Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ketavaram, Rock Paintings

An exclusive travelouge

A prick of thorn in the forest is painful for an amateur trekker, but the joy of discovering something invaluable makes one forget the pain endured in the bargain. It was one such experience I had during my recent trip to Kurnool.

Just when we were to begin our journey from Kurnool to Srisailam, I saw an article in the paper stating that ASI has recently discovered Neolithic cave paintings @ Ketavaram. It dates back to 6000 years old, when human kind was evolving. Cave paintings were undertaken with the help of blood of pigs and wild animals.

We began our hunt whether the cave paintings were on the same route or some other route was a jigsaw puzzle to be resolved. One waiter with confidence told me that it was near Alampur, but the paper cutting was clear that the destination is in Kurnool district whereas Alampur is in Mehboobnagar district. Next attempt another vague answer that it is on Hyderabad route around 15 kms, but newspaper report stated 22 kms. Again we desperately hunt for signs, and enroute we stop by a local tea shop and ask a person who is reading newspaper the direction to Ketavaram. Eureka, he is not much aware of the cave paintings, but he knew for sure the route leading to Ketavaram. He asked us to proceed on Srisailam route to Gangapuram 15 kms from Kurnool and watch out for a deviation to the right at a junction and travel 7 kms from their on a kuchha pucca road.

The expectation of discovery was heady, and we reached the village and found the route to caves was filled with dust from Cuddapah stone mining. It was as if we were entering into the Mining fields. We were advised by some localities to take a guide who will take us to the spot, being adventurous we refused. We traveled groping by instincts, and we reached a spot, which seemed to be likely area of the cave painting. We spotted a girl who was busy lugging farm produce to town for sales. We asked her, she in turn guide us to a sufi saints graveyard. Suddenly she spotted Ismail Bhai, who is working as labourer for a farmland nearby. Of course he agreed to show us the pathway to the cave paintings for a fee. We had to agree after coming all the way to discover.

A Trek to the hillock began which is 200 meters, circumventing the thorny bushes, which may have been installed by the ASI to prevent vandalism of the paintings. Despite all precautions I was pricked by the thorn through my jogging shoes ( REBOK ). Ismail himself was not sure of the exact location since his son and few other villagers had guided a team of archaeologists to the location some time earlier. However after scanning two rock surfaces we reached the exact spot and behold we saw the trace of the imprints of the Neolithic mankind.

Dr Chandramouli, reader in the Archaeology dept. of Pondicherry confirms that the paintings date back to over 6000 years old. Some of them he states are contemporary to the Indus Valley civilization. The eternal Knot on the pattern of Indus valley art, which has no beginning of a storyline or end is the hallmark of paintings found at Ketavaram.

Apart from the Rock paintings the traces of human settlements were found in this spot, which was obviously blessed with plenty of water fall flowing from the hillock, which is now dried up beyond recognition. The flow of water is guided to a well which is dried up due to lack of adequate rainfall in the region. Some of the tools used by pre-historic mankind such as jasper and chert, which is granite like stone has been found at this place. The tools recovered are scrapers, borer, blades, hacking stone, and some are so sharp that it could even cut human hair.

The subject of paintings obviously reflects the lifestyle of the Neolithic mankind. The evidence of birth of religious belief is found in the form of sorcerer who is performing a ritual before an hunting expedition begins, in order to protect them from dangers of being consumed by wild animals in the bargain for hunting deer, wild boar, or bison.

Paintings potray two deers having a friendly fued, stag and antelopes grazing in the jungle, rabbits, reptiles and frog moving around, just captured by the artist and interpreted in his own way in red ochre or pigs blood. There is a distinct painting of tribal rejoicing after a good hunt, he is celeberating a prize catch with a dance to glory on a full moon.

Of course there is lot of wear and tear to the location due to vagaries of nature, we have been blessed with the traces of survival of our ancestors living conditions and their environs. But due to increased mining may be there is a lurking danger of these important heritage being lost to modern day hunters. One such cave is fully doused with black smoke erasing the traces of ancient treasure. I would imagine this would have been the darbar of the tribal chief with him being seated on a stone throne and addressing his fellowmen whenever there is an important development or announcement to be made.
The eternal feeling of adventure and trekking of experiencing the lifestyle of Neolithic mankind can be a uplifting journey. I was constrained with paucity of time to head towards my main destination of Srisailam, may be for a group of likeminded people will find a treasure trove of opportunity to discover.

AP govt. is determined to salvage this heritage site, but the onus is on the villagers to safeguard this place. I told Ismail Bhai this is your khazana or road to prosperity please protect it. One never knows, this spot in future will attract hundreds of tourists, and maybe you villagers will benefit in the form of a concrete road upto the spot, instead of the current devastated road connection. The value of the land may even jump up multi fold once the destination becomes popular among tourists. Maybe Ketavaram is destined to become backpackers paradise in future. I can only imagine staying in a tent on a full moonlight and having my dinner in the open air @ ketavaram. Maybe AP tourism will pave way for such an opportunity.

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