Much of the Gaura Hill has been stolen, say local residents. Known for its unusually soft, radiant and white rocks, the hill in the Mahoba district of Bundelkhand, the stone chips from the hill have been drawing thieves in hordes, people complain.
The Charakhari area, where the remnants of the hill can be seen, was a culturally vibrant town in the last century because of several theatre groups there, claim residents. Tourists and visitors noticed local craftsmen carving beautiful statues, showpieces, vase and other decorative items out of the marble and reported them in glowing terms, attracting the attention of smugglers in the 1950s.
Gaura Hill used to cover an area of six hectares. And the stones carved out of it were broadly known as Gaura stones. But only half a hectare of the hill is what is left now.
These stones, because of their unusual soft texture, could easily be carved into desired shapes and sizes and chiselled and hammered into producing products that came to be known as “Gaura Artifact.” Reckless mining of the stones, alleges Braj Kishore, a well known stone cutter, has taken a toll and the hill has started disappearing. “We realised in 1970 that the hill was gradually disappearing, and we demanded that the hill be protected. The state government formed a committee that recommended only limited mining be allowed to protect the Gaura art,” he recalls.
But a decade or two later, the then state government started giving mining lease to big players. Notorious smugglers also got leasing rights and started their illegal activities even more recklessly than before, Kishore alleges and adds that many patches of the areas where once the hill once stood have turned into ravines.
Explaining the situation, Ram Deen, a stonemason said, “Natural calamities like drought and flood have destroyed farming in this area. Government apathy in recent decades has also forced the artisans of Gaura stone to move out of Bundelkhand. Still half a dozen families of skilled artisans have remained here and what remains of the hill keeps them engaged.” “As the smugglers exploited the area and left, the passionate local stone masons continued mastering the art of modern carving. Now we use devices like carbon machines, electric drill machines, grinders and cutters. But there is not much of the hill left for us,” said Ram Pyari, wife of Ram Deen.
Kali Deen, a Gaura stone craftsman and a recipient of many state and national awards, says, “Each Gaura artifact has a unique look and are in demand across the world. Red statues of Buddha made of Gaura stone have been in huge demand in China. But there is little left here for us to do.
We have heard that huge stones were smuggled and used in beautifying the houses of rich politicians and businessmen across the world. Obviously, people in the government have been hand-in-glove with the smugglers.”
He said a few years ago, shining layers of metal in between the Gaura rocks started emerging. The Geologists found during their research that they were diasporite and pyrophyllite minerals.“I have heard that the smugglers have set up factories near Delhi to melt these minerals and extract aluminum and silver from it. The over excavation has once again started here,” they said. “The hill used to be 500 feet high but now stands much diminished. There are only pits at many places now where the hill used to stand. And smugglers are still busy taking away what they still can,” laments Kali Deen.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had said recently that the Gaura stone work would be included in his ambitious “One District One Product scheme” to promote local art and also to protect what remains of the hill. He had also said that illegal miners would be booked under the Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Act. But despite the words, mining continues in full swing as people helplessly watch.