This state effortlessly combines different religions, tastes and aesthetics to present a mosaic that is at once vivid and layered. A journey along its coast takes you through a prolific spread of sea, rivers, mountains, culture, architecture and delectable cuisine.
Visakhapatnam is located towards the Northern part of the Andhra coastline. Check into WelcomHotel Grand Bay Hotel (www.itchotels.in) on Beach Road, which combines understated elegance and luxury with beautiful views of the sea and make it your base for the next few days. A port and beach city that is not only very pleasant but largely ignored by tourists, it makes for an ideal start to the vacation. After a leisurely lunch, head out to Kailasagiri Hill, which has a huge statue of Shiva. But more than this, the hill offers fantastic panoramic views of the city and the sea. If you feel like some exercise, walk down the hill and then head a few kilometres north to Rushikonda Beach. A beautiful stretch of pristine beach, it has an idyllic setting with golden sands and blue water. As evening falls, head along the stretch which combines two spectacular beaches-Rama Krishna Beach and Lawson's Bay-for a walk, sharing space with walkers and joggers as well as a plethora of snacksellers, peddling bhajias and churmuri. If the sand gets irritating, then walk along the wide pavement on beach road, which also has large temples, sculptures, a running park and an aquarium. Retire for the night with the cool, briny breeze blowing in from the sea.
Have an early breakfast and catch Vizag-Kirandul train to Araku. A thickly forested valley and hill station, it is inhabited mostly by tribals and is an ideal getaway from Vizag. The winding road crests and dips over a series of hills, offering fantastic panoramic views of the magnificent natural beauty, while the train traverses through 46 tunnels and provides an equally riveting drama. There are orchards, plantations, forested slopes and occasional wild animals. It is inhabited mostly by tribals. A tribal museum in the area provides an insight into their life and culture. One can also see dance and song performances in Araku. A little craft shop sells interesting and distinctive products made by the tribals. On the way back, head to the surreal Borra Caves, which are mysterious and haunting. These are 300 ft thick roofed caves spread over one square km and house spectacular, million-year-old stalactite and stalagmite formations, standing as a testimonial to its pristine glory and age, woven into intricate design through the centuries. Though they are fascinating and awe-inspiring by themselves, magnificent lighting further enhances the mystery and charm of these strange formations. Geologists believe the caves were formed by the flow of the river Gosthani, through the layers of lime earth, over the course of millions of years.
After a sumptuous breakfast, pack a picnic lunch and head out north from Vizag. Take the picturesque beach road and head to Bheemunipatnam beach. It is located at the mouth of the river Gosthani and makes for a spectacular sight. Legend has it that the place was in existence since the times of the Mahabharata and draws its name from Bheema. What makes this place quite exotic is the fact that it is a former Dutch settlement and the remnants of past colonisers is very much evident, in the form of a ruined Dutch fort. But if all this is tiring, then just lounge around by the gentle beach, which is very safe for swimmers. This is also an ideal place to have a picnic lunch. By late afternoon, start heading back and stop at Erramattidibbalu, located a few kilometres away. Literally meaning, 'red earth formations', these are sand dunes that rise dramatically from the ground in cliffs and resemble the Chambal valley. Ecologically sensitive and endangered, the sand dunes are spectacular but need to be tread on carefully. The place is Day 3: Erramattidibbalu Distance: 50 km Time: 45 minutes by road After a sumptuous breakfast, pack a picnic lunch and head out north from Vizag. Take the picturesque beach road and head to Bheemunipatnam beach. It is located at the mouth of the river Gosthani and makes for a spectacular sight. Legend has it that the place was in existence since the times of the Mahabharata and draws its name from Bheema. What makes this place quite exotic is the fact that it is a former Dutch settlement and the remnants of past colonisers is very much evident, in the form of a ruined Dutch fort. But if all this is tiring, then just lounge around by the gentle beach, which is very safe for swimmers. This is also an ideal place to have a picnic lunch. By late afternoon, start heading back and stop at Erramattidibbalu, located a few kilometres away. Literally meaning, 'red earth formations', these are sand dunes that rise dramatically from the ground in cliffs and resemble the Chambal valley. Ecologically sensitive and endangered, the sand dunes are spectacular but need to be tread on carefully. The place is also dusty so wear sensible shoes for the trip.
Start early for the long drive today. However, on the way, take a slight detour to visit Kakinada. A bustling town, Kakinada has some interesting stops, which will impress all visitors. Head to Hope Island, a unique sandpit island with scenic views of the sea as well as the river Godavari. For a taste of nature and wildlife, head to the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, about 20 km from Kakinada. It is located strategically in the area where the Godavari drains into the Bay of Bengal. It is mysterious and dark, thick with mangrove forests, believed to be the second largest in the country. Home to over 65 species of mangrove trees, it is also among the richest biodiversity hotspots. It is home to a few endangered animals such as the smooth Indian otter, fishing cat and estuarine crocodile as well as the white-backed and long-billed vultures. Other varieties found here include jackals, sea turtles and over 120 bird species such as seagulls, painted storks, herons, snipes, kingfishers, cormorants and ducks. Stop for lunch at Rajahmundry; taste the fiery local cuisine. After a wildlife filled day, arrive in Vijayawada by late evening and rest for the night.
Rise early and go for a sunrise walk along the river Krishna. After breakfast, head out for a rather heavy dose of culture and heritage. About 55 km from Vijayawada is Kuchipudi, a nondescript and low key village in Krishna district where the South Indian classical dance form Kuchipudi is believed to have originated. Take a peek at Siddendra Kalakshetra, where the distinct sounds of the bells around dancer's ankles and the staccato beat of the dance master's guiding instrument are heard. Set amidst sylvan surroundings, the location seems apt for learning a classical dance form. At Undavalli caves, gaze at a striking specimen of Indian rock-cut architecture, located atop a series of tall hills overlooking the Krishna river. The caves, hewn out of solid rock on the hillside and carved with astonishing skill and intricacy. These date back to the 4th-5th centuries and are associated with the Vishnukundina kings. For a glimpse of a different architectural wonder, head to Kondapalli where a 7th century fort on a hill is bound to impress. The three-storeyed rock tower was supposedly a business centre and was later used as a military training base by the British. Below the fort, lies the namesake village, which is famous for toys made of soft wood. These are based on indigenous themes.
Opt for one of the most spectacular cruises in this part of the country on the river Krishna. One of the most important rivers flowing through Andhra, Krishna is long, vast and revered. It flows through some of the most scenic areas and cruising along the river is a lovely experience. A popular route is the boat trip to Bhavani Island, a river island spread over 130 acres. Pristine and replete with natural beauty with lush greenery, coconut trees and hillocks, the island offers a wonderful escape from the urban hustle and bustle. Visitors can choose to rest, relax and enjoy amidst riverine foliage, manicured gardens, woodlands, rolling meadows and shimmering water bodies or opt for swimming and other water-based activities. Other places nearby that are worth exploring include the Prakasam Barrage and the famous Kanaka Durga temple.
On the last day of the itinerary, it is only apt to end with the image of the picturesque Bay of Bengal. The Suryalanka Beach epitomises all that's scenic on the Andhra coast. Golden sands meet the azure blue waters of the Bay of Bengal south of Guntur. Relatively unknown, the beach is not over crowded. People tend to flock during weekends, but the beach is wide and spacious so it does not get congested. If you have more time to spare, then head to Chirala, south of Suryalanka, which also has a pretty beach but is more famous for its handlooms. Head back to Vijayawada to catch your train or flight back home. If you have time, head out for shopping in the main Vijayawada market. Pick unique weaves like Mangalagiri, Himroo, Gadwal, Pochampalli and Narayanpet.
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