Apr 4, 2007

Gilbert Hill - a symbol of Indian apathy

There are some things that are so near to us that we take them for granted. I spent 2 years in Bhavans’ campus, Andheri and never realized that I was right next to a unique natural monument, a geological wonder – a monolithic column of black basalt rock named Gilbert Hill.

This is what Wikipedia says about Gilbert Hill:
Gilbert Hill is a 200 foot (90 m) monolith column of black basalt rock in Andheri, Maharashtra, India. The rock has a sheer vertical face and was created when molten lava was squeezed out of the earth's clefts during the Mesozoic Era about 65 million years ago. During that era, molten lava had spread around most of the Indian states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, covering an area of 50,000 km². The volcanic eruptions were also responsible for the destruction of plant and animal life during that era.

According to experts, this rare geological phenomenon was the remnants of a ridge and had clusters of vertical columns in nearby Jogeshwari which were quarried off two decades ago. These vertical columns are similar to the Devil's Tower in Wyoming, and the Devil's Post Pile National Monument in eastern California, USA.

Atop the rock column, two Hindu temples, the Gaodevi and Durgamata temples, set in a small garden, are accessed by a steep staircase carved into the rock. The hill offers a panoramic view of the city of Bombay.

So far, so good… But, really appalling are the following articles that I came across when I was searching for information about the place:

“Even after the High Court has granted an interim stay on construction within 100m radius of the hill in April 2005, 27 buildings were constructed…” - DNA, March 14 2007

“Gilbert Hill is a rare and unique volcanic structure that is now in the danger of collapsing because of haphazard growth of buildings around it…” - TOI, July 6 2006

How to reach and other pointers:
- From Andheri station either catch a bus, a rick or walk down towards Bhavans’ College and ask any one for directions to reach Gilbert Hill
- The hill is closed for general public from noon to 4pm, but if you are quiet enough and do not create a nuisance of yourself, then you can tip-toe through an opening in the barbed wire, next to the gate! But do not enter the Gaodevi and Durgamata temples at the top of the hill during these hours
- The walk to the base of the hill is through some slums. Be patient in this part, and don’t turn back
- There are steps leading all the way till the top, and it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to climb them all
- Bring a pair of binoculars, for you can spot the Arabian sea, the Santacruz airport, Madh Island, most of Andheri, Lokhandwala, Jogeshwari, Juhu, and even the tall high rises of Hiranandani Complex at Powai
- Being up the hill and seeing a plethora of green in the monsoons can be specially rewarding

Courtesy: Mumbai Mirror, December 11 2006

It is really sad that such a natural monument is being handled in such a lackadaisical manner, and the general public have very little idea about it. Gilbert Hill does not feature on any tourist maps, which is good in a way since too many people crowding out there are not going to help it. But, the state in which it is at present, with slums surrounding it, buildings just metres away, and absolute ignorance about the legacy of the site among many Andheri residents, is really symbolic of the general attitude in India about historical monuments. If the world famous Taj Mahal is being defaced by pollution, I don’t see any hope for an obscure, never heard of Gilbert Hill.

PS: For all the news links, apologies for any copyright violations to the dailies concerned. All for a good cause!

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