Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Solace" find in KG Basin

A visit to Coastal Andhra was due for a long time and I was waiting for right time, weather and company. Last week (Dec 2006 end) got the chance to go Kosta which is the local name for coastal Andhra Pradesh region. It has a few smaller regions namely Konaseema (Godavari river delta), Diviseema (Krishna river delta), Circar (region from Vishakhatnam to Rajahmundry) etc. We (me along with four other friends) deliberated on the itinerary and kept it flexible and kept revising the plans to maximize the opportunities. One of our friends was to join from Chennai at Rajahmundry. The plan was multi-purpose, to ride in a ferry over sacred Godavari river, travel on branch railway lines in the region, eat local cuisine and generally explore the area. We did not consult much on the internet because there is not much documented.

We chose to go to Rajahmundry via Bhadrachalam by ferry on river Godavari. We reached Bhadrachalam by overnight train from Hyderabad. The ferries run from a place called Kunavaram and Sreeramgiri around 60+ km from Bhadrachalam due to lack of depth in the river here . We couldn’t make it due to lack of time as boats supposedly leave on time at 8 AM. The ferry service does not cater much to tourists, so information is difficult to come by and not reliable. However we still went upto Kunavaram in an Ambassador which took its sweet little time dropping off newspaper to various points and murdering a dog by running over it. At Kunavaram we decided to take a bus to Rajahmundry but this too was a disappointment. First the bus was an ordinary, rickety bus and did not take the route through “Agency forests” so a distance of 190 km took 6 hours to complete. “Agency forests” are tribal regions, have forest covers and no outsider could buy property in the region to protect tribal lifestyle. This is the naxalite zone in AP. Anyways the journey took us through places which I otherwise would have never visited.

Rajahmundry is an important town in AP and lies on south-east corridor between Chennai and Kolkata. It is also famous for being constituency of late former PM of India, Narasimha Rao. At Rajahmundry we visited Pushkar "revu" which is close to legendary but now defunct "Havelock" railway bridge. "Revu" in telugu means bank of river or "ghat" in North India. There is a new bridge built alongside Havelock for trains. There is also a distant rail-cum-road bridge.

We decided to take a boat across Godavari to Kovvur and catch our connecting train to Kakinada from there. To our utter disbelief entire boat which could seat around 50 people was ready to take us across for INR 300 only.

The Godavari river is quite wide at Rajahmundry which can be gauged by considering that bridges are around 3 km over the river. During monsoon, the river swells like anything and almost looks like sea. It was an enjoyable ride with cool breeze on the roof of the boat with no other passengers, watching sunset and trains passing over the new Godavari Bridge. From Kovvur we caught our train to Kakinada.
Kakinada is an important town in Andhra but hardly anybody would know about it outside. Our intention of coming to Kakinada was to travel on Kakinada – Kotipalle branch line. But to our disappointment the train did not run on time (or did not run at all) and officials at the station had no clue!! Rather than wasting time at station we caught a bus to Kotipalle which is on the banks of one arm of Godavari. Godavari splits into three branches after Rajahmundry namely Gautami, Vashisti and Vynatheyam. From Kotipalle we decided to cross the river by boat and have a holy dip in Godavari as well. A boatman was ready to take s across. Ahhh, it was really amazing feeling to take a dip with water just about chilly with slight wind in the air. Actually we had to take two boats as the river is so wide that there is an island in between where we bathed. The boatman played lifeguard to us while we bathed in the river. After the dip we got a glimpse and indulged with local fisherman to pull up fishing net from the water.The boat to cross the second leg was typical country boat with men, women, paddy, bikes etc. all piled up a la "Swades" style.

We crossed the second leg, caught an auto to Amalapuram which was around 15km. Amalapuram is a town made famous by popular telugu song Aa ante amalapuram… Though the town did not have anything to write about but had a lot of STD boothes and greeting card shops. May be the urban culture is bit late in spreading to countryside. We went to a local mess and had rice and fish. Later we caught a bus to Pallakolu. From there we caught a passenger train to Narsapur. Narsapur is again on the banks of the Godavari which is the main arm after its trifurcation. Morning we decided to visit Antarvedi where main portion of Godavari meets the sea. Apart from that Antarvedi hosts a lighthouse and a temple dedicated to river Godavari. We had other option to visit Kolleru lake which is spread out in a large area and plays host to migratory birds including Siberian crane. To reach Antarvedi we had to again cross Godavari from Narsapur side to reach Sakenathpalli and catch an auto from there. Antarvedi is around 15 kms from there. Since we headed early the whole atmosphere was very nice. It being morning so there was slight chill in the air. The sun was mild peeking through haze and palm leaves and us riding along the narrow country road flanked by palm trees and paddy fields made the entire ride highly enjoyable.

Once we reached Antarvedi, we headed straight to the lighthouse. We managed to climb it by charming one of the staff members with a fee of Rs 5 per head for entrance. The view from lighthouse is out of the world alas it would have been gorgeous had there been no haze. We could clearly see Godavari meeting the Bay of Bengal, small villages, banana plantations, small ferries in the sea and further away a glimpse of some oil/gas well structure. This region is rich in oil/gas and Reliance has explored them at many locations in KG basin.

I managed a feat of sort visiting both the origin and end of river Godavari. I had been to origin, Triambakeshwar near Nasik some 10 years back. After visiting the temple and a breakfast of Ulattoo which is like Dosa/Uttapam but not exactly, we headed back to Narsapur.

We decided to go to Vijayawada instead of Machilipatnam directly so that we have better options to stay and catch some train action at the station. We stayed at AC dormitory at the station which was decent for the asking price. Next day we caught a bus to Machilipatnam. It is 70 km from Vijayawada. I expected it to be a tourist town unlike the places we visited till now but it wasn’t. I could not spot any touristy stuff there. This town had lot of importance at the time of British and it was headquarter of Guntur but slowly it lost its importance. It is famous for “Kalamkari” art form and “Bandar Ladoo” which is nothing but “Besan ka Ladoo” of north India. We went to Manginapudi beach about which I had heard a lot. It is around 12 km from the town through scenic road but beach did not have much going on except that it was secluded. Neither were there any shops/shacks nor any people but it was pristine. Actually the timing was wrong, 10 AM on a working day, what could you expect?

We came back immediately and caught a bus to Avanigadda enroute Repalle. This was Diviseema region in Krishna delta. There is a road bridge over Krishna river just before Avanigadda which is 3 km long. From there we caught an auto to reach Repalle. The intention of coming to Repalle was to travel on Repalle – Tenali branch line. Tenali is on main Delhi-Chennai trunk route. Repalle too was a chaotic and non-descript town like any other town we visited till now. We came to Tenali by passenger train and immediately caught another one to Vijayawada. This was my second visit to Vijayawada but I had not visited anything except station and bus-stand so decided to do some sight-seeing. I along with one more companion Tejender, who became my guide and had lived in the city, decided to venture out. We straight away caught a bus to Kanaka-Durga temple which thankfully had very less rush. Then we came to Prakasam barrage built over river Krishna and from here two canals originate to irrigate regions nearby. Then we caught a bus to travel on Bandar road which is one of the two arterial roads in Vijayawada, other being Eluru road. We also visited Ilapuram and Modern CafĂ© hotels there which are the good places to have food in Vijayawada. In the night we caught Narsapur express to come back to Hyderabad.

Overall it was a nice and hectic trip which I could have never performed the way we did, hopping from one place to another, visiting ordinary towns through rice-bowl of Andhra with miles and miles of fields, water bodies and palm trees. The trip could have not been possible without my four friends all of whom belonging to Andhra and so could speak to local folks. Still they told me that the dialect in these parts of Andhra is very different from Hyderabad. The coastal region of Andhra in my opinion is quite beautiful and is similar to Kerala to some extent but with almost nil tourist infrastructures. There are no good hotels or restaurants, information is very little and hard to come by and some good spots are not well-developed and language being a problem. But the advantage is that region is not spoilt and if you are a purist, then you could enjoy things as they are. The coastal cuisine is though renowned but we couldn't try much as there were no good eateries in any of the towns which are either advertised or cater to the tastes of urban tourists. It is mostly “river-food” as against “sea-food” that is available because fishing and Sericulture is done in rivers or fresh water respectively. The entire economy of this region is due to these twin rivers. They provide irrigation to rice-fields which are ubiquitous. Farmers here produce three crops per year and in prosperity they are comparable to farmers in Punjab. River is also source of fishing and sericulture. We crossed the river Godavari about ten times and Krishna about five times by boat, bus and train.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lake 'n' Fall

I and Amit, my friend decided to visit Nagarjuna Sagar on a sunday few weeks back. Due to previous night’s heavy dinner and late rising, we got delayed a lot to start for Nagarjuna Sagar. It is a reservoir formed by building a dam over river Krishna in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. The place is 160 km from Hyderabad on the state highway to Srisailam, Guntur, Nellore etc. It is the largest masonary dam in the world. Don’t ask me what does that mean :-) When we reached there, the road over the dam which is drivable was not open due to security. So, we crossed over the river on a bridge to the other side and reached the “developed” area of Nagarjuna sagar by AP tourism. The bridge is a great vantage point to see the dam and river Kirshna meandering away. The bridge itself is a great sculpture, resting on slender pillars quite above the water level. Imagine, standing on the bridge and then suddenly the gates of the dam let open to pass water. You’ll be blown away just by seeing that water gushing towards you. In the river bed down below close to the dam, one could see vestiges of old broken bridge. May be once a gate was opened a little too much :-) The “developed” area has boating launch center used to ferry people to an island of Nagarjuna konda where artifacts found during excavation from this site way back in 50-60’s are kept. Anyhow we missed that being criminally late. But as a solace, we floated on a coracle in the sagar for 15 minutes for Rs. 20 per head. The ride was adventurous because of its small size and round figure and wobbly nature when it passed over ripples caused by a passing boat. The coracle-man created a special effect by rotating the boat in good speed. We non-swimmers, scared from inside stopped the fellow immediately. He kept on muttering something about the places nearby but we couldn’t understand anything, language being the barrier. Later we went to Ethipothla falls which is further 10 kms from this site. There was sizable gathering there. The falls are around 150 feet deep with plenty of water and 2-3 streams falling over. This water then later meets 3km downstream with Krishna. There were some tribal folks performing their folk dance much to the indifference of crowd present there. They distinctly looked like nomads from Rajasthan and not A.P. but I had no intentions to confirm. As soon as sun set, the area around falls and fall itself was illuminated with fancy lights of various hues. It was magical and the lights kept on changing their colors. We sat there looking at waters which were looking more like illusion. Due to time constraint we had to leave early.