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  • Amrita Ghosh

To the faceless toiler in Madhugiri

Updated: May 9, 2021

On the restless road to nowhere

There's no certain peace it seems

Desire to keep on moving

Till the river of dreams

Is it just because someone told you

Is it just because you found

Old freedom feels uneasy when duty is around

Songwriters: Christopher Anton Rea

Curse of the Traveller lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc

Is he witnessing a piece of history just like me? Or he is creating it as I witness the history in its making?

On my way to Madhugiri Betta, surrounded by Thimmalapura forest known for its bear population in the Tumkur district of Karnataka, as I am busy staring at the historical remnants unmoored from the car window in varying degrees of satisfaction, a truck blocks my vision and raises some oddly poignant thought about something else altogether. I typically have a good stamina to research about a place before visiting, but this one happens to be an unplanned sojourn from Jayamangali Blackbuck reserve. So negotiating with garbage carts, flocks of sheep, vegetable vendors, the usual rabble of motorbikes and cars in a small town, my vision is curious to catch the arches and pillars of Vijayanagar dynasty.

This monolith (a geological feature formed by consolidation in a mold and in situ polymerization usually consisting of a single massive rock or stone) of Madhugiri which derived its name from honeybee colonies is the second largest monolith in the entire Asia, believed to be built by a local chieftain Raja Hira Gowda in the 17th century, invaded by Marathas and later renovated by Hyder Ali who collected massive wealth from the fortress treasury. Then Tipu Sultan started an oppressive tax regimen after renaming the town as Fatehbad and this created such a devastation that people started migrating from this place. There is still ruins of the fort on the top which has been occupied by various rulers including re-captured by Marathas with the help of British who used this to house the prisoners of Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. And in front of this huge rock-cut historical architecture, what's a truck carrying common bricks made of basic brick clay?

So what it is also travelling to attribute to some human enterprise? So what it is also on its way to make someone's abode? Will anyone know or remember the men who carry the bricks that will add in the making of their houses? Will anyone see behind their toils and struggle and do they have any identity beyond their daily due wages? Will anyone remember what they'll help to construct with their sweats and tears? No, then it becomes 'it's my house!'. My, Me, Mine, Myself..because 'I' paid to buy it. How can something be 'ours' when our entire existence is temporary at the first place? And who made it? Some builder! Obviously. Meh! That's how we tend to operate mostly. But can we genuinely 'buy' effort?

Of course, as most of us will think, after all what's then labourers are for? Even for our so-called white-collar jobs, we are compensated due to our effort and most of us are immensely replaceable. That's how the world works. While I get that transactional oppression, I wonder what will happen the day all these labourers truly start asking for their dues and rights? Historically such revolutions were dispersed, decentralized and mostly nipped in the bud with paltry respect, using their hunger as a well-oiled machinery for big establishments to function. My mind wanders to the fact that India has recently experienced the biggest ever coordinated general strike anywhere in the world, protesting against the “anti-worker” and pro-corporate policies and labour laws as well as the new farm laws brought in by the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata party government.

Construction is also an art form under traditional classification comprising of painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, performing and cinema. However, labourers don't carry any novelty. They are not certainly considered as artists. And of course not a traveller or historical custodian, even though this faceless man on the truck and his ancestors might have known the rather eccentric story behind this construction before I did. Apparently in the 1670 AD, the Gowda family here became worried as one of their sheep went missing in Madhugiri hillock. The cattle returned at night with water all over its body indicating the possibility of a spring nearby and this made the family jump with joy in a drought-inflicted zone. Consequently, Hira Gowda decided to build a fortress here to rule Madhugiri.

Hannah Arendt—who sees the modern experience of labour as repetitive, tedious and alienating, thus, congruent to slavery—considers the artist as the only real worker that has survived in consumer society (Arendt 1958). Arendt posits that artistic labour is the only form of true work, which she defines as the ability to produce a totality without being reduced to slaves, namely, works that are completely useless to the capitalist system. This is of course a reverberation of the idea that art and art works are fundamentally non-utilitarian. And then, while nature hasn't made anything as resilient as human spirit, humans haven't made anything as exploitative as class division.

Slopes of Madhugiri Hillock, also known as Madhugiri Betta

On the top of the rock dome, you can see glimpse of the fort. The hillock and fort belong to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Echoes of negligence

The peak is around 3930 feet tall and trekking is moderate at the start and gets tedious as you go by.

A group of six women have created a new rock-climbing pathway, a vertical climb of 1300 feet from the base.

This is not the traditional route, which is quite difficult to trek and requires preparation.

Any rock climber can now take permission from Thimayya National Academy of Adventure and start vertical ascent using climbing gears.

Part of second largest monolith rock of Asia after the Savandurga Hill of Magadi District.

The ruined temple of Gopalakrishna is located at the top of the hill. This is a small temple at the base.

For a place which is popular for trekking, I find a strange luxury in sedentary stasis after a certain ascent. One moment the heat appears uncomfortable, only to find myself shivering behind a rock seconds later with a sudden breeze. As sunlight and shadow create some form of optical illusion, the possibility of encountering an odd leopard or bear is a gratifying bonus. In a space of extremes, I forget about the truck too easily. Any wide-eyed thought of quixotic artistic labour force is taken way by the flagrantly obscene human carvings on interior of some walls. In 2015, a construction worker named Pajtim Osmanaj turned a construction site in West Chelsea into his masterpiece canvas. Probably our fort authority here won't encourage such artistic statements on historical precincts, but they seem to be perfectly alright with engraved love signs encompassing names A+B and other coarse signs of collective fantasy and frustration.

In the end, a bird perched on an upward curving branches of a white pink trunk in a deciduous forest, the creamy purple wild blooms which seem to have sprouted against the will of the rocks, an old shepherd's curious assistance

with the direction, a little boy with nestled smile in his eyes, a goat stealing food from a cart, and that faceless toiler on the truck which impeded my view in the beginning I'll never know how their individual stories will unfold.


Quick Bites

  • Approximate distance by road to Madhugiri from nearby places:

From Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve: 22 Km

From Bangalore: 104.5 Km

From Mysore: 202 Km

From Coorg: 297 Km

  • At a distance of 100 Km, Bengaluru International airport is the nearest major airport. The nearest railway station to Madhugiri is in Gauribidanur (GBD) at 33.21 Km. If you drive from Bangalore, it will roughly take you 2.5 hours to reach there. Various KSRTC buses ply everyday from Majestic too.

  • The trek takes you through 3 defense walls or gateways. The topmost fort is seen only at the end after crossing the third gateway, but it may so appear that the trek has finished before that. A series of steps will take you to the first gateway, the easiest part of the trek of moderate difficulty. Early morning trek on a clear day promises the stunning sunrise view.

  • Madhugiri Trek can be divided into three directions:

  1. Entrance to Antaralada Bagilu or Gateway one

  2. Antaralada Bagilu to Diddi Bagilu or Gateway two

  3. Diddi Bagilu to the fort through Mysore Gate or Gateway three

  • Madhugiri Trek should be considered keeping weather in mind. It gets slippery during monsoon and it's best to avoid the trail if it rains on the previous night. All other trekking essentials like light load, proper trekking shoes etc. should be kept in mind if you are planning to go to the top. From there one can get a panoramic view of the Thimmalapura forest and town.

  • September to February are considered as best months for this trek. The rock gets too heated during summer. There's no specific timing but early morning trek is recommended.

  • Carry some high calorie snacks, electrolyte powder, first aids and water without a miss. You will not find any essential inside and will get only some basic stalls outside.

  • As of today (check the PhotoStory date), there's no entry fee and no restrictions on camping. The terrain is no picnic though.


PhotoStory Date: 16.01.2021

Place: Madhugiri, Tumkur District, Karnataka

Words and Photograph: Amrita Ghosh

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