- Ajaz Shaikh
Gandikota Fort (Indian Grand Canyon) & Belum Caves
Most of us are always looking for out of the box places instead of the usual tourist hotspots. Like if you are one of those who have always dreamt of visiting the Grand Canyon in the US and kept that dream indefinitely postponed, I have something for you. Just because you cannot go on your international or cross-country trip, does not mean that you have to miss out on the thrill of adventure. India has its very own version of the Grand Canyon and it is just as beautiful as its American counterpart. If you want to witness this gorge, all you have to do is head to Gandikota in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh.
Owing to its strategic location, it was the seat of power of many ancient dynasties, ever since its discovery in 1123 by Kakatiya Raja, a subordinate of the then Chalukya ruler. After the Chalukyas, Kakatiyas ruled this area for the next 60 years. Gandikota was later under the rule of the Tughluq dynasty and was under their rule for the next 40 years. Pemmasani Nayakas ruled Gandikota as their capital for the next 300 years, before it went into the hands of the British. The name can be broken into – 'gandi' meaning canyon and 'kota' meaning fort. The entire village in the area is known by this name.
How To Reach Gandikota From Mumbai?
Via Train From Mumbai: Sadly, Gandikota has limited direct connectivity through the railway. There are no direct trains from Mumbai to this town. The nearest railway station is Jammalamadugu that is located 18 km from Gandikota. But it does not have a direct train from Mumbai. You can try for chain train from Mumbai - Vijayawada - Jammalamadugu. Another nearest and the best option is to get down at Tadipatri luckily, it has a direct train from Mumbai. So here are some of the options for the people travelling from Mumbai.
From Tadipatri railway station take a tuk-tuk to the bus depot (Rs. 20) and catch a bus to Jammalamadugu (Rs. 80), take a private or sharing tuk-tuk going toward Gandikota Fort (Rs. 100) and get down at Haritha Hotel, which is like 10 mins walking distance from the fort.
Via Air From Mumbai: The closest airport is Kadapa Airport, some 90 km from Gandikota Fort; but be aware that there are extremely few flights to and from Kadapa.
The Kempegowda International Airport in Bangalore (210 km approx.) and the Tirupati International Airport (250 km approx.) are the other two major airports nearby; however, the latter offers fewer flight options.
Considering budget and time, the train is the best option for budget travel cum backpackers from Mumbai.
Where to Stay?
Haritha Hotel is run by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism department which has lodging facilities. However, the facilities are limited during the weekdays as the number of visitors during weekdays are low and that's the only so called proper hotel in the town, so before coming here ensure you are booking the hotel in advance. Alternatively, you can choose to camp at the Gorge viewpoint. The local villagers can help you set up camp and provide food at a nominal price.
Day 1: Welcome to The Arizona Of India
For once, it houses the Indian version of Grand Canyon that, over the coming years, might be giving serious competition to its Arizona counterpart owing to its breathtaking beauty. And the best part, this small, offbeat village has not yet been that commercialized! This is also one of the best places to visit in South India.
Similar to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, this gorge is a stunning assemblage of rocks, cut and layered in the most amazing way. Maybe the following pictorial comparisons can explain that better:
Gandikota Fort is a living fort - which means you will find people living inside the fort. Of course, these guys can help you out with basic food and water. Gandikota Fort may be famous for the Great Canyon Of India, but this stunning gorge place has many things that one must indulge in during the visit.
Walk Back In Time
The first view of the Gandikota Fort is this gigantic gate and the road to the canyon goes from this fort. Once a thriving fort now only a few of the structures are visible, most of the boundary walls have either collapsed or simply vanished. The entrance to the fort, however, have been restored and some grandeur can still be felt as you walk past them. The ceilings are missing but the thick walls tell a story of a fort which has massive defences. The walk from here is gonna a quite interesting and beautiful gonna.
Charminar of Gandikota & The Jail
The Charminar of Gandikota, though not as famous as the one in Hyderabad. This is possibly the most well-maintained structure still standing. By the design, you can clearly make out that this was meant to house pigeons. The numerous openings are still a place where you will find these pigeons pecking out its neck.
To the left of Charminar is The Jail, a massive windowless structure that this place once housed prisoners of the kingdom. You will still be able to see small openings in the wall which was probably built for air circulations in the cells below.
This is the grander of the two temples that exist inside the fort, this also happens to be the tallest structure in the fort premises. The gateway (Gopuram) of the temple is impressive with four-storeyed structures and with numerous intricate carvings. The main shrine inside is beyond a massive mandapa which has elaborately carved pillars and impressive ceilings. This was built during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya around the 15th and 16th century.
Simple and yet elegant Islamic architecture. You will be first greeted by a grand multi-arched entrance, and then the main prayer hall where thousands once converged in heartfelt prayers. The mosque was originally started by Mir Jumla after he successfully annexed this in the year 1649 however it was only completed by Nek Nam Khan years later. The main structure inside has three arches and two big minarets followed by smaller ones all around. The Mihrab inside this section still has some visible design patterns. From the top of the entrance, one can spot the Gopuram of the Madhavaraya temple located close by. Both stand beside each other in utter peace and harmony.
Kathula Koneru - Ponds Of Swords
Red Koneru is also known as the pond of swords. The huge lake in front of the mosque, currently covered with unwanted plants, was where the warriors used to dip their swords and the waters used to turn blood red after the war.
This temple is in a much dilapidated state and also smaller in size. If you are visiting the Gandikota gorge then this temple will fall to your left. This was built during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya around the 15th and 16th century. It is made of red granite and a complex system of pillars, hallways, and corridors with an air of mystery about them since the temple have not a single idol of Gods and Goddesses.
Penna River Valley: The Arizona Of India
The main attraction of the fort is the Grand Canyon. The higher you go from the edge of the gorge the better is the view but remember to climb according to your own strength as you have to climb down and this can become tricky. Coming back to the gorge it is one of the most breath-taking landscape views that I have ever seen in India. I had earlier seen a smaller gorge in Rajasthan (Garadia Mahadev Canyon) and in West Bengal (Gangani) but trust me nothing compares to this.
The faces of the gorge have a sheer vertical drop with green waters at the bottom which forms the Penna River. Luckily the check dam upstream ensures a presence of water in this section giving it a perfect ten in terms of a visual bouquet.
The beauty of this place is such serene that you forget the time and I would recommend you go to this place during weekdays as there are almost no tourists so you would spend time at this beautiful place with just the sounds of winds hitting your face as you watch the red cliffs play hide and seek with the shadows of the clouds above.
Before it's dark would suggest to start climbing down and start walking back to the base (hotel). It's a small town so there is not much to see and do in the evening.
Day 2: Belum Caves On Mind
Apart from an Indian version of the Grand Canyon, we also have an Indian version of the Antelope Canyons called the Belum Caves. Belum Caves is the second largest cave system in the Indian subcontinent and has great significance in terms of its geology, archaeology, architecture (according to geologists who recently studied the area). In fact, geologists have also found surplus deposits of Quartz in the stalactite and stalagmite formations of the cave.
Belum Caves and Gandikota are actually in two different districts thus start your day early so that you have enough time to go around each of the places at a comfortable pace. On the way to Belum Caves, we will make two pit stops.
Watch Sunrise At Penna River Valley (India Grand Canyon)
Before moving toward Belum Caves there is one more thing you must do in Gandikota is watch the sunrise at the gorge and for that, you need to leave from your hotel in pitch dark around 05:30 AM in the morning so that you can make in time before sunrise. You need to be a little careful while climbing up the boulders. Once you find the perfect spot perch yourself on one of the boulders jutting out at a corner and wait for the sun to create its magic.
There is something about waking up early (disclaimer: only when I travel). The nip in the air, calmness in the surroundings and only a handful of people around. Simply spectacular. This is what I miss the most in a city. There is always a buzz, hustle bustle at any given time. Slowly a ball of fire peeped out from the horizon. It was a cloudy day, and the clouds and sky added a dramatic effect to the sunrise. Now it's time for us to visit the next destination.
Mylavaram Reservoir & Open Museam
What’s so interesting in a dam, you may ask. But situated at just 10 KMs from Gandikota is a beautiful Mylavaram reservoir. and it's an amazing place to watch the sunset while boating in the middle of the reservoir. The locals do arrange kayaking and boating facilities in the dam. Kayaking or boating in the backdrop of beautiful Erramala hills is surely a picture worth taking. There is nothing much to do here in the afternoon, it's an evening place so if you want you can skip this.
Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandiram
It's a temple showing the scene of Bhagavadgeeta. This temple is in the shape of a Chariot with 8 special gateways. Inside the temple premises, there were two people to take care of the places. But they only spoke the local language, So I would not get more details about the place. But you should make sure to stop here and spend some time in this divine surrounding. Do check out the one-page itinerary for the exact GMaps location.
Indian’s longest cave and second largest cave opened to the public. There is something mysterious and adventurous about exploring caves! The caves are well maintained by APTC and divided into multiple sections like Paatalganga, Dhyan Mandir, Saptasvarala Guha, and others. It is easy to navigate owing to maps and good lighting; as you enter there is an artificial fall and a photo booth for instant pictures. As you further walk down, you see some great stalactite and stalagmite formations. The unique rock formations in the caves called the speleothems are a mesmerizing sight. The caves were formed because of the underground water flow. One can see the after-effects on the rocks inside the caves. It is an extremely touristy place so expect loads of crowds, especially on weekends and public holidays. Also, avoid visiting during summers. It gets extremely hot and humid inside the caves.
Discovery: Even though the Belum Caves were known to local people, the first records of the site come from the expedition report of British geologist and archaeologist Robert Bruce Foote, in 1884. Thereafter, the Belum Caves remained unnoticed for almost a century until a German team headed by Herbert Daniel Gebauer conducted a detailed exploration of the caves in 1982 and 1983.
Interesting Things To See In Belum Caves
Dhyana Mandir: As the name suggests, this place is near the entrance was used for mediation in ancient times by Buddhist monks.
Pathala Ganga: The perennial underground water stream at 150 feet down from the entrance, being the lowest point starts here and disappears into the depths of the Earth. You can enjoy a natural free fish spa here.
Koti Lingalu: The stalactite and stalagmite formations of rocks resembling the 1000 Shiva Linga
Saptavatsala Guha (Musical Chamber): The most recently discovered chamber which produces musical sounds when stalactites are struck with knuckles or sticks.
Simhadwaram: Stalactite resembling the shape of a lion's head
Thousand hoods: Stalactite formations appearing like thousands of cobras have opened their hood.
Banyan Tree Hall: The stalactites hanging from the ceiling look like a giant banyan tree.
Mandapam: Huge area with stalactite and stalagmite formations on the sides making it look like a hall with pillars
Timing: 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM
Entrance Fees: For Indians is Rs. 65 per head and for foreigners is Rs. 300 per head
Note: There are signboards indicating the name of each section inside the caves. To know more you can get a guide, available at the entrance of the caves.
River View Restaurant & Owk Boating Club
After such a long & length and full of experience day you will be looking for a place where you can get good food and a place to relax, before putting an end to this wonderful trip. River View Restaurant & Owk Boating Club is the place that you are looking for. Good food & clean ambience at a reasonable price and a place to relax and enjoy the sunset in the Owk Reservoir or boating.
One can sit here and admire the canvas of nature before him/her - calm and clear water in front with pretty hues of the sun going down painted in the sky.
After enjoying a lovely sunset, it's time to wind up the trip and start moving back to the base station Tadipatri. The frequency of buses leaving from Belum Caves to Tadipatri is decent, you will get buses leaving every 30 mins.