In the past couple of years you have passed this sign in the village of Kadhibagelu twice on way to the charming village of Anegundi. You would look at the sign that said ‘Rock Painting’ and pointed innocuously to the hill on the left and you would keep going. Like elsewhere here in Hampi area, the hill consisted of loose boulders piled up high. You had no idea what the boulders were hiding.
On your third trip, you finally stop at the road side shack.
‘What is on the hill up there?’ you ask the lady owner, sipping on coconut and glancing at the hill.
‘There is a cave up there with old paintings,’ the lady replies handing me some Parle Gs. You subsist on coconut and biscuits in this part of the country.
At this point of time you have not seen the neighbourhood caves of Onake Kindi that have extensive cave shelter paintings, though you have seen the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh with a riot of cave paintings spread across hundreds of cave dwellings.
‘Can I go up there by myself?’ You ask unsure of yourself.
‘No you cannot. You will need a guide to help you find the cave.’ She is blunt.
During your tripping across the country, you have climbed the little known forts alone mostly. You are not sure what the big deal is. You again look up at the hill. There is something to it that says climbing and finding the cave will need a guide.
A phone call by the lady and Vasu appears almost immediately.
‘So when was the last time you climbed the hill?’ you ask the wiry and eager to go Vasu.
‘People do come but it is mostly the foreigners who are interested. The climb is tough and you need to be young.’ Vasu is both challenging and intimidating you.
You don’t remember climbing boulders. You had climbed Matanga Hill halfway up in Hampi but the hill had steps. In the forts you have plodded over crumbling ramparts; but no, you don’t remember clambering over boulders.
This is the Fear Factor time. You are afraid of water and heights. The moment you see water or elevation below your feet, your legs miraculously turn wobbly. Time to give yourself the talk - the talk that makes you climb roller coasters and step on boats.
|Time to hit the road er rocks|
Within three minutes you have negotiated a deal. Grabbing your camera you run after Vasu who is already dashing towards the hill. It is a monsoon day. The countryside is lush and the air cool in the shade. But when the sun breaks through the clouds, it turns sweltering. And right now with clouds missing the sun beats down mercilessly. Few metres uphill and the shirt clings to you back and your breath sounds like a monster in death throes.
|Wait up Dude, I thought we were in this together|
‘Dude slow down,’ you implore after your vanished guide. Doubled over, all you can hear is your heavy breathing. The story repeats itself; you experience similar Near Death Experiences whenever after sitting in a car for two hours you climb the first hundred steps of a fort.
Vasu likes to climb barefoot. He had scampered up the track among the boulders. He reappears grudgingly only to grin ear to ear seeing you take your first pitstop already. The heart pounds and lungs seem to explode as you strain to get some oxygen into them. The climb has been almost vertical. You are clearly in pain.
|The Anegundi Magic|
For the first time you see the view. Just beyond the settlement down there, lush green paddy fields stretch out into the horizon. Coconut trees and boulder hills complete the picture perfect scene. On both sides where you sit, you can see fortifications built during the pre Vijaynagara times when Anegundi rose against the Delhi Sultanate. The pain is gone; and the breathing is almost normal. You have survived another day.
It is time to hit the trail and you literally walk into the first real challenge. A huge boulder apparently blocks your path. Vasu clambers over it; his feet finding invisible toeholds on the face of the rock. There is only one way you can make over it. Handing over the camera you lean into the boulder flat faced with arms upstretched. Vasu pulls you up. It is not pretty but then nobody is watching.
|Try finding your way through this|
The next sight is not pleasant either. There is a jumble of boulders precariously balanced. You cannot see a way through them.
‘Where is the cave?’
‘We are almost there.’
Vasu climbs the rock and disappears behind the boulder. You follow him. Trying not to lose footing over the loose rocks, you turn around a boulder only to teeter on a ledge. Behind you the mighty Tungabhadra river flows. Jumping over a chasm brings you to a low entry point where two boulders sit side by side. You crawl through the opening. This is turning out to be an obstacle course. Then you graze your way sideways between two boulder edges.
|The Hollow with the Painting on left and the narrow ledge|
And finally you reach the Holy Grail. Some geological miracle of millions of years ago, threw up boulders high up to form this hill and right on the top created a hollow. You have just entered this hollow. Huge rocks weighing tonnes rest on their edges and corners. On the left, the bottom boulder gives way to create a narrow ledge wide enough for a single person. Against this ledge is the flat boulder face which has been used as a canvas by the pre-historic man. Vasu backs up. You sit on the ledge with legs dangling down. Through a small opening, you can see the green fields just beyond This is Zone of Bliss - another one in a series of such places in Anegundi.
|The Pre-historic Canvas|
Oh yes, the painting. The panel is similar to what you have seen at Bhimbetka. It seems all the prehistoric men went to a common Arts college. Across India and the world indeed, the symbols, humans and animals have a common form. The entire panel has been painted using red ochre pigment made by mixing hematite with water. The painting shows a huge animal that could be an ox or bull. Next to it is a small deer with horns clearly visible. Below the ox is a cat like animal. Between the animals are two parallel rows of group of dancers with hands interlocked. The faces of these dancers astound you. The faces are not human while the bodies are slender and clearly female. Is the painting depicting anthropomorphic figures involved in some religious ritual?
What a find! How on earth could these boulders hide this wonder from plain view? You imagine how during the Iron Age (1200-200BC), pre-historic humans lived in this area. Wildlife, forests, river and these boulders for protection, all combined to provide the perfect settlement. Most paintings depict the daily activities like hunting and ritualistic practices. Then some pre-historic man found this spot - his own secret hideout and where he probably brought his girlfriend. And one day he decided to paint his masterpiece.
But then there are no easy answers. What were our ancestors trying to convey? We can analyze what Picasso painted, but have we understood what these simple line drawings and paintings portray? Now who is primitive - us or them?
On your way down as you slide on the boulder face, and hit the ground with your feet, you feel elated. You are thrilled like the pre-historic painter who had just completed his piece de resistance and then secreted it away in a hidden cave.
Getting There: The rock painting hill is in the village Kadhibagelu near Anegundi in Koppal District, Karnataka, India, about 350 kms north of Bangalore.
Vasu - 9686804349
Vasu - 9686804349
Related Stories on this Blog: