| Illustration by Suman Choudhury
A rickety, nearly illegible signboard outside Devanahalli is living its last days. It's coming in the way of the swanky, six-lane expressway ' being built to connect Bangalore to Devanahalli ' and will be pulled down soon.
A one-horse town, 40 km north of Bangalore, Devanahalli is the answer to the software city's lateral expansion plans. Bangalore's new international airport will be located at this outskirt town. Construction begins next month.
The signboard won't be missed ' no one reads it anyway. The weather-beaten, green board announces in broken English, 'Welcome to historical town'. And Devanahalli has not recently been associated with history.
Devanahalli's historical credentials are its best kept secrets. History lies scattered and forgotten in the town's nooks and crannies. Drive down Devanahalli's rubble road and you hit a small, pillared enclosure with a picket gate. A stone tablet inside reads, 'Tipu Sultan was born here.' The nondescript enclosure stands squeezed on a road full of cowsheds and one-room hutments.
Further down the road is the 500-year-old Devanahalli Fort. Built by a local ruler, the fort was occupied by Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan and later by Lord Cornwallis. Inside the fort stands a Vijayanagar period temple.
An Archeological Survey of India (ASI) board outside the fort and at Tipu Sultan's birthplace declares them to be protected monuments. Construction around 200 metres of both monuments is prohibited, says the notice.
Laws are for the law books. Devanahalli town flourishes inside the fort. Houses, snack-shops and a primary school stand packed along the arterial roads.
History has no takers in this town. The fort serves as a playground for the children, who hide in its ramparts and race along the walls.
The fort does not contribute to the town's economic life. 'Tourists never visit the fort,' says Venkatesh, a middle-aged, mundu-clad resident of the town. Which means, there are no guides, souvenir shops or persistent beggars in Devanahalli. The only visitors to the fort is the odd Kannada film crew shooting period films.
Devanahalli is a typical Karnataka small town. The town's one-stop marketplace is cacophony at its best. Radios blare music out of the hole-in-the-wall 'Ti' stalls and 'Barbar' shops. Gaudy painted advertisements of Kannada film stars smoking bidis are the only sign of consumerism. Bicycles are the main mode of transport.
The expressway is set to drive the bicycles out of business. A new world is driving into Devanahalli at top speed. Other than the expressway, two dedicated railway lines have been planned to connect Bangalore to Devanahalli.
Business follows infrastructure on its heels. Infosys has been allotted a 350-acre site at Yelahanka, just short of Devanahalli. The blueprint of a Rs 2.8-billion 'NRI city' ' a first of its kind residential-cum-business township ' is in its final stages.
Property developers have sniffed out the gold in the land. 'North Bangalore is the place to watch out for,' says Swarup Anish, vice-president business development, Prestige Builders, a premier property developing firm in Bangalore.
Real estate prices are at an all-time high. 'I have been offered Rs 50 lakh for an acre of land,' says Narayan, who owns farmland adjacent to the Devanahalli Fort. Three years ago, his land was not valued at more than Rs 1 lakh.
The offer is too good to refuse.
Tipu Sultan wouldn't have imagined a high-rise apartment complex inside his granite-walled fort. But Devanahalli's residents have other plans. 'No harm in selling the land and making good money,' reasons Narayan.
The ASI is trying to save Tipu's legacy. 'Local residents have ownership deeds for land in and around the fort which pre-date the 1988 amendment to the ASI Act banning construction around historical monuments,'says a Bangalore-based ASI official. The official added that the ASI is trying to acquire the land and contain the construction drive. Also, there are plans to put the Devanahalli Fort on the tourist map, as part of the Nandi Hills-Devanahalli-Lipakshi temple circuit.
That's in the future. For now, the one-legged board, the only formal sign-post of Devanahalli's historical past, is waiting to be pulled down.