Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Much before the city

If it weren't for the buildings, you could stand at any point in Chennai city and see clearly all the way through to the edges of the city. Except for a couple of places, where the St Thomas Mount and the Pallavaram hills rise like pimples, the terrain of Chennai is... well, a flawless cheek! It is said that the tallest peaks are in the young mountains and that the oldest mountains show up as low, rounded hills. By that hypothesis, the Pallavaram hills in the picture would be a billion or so years old (the Himalayas are estimated as being about 150 million to 200 million years old).

With that kind of evidence being put forward in support of their longevity, it should not be a surprise that the locality of Pallavaram pre-dates the emergence of Madras. The name itself is a corruption of 'Pallavapuram' - the land of the Pallavas. It is believed that the Pallava kings ruled from here during the 6th / 7th century CE, but there are very few extant relics or monuments from that period here. In 1863, Robert Bruce Foote, working for the Geological Survey of India, discovered a hand-axe from paleolithic times near these hills. Somehow, this discovery is not well remembered today; with Pallavaram having become a bustling suburb, any mention of carrying out archeological excavations there would be met with violent opposition.

So, these hills stand, having seen it all, from pre-historic badlands to the landings at Chennai international airport, just across the road. Ah, the stories they would tell, if only these hills could talk!

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