catch a glimpse of sunlight. The trees played hide and seek amid fog and mist, leaving the travellers mesmerised," he says.

As people trek deeper into the interiors of the forests, they can come across a number of temples, streams, flora and fauna. Trekking in Sandur is not about enjoying nature. It is also about putting to test one's stamina, endurance, determination and ability to meet challenges.

Sandur is also home to several temples. In its vast forests, tourists and trekkers can rest a while at the famous pilgrim spots like Ramanamalai, Swamimalai and Thimmappanamalai. The Ramaswamy Temple, Kumaraswamy Temple, Harishankara Temple, Naviluswamy Temple and Aragina Maliyamma Temple have inspired the saints of the Bhakti movement, who sowed the seeds of love, affection and kindness among people.

Shrines and streams

The hill range is the birthplace of many streams and ponds that flow through the year. The Harishankara Teertha is perennially filled with water, fondly recollects T M Shivakumar, also a member of the Jan Sangram Parishat.

An avid trekker, Srinivas knows his terrain too well. Like a student of Geography, he remembers the names of innumerable waterfalls and waterbodies the region is blessed with. The Kumaraswamy Temple, Veerabhadra Temple and the Eknath Temple have several water resources like Agasthya Teertha, Gajateertha, Koti Teertha, Brahma Teertha, Mallemmana Kolla, Gudani Kolla, Katasina Kolla, Mavina Mara Kolla, Bhairava Teertha, the streams at Ramagad, Thayammana Kolla and Kotekolla.

And among these water sources, the Narihalla Reservoir stands apart. It was here that the popular Kannada movie, Manasa Sarovara, was shot. The picturesque location, the green hills and the rich vegetation are etched fresh in the memory of cine lovers.

The deciduous forest is rich with trees like sandalwood, rosewood, teak wood, peepal, gooseberry, jamun, and a number of medicinal plants. The Neelakurinji flowers that bloom once in 12 years can also be spotted in this treasure trove. Once upon a time, the fauna and the avian world of Sandur boasted of peacocks, mynas, foxes, porcupines, hare, leopards, sloth bears, baya weaver birds, and a lot more. Due to the impact of mining, either they have perished or moved away, says ornithologist Samad Kottur. Ramana Malai, the observatory of the British, and the tourist bungalow in Ramgad are some places worth visiting, Srinivas explains.

After the ban on illegal mining, the plundering has stopped, the screeching of the trucks has ended, the roaring of the machines has halted and the pounding of the land arrested. Sandur is slowly on the revival path. It is turning into a nature-lovers' destination again. Srinivas and his clan, who fought to regain her lost identity, now have a reason to smile.

(Translated by Jyotsna P Dharwad)

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