It was nearly half past eight and the sun should have been out, but mist and rain had cast a lethargic pallor over Ramanagara. A Spotted Owlet squawked vile abuse at our party of three for disrupting its morning hunt. Crag martins swooped low, breakfasting on the wing. Ramadevarabetta uncoiled reluctantly from slumber – clammy, damp, and eager to go right back to sleep on this monsoon morning.

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The mist parts to unveil the rain-washed landscape of Ramanagara on a monsoon morning

Around this stately hillock that presides over the dramatic landscape are the locales where Sholay was immortalized on celluloid. A rustle of wind in dry grass might evoke the gallop of ghostly hooves. Press your ear to the timeless rocks and you might hear Gabbar’s guffaw trapped in them. And is that armless Thakur draped in a shawl, or a shepherd fending off the chill?

The ghosts of Jai and Veeru linger four decades on, and land sharks have tried to cash in on their tinsel mythology. Yet, Sholay mattered least to me. On this cool rainy forenoon, there was more to cherish in Ramanagara’s poetic symphony of crag, rock and boulder.

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The majestic granitic outcrops of Ramanagara make for a dramatic setting

Viewed from the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway, the boulder-strewn countryside awakens in the wanderer’s heart a restless stirring. To Tipu Sultan, the town was known as Shamserabad. In pre-Independence times it was rechristened Closepet after the British Army General Sir Barry Close. Later renamed Ramanagaram, in official records its name was changed to Ramanagara when it was made the eponymous headquarters of a new district in 2007.

Ramanagara was once famed for sericulture, a decadent industry that risks dying out. Outside village homes we saw large circular wicker baskets, some with fat Bombax caterpillars munching on mulberry leaves.

Silk is not Ramanagara’s only treasure. Its proud hillocks – known to geologists as the Closepet Granitoid Belt – have resisted the greed of stone quarriers for decades but you can count the recent casualties as you view the surrounding terrain from the summit of Ramadevarabetta, past the temple at the top. From up here, when weather permits, you can see the horizon dotted with the other great granitic massifs for which the district is famous: Savanadurga (where some scenes of David Lean’s A Passage to India were filmed), Bilikal Rangaswamy Betta, Handigundi, and so on.

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Taking in the glorious landscape from a viewpoint near Ramadevarabetta

The monsoon tarries a little here. The Deccan Plateau, which lies in the lee of the Western Ghats, remains in the rain shadow even as the southwest monsoon pounds the western coast for months on end. June through August, overcast skies bring occasional showers and damp, cloudy days. In late October, the retreating monsoon conducts its theatrics with heavy thundershowers. Cyclonic storms also bring long wet spells and the dry countryside throbs with verdure.

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Rainwater collects in shallow pools, creating transitory breeding habitats for small amphibians

The ancient granitic outcrops have attracted generations of climbers, trekkers and birders. In the monsoon, spiders claim every inch of exposed sky. Above my head were Giant Wood Spiders and Black Wood Spiders, enormous arachnids that can make the stoutest heart tremble. Tiny males clamber atop gigantic females to mate with them. It’s a tragic-comic romance, for the lucky suitor is often eaten.

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The tiny Black Wood Spider male, seen here atop the gigantic female trying to mate with her, is often eaten once the marriage is consummated.

Birds announced themselves. Indian Vultures and Egyptian Vultures were spotted nesting on these lofty cliffs, their presence betrayed by white smears of excrement that ornithologists call ‘vulture paint’. The countryside abounds in other raptors such as the Indian Black Eagle and Tawny Eagle, as well as majestic Indian Eagle Owls. Rollers and bee-eaters peppered the grayness with explosive color. Peafowl and Grey Francolins were more often heard than seen. Frogs called from the rainwater pools. Shimmery skinks darted among the rocks even as Peninsular Rock Agamas, nodding agreeably, took advantage of dry spells to sun themselves on the boulders.

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An Egyptian Vulture soars overhead at Ramanagara

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An Indian Vulture near its cliff-ledge nest marked with ‘vulture paint’

A few monsoons ago I climbed the peak behind Ramadevarabetta and watched, against a dramatic phalanx of marching clouds, the silhouettes of Peregrine Falcons in amorous abandon. Amid an abundance of funerals for nature’s riches, here was a wedding. It filled me with hope for Ramanagara.

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A Peregrine Falcon in flight over Ramanagara

Getting there: Ramanagara is about 60 km from Bengaluru. If driving, look out for an arch to the right side of the road after Ghousia College. Follow the potholed village road to Ramadevarabetta. Buses bound for Mysore and Mandya stop at Ramanagara. Train: Board Tirupati-Chamarajanagar Fast Passenger (No. 56214) at Bengaluru City Junction (departs 07:30 am) and disembark at Ramanagaram at 08:25 am. Return by Ramanagaram – Bengaluru City DEMU Special (06539) at 18:35 pm.

Tips: Wear footwear suitable for the outdoors. Binoculars and camera recommended. Wear a hat/cap and carry rain-wear, water and light snacks. Take your trash back with you.