This semi-rural region with its strong, agrarian crafts culture has become a role model in heritage conservation and sustainable rural tourism.

A view of the Pampa Sarovara with rocky hills in the backgroundPampa Sarovara. Pic: Susheela Nair
Features Travel Sunday, June 26, 2022 - 11:13

After cruising past rocky terrains punctuated by banana plantations and paddy fields, we reached the picturesque hamlet of Anegundi, perched on the banks of Tungabhadra in Gangavathi Taluk of Karnataka’s Koppal district. In the yesteryears, this place used to be just a coracle ride away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi. Once known as the ‘hippie side’ of Hampi or a backpackers’ haven, Anegundi exudes incredibly laid-back vibes. Sans honking cars or pestering vendors, it was a welcome getaway from the touristy clamour and grandeur of Hampi.

Older than Hampi, Anegundi abounds in hidden mysteries waiting to be unravelled. Mythologically, it has always been identified as the land of Vali, Sugreeva and Anjaneya. The region is believed to have once been the monkey kingdom of Kishkinda from the Ramayana, and the colossal rocks piled here and there are said to be the work of the Vanaras, or the ‘monkey-men’. In fact, one of the hills, called the Anjanadri Hill, is reputed to be the birthplace of the much-revered Monkey God, Hanuman. Another legend is that kings of Vijayanagar used Anegundi as a base for the elephants and hence the name, derived from ‘Aanai’ which means elephant in local parlance.

South of the village is a ferry crossing leading to Talarighat, the closest way to reach Hampi. From here, facing the village, one can see the remains of derelict fort walls running along the banks behind the riverside steps. A short distance away are stone walls with circular bastions that encircle the town. The rocky hill is ringed by massive walls, dating partly from the Vijayanagara times. Fortified gates protected by round bastions give access to enclosures with barracks, wells and other military structures. The visit starts at a monumental gate on the Tungabhadra river, from which a path begins towards the town.

Coracle ride along the Tungabhadra river
Coracle ride along the Tungabhadra river

Lush paddy fields against a rocky backdrop
Lush paddy fields against a rocky backdrop

After rambling around the streets of this nondescript village, we passed by a number of centuries-old structures before reaching the main square, which is dominated by Gagan Mahal, a contemporary structure that evokes visions of the Lotus Mahal at Hampi. An inscription in front of the Gagan Mahal details the history of Anegundi. It was built in the 16th century, for the women of royalty to watch festivities in the village square and enjoy the city scenes without being seen. The bejewelled windows of the old palace overlook the ancient Ranganathaswamy Temple. The palace flaunts vivid imprints of Islamic architecture, and is encircled by a fort which is now in ruins.

A view of the Gagan Mahal
Gagan Mahal, an erstwhile royal abode

A view of the Hanuman Temple perched atop Anjanadri Hill
The Hanuman Temple perched atop Anjanadri Hill

Anegundi also has samadhis of mystic saints. On the north-easterly banks of the Tungabhadra stands a samadhi believed to be that of king Krishnadevaraya. Further down is Navabrindavanam, home to samadhis of nine Madhva saints. Mythology also links this land to Goddess Parvati, who as Pampa Devi meditated on the banks of a lotus-laden pond known as the Pampa Sarovar. Sitting on the banks of the sacred pond, we enjoyed the meditative calm and quietude of the place.

A view of the Navabrindavan housing the samadhis of nine saints
The Navabrindavan, which houses the samadhis of nine Madhva saints

After our brief date with history, we visited the banana fibre workshop and store in the village run by The Kishkinda Trust (TKT). “Apart from fostering crafts using locally available banana fibre, teaching craft to local women and then employing them, we are also involved in heritage conservation. With our active involvement, the vibrant banana-fibre cottage industry really took off and created a lot of livelihood opportunities,” says Shama Pawar, founder, TKT, and convenor, INTACH Anegundi Chapter.

A woman wearing a sari smiles for the camera in the backdrop of banana fibre craft products
Shama Pawar, the driving force behind heritage conservation and rural tourism in Anegundi

Seeing the potential in the stems discarded as agricultural waste, TKT trained women to create natural fibre out of them and convert them into sustainable products. The discarded stems from the banana plantations are spliced and rolled into a rope or rubber sheet. To retain the natural charm and make it eco-friendly, no dyeing or colouring is done.

As we walked around the art and craft shop, we saw a beautiful range of nature friendly and rural art products, such as bags made out of recycled banana stems and river grass. “It was a delight to watch women twisting and turning the banana fibres into coir, threading, crocheting and shaping them into mats, hats, bags, coasters and fashion accessories, among other things. The entire process of crafting banana fibre products is hand driven, from thread making to weaving,” says Gopi Vishrolia, President of Karnataka Niche Tourism Council, a wing of WICCI (Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry). Besides interaction and some hands-on experience with Anegundi’s craftswomen, members of our group also witnessed sustainable tourism in action.

A group of women weave bags from recycled banana stem and river grass
Women making bags from recycled banana stem and river grass

Karnataka Niche Tourism Council members interact with the craftswomen of Anegundi
Karnataka Niche Tourism Council members interact with the skilled craftswomen of Anegundi

This women-only industry, powered by women, is a classic example of how financial independence aids women’s empowerment and socio-economic development. This semi-rural town with its strong, agrarian and inherent crafts culture has become a role model in heritage conservation and sustainable rural tourism. As part of the programme, old, unused houses were converted into business incubators, without marring their original beauty. This transformed the lives of the local populace through the generation of self-employment opportunities.

Women turn banana fibre into ethnic products
Women turn banana fibre into ethnic products

Development of community spaces with minimal intervention was a successful venture. This includes riverside landscaping, restoration of ghats, beautification of streets and the village square, development of parks and sculptural garden, fencing, improvement of roads within the panchayat limits, illumination of streets with solar lights, and installation of signages at various strategic locations in Anegundi.

Other successful ventures include programmes in organic farming, education through the performing arts, and promotion of adventure sports for tourists which have provided ample employment opportunities to the locals. In 2021, the Karnataka state government had announced plans to set up Karnataka’s first Craft Tourism Village in Anegundi. However, no headway has been made till date.

All images by Susheela Nair.

Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bangalore. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.

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