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The mine routes of Bellary
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The potholes on National Highway 13 woke me up even in the comfy AC sleeper bus. And when the driver stopped for a break, I got down and could see long lines of trucks outside. I was about 2 hours from Hospet town in Bellary district.

Bellary map

Throughout my stay in Hampi I was acutely aware that I was close to the heart of the biggest and most outrageous scam in independent India - that of illegal mining in parts of Bellary. Reports like these in Frontline, Tehelka and Sunday Indian had impressed upon me the scale of what's going on here.

So on Day 3 I decided to visit Sandur, which is the nearest town to the actual mines situated at Obulapuram and around. I was advised not to take the direct road from Hospet to Sandur as it is bad. So I boarded a bus towards Bellary and got down at Toranagallu. This is a picturesque drive with forested hills and boulders on either side of the road. You'll run into countless trucks and the road is again potholed.

From there you catch a tempo traveller or jeep to reach Sandur. This 1.5 hour drive is where much of the action is. A large stretch of it is a narrow, dusty road but lorries loaded with iron ore will be going past in both directions with amazing frequency. There are hills all around, the Tunghabhadra river flows to one side and there's a small reservoir too. The below video captures many lorries.

Check out the state of the road in this video:

You'll feel sorry for people living along this route. Apart from the road becoming dangerous, the dust has already caused respiratory problems. The plants on the side of the road have a thin layer of red dust. I've uploaded more pics in this Picasa album and there's one more video. Incidentally a Hospet auto driver told me that lorry traffic has drastically reduced after the ban on ore export. Otherwise it would be jammed for hours on end.

Sandur itself is a small town with not much to do. On that day the local politicos were celebrating "Valmiki Jayanthi" which is a newly declared State government holiday to please members of that caste (similar to Basava Jayanthi and Kanaka Jayanthi announced last year).

It's remarkable that even as Bangalore is being feted worldwide and its intelligentsia is attuned to the foremost democratic countries in the world, all of this is happening one night's journey away (and it was not even on Youtube until today!). In any case, if you're in the Karnataka region I highly recommend the journey from Toranagallu to Sandur - and beyond, if you are adventurous. You can see history being made.

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Thanks for the pics and the post. Just reminded me of my childhood. I grew up in Donimalai which is one of the "large and legal" mines there. If you told that Hospet-Sandur was adventurous, you should definitely try Sandur-Donimalai sometime. And for an extra kick / to save a few Rs / if you miss the buses, you could definitely hitch a ride in one of those lorries. It is so much fun! I totally agree that not many things can match that experience, there are so many stories I can recall now. However, I remember that the place was much cleaner in the 90s (may be the the illegal mining was not so rampant then)

Oh wow that's good to hear. I saw the name Donimalai township in one of the maps but was not sure if I should proceed further. Maybe next time, if I get some company :)

It's just sad that so much economic activity has not resulted in better life for people there. And instead they have to live with the side effects.

(Deleted comment)
Hehe, thanks. What to do, when the media sucks you have to take the reportage into your own hands ;)

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