The rocky terrain at Ramanagara has several tales to tell. It was here that the iconic Indian film Sholay was shot in the early 1970s. The rocks around Ramadevara Betta Hill became Gabbar’s hideout and the make-shift village of Ramgarh was set on the plains below. The sleepy village on the Bangalore- Mysore Highway, became a hub of activities as shooting continued for two and a half years. The main cast and crew drove down from Bangalore each morning. Some crew members stayed back in the houses built as part of the movie set. Many villagers were employed- few behind the scenes, few as junior artistes. The people of the tiny hamlets around the place named the area ‘Sippy Nagar’ in honour of the director Ramesh Sippy. In 1975, when Sholay was finally released, all the villagers were taken for special screening of the film.
Today, Ramanagara is a bustling town, a hub for rock climbing and also a vulture sanctuary. It is an easy drive from Bangalore and a preferable destination for one day trips. It can be reached easily by local buses plying between Bangalore and Mysore and also by train.
Ramanagara is located about 50 kms from Bangalore on the way to Mysore. A small detour from the highway brings you to the Ramadevara betta, better known as Sholay rocks.
As we enter the narrow road leading towards the hills, asking the locals for the exact location of the Sholay rocks, we come across an old man Shivlingaiya. His eyes light up at the mention of Sholay. He says he worked with the crew and offers to guide us around the area. He points towards the area where the temple and the mosque shown in the movie were set up. In another direction he says the water tank was set up. He also shows us the place the wooden bridge where several fighting scenes of Sholay were shot, was constructed. The boulders and the terrain have remained the same after 4 decades and barring these, there are no other signs from the film. Most of the rocky terrain which formed part of Gabbar’s den, is now hidden within the vast green stretch that now is also a Vulture Sanctuary. Some portions are now part of private residences and farms.
Some 346 hectares of the rocky terrain in Ramanagara was declared as a vulture sanctuary in 2012. It is home to the endangered Long-Billed Vultures. According to one estimate, only 6 vultures are left in the sanctuary which was once inhabited by more than 2000 of these endangered birds !
Parking the car at the footsteps of Ramadevara hill, we start walking up the steps. The Ramadevara temple at the top of the hill is said to be more than 1000 years old and can be reached by climbing some 400 odd steps. There are several viewpoints along the way up the hill. Mid way to the Ramadevara temple, one can go off the steps onto the hillock beside; we find a lot of people resting and taking photographs and decide to explore the area. The place offers some stunning views of the hills and greenery around.
The view from the top is amazing, the rocky terrain and the greens extend as far as the eyes can see, till they merge with the clouds in the horizon. Faraway in the distance are hills that appeared in the backdrop of Sholay.
As we explore the place, the frames of Sholay come alive in my mind. The old broken bridge, the den, Thakur’s house, even the song Yeh Dosti, that was shot close by at the Big Banyan tree (Dodda Alada Mara).
Ramanagara drew a lot of attention after Sholay was released in 1975. The film became one of the biggest in Indian cinema, immortalizing the town of Ramanagara with the name Ramgarh. Nearly a decade later, David Lean’s ‘A Passage to India’ was shot here. This film went on to receive 11 Oscar nominations and win 2.
Over the years, Ramanagara’s cinematic past has been forgotten. Only recently the government of Karnataka has planned a film city in the town. Another proposal is to virtually recreate some of the landmarks from the film Sholay as part of a 3D village.
A 2016 Google commercial showed a son and his dad taking a trip to the place where Sholay was shot.
Barring a few handful Sholay fans, curious tourists and movie buffs, Ramadevara betta is now visited mostly by trekkers and nature enthusiasts. Many adventure groups come here for rock face climbing, boulder climbing, chimney climbing, hill climbing, rock climbing etc. As we drive back to the town, we see three bus loads of employees from a Bangalore based IT company turning into the narrow roads of Ramadevara hills, probably for a whole day of adventure and rock climbing.
We drive to the nearby Kamat Lokaruchi restaurant to have a filling lunch after our morning exploration and nostalgic trip to Sholay land.
Ramanagara lies between Bangalore and Mysore and can be easily reached by train or bus plying between the two cities. The Ramadevara Betta hills (the Place where Sholay was shot) , is about 2 kilometers away from the main town. If not traveling on your own vehicle, you may hire an auto for taking you till the Ramadevara betta hill.
Ramanagara is best visited early morning. Some areas are under the forest department and by dusk, the gates to the sanctuary area and the steps to the temple are closed.
Kamat Lokaruchi is the most popular restaurant along this stretch and often there is a long waiting to get a table.
Janapada Loka Cultural Museum – adjacent to the Kamat Lokaruchi restaurant.
Chanapatna town (famous for handmade wooden toys) – a short drive towards Mysore.
Dodda Alada Mara : A large 400 year old tree covering an area of 3 acres – short drive towards Bangalore.
Author: Soumyashanto Mandal is a traveller, foodie and movie buff. He may be reached at cultcrew(at)culturebowl.com. You may also send a message on the CultureBowl facebook page.