1 day trip

A fort tale: Penukonda and Gudibande

Some days you don’t plan to wake up bright and early and but instead start the day slower, even if you plan a trip. One one such day we headed out with Anand’s brother to find Penukonda fort. If you think of visiting a fort, the monsoons are always lovely, the greenery amidst the resolute ruins make up for a pretty contrast – add to it a little drizzle and it’s easy to find the perfect experience.

 

Note: Pick up lunch when you visit this place, there is absolutely nothing nearby that even looks like a restaurant.

You may find chips and soda in small stores but definitely not a meal.

 

And so off we went, we picked up some parathas for lunch and headed towards the Penukonda fort– a drive of about 2.5 hours. Just following maps we reached the entrance of the fort, through the small roads of the village inside of it. At one point we saw a board announcing Gagan Mahal – but the maps pointed us in the opposite direction. Following it, we reached a village road that was a dead end and villagers who kept saying we were in the fort (and they were right), but we had not researched it and didn’t know what else to ask for.

 

Lesson 1: Follow the board and not google maps towards the last turn.

 

So we took the only option left, headed back to the direction towards Gagan Mahal. Its structure is in striking white that’s almost hard to look at in the mid-day sun reflecting all the light it can. It looked well maintained but had a closed gate.We had learnt our lesson from Bidar and got out of the car and walked towards the gate only to have the caretaker come over.

IMG_1219

Lesson 2: Don’t let a locked gate deter you. Many places have very few tourists and the caretakers often lock up the gates though they hang around nearby. Show some interest and wait for a while and they will most probably show up.

 

It had narrow passages and spacious halls with several arches both on the ground level and above. From the terrace, one could have a view of the village inside the fort. Gagan Mahal was the Summer Palace of the kings of the Vijayanagara empire. The windows above allow for a place to sit and watch the people and the rocky hill in the distance.Around the palace, the Archaeology Department has installed the stone sculptures found in the region in an outdoor museum of sorts.

IMG_1232.jpg

Once done with this, all of us were starving and in the absence of any directions/boards, went to the very end of the road in front of Gagan Mahal. We found a stone bench where we finished every last trace of our packed lunch while wishing we had packed some more of it! At that point through a passageway is a small temple and further down the path we come to what could be a very large lake bordered by the fort walls if it had any water but it was utterly dry despite it being July. On the other side of it was a small park maintained by the local authorities and nothing much else.

IMG_1249.jpg

Disappointed that we’d made the long trip for nothing, we headed back. At this point, I looked up Penukonda and realised the village was supposed to have 365 temples in it! On the way back we decided to stop at the first temple we saw and as deceptively simple as it looked from the road, there turned out to be a group of temples there with the backdrop of a small hill. IMG_1255.jpgOne of the temples being a Rama temple where supposedly Rama and Lakshmana stopped on their way to Lanka. All of the temples were closed but we could peep into some of the larger halls even from the closed doors.In the centre, one would find a bunch of stone sculptures placed atop a platform like a central area to pray to the whole bunch of deities.

 

IMG_1259

Just as we were about to leave, we noticed a small pathway with a series of boards. We went ahead to see it and the first one said “Thimmarasu Jail“. It says jail but it’s quite a small structure. Legend has it that the king Krishnadevaraya got his loyal minister, Thimmarasu arrested and blinded under suspicion of him having poisoned his young son. Later at the culprit being proven to be the king of Orissa, Thimmarasu was released by the repentant king but spent the rest of his life in Tirupati in poverty, refusing any help from him. The inside of this jail is simple but with multiple arches making up the ceiling.

IMG_1271.jpg

Besides this is a water tank that’s quite small and makes us wonder what it was used for.

IMG_1281.jpg

A few steps ahead is what we thought was a temple but was only the external structure without any idols/prayer area inside. Nevertheless, it sported a tall gopura, the top half of which seemed renovated.

IMG_1288

The next board was to the Basavanna well that was for us the definite highlight of this place. Walk through the statue of the bull, climb down through the path between the stone walls and you’d encounter a lovely old stepped well with sculptures of different deities carved on its wall. While it had no water it was quite a charming find.

IMG_1298

Just behind it is a small Jain temple, that also looked renovated. The priest told us that the local temples were in different states of maintenance depending on who had decided to sponsor them.

IMG_1325.jpg

Note : there is possibly more to see in Penukonda, however, there is not much literature available online nor are there any boards/notices to know where to head next. While we weren’t sure what else we could have done to explore more, it may be worth a try if you visit.

 

We next headed to the Gudibande fort– a fort created by a chieftain called Byregowda who was the Robin Hood of his time taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Like most forts, it has a series of steps to the top. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the top. IMG_1328This fort has changed many hands across kings and rulers and is one of the oldest hill forts in Andhra Pradesh.

 

IMG_1362.jpg

Just before we reach the top one would find a small catchment of water. There were young boys on a family trip merrily jumping into the water and having a whale of a time. Apparently, these ponds were to harvest rain water and though not too huge in size, definitely seemed to be doing their jobs well.

IMG_1367.jpg

At the top is a small Shiva temple and a couple of recent structures. In front of the Shiva temple is a tower on which one of the easy to miss images is that of the devotee Bedara Kannappa gouging his eyes as an offering to Lord Shiva.IMG_1400.jpg

 

The best part of the fort was that right at the top, it’s incredibly windy – so much that your phone is wavy in the wind and it’s hard to take a picture. One instantly feels ones at a hill station of sorts. It’s a charming place to just sit down on the rocks and enjoy the view of the turrets atop the fort, the colourful houses and the weather.

IMG_1388.jpg

An older gentleman came up to me and told me that there was a lot more to see in the fort. However, I couldn’t completely understand him, though he mentioned there was yet another pool of sorts atop the mountain supposedly at a more discreet place for the women to have their baths during the times of occupancy of the fort. We went to find it and crawling inside a tiny passageway managed to reach the hidden water spot too.

 

From atop the fort, one can see a large lake that we decided to stop at before we made our way to Bangalore because we do love a good water spot. It’s called Bhairasagara lake. And this as it happened, it is definitely a picturesque spot to end the trip watching birds go by and the gentle ripples in the water reflecting the cloudy evening sky.

IMG_1431.jpg

1 day trip

All in one day: A little bit of Andhra Pradesh and a little of Karnataka

We started off around 7AM (we’d recommend you start earlier if feasible) and after breakfast headed straight to the Lepakshi temple in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh. Anand and I had both been here multiple times but didn’t mind re-visiting it with the family and we did find some scenes we’d missed before. Much of this temple is cut off of a low rocky hill. Just as one enters the temple are corridors all around, presumably to let pilgrims rest. There is much to see in the temple area but the pillars are a favourite- they have large sculptures of beautiful figures on many pillars there.

IMG_0003.jpg

When inside don’t miss looking up, for there are detailed murals of people on the ceiling – some looking like mongoloid traders and others like bedecked courtesans of the times gone by in green, red, gold and black. They are meant to be murals depicting the wedding of Shiva and Parvati.

IMG_0021.jpg

The area ahead of the main shrine is the dance hall and has life size carvings of celestial beings, musicians, and dancers on the pillars. It was, for me, the most beautiful area of the temple.IMG_0011.jpg

In the main structure itself, there is one pillar that seems to be hanging without being locked on to the ground. It’s easy to miss since it is one of the simpler pillars with no specific identification. However, if you hire a guide he/she will probably take you there and slip a paper under the pillar to prove it to you.

Around the main structure in the temple are several interesting sights including small shrines. One is a huge rock with a coiled 7-hooded snake over a linga, while on the other side of the same rock is a carved out Ganapati. 

 

IMG_0027
The most popular spot in Lepakshi
IMG_0044

 

The kalyana mantapa is currently simply a mass of pillars over a raised platform but could have made quite a lovely sight in its hey-day. The carvings on each pillar are supposed to represent the guests at the wedding of Shiva and Parvati.IMG_0046.jpg

 

There is a huge footprint that local legend says is of Hanuman. The area within the footprint has some perennial tiny source of water too. Beside the footprint are a few thali (plate) like imprints too, presumably to feed the big-footed folks too!

IMG_0062.jpg
The foot receiving a lot of attention

On one end of the temple is a beautiful, ancient firangi pani tree that’s simply stunning. However what one could almost miss is the tree just behind it. It has a tree with another tree starting from a higher point on its trunk.

IMG_0052

A little distance away is India’s biggest monolithic Nandi with a calm face. Near it is a small man-made lotus pond and a park around the structure. A lot of tourist places in India have a large amount of graffiti – and here for the first time every, we saw it on —-wait for it——leaves! For some reason, folks had taken to writing love notes and random initials on the leaves of a tree beside the Nandi statue. Thoroughly intriguing on who started this trend!IMG_0107.jpg

At 27ft in length and 15ft in height, it is a colossal structure, reputedly one of India’s biggest monolithic Nandi.

Behind the temple is the Kalyani- it is not visible and we had to go all around the place looking for it on the map. One could actually reach the kalyani from the temple premises but the door to it stays closed.

IMG_0094.jpg

We noticed a board saying “Jatayu Ghat” and decided to find the place that the map said was 0.8km away. Jatayu is the mythical bird that tried to stop Ravana from abducting Sita  in the Ramayana. We followed the map and it points to the middle of no-where. We even considered walking but there was simply nothing visible even far ahead on the plains. As it turns out, from the kalyani, there is a freshly laid road to the place called Jatayu Ghat, however, it is an extremely small structure with just one installation. It is probably however still getting excavated so it may be worth a visit a while later.

IMG_0081
This is all there is there, and a few simple stone pillars

We next headed back towards Bangalore and post lunch, visited the Bhoganandeeshwara temple there.

Note: On the straight road that leads to Nandi hills, taking a left leads you to Nandi hills and the right towards the Bhoganandeeshwara temple. Unless you’re looking for it, you may not see the board.

It is contained in a vast area. You enter into an open quadrangle with pillared avenues all around. What is impossible to miss however are the 4 gorgeous trees around the small square in the center with nagara kallu (stone images of the snake deities) and strangely a couple of small tombs. Behind the trees is a small kalyani(stepped temple pond).

IMG_0130.jpg
A lovely place to relax amidst the trees

At one end is a Mahanavami dibba in ruins where the king would presumably look over the celebrations during festivals.

 

IMG_0228.jpg
Mahanavami dibba

Just ahead of the sanctum sanctorum is an idol of the king Rajendra Chola also present amidst the various other carvings.The pillars in front of the sanctum sanctorum have very intricate work on deep black stones, especially intriguing are the intricate carvings of many small birds hollowed out of the stone.

IMG_0134.jpg
One could get lost in these details

There are different areas in the temple as you wander around. The Kalyana Mantapa(to conduct weddings), the Thulabhara mantapa (where you weigh yourself against an offering which is then given as a donation to the temple),  a small well, another Nagara kallu inside the temple. The Kalyana Mantapa has the most delightful carvings in the premises in rich black soapstone.

 

IMG_0200
Drama in every pillar

The Nagara kallu is always the same everywhere- 3 stones, all of similar sizes, one with 2 snakes entwined, one with the Snake god, and another with a single large snake. There are 3 shrines also each for the deities: Girijamba, Apita Kuchalamba, Kamateshwara. The Shiva-Parvati wedding seems to be the running theme during this trip with the carvings here too depicting them.

IMG_0195

Tip: Carry a pair of socks when entering the temple, the ground is insanely hot during the day and you will burn your feet if not walking in the area that’s not covered by the shadow of the structure.IMG_0185We’d recommend you leisurely admire the details of the sculptures in all their glory to truly make the best of the experience. There are innumerable deities and details to feast your eyes on- from bedecked dancers, strong demons, Ganesha carrying Goddess Lakshmi, Shiva as the dancing Nataraja to Narasimha tearing apart Hiranyakashyap.

By far, the most popular view of this temple is that of the Shringi Thirtha which is the main kalyani inside the temple premises, and with good reason. It’s a picturesque location that’s an oasis of calm where you want to just sit by the water dipping your toes in while watching the 2 turtles and the fish in the small pond that’s supposed to flow into the South Pennar river.

IMG_0215.jpg

Note: the doors to the Shringi Thirtha close at 5 pm even when there’s sufficient daylight and the rest of the temple is open. So get there any later and you may miss this part of the temple.

We headed from here to Nandi hills hoping to catch the sunset. However, we had picked a cloudy day. Nevertheless, it is always a lovely place to catch up with some oxygen and cooler weather amidst the generous cover of greenery and gardens. We wandered around to the viewpoints that had the crowds, feasted on ice candies and walked to the back of the Yoga Nandeeshwara temple and the view of the city from there. The Yoga Nandeeshwara temple refers to the other life stage of Shiva – the older stage of his life. It too has a small kalyani and is less detailed compared to the Bhoga Nandeeshwara temple.IMG_0256

We also noticed a board pointing to the point of origin of the Arkavati river and headed there. It’s significantly underwhelming with just a puddle at this point and not in the best condition either.

 

IMG_0279
Very missable puddle 

Nandi hills by itself has many things to see as you wander around, however, since we had reached in the evening there wasn’t enough time to really make the best of the place. However after a gratifying walk through one of the many tree-lined paths we decided to call it a day and headed back to dinner and home.IMG_0274

Tip: if you still have daylight you can visit the Devanahalli fort, also known as the Tipu fort. It is admittedly a small area with the fort remains that house a village. However, it is the place of the king Tipu Sultan’s birth so it has some historical value.

4 day trip

Andhra : A short heat respite and a suspicious gate-keeper

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely Capturehills

Continued from here

Day 4 :

It was our last day at Andhra Pradesh and we had a drive of 2 hours via marvellously empty roads for most of it. On the way, we stopped by some people selling honey since Anand wanted to buy honeycomb from them. The language translation app promptly failed to translate what we had to say, but I managed to show them a picture of the honeycomb on my phone. They insisted that the honey came from it and that it was what they were selling. The lady even inserted a lit matchstick into the honey to prove its genuineness. After a while of both of us failing to communicate, Anand went over to see the honeycomb itself that they actually happened to have with them. The lady came to me and then insisted that the communication failure was desperate and then to our shock switched to Hindi asking us if we spoke the language. Much to everyone’s amusement, we did and bought 2 small pieces of honeycomb and continued on our way after sharing some biscuits with them.

After that little incident, we drove further on and finally reached Gurramkonda fort. I thought the name was funny. Also, I was looking forward to the huge staircase leading to it and eager to explore the place for other interesting nooks. We were welcomed by a kingfisher right at the entrance and Anand stopped to take pictures of it while I walked on ahead. There was just one person who seemed to be the caretaker who followed me in at a distance. There were a bunch of young boys there and assuming I didn’t know the language at all, continued a conversation on how to reach out to me and ask for my name [at the least]. By now, the caretaker promptly decided to stand by the side and watch. Anand joined me and the caretaker then was quickly alert insisting that he couldn’t take photos with his camera there, while the rest of the folks there were clicking away. Apparently, cameras on phones were ok! The confusing rule meant that you could only have poorer quality images of the place but clear pictures were simply not ok. We figured he was confused that it was a video camera and told him it wasn’t one. Then went on to ask for someone else we could speak to, and that gentleman also insisted on a call that cameras even for photos weren’t allowed. Siddhavatam fort had asked for a fee with a receipt provided but apparently, even that just wouldn’t do.

By now, the caretaker was quite annoyed with us and insisted we do not go anywhere other than the main building itself. Even though the group of guys had just gone ahead. Overall irritated, we tried to still leave the place without letting the experience ruin the place for us. So we went ahead to the other side, happened to a ruined small structure and a humongous well, and headed to our next spot.

img20161101101857
The lovely stairs at Gurramkonda fort

If there’s anyone who could figure out for us, please do:

  1. Is it privately owned property?
  2. Why the rule about cameras not allowed but phone cameras being allowed?
  3. Why there are no boards around about this ban?
  4. What else is worth seeing there other than the building itself? There was a passage uphill to what was a temple(?) but it seemed purely for groups of guys only 😉

    img20161101103600
    The 3-storeys of the building clearly visible from behind it

Our next stop was Horsely hills, “the Ooty of Andhra Pradesh”. We had to admit it was significantly cooler than any place we had been in the last few days. The route to it was also scenic and filled with greenery.img20161101112805 Though it was only 11 30 we were quite hungry post our early breakfast and interestingly there was no place to have a meal! There was just one small shop selling chips and soft drinks and the only “open” restaurant said they’d take open only at 1PM. We picked some snacks and then decided to walk around the area. There was an animal complex with random birds and a couple of crocodiles, separately of course. There was a Manasa Sarovar- “the only natural water source there” but that was dry too. The Nature study centre had a few exhibits of animal taxidermy, snakeskins and trivia about the flora and fauna of the region. img_4515Overall the place had nothing breathtaking but is probably a nice place to bring a book and your own food to spend the day or even come with a group AND food to relax there. At 1 PM, however, the restaurant staff told us they’d only start taking orders at 1:30pm and we decided our stomachs deserved better. We drove ahead and at a petrol bunk staff’s recommendation finally had a modest meal at a newly opened restaurant on our way back.

And there ended our trip with more highs than lows and an opportunity to look back in wonder at its sights and scenes. What will stay with us other than the grandeur of Sidhhavatam is probably the magic of Pulicat that we were lucky to witness.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Up next: A different country, a personal favorite of mine

4 day trip

Andhra : Nail-biting adventures and new favourite places

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely hillsCapture

Continued from here

Day 3 :

We woke up to the sound of the conch shell from the Vontimitta temple. We freshened up and headed off for another round of camera work there and had some of the pongal they were distributing as prasad. After breakfast our next stop was Nandalur. We’d read it had remnants of an old Buddhist site.

We followed maps and reached a place with an extremely rusted gate that led to a path overgrown with thorny plants on either side. In a moment of bravado, and a scene befitting a horror movie with stupid explorers, we continued in, almost expecting the gate to close behind us at any minute. The path ended at a grave like that in a dargah, wrapped with chadar . There were steps with a hand rail that led uphill too, but visibility to the top was not very good due to the shrubs everywhere. The place was completely deserted, the only sign of life nearby were the small rice fields around it.

IMG_4209.CR2.jpg

Just a few steps up were 2 caves, both very dark and filled with bats so we chose not to enter. Some way up and we saw the promised stupas.

IMG_4193.CR2.jpg
Can you see them?

It was very hot by then and I chose not to climb up but Anand did. From the top, we had a view of what would have been the Cheyyeru river but was completely dried up and so looked more like a distant desert.

IMG20161031094502.jpg
Desert or river?

While I waited, an older gentleman came climbing up from the other side of the site, perhaps from the fields below, probably thinking we were lost. He started a conversation with me but I had to tell him I was pretty useless in the Telugu department. Disappointed he waited for Anand to come down but met with the same fate there too. There had been nothing more to see from atop than a larger area than what I had seen. “Arming” me with a pen-knife for my safety (?) Anand went on ahead following the hand-rail. However, that too seemed like a never-ending path with no clear boards and so he returned in a short while.

We next headed back into civilisation and the Sri Sowmyanatha Swamy temple. The temple was functional and at first glance, looked quite huge too. It also had a small pond in front of the temple. Unfortunately, it was also a place where we were severely visually appraised despite being completely covered in appropriate clothes. The devotees also took it upon themselves to insist we do not take any pictures in the temple, even of the pillars and walls, despite no sign stating so.  It is supposedly a temple with interesting architectural and mythological details, however, we were turned off by the cold stares of the people to really enjoy it. We sat a while at the temple pond beside a mum feeding her child the prasad and then headed out.

IMG_4235.CR2.jpg

From here we went on to the place called Sidhout fort, that we’d seen in a picture hung up in our previous hotel. However, I preferred the local name Sidhhavatam instead. We could view the fort even from the bridge on our way towards it. We loved it right from the get-go. It lies on the banks of the Penna river. Since we noticed a board just before getting there, we drove ahead to what was the Lankamalla sanctuary/reserve forest. Though understandably because of the traffic through it, there were no animals or birds visible, it was a pleasant drive after which we returned to explore the fort itself.

Right beside the entrance was a small rice field that had a bird making a point sitting right on the scarecrow.

IMG_4260.CR2.jpg
Cheeky fellow

It was hot but we were lucky that it drizzled twice while we were there, reducing the temperatures to pleasant levels.

img_4346
Can you see the approaching rains?

There are 2 entrances to the fort and both of them had beautiful work on their halls and pillars.

img_4275-cr2

The fort itself houses multiple temples, mosques, Hindu and Muslim burial places and interesting little structures in various levels of ruin.img_4322-cr2 One, I decided, must have been a charming little area to store potions or makeup!

img_1085

Beside the mosque is a house where they sell soft drinks and snacks. This is the only place inside or around the fort with anything to eat/drink at all.

img_4336-cr2
The sun and the moon, all at once..

A couple of meters ahead from here is a small narrow passage with steps leading right to the Penna river! That was quite the little treat to come out to the river and dip our toes into its calm waves so easily.

IMG_1089.jpg
A tiny stairway led us here!

The fort has vast lawns the allow for children to have a fun time playing there. We were the only non-locals around. IMG_4410.JPGThis place had so much to explore, admire and learn from that we could have easily spent the day here if we had food along. img_4277-cr2It has very surely been added to the list of our most favourite places.img_4307-cr2

Tip: carry water, wear comfortable shoes and have a hat/scarf to protect your head from the sun. Give this place enough time to enjoy its little treasures. Also, you may have couples canoodling at various locations inside so you may want to make yourself heard to avoid mutual awkwardness 😀 Sometimes a loud voice like mine is a gift.

img_4311-cr2
He seems shocked.

We next headed to Pushpagiri to see the temple by the river. We love rivers and so this was something we couldn’t miss. We checked-in to the AP tourism hotel at Kadapa and then left from there following maps. However, when we reached the end of the road, we realised that what we wanted to see was right there, but on the other side of the river!

img_4440
So near, yet so far

There were a couple of temples on the side we had reached but I instantly lost interest in them in my longing to go to the other temple instead.

img_4452
The Pushpagiri group of temples are quite lovely, except to an impatient lady

Tip : Search for Chennakeshava temple in Pushpagiri when you try to go here. Looking for just Pushpagiri will lead us to where we had reached.

It was already 5:30pm by this time and we had to go quickly to the other side by going all the way back to the highway and then going on a parallel road to that we had come on. The route was 13km long and we were worried if we’d get there before dark to be able to enjoy the temple and more importantly the sunset on the river.

On the edge of our seats, we drove on but the situation had decided to turn as dramatic as possible. First, a rickety auto decided to block the narrow road by going as slow as it could for most of the route- the kids seated at the back decided to also judgmentally snicker at our poor car that was still awash with slush from the Pulicat lake. Next, a pair of buffalos decided that the best place to mate was just ahead of our car on the road. And after that, a rooster jumped right on top of the car while the villagers laughed out at the scene to their heart’s content before getting it off . By now, a cow decided she was in love with Anand and insisted on kissing him throw the car window. After that series of comical moments, we finally got to the temple but daylight was fading.

Anand stayed back to take photos of the temple while I rushed in, completely ignoring the devotees, the priests, and the idol, running directly to the back of the temple and the river. And there it was, worth it all, a beautiful evening scene with everything we had hoped it’d be. By the time Anand joined, the sky had turned a delightful shade of pink that was eagerly reflected in the placid river.

img_4489
Sigh!

A few people were performing a pooja on one side and letting into the water, small lamps in containers made with leaves stitched together by sticks. Yet again, we seemed to be the only tourists around. We sat by the water watching people, the river, the sky and truly absorbing the perfection of the moment. We were the last people to see the curtains closed on the idol in the temple, but well, we weren’t complaining.

 

img_4457
Chennakeshava temple

 

 

We headed out as it had gotten quite dark and it wasn’t a very well lit place. Just as we drove off and looked at the river one last time, our last view of the place was that of a single oil lamp floating away in the river alongside us on the road. Now if that’s not a great Diwali, I don’t know what is. 🙂

 

Coming up next : The Ooty of Andhra Pradesh and some not-so-welcoming places

4 day trip

Andhra : Of flamingoes and monkeys

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely Capturehills

Continued from here

Day 2 :

We had read up online tips to go early to Pulicat lake, so skipping breakfast that’s what we did. On the way were rice fields everywhere we looked and we also saw a guy cycling with one hand on the handle bar and an open tray of eggs in the other- one must truly travel to see such wonders!

img20161031163934
Oh how the green soothes our city-weary eyes

There is a tourist information centre that we entered. Most of the small rooms there seemed locked. We walked on ahead and an old man came hobbling towards us to open it up for us. We got our knowledge download about the various flora and fauna in the region but he also informed us that there were no flamingoes there yet. Heart-broken we decided to still explore the place since it was beautiful. The road to Sriharikota [If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the launchpad for India’s satellites] passes right in between the huge lake which is the 2nd largest lagoon in India. For some reason, the birds all show a decided preference for one side of the lake. Most travel bloggers had reached the place from Chennai and we hadn’t been able to find details of the route from Andhra Pradesh.

img_0975
Worth the visit even if just for the road and the lagoon

The lake itself is calm and lovely and would have made a nice day trip by itself. Just a little way in we begin to see spotted pelicans, egrets, and herons in plenty. Cormorants also made an occasional appearance. It was a pleasant way to spend time just watching them standing in the water, their reflections perfectly mimicking them in the clear surface, taking flight in flocks and completely ignoring us.

img_3858-cr2img_3894-cr2

Anand, however, was distraught at the lack of flamingoes, the key reason why we had changed our entire trip plan to include Pulicat lake. We saw a mud road that we had ignored earlier, a diversion from the tourist information centre,  and decided to check it out. It was quite slushy with plenty of potholes and passing buses that generously and violently splattered the bright red mud on our car. After going for a while and seeing nothing, we headed back disappointed.

img_0984
This is a sample of what the road will do to your car- and it wasn’t even the monsoons

As we joined the road again, Anand pointed to a flock of birds in the distance asking if they looked like flamingoes. They were too far off and we had to use his camera to see them at all. And there they were 🙂 Our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They were too far off, though, and we had no idea of the route we had to take to get to them! The only option was to take the mud road yet again.. And so we went.

We first happened on a flock of birds/young ones of birds. After a long while, we actually did see flamingoes very far off. We headed back and took a small sandy deviation through the vegetation and there they were. Still far but closer than our other views of them- the greater flamingoes. Anand waded through the waterlogged area to take a few pictures to make the whole journey worthwhile.

IMG_3969.CR2.jpg
The dots across the picture are dragonflies who wanted in on the action

Tip : Stay in your vehicle if taking pictures. Somehow they moved away when we walked towards them silently but seemed to have gotten used to the sound of vehicles passing by. Eat before you get here. There is no food around, not even snacks nor water. Interestingly the only thing nearby is a shady wine store. Also, the lake is beautiful but the mud by its side is not seating-friendly. So a picnic, if any will have to be while seated in your vehicle.

Satiated we headed off to the Vontimitta temple, a 4-hour drive, some of it through the ghat section where I drove a while too. Even from outside we could see it was a beautiful old temple. Perhaps since we reached in the evening, there was a lady singing in the temple accompanied by musicians.  The temple had lovely pillars with intricate carvings or beautiful women and ferocious creatures.img_1012

Considering we were the only tourists, the security guard even enquired if we were from the “department”. It was bigger than an average temple and it seemed like it does get crowded at some events since there were arrangements made for queue management too. IMG_4155.CR2.jpgThe place had monkeys in plenty and they frequently alternated between being menacing while trying to pull my notebook and being delightful when jumping across the flowering plants in the temple premises and munching on coconuts.

We checked into the AP tourism hotel next door. It has a brilliant view of the sunset over the Vonimitta lake with wispy white trees in the foreground, that had us captivated.

IMG_4133.CR2.jpg

In case you choose to stay here and actually know Telugu you should try explaining to the bellman there that he actually needs to help us with our luggage to then be “offered” a tip. We carried all our bags in ourselves while he walked alongside with 2 towels for us. He then demanded Rs.20. We were confused for a while after which we decided we didn’t have the language skills to explain anyway and carried on.

Later that evening, we considered taking a walk since the weather was lovely and the temple seemed somewhat lit up. However, we had forgotten for a moment that we were actually on the highway with not even a footpath to make our way walking. Just as we thought of heading back, a beautiful burst of fireworks lit up the sky and formed the backdrop for the temple. Unexpectedly perfect moments like these are perhaps why we travel and what brings a smile to our faces.

Coming up next: A nail-biting adventure in Andhra Pradesh

4 day trip

Andhra : Avani and Chandragiri

Avani -> Chandragiri -> Pulicat -> Vontimitta -> Nandalur -> Siddavatam -> Pushpagiri -> Gurramkonda -> Horsely hills

Capture.PNG

Day 1:

Andhra has held our fascination since our past trip when we realised it has a lot of places to explore that are not popular at all. So on a 4 day holiday, we decided to use it as a chance to discover what it holds.

Just as we started off on the road, we noticed a signboard by Karnataka tourism to Avani. We took a detour to check it out. It’s a small group of temples with no visitors other than ourselves .

IMG_3701.JPG
Perfect to be alone with your thoughts

The only other people around were the caretakers. The places houses a group of small temples, each having mostly lingas in the names of not-so-frequently seen characters from the Ramayana in addition to Rama, of course. Shatrughaneshwara, Lakshmaneshwara, Vali and Sugriva, Bharatheshwara – there are lingas supposedly installed by each of them to make up for the sin of fighting against Lava and Kusha without knowing of their being related to them. There’s also a small temple for Sita too with a very pretty Ganesha idol sculpted on one of the pillars in there. As typical, each of the temples with the linga also has a Nandi facing it. One of the temples had a fine ceiling.

IMG_0929.jpg

This group of temples has a rocky hill making up its backdrop.And atop it is said to be one of the few temples dedicated to Sita and a couple of other temples. Lava and Kusha were supposedly born there.  We decided to come back for it some other time since we had quite a distance to cover and it looked like small trek that would probably be better earlier in the day when the weather was cooler.

IMG_3718.CR2.jpg
The hill behind made a lovely backdrop to the scene

Beside the group of temples is a large temple pond that’s easy to miss because of the shrubs growing around it. But we love temple ponds, so visit it, we did.

img20161029101302
Pretty scenes

We had also seen a board to Mulbagal and we went in search of it. It was a Someshwara temple but in our opinion, its charm was lost by painting over its natural shades of stone to make it a more technicolour palette. It also had a smaller temple pond in front of the temple.

IMG20161029105623.jpg
The one I skipped

We got back on the main route towards the Chandragiri fort while munching on some sweet, fresh guavas we bought from kids on the way. The route was scenic with marigold fields in brilliant shades of orange and yellow cheering us on.

Chandragiri was the place for royalty to stay when they visited Tirupati. The Raja mahal and the Rani mahal are the 2 structures you’d see as you enter the area.IMG_3803.CR2.jpg

img_3816-cr2
Seems a half-hearted attempt for the Rani, me thinks

The Raja palace houses, across multiple floors, a museum of artifacts from various historical places in Andhra Pradesh including our special favorite- Gandikota. What we found interesting were the idols of the various planets as per Indian mythology, each with its animal of choice. Apparently, Krishnadevaraya was housed in this palace till his coronation, so just as a reminder are life-size statues of him, his brothers and each of their consorts made in plaster of Paris. [Spoiler alert : he is much thinner than one may have imagined him to be.]

IMG_3773.CR2.jpg
Corridors of history

There are monkeys all over the place, one even threatening to snatch my wallet as I tried to pay the entrance fee! The place has a huge oak (?) tree and the monkeys will tease you by eating its fruit and throwing it at you. They may also pee on you from atop the tree. You have been warned. The littler ones, however, are painfully cute as they scamper around the place.img_3805-cr2

There is a small pond with pedal boats but they didn’t seem functional. There is also a sound and light show towards the evening but considering how far we were from our next pit stop we didn’t deem it worth the wait. Also, there were people exploring the area behind atop the rocky hills but with no lunch in sight yet, we didn’t have the energy to try.

We visited the small Rajarajeshwari temple with a big well near the fort too.IMG_3842.CR2.jpg

Tip : Eat a meal at whatever place you can find, however modest, BEFORE getting here. There is nothing in the surroundings, and the canteen inside the premises was closed. The place is perfect to have a packed meal.However, the monkeys will make it very hard, if not impossible to actually eat in the open.

We reached our pit stop for the night at the AP tourism hotel at Kalahasti. The food was not the best, but the rooms were decent. We played a while on the swings in the kids’ park and called it a day.

Tip : If you see “Snowfeast” ice creams, do not eat them. They were the first ice creams we have ever discarded 😐

Coming up next : What lies in store for us at the 2nd largest lagoon in the country!