At the summit of Nandi Hills is place called Tipu’s Drop. The name has nothing to do with the hero’s droppings, which might have occurred to you if you are as imaginative as I am. However, it has something to do with the fact that I was denied entry to the summit of the hill. At least, that’s what I think, although the guy at the ticket counter could give no logical explanation why I shouldn’t be here alone. Apparently, entry is not permitted for singles. You have to be with someone. After considering for a while if a single person is a more probable terrorist than loving couples or chatty crowds, I dismissed this absurdity.
I tagged along with a couple of college students and thus gained my entry. After looking at Tipu’s Drop, I was convinced that the main reason why singles are not allowed is that they are likely candidates for successful suicides. Success is guaranteed. Here there is no chance that you will be disabled for life in a wheelchair; or faced with a lifetime of short-term memory loss syndrome; or kept in limbo in a vacant coma. No. You will be smashed to bits, blood colouring the sun-warmed Deccan rocks that have been standing here for years. Of course, you cannot see or fathom the verticality of this rock face when you look through a gap in the ruined battlements. All you can see are some tufts of grass clinging desparately and framing your view. Far below, a road winds up the hill, and cars as tiny blobs of metal and paint labour up the hill.
I had the pleasure of walking up the hill, instead of taking the local transport. From Nandi Cross, it is 8 km if one follows the tarmac road. However, a walker has to be very cautious of the traffic, particularly around the bends, and of the occasional reckless driver who tries to overtake. The road is no less dangerous for the many couples who come in their bikes and ride without helmets. If in some cases, the rider wears a helmet, his wife is left without one. Only in one special case did I notice the wife wearing a helmet while her husband rode the bike without one. This is what I call love.
There is nothing terribly exciting at the top. It has some banal gardens, wooded slopes, a couple of temples (which I did not visit), a stepped tank, a nursery, sources of a couple of rivers which couldn’t be seen in this season of dryness and the somewhat interesting Tipu’s Lodge. What really draws the crowds are the spectacular views from the summit.
The hills are of such a height that anything higher, they would have to be called mountains and would have been less in tune with the surrounding landscape; anything lower, they would be an outgrown hillock with far less interesting views. As they stand today, the hills are of just proportion – high enough for that accessible isolation and low enough for that feeling of belonging and perspective of the wide landscape around it.
What is this landscape? It is a fragmented patchwork of red soil, green coconut groves, handful of green fields, brown fields ploughed for sowing, far forests, neighbouring rocky hills of slopes and trees, quarries, villages now and upcoming. The landscape is largely flat with the exception of rocky outcrops that from such a height look like mounds of clay heaped on a potter’s wheel.
There is something else about this landscape that deserves study. It is that balance between open rural spaces and closed urban settlements. It is also about that transition from the former to the latter. We can note that village settlements are spaced sufficiently apart, they being separated by cultivated fields in just proportion to sustain the villages. A rough estimate I could make yielded this – if a village is of radius r, then the surrounding open land is of radius 5r. Thus, in an agrarian economy within the Indian context, roughly 1/25 part (4%) of the land must be settlements and the rest must remain as cultivated farms in order to sustain the economy. Looking northeast, we will find that Chikballapur is far from maintaining this ratio, indicating clearly that this town has already made that transition from an agrarian economy to an urban one.
I considered taking a bus back to Nandi Cross and walking back to Chikballapur by cutting across the other hills. It is by no means a difficult task for someone used to long-distance walking but I was running short of time. It was only two more hours to sunset. So I decided to walk back to Nandi Cross the same way I came. At halfway point, I met two village women who had been selling tender coconuts by the road. They pointed me to a dirt path that led directly to Karalli Cross, from where there are buses to Devanahalli. I was glad to leave the road and ventured on this path. Within five minutes I met another villager who directed me to another shorter route. So I abandoned even this dirt path and descended more directly to the valley. I cut across thorny bushes and long weathered boulders. Here there was no distinct path but a clear constant view of the destination means that I could not get lost.
Nearing Karalli Cross, I met a man in his late twenties gathering his goats from the slopes. Some years ago he had completed his P.U.C. He had even enrolled for B.A in Arts. He did not explain why he didn’t pursue it. He says that with his education he could earn only Rs. 2000 per month in Bangalore. Most of it went off in expenses leaving him little to save. He has therefore returned to grazing goats on these hills. He breeds goats and sells their meat. Their dung is gathered and sold. Milk is used within the family and he does not sell it commercially. There are many who believe that education is the way forward for a more equitable standard of living. There are questions to be asked. We need education. We also need government subsidies. We need a slimmer social and economic hierarchy. We need to accept increasing pay scales (particularly for low income groups in the service sector) and increasing cost of living. None of these will really happen quickly in any economy that has a large supply of labour. Until then, even educated youths may end up grazing goats.
The hills are only 60 km from Bangalore. There are buses from K.G. Bus Station to Chikaballapur. Get off at Nandi Cross and take a local van. You can also take buses to Devanahalli and from there to Nandi Cross. I went to Nandi Hills by train – train number 551 leaving Bangalore East at 0856 and reaching Chikaballapur 2 hours later. It is a really slow passenger train but very comfortable. I returned by bus.
There is a KSTDC accommodation at the top. For me, it was just a day trip.
KSTDC run restaurant at the summit is clean. The place gives great views.
As described in this post but there are plenty of longer walks on these hills for the adventurous.