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India's Past, Future Collide in Hyderabad

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In India, only one city outside of New Delhi has been visited by two American presidents. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have both singled out the City of Hyderabad as a showpiece of India's economic boom and of U.S./India cooperation. Hyderabad has become a hub for the multi-national, high-tech and pharmaceutical industries. It's planning enormous growth, a new international airport, a ring road and a much-enlarged high-tech sector. Yet progress rarely comes without a price tag and Hyderabad is no exception. NPR's Philip Reeves filed this reporter's notebook on what might be called the battle of the monolith.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Frauke Quader said it's worse in the mornings. That's when you most often hear the explosions. Heavy thuds roll across the landscape, each one announcing a new act of destruction. A battle is being fought in this part of South India, though not with guns or armies. Quader is from Germany, though she's lived herein Hyderabad for 35 years. Today she's inspecting the frontline, and she's not happy with what she sees.

Ms. FRAUKE QUADER (Conservationist): See, they are taking down that whole, over there, that whole mountain. So they're really at it.

REEVES: We're beside a lake. The shore opposite looks as if something's taken a gigantic bite out of it. On a ridge above stands a group of spectacular new buildings. This is the vanguard of what's known here in Hyderabad as Cyberbad, a rapidly growing high-tech city, home to giants like Microsoft and Dell. Quader says to make way for Cyberbad's monolithic glass and concreted structures, other monoliths are being removed with dynamite.

Ms. QUADER: Once you cut them down, they're gone. This whole marvel of nature is gone. See those high (unintelligible) those white ones? That is the Sport Village. And this whole area will be all be Cyberbad. It's masses of square kilometers.

REEVES: Hyderabad stands amid one of the oldest rock systems in the world. Clusters of enormous granite boulders rare up on the skyline. Geologists say these have been here since they were thrust out of the earth's crust some two and a half billion years ago. Natural sculptures crafted by wind and rain into exotic shapes.

Ms. QUADER: Everybody sees the beauty of the rock. First of all, they have these bizarre forms there. They are balanced on top of each other in such a way that sometimes it's really unbelievable. It just, you know, it just strikes you that these formations are so beautiful and so unusual. And it is something you don't see anywhere else.

REEVES: Quader says some of the more extraordinary granite clusters have been given names.

Ms. QUADER: We have one rock called Bear's Nose. And then there's Skull Rock over there. And then we have seen the Cliff Rock. And we have a Monster Rock, also here in Jubilee Hills, and an obelisk, and a tortoise.

REEVES: Quader is one of several hundred members of a conservation society, trying to prevent the indiscriminate destruction of Hyderabad's rocks, or as they put it, its rockitecture.

Ms. ANURAHDA REDDY (Conservationist): We are standing today on Mahindra Hill.

REEVES: Anurahda Reddy is another.

Ms. REDDY: We see only two or three large rocky areas left. Two or three large magnificent rocky outcrops left. The rest of it has been blasted into oblivion to make houses that we see around us.

REEVES: Building new houses doesn't necessarily mean losing beautiful rocks. Narendra Luther is the author of a History of Hyderabad. When he built his home, he made a 300-ton granite rock the centerpiece. It forms an entire wall in his living room. Sitting in that room with a rainstorm outside, Luther explains he's also fighting to save Hyderabad's rocks.

Mr. NARENDRA LUTHER (Author, History of Hyderabad): We have had processions. We have had marches. We have had protests. We have gone to courts. Somewhere we have succeeded. Somewhere we have failed. But that's part of this game of preservation.

(Soundbite of jackhammer)

REEVES: Yet another cluster of granite is hacked down to make way for a building. But the campaigners have made some headway. The city authorities now list several of Hyderabad's more stunning rock clusters as protected heritage sites. Some architects are beginning to use giant granite rocks in their designs. Rock gardens are appearing. One five-star hotel has a huge boulder in the middle of its swimming pool.

Dhananjay Reddy, of Hyderabad's Municipal Corporation, says city planners are listening.

Mr. DHANANJAY REDDY (Municipal Corporation): The fact of the city is going to become a mega city, and with lot infrastructure being provided. But at the same time, so we are not neglecting the environment, because we want to make it a balanced goal.

REEVES: Achieving that balance is never easy, especially in India.

(Soundbite of city noise)

REEVES: Hyderabad is a city on the march. In the next decade and a half, it's population, already around seven million, is expected to double. At stake are lots of dollars. And when it's paper against rock, rock looses.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.