Riding through Arizona for a motorcyclist is like trying to touch the vanishing point! It’s an experience that no word probably can describe. But unfortunately the dream of riding along miles and miles of straight lines through Arizona eluded me so far only making my desire stronger every time to make the dream ride someday.
This reference of Arizona comes to my mind each time I think about “Rayalaseema”. In Southern India the region of Rayalaseema includes the districts of Ananthapur, Chittoor, Kadapa and Kurnool of the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh (which is now part of Telengana). In ancient time, Rayalaseema was ruled by Sri Krishnadevaraya. Rayalaseema was the original home of the Eastern Chalukyas, which gradually extended their sway over Karnataka under pressure from the Chola kings. Although Rayalaseema is a small region compared to the rest of Telugu-speaking areas, its contribution to Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, and Urdu arts, culture and literature is immense.
But for me Rayalaseema will always be “Arizona of India”. Not only its climate and landscape, but there are many resemblances for which I call this Arizona of India. For example “Gandikota” which is fondly referred by many as Grand Canyon if India! I read about Gandikota back in 2009 and since then I had been dreaming to make the ride although not being sure if this will also elude me just like my Arizona dream! Finally 5 years later in 2014 I finally made the dream ride to our very own Grand Canyon of India.
In Rayalaseema, the main attractions are Lepakshi Verabhadra Temple, World’s largest monolithic sculpture- “Nandi”, Belum cave which is the longest cave in India and of course Gandikota. I had already been to Lepakshi so this time the ride was only for Gandikota. By ride one would typically mean the bike ride through the whole time but for me riding also means meeting new people, capturing some wonders of nature through my lenses and know the place too.
I was about to be the solo traveler when my friend Vihag joined me for the same ride. It was a weekend+1 day trip so we started late in the day. We chose Bangalore-Kidari-Gandikota route and glad we did! The road was not only scenic but every moment it was reminding me of Arizona. The same straight line highway through the deserted land, dry and the only color one could see is red!
There were more to our journey than this. The areas near Rayalaseema around highways have a reputation of being unsafe sometimes to the traveler as one can experience villagers blocking the road and demanding for money that might go up to Indian Rupees 1000/- (Aprox $16) or even more. We were one of those unfortunate travelers. The end result is always you ending up paying money but if you know the local languages like Kannada and Telugu like I did and can negotiate politely (no matter how difficult it might be at that moment), you might end up paying lot less than you may have paid otherwise!
We reached the Kingdom of Western Chalukyan that was once ruled by the Kings of Kalyana. It was too hot to go around so we decided to rather park ourselves till the afternoon. We stayed at Haritha Resort which was pretty decent place around the area. We slept till late afternoon until about 3pm and then decided to start again. I couldn’t wait to see the Grand Canyon and the Sunset on River Penner. Unfortunately it was a cloudy afternoon but the defused sunlight made everything so mesmerizing! Or was that my excitement that knew no limit when I climbed to the top of canyon! The view of Gandikota Gorge from the top was simply breath taking! There are points in life when one needs to just stop thinking and embrace the silence. It was one of those moments! It was moment to rather feel the beauty of nature and let myself go.
After Gandikota, it was time for some temple visits. Around evening, we visited Raghunatha Swamy temple that located right next to Jamia Masjid Campus on a hillock and Madhavaraya Temple. All these temple architectures are very similar to Hampi temples in Karnataka state of India. This Madhavaraya Temple is believed to have been built during the reign of King Sri Krishnadevaraya. We couldn’t find much history of Gandikota even when we spoke to the local people.
Gandigota would not be complete without a humble mention of Jamia Masjid. It was built during the reign of Qutub Shahi Kings of Hyderabad and this Jamis Masjid actually looks like the famous monument “Charminar” from Hyderabad. It was extremely hot day and we were sweating like anything but we found out – “Borof” (the local ice cream) which reminded me of my school days. I was too crazy for “Borof”!
On our way back to our resort, we thought of trying Rayalaseema special “Uggani Bajji” which is a dish made of puffed rice and supposed to be a breakfast special! Quite naturally we were way too late for it! We made a night ride to the Jammalamagadu Dam. The night was cold and the whole place was pretty deserted. For safety reasons, we decided not to ride till the dam and rode back to our resort.
It was time for our night time photography. We chose Gandikota fort for our photo sessions. We spent quite some time on the roof of “Kotage”. It was windy night yet so peaceful. The mad city crowd felt light years away!
Our Day 2 started with a trek to Penner River bed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! I started early in the morning as I had a full day plan. The place was extremely crowded with people eagerly waiting to capture sunrise but it was same as yesterday- cloudy!
There was no proper route to Penner river making is quite difficult for downwards trekking. On our way back to resort we trekked through the village and also visited Gandikota Jail. After breakfast, we started for Belum Cave.
This Belum cave is the second largest cave in Indian Subcontinent and the longest cave in Plains of Indian Subcontinent best known for its Stalactite and Stalagmite formations. The ride to Belum Cave was again so similar to Arizona Cavern. Although the roads were not that good but thoroughly enjoyed the ride through the rural Rayalaseema. The situation this time was much tougher than before as people there speak only local language-Telegu and do not understand any bit of Hindi let alone Engligh. But I knew “consum consum” (little bit) Telegu for which we managed to skip a few situations mostly with villagers stopping us for money.
In spite of being so famous, it was disappointing to see that there was no proper place for parking and some other amenities for your luggage and valuables. We somehow parked our bikes outside and entered the cave. Moment we entered we forgot all the hassled we been through so far to come here. It was like a magical land of stalactite and stalagmites! We walked all the way till the end point-“Patal Ganga” and then back to the entrance. It was way too hot and humid inside the cave than we actually imagined!
Time to ride back home to Bangalore! Our first stop was Buddha temple and we could think nothing but Lunch! We took the opportunity to savor the traditional Andhra thali (meal). After a sumptuous meal when we started again, Vihag’s bike got punctured! It was almost 3 and our little local language knowledge wasn’t helping much to find a repair store.
Somehow we found a auto repair store and got his bike fixed. We were late and we had to take Gooty-Ananthapur-Bangalore route but unfortunately missed the route just before Gooty! Luck was in our favor that day! We found a better greener way to reach highway at last!
Our Highway run started as soon as we hit Gooty. Riding back home with some unforgettable memories and just when we thought we were done there came the Toll-Gate at Chittur! One side of the Toll gate bore the sign of heavy rain whereas the other side of the toll gate is dry as ever! For the first time in my life we had coffee at Toll gate as we were stuck there for heavy rain on the other side!
Conclusion: The place Gandikota was not much explored or known 5 years back. But slowly it started getting recognition. Bikers, travelers started coming in resulting into development of this area. The Haritha resort was built to provide a safe stay for the travelers. But the popularity of this place came with a cost. Few workless village people found a new way of making money. They started collecting money from the bikers in the name of anything. Sometimes it went to the extent of robbery as well. Typically the victims are solo or small two-three people rider groups who are easy target to stop and extract money. However, this place is soon going to be claimed as UNESCO Heritage site and one could hope this initiative will make this place better and safe for all the travelers around the world.
Thank You !