AP beyond Hyderabad and its Nizams

Andhra Pradesh is much more than its capital city and the Charminar. From million year old caves to steep gorges, bouldering to rides on the rushing Godavari, the state has a lot left unseen.

Andhra Pradesh is probably best known to tourists for its capital city Hyderabad and its Nizams.  And of course, one of the richest temples till the discovery of what lay beneath the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala, was Tirupati. But beyond the Charminar that has become a symbol of the city itself, the temple town of Tirumala, the ports of Vizag, lies an Andhra that has fertile, verdant green belts on one end and rocky, dry terrain on the other. Spread across the state, there are ruins of forts that lie neglected and waiting to be discovered. There are natural rock formations that make some of the most wonderful caves in the country, there are boulders for the enthusiasts to try their hand at bouldering. There are lesser known beaches that make excellent getaways to relax and unwind. On the other end, trying out the fiery Andhra and Rayalaseema cuisine can make a foodie trip in itself.

Borra Caves Dating back a million years, the caves are big enough to accommodate a colony of high rise buildings of 10 storeys or more inside them.  It forms a network of caves at 3 heights. The stalactites still remain and form beautiful textures. The stalagmites are fewer in comparison. The paths are lit in beautiful fluorescent colours that add a dramatic effect and the railings see to it that the overwhelming crowd does not harm the beauty of the place.

The huts near the caves serve delicious food are not to be missed.

Borra caves are situated near the famous Araku valley which dons a brilliant yellow, filled with mustard flowers post the monsoons. The best way to reach the valley and proceed from there to the Borra caves is through the toy train from Vizag to Araku that runs every day around 7 in the morning.

Papi Kondalu Papi Kondalu is the Godavari river flowing amidst the verdant Papi hills. The name is funny considering the beauty and serenity of the place. It is far from being sinful. Bhadrachalam is upstream from Papi Kondalu and is believed to be the place where Sita was abducted by the Rakshasa king Ravana. Fiber glass statues of Ram, Sita and Ravana installed at the site where the incident is supposed to have happened recount the story of the Ramayana and offer tourists a chance to get themselves clicked in outdoor studio like settings.

The boat rides from Rajahmundry to Bhadrachalam through the beautiful Papi hills are another thing to be experienced. Boat rides are filled with locals charged up with religious fervour. Religious songs play at full volume on the jetty.

If the 8 hour boat ride from Rajahmundry feels too long, the less popular boat ride from Bhadrachalam which finishes in 4 is another option. The jetties stack up ashore for lunch, and lunch is to be had on the sandy beaches of the island Kolluru. Kolluru also has basic bamboo huts without electricity for a night halt.

However the beauty of this place may be timed. With the completion of the Polavaram project, the Kolluru island with numerous other villages will be submerged under water.

Gandikota Quite resembling the Grand Canyon of the US, the district of Kadapa has its very own Gandikota. The name came from the word ‘Gandi’ meaning gorge in Telugu. The river Pennar flows between massive quartzite boulders and forms a spectacular sight for visitors and presents a challenge for rock climbers.

The fort has a perimeter of 5 kilometres and has a temple, a mosque and a granary that has now been converted to the Traveller’s bungalow. Kottalapalle, a village in the southwest of Gandikota offers a breathtaking view of the fort.

Gandikota is connected by road to Kadapa (77 kms from Gandikota) and other metro cities (Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore). The nearest railway station is also at Kadapa.

Lepakshi – Lepakshi is the lesser known cousin of Hampi. The temple dates back to the Vijayanagara kingdom but this solitary temple sees less influx of tourists, and hardly any in comparison to Hampi. Extensive paintings adorn the walls but time has borne its brunt and the images are fast fading.

A belief states that as the commander-in-chief of the Vijayanagara dynasty got to know about the king’s mistrust, he clawed out his eyeballs and threw them angrily on the wall. The blood stains are still visible.

Lepakshi is not connected to the major cities by bus or train. The closest major town is Hindupur (120 kms  from Bangalore) from where 6 seater autos or the occasional bus will take you to Lepakshi over potholes filled road. Apart from the temple, another major attraction is the Nandi statue near the bus station. The washing of the statue makes a delightful sight every day.

Kona Seema It is the extremely fertile region formed by the delta of Godavari. The scenic beauty of this place makes it a relaxing getaway. The island has a number of mangrove trees apart from coconut, mango, etc. that lie along the numerous canals and backwaters. Numerous birds make the mangroves their homes. The light house situated amongst the mangroves is an attraction and can be reached only by boat.

Konaseema is connected by road to cities like Vishakhapatnam and Warangal through a single bridge that connects it to mainland.

Maredumilli If architecture and temples do not interest you and you would rather spend time amidst nature, head to Maredumilli instead. Set amidst dense Maredumilli forests, there is more than one thing to do for the nature lovers. Nandanavanam Ethno Medical Awareness Centre  has plants brought in from Western ghats and Orissa and intends to make visitors aware of their benefits. Maredumili’s best attraction is the Jungle Star Camp Site. Surrounded by the Valumuru stream on 3 sides, it offers a unique chance to explore the deep woods of Eastern Ghats. Sighting of tribals out hunting with bows and arrows here is not uncommon.

Maredumili is situated 80 km from Rajahmundry on Bhadrachalam road. The roads are scenic and pass through lush bamboo forests. If you are a non-vegetarian do not miss the signature dish Bamboo chicken of the tribals of the region. Bamboo chicken is an oil free delicious preparation and is found on road-side joints that are often an extension of the houses of the locals.

Belum (Kurnool) It is the largest cave in the country after the Meghalaya caves. Similar to the Borra caves, the Belum caves are full of stalactites and stalagmites and the cave itself has been carved by forces of water over years. Of the 3.5 kms length of caves, only 1.5 kms is open to the public. Inside the cave, a perennial stream flows through it. Relics of Buddhist monks have been found in the cave. The stalactites are not just visually appealing, but some also produce pleasant notes when hit with wooden stick or bare knuckles.

Andhra Pradesh is formed by the Telengana, coastal Andhra and the rocky Rayalaseema regions,  Telugu binding them together.  Whether the state will remain united, or be separated into the states Telengana and Andhra remains yet to be decided by the government and the strategists. Until then,  the next time you make a trip to the fourth largest state in the country, be sure to have enough time on hand to explore the flavours of them all.

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