Sunday, 29 September 2013

A slice of Andra Pradesh - Lepakshi, Penukonda Fort, Belum Caves & Gandikota

The undiscovered yet marvelous Andhra Pradesh!!

Having been around a few states up north, I was eager to explore our neighboring state – Andhra Pradesh, popular as the spiciest state of India. When I started planning the trip the only place I had heard was Lepakshi. Thus, this became the focal point of our journey and I built the whole trip based on searches like “Places to see around Lepakshi” “Things to do in Andhra Pradesh”. I was immensely surprised by the amount of information available on the internet about tourism in Andhra. To say the least, it was bad. I couldn't find blogs/information on places beyond Lepakshi except for a handful. It took me about a week to jot down the travel route & destinations.

Lepakshi,Penukonda Fort,Belum Caves & Gandikota were the places on our itinerary & we got ready to head out of Bangalore the coming weekend. Owing to the Telangana issue, our family was a bit worried that we had made travel plans & after some reassurance that we are going on bike, we called it a day on Friday looking forward for the sunrise.

We left our home at Girinagar by 6:00 AM on Saturday morning & headed towards Lepakshi. There are two routes to reach Lepakshi, one of them being the NH7 – we chose the Gauribidanur road since we were hoping to see some sunflower fields! By the time we reached Gauribidanur it was 8 AM & after some inquiry we barged into Krishna Bhavan at the city center for some hot breakfast. Although not a big hotel, the food was good & hot. 

The normal route from here to reach Lepakshi is to take the road to Hindupur, but through a conversation at the hotel, we learnt of a inner route which avoids the highway & thus any hindrances to our plan due to road blocks would be avoided.

Following the advice, we took the right at the RTO checkpost after Gauribidanur & rode along some scenic roads, with flower gardens making it more colourful.
We were asked to take a left after crossing a village by name: “Vatadahosahalli” which was pronounced as ‘What-those-halli’ all along the way & we could hardly hold our laughter each time we heard the name!! 

To our despair, the road condition was degrading exponentially & we rode on routes which had not seen any tar in years.
The sun was slowly glaring on us as we entered Lepakshi at 10:30. Being a small village, it is advised to carry eatables with you since we didn't find even a single restaurant in the vicinity. 

The temple lies right in the middle of the village & was absolutely peaceful since it is less frequented by tourists.

I will not venture into the trivia of the temple because I’m sure you can look it up the web anytime, so getting away from the boring stuff & into the interesting part. The temple has some nice sculptures & mural paintings which aren't in great shape but certainly photo worthy. 


















A treat to photography enthusiasts, as this temple provides ample opportunities to flex your creativity.We spent about an hour in the temple premises & started from Lepakshi after checking the huge Nandi idol about half a km away from the temple.

This time, we had to go through Hindupur to reach Penukonda- our next destination. On the highway, we took the left deviation towards Penukonda & reached the village entrance by 12:45 PM. As we headed into the village, on inquiry we were asked to go a little further to reach the Penukonda Fort. But, the route took us into the interiors of the village & reached a point from where we had to trek the hill to reach the fort. Thankfully, we met a gentleman who spoke some Kannada & guided us in the right direction.

A small courtyard on a hillock, on the way to the fort
There are two ways to reach the fort, which lies on a big hill about 4 kms from the village. Either, you can trek to the top of the hill or ride up the hill in your vehicle.

Since we were not prepared for a hike, we chose to ride our Bulla up the hill & were pleased when we saw fresh tar on the roads leading up to the fort.



Our happiness was short-lived & the road turned out to be in ruins providing us subtle hints on the state of the fort itself. There were situations where the road looked like it had just withstood an earthquake & we barely managed to get through. I had to walk more than a km of the stretch as the road was horrible & just wasn't ride-able.

About 4 kms of the ride up-hill took us about 45 mins and we couldn't be more disappointed at what was left of the glorious Penukonda Fort.  We didn't see more than a couple of localities who had hiked up the hill & were spending time leisurely at this private hang-out.

Vie from Penukonda Fort
Even-though, the view from the top was breathtaking, all the effort of getting there seemed useless since we didn't see any fort left. So, our take on the Penukonda fort – Not worth your time or penny!

Fort walls in ruins
 
All that is left of the huge fort



Fort Exit
By 3:00 PM we reached the Penukonda village & after some search found “Seenappa Mess”. The small house which transforms into a mess during lunch time & serves unlimited authentic Andhra vegetarian meals at Rs 45/- . Trust us when we say, this was the best Andhra meal we have had so far. Rice,Pappu,Rasam,Sambar,Palya,curd & pickle were served with diligence & care. So, if you are passing by the NH7 & see a board reading Penukonda do not miss checking out this mess during lunch time (12 to 4 PM – Note: It is closed on Sundays)

Highway gardens!
 The ride on the NH7 was a treat as the road is in great condition & we also saw some flower plantations on the way. 

After a few clicks of the beautiful gardens, we rode leisurely to reach Anantapur by 4:45 PM.A distance of 70 kms was covered with ease in 1.2 hrs.
NH7 views



Anantapur being a district is pretty big and thus, stay options are plenty. Budget hotels to 3 star hotels are available & we settled in a mediocre hotel by the name: ‘Nama Hotel’ in the city center.

Plenty of options are available for non-vegetarians, but we did have to do some roaming around to find a decent veg restaurant. Anyway, an eventful first day in the state of Andhra had come to an end and we were eager for the next day!

We left Anantapur after b'fast by 8:45 AM the next morning & headed towards Belum. The Belum caves had got featured in the Kannada magazine –‘Sudha’ a couple of days ago & the write-up,images were stirring enough to keep our excitement high. Unfortunately, the road from Anantpur to Tadipatri – a distance of 58 kms is under expansion & it was a horrifying experience riding through them as the temperature was also high to make the journey a pain(in the ass - literally :-P). On reaching Tadipatri, we took the road towards Belum(you will have to depend on GPRS for directions if you do not understand Telugu, as we couldn't find anyone who spoke/understood English all along). A 30 kms ride from Tadipatri on manageable road, got us to Belum at 11:45 AM and we were well behind our schedule.
Belum Caves from a distance

However, the exhilaration to witness our first cave overshadowed the time factor & we couldn't wait to get started. Guides are available at the cave entrance if you want to, but we chose to explore it on our own. A few steps lead you down the underground caves at Belum which is believed to span over 3 kms, but only 1.5 kms have been made accessible to public. Artificial lights & fresh air facility makes it an enjoyable experience, but for people who suffer from claustrophobia the caves might be a huge concern as a leisure walk in the cave takes about 2 hours and all of it is underground with no openings.

I would do no justice to the beauty hidden in the underground cave with mere words , thus will leave you with some pictures :) 


Trickes down, pure water
 





Spiral staircase to reach the lower level

The PathaLa Gange within the cave 


 




Cave Entrance/Exit
The sheer joy of witnessing a nature marvel had drained out all the energy & we were hungry by the time we got out of the cave to get some fresh air. The most memorable event of our trip was lurking around in the garden at Belum as we met a few strangers but left with pleasant memories of having met the sweetest family! 3 ladies from Tadipatri along with kids had traveled in an auto rickshaw for a picnic at Belum. 

We were surprised at their generosity of offering home-made delicacies to us. But our skepticism was washed away in a flash when we witnessed their hospitality & concern for travelers.

After a photo session with the family, we collected their address to send a picture as a token of thanks from our side.

By 3:00 PM we left Belum & headed to our next destination – Gandikota. The ride to Gandikota from Muddanur reminded us of our ride to Spangmik from Pangong Lake in Ladakh since we found no trace of civilization for over 20 kms. Although an interior village, the connecting roads were in great condition & we cruised past 80 kms to ensure we reach in daylight. But due to some confusion, we traversed about 50 kms excess and reached Gandikota by 5:45 PM.

A nice landscapes on the way

The village of Gandikota resides inside the fort walls & the George – known as the Grand Canyon of India is within walk able distance. Although Gandikota is a historical site with a palace, fort & other royal buildings; the most impressive one of the lot is the spot where the Pennar River flows into the Gandikota dam.
Gandikota - The Grand Canyon of India

Some remains of fort around the gorge






As the sun slowly set, we headed out of Gandikota with a promise to return as the place is ‘Out-of-this-world’ beautiful!! So, next time you are planning for a trip – do consider the above 3 destinations :)

I'm sure some of the places might have impressed you & would want to explore them.

Details of the places visited for your reference!!

Lepakshi
This can be reached via two routes:
Through Chikballapur: Distance about 130 kms. Preferred route, excellent roads – Takes on the NH7 after crossing Devanahalli.
Through Doddaballapur: Distance about 120 kms. SH after Doddaballapur, manageable roads.
Things to Do: Temple visit, primarily for photography
Options to Stay: None, you will have to travel to the closest town Hindupur (distance – 15 kms)
Restaurants: None, only small shops selling refreshments.
Access: Buses available till Hindupur, you could take an auto rickshaw to reach Lepakshi.
Entry Fee: None, only parking fees

Penukonda Fort
Distance/Route: 52 kms from Lepakshi. NH7 after Chilamathur
Things to Do: Fort trek, Palace
Options to Stay: Minimal, better options available at Anantapur(distance – 71 kms)
Restaurants: Available, Only a handful of Veg options.
Access: Own vehicle is the best option.
Entry Fee: None

Belum Caves
Distance/Route: 85 kms from Anantapur, 325 kms from Bangalore (via Gooty- better roads)
Things to Do: Cave exploration, Photographers heaven
Options to Stay: None, closest town is Tadipatri(distance – 30 kms)
Restaurants: A veg restaurant available in the premises
Access: Buses available till Tadipatri, auto-rickshaws charge about 300 one way to reach Belum
Entry Fee: Rs 50/- for adults & 35/- for a child

Gandikota
Distance/Route: 61 kms from Belum Caves, 280 kms from Bangalore
Travel through the Jammalamadugu-Tadipatri Road if coming from Belum.
If travelling from Bangalore, Chikballapur àGorantla à Kadiri à Muddanur à Gandikota
Things to Do: Fort, Gorge, Palace
Options to Stay: Saw a Andhra Pradesh Tourim Hotel in Gandikota, but unsure of the facilities
Restaurants: Didn't find any, as it is a small village with no tourist facilities
Access: Own vehicle is the best option.
Entry Fee: None

PS: It can get really hot in Andhra Pradesh, hence choosing the right time to travel is imperative for an enjoyable journey. Best time to travel would be Post monsoons: August to October.

Would be more than glad to respond if you need any more information about these places, so do write back.

Happy Travelling!!!!


16 comments:

  1. Excellent work Aswhini...great photography combined with excellent description and helpful tips for those who want to travel...Keep it coming!!!

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  2. Neat...Detailed Blog.. The New Royal Enfield has kept you guys busy in weekends for sure.

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    Replies
    1. Ha ha, yup it has kept us busy Sayeesha :) Thank you.

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  3. Fantastic narrative. Belum caves & Gadikota looks stunning! Adding to my to go list! Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Narayanan. Do check back for more travel stories :) and as my tagline goes: ' Happy travelling'!! :)

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  5. Hmm Finally made some time and went through.... I had told earlier when you had shared some article inTechM that 'you write very well' and it continues... very good Narration Ashwini :)

    - Vinay MP

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  6. Hi, Do you have any idea if public transport/ cab available to travel from belum caves to gandikota?

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  7. Well written blog with wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing about this wonderful post in this blog. Love to read about this place. Make your trip to this place by booking your Bus Tickets in advance to avoid last minute booking.

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  8. I read your blog and finished the gandhikota and belum hollows trip. It was a marvelous affair, just distinction being we went by gandhikota for Sunrise. Do tell us places this way.
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  9. Fantastic blog! Do you have any more tips to improve home lighitng? I’m also planning to start my own home improvement blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
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  10. That's a really interesting and entertaining post. Still there are good people in the world. Keep it Up.
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