Belum -> Gandikota -> Alampur -> Yaganti
Belum and Gandikota have been on Anand and my to-visit list since a long time. But the places were hot ,and thanks to multiple rounds of viral fever we hadn’t moved a muscle all of November. Before the summer made its presence felt, we decided to visit them this weekend.
We head off at around 7:30 am and stopped for breakfast at a charming place for alu paratha for myself ,achari paratha and lassi for Anand, both of which made our tummies happy. We continued on the 5.5 hour journey to reach the Belum caves. On our way, we passed by this region where there was a complete surplus of the Kadapa tiles we use to make our platforms in kitchens. Houses here used them in lieu of bricks and actually,oblivious to their value to us,painted over them! We would have considered ourselves rich to be able to do so and loved the textured look of the stones by themselves. All along the way, there were endless piles of leftovers from the bigger pieces, that I was convinced was sufficient to texture walls of a few hundred homes. We paused a while to buy something interestingly packed. Turned out it was a palm fruit that was always welcome in the hot weather. We passed by Tadipatri that was our planned stay for the night. However, the place didn’t seem to have any seemingly decent hotels as we passed by them.
We finally got to Belum and promptly picked up our tickets. Despite the notice to only enter with helmets and the guide, both were prominently absent. This one person, also the ticket checker who volunteered to be the ‘guide’ was the only one around who pointed at things inside the cave. Later, I noticed a line on the ticket that said each ticket was also insured, though it’s uncertain if the insurance company would pay up considering we didn’t have helmets on.
The cave itself was quite intriguing. It was supposedly formed due to erosion in limestone deposits in the area by Chitravati River, millions of years ago. The paths through high and low parts of it led us to believe we were some new age versions of Indiana Jones rather than a couple of IT engineers with a DSLR and flip-flops.
It was the one place I had a smug expression throughout at being shorter, while A had a harder time bending and crawling through some of the areas reached only via small openings. It was also quite warm but not unbearable, and there were several ‘pipes’ to allow for ventilation inside. We were grateful for the cool breeze through them at intervals. The lights throughout allow an appreciation of the nooks and crannies and the various textures of the walls of the caves and the stalactites and stalagmites.
The discoverers have named the areas with some imagination after banyan trees, a crore-lingas , lion’s mouth, thousand (snake)hoods to name a few. The artificial fountain was a distraction but placed there understandably so folks would have a photo-op. Instead, the pathalaganga accessible via a very narrow curved staircase was a tiny pond but yet interesting and had potential for coin-gathering that people weren’t supposed to throw there in the first place. I also liked the hall at the entrance that was lit up naturally with a bright view of the sky.
It was fun to be pointed to different areas and informed that we were right below the neighbouring field, the parking lot with our car etc. We emerged after it all pleased but also sweaty and very hungry.
We were directed to the small eatery opposite the place and had a meal of egg fried rice for Anand, and chicken curry and rice for me. My meal was delicious but his was essentially chilly powder, rice and eggs mixed. We also saw a school bus enter the spot with a banner saying “Trip to Yaganti and Belum”.We looked Yaganti up and it did look pleasant. I thought maybe it was a sign for us to check it out! The hotel owner was worried seeing I’d finished only half my share of rice (which was still a lot for me) and offered perugu. We were both quite full, however, and in no mood to eat something else, so declined. Anand had been trying to use google translate on his phone to clarify cost and check what items were available. As we crossed the road he looked up perugu only to realise it was his all-time-favorite-item in the world, yoghurt Given a choice, he’d have made a whole meal of just that. With a word that wouldn’t be forgotten again and a reaffirmation of the importance of language skills, we made our way to Gandikota.
A drive of just more than an hour later, we reached the fort. We parked outside, only to realise the path inside the fort was wide enough for a car to pass through, so we did just that. There was also a village right inside the fort with its chickens and goats all over the place.
We finally got to the first view of the place inside, that of a mosque. We entered and it was a calm, wide space with the main mosque surrounded by a lawn. The place was made fragrant by the flowers of the tree jasmine.
Beside the mosque was a granary that was unfortunately locked up, it was made with warm rust-colored huge blocks of stones used in place of bricks. A few minutes there and then we headed to the next structure, a temple of Ranganathaswamy.
From this temple, we could see in the backdrop of the mosque, yet another temple a little away.We then went on ahead and finally saw the view we had come there for.
The beautiful canyon with the peaceful Pennar river breaking up the Erramala range of hills. It was a breathtaking view. Anand and I decided to do some climbing and clambered up the rocks for a vantage view of the surroundings. It was entirely worth it. The gentle breeze, the water and the warm red rocks around, made it the perfect place to sit down with a book all evening or just revel in the majesty of the surroundings. We relaxed for a while and thoroughly enjoy it.
We saw people on the other side of the canyon but weren’t sure how far it was or if there was a proper route to the other side. Instead, we decided to walk around near the fort walls on our side, passing by thorny bushes and plenty of goat poop everywhere. The view from there, however, was mostly blocked by vegetation and we headed back to the entrance. We bought some jujube fruit to munch on from an old lady and went back to our vehicle to return since A had some errands he wanted to complete the next day. We just went a half km away and much to my delight he decided to stay back instead of pushing our luck and driving with bad visibility and glaring highlights to reach Bangalore after midnight. We first went to the other temple that we had seen in the backdrop of the mosque.
This one was a Madhavaraya temple and was reminiscent of the Virupaksha temple’s entrance in Hampi. The structure was interesting in that it had an area like a space for a dance performance also within the temple, which we had only seen in one temple in Hampi before. I sat on one of the stones around and made my notes while Mr.Photographer walked around leisurely doing his thing. A young lady then came over and had a chat with me, in Telugu. My Telugu speaking skills have been dismal though I can understand the language a bit. A very sweet soul she was and after a while, I bid her goodbye. Next to the temple itself was an old, deep ‘royal pond’ too.
Despite seeing online that the APTDC hotel was booked full, we decided to try our luck and check it out to stay for the night. It was fruitless, though. Since Tadipatri didn’t seem promising we decided to drive down to Kurnool so we could see a couple more places before we returned to Bangalore the next day. On our way back, when we looked up the place, we realised that there were more interesting points within Gandikota , “another large granary, an old cannon, a magazine, a graceful ‘pigeon tower’ with fretted windows and an extensive palace built by bricks with some plastered decorations and some wells”. However, there were no boards or directions at the location itself so we figured we’ll probably have to investigate that some other time.
After a gaffe by the website for an online hotel booking and a 100 phone calls to make sure we were not charged for it(as we passed through areas with pathetic network ) , we finally managed a room booking. We followed our map and reached exhausted only to realise the hotel entrance was grand and imposing [We tend to book budget accommodation during travel]. After checking in, we were escorted in a beautiful lift (and I’ve never called a lift beautiful before) and came out of it only realise we weren’t done. The bell boy proceeded to guide us further ahead through a corridor and then out through a wedding hall! Not outside the door of a wedding hall but ‘through’ it. Another modest lift and some more walking later, we reached our room in a separate section of the hotel. Despite the confusing experience of getting there, the room itself was flawless. It made us so grateful to have a warm comfy place at the end of driving all day. We ordered our dinner and after a little confusion over the phulkas fell asleep before we knew it.