Gandikota

Gandikota Landscape

After checking in at the AP Tourism Haritha Resort, we went to the in-house restaurant for lunch. As we found out later, this is pretty much the only ‘tourist-friendly’ restaurant in Gandikota. One eats what is presented, which, for lunch, was Andhra-style Thali. The food was tasty, and staff friendly and helpful.

Haritha Resort – Gandikota

We decided to rest out the afternoon in our hotel room. Typical of government-run hotels, the ‘resort’ was spacious, but run-down. There was a children’s play-area with decaying equipment that the kids nevertheless enjoyed for some time, the room had peeling paint, with a cramped, but thankfully clean, toilet. And as with many of the government-run hotels, the location was good, with ample greenery and opportunities for bird-watching.

Gandikota fort ramparts

After tea at a local store, we headed out to explore Gandikota. While visitors come here to see the canyon, there are a wealth of other sites to explore in this rural outpost. After driving through the gates of the fort, we parked at the base of the fort walls and explored the fort. It’s a ‘living’ fort with families still residing within the walls of the fort. But there are enough ramparts to climb up and look around, and kids enjoyed the experience.

Jumma Masjid – Gandikota
Granary – Gandikota fort

Our next halt was the Jumma Masjid. This is a well-preserved monument, no longer in active use. Next to this is the imposing Granary that we admired from the outside. And next to the granary, overlooking the canyon, stands the Raghunatha Swamy temple. This temple seemed to be largely ignored by the crowds on their way to the canyon, which is a shame, as this was one of the highlights of Gandikota for us. This small temple, built during the time of the Vijayanagara empire, is extremely atmospheric, with intricate carvings on the pillars and walls. And its location, atop a hill, affords great views over Gandikota, with the tower of the Madhavaraya Swamy temple visible over the tree-tops. The place also had a palmist who visits over the weekend, who was kind enough to point out some of the interesting carvings around the temple (of course, we gave him some business as well!).

Finally, we made our way to the sight for which Gandikota is justifiably famous, the canyon of the Penna river. One has to clamber over some medium-sized rocks to get to the viewpoints. This is not very difficult, but small children and elderly people might struggle. The views over the canyon and surrounding countryside are well worth the effort though.

Gandikota Canyon

That brought to an end our sight-seeing in Gandikota. For dinner, we headed over to the cafe of the Adventure Sports Academy, located close to the Haritha hotel. While the food was good, and ambience a level above the Haritha restaurant, the place only served food when there are guests staying in the camp, as we discovered the following evening.

Gandikota & Belum Caves: Day 1 – Drive to Gandikota

Entrance Arch for temple at Kanampalli

The places of Gandikota and Belum Caves have been on my travel bucket list for a long time. One of the challenges with visiting these places has been the (lack of) accommodation. So, when I discovered that hotel rooms were available for the long weekend in August, I immediately booked it and decided to drive down.

We started off a bit later that I was planning to – getting four of us ready does take time, plus, in this case, we decided to pack some additional food as we were not sure of the restaurants along the way. This turned out to be a good decision, but more about that later.

Our route was along the Hyderabad highway, crossing the airport at Devanahalli, and then turning into the state highway passing through Kadiri. After a refueling (for the car) stop at Devanahalli, we stopped for breakfast at Cube Stop, one of the surprisingly few restaurants along this route. The place was crowded and the food took some time arriving, but the staff were pleasant.

The rest of the drive took us through some gorgeous countryside. My experiences with this part of the country were previously restricted to the train journeys we took as children, traveling from Mumbai to Kerala on our summer holidays. My recollections are of a hot, parched and dusty countryside that we were, frankly, happy to cross. But traveling now, during the monsoon season, presented a completely different picture. The countryside was green, if not lush, and the weather was absolutely pleasant (there was no need to switch on the car a/c). And, perhaps most surprisingly, the roads were in excellent condition.

Along the way, we passed through a stretch of road cutting between two steep red cliffs that reminded me a lot of the Australian Outback and the cliffs at Kings Canyon. Another memorable stretch was just before Gandikota (after Muddanur), when a newly laid road made the climb up a lovely stretch of bush covered hills.

The road conditions, plus that there was little traffic along the way, meant that we made good time and reached our destination – the AP Tourism Haritha hotel, by 1 pm. More about the hotel and Gandikota in my next posts.

A Train Journey to Kerala

Monsoon clouds streaming across the Palakkad Gap as a cow enjoys its meal
Pazham Pori

I recently took my first train ride post-Covid, to attend a family function in Kerala.

We took the day train on the onward journey. The AC chair car was comfortable, spacious and clean. The pantry car was adjacent to the carriage, and we enjoyed the classics of railway food in South India – dosa, pongal, parippu vada, pazham pori, and glasses of reasonably good coffee.

The advantage of a day train to Kerala is that one gets to see the Palakkad gap in all its glory. I have written about this unique geological formation previously. But this is possibly the first time I was traveling through it during the monsoon season. And to see the moisture-laden rain clouds stream through the gap from lush-green Kerala to drier Tamil Nadu was quite an experience.

We reached our destination on time and enjoyed the stay of a few days in Kerala.

For the return journey, I had booked the overnight train. The AC coach was again, very comfortable and I enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Woke up as the train was a few kilometres away from the outskirts of Bangalore, giving just enough time to enjoy a hot cup of coffee!

Birdwatching at Saul Kere – 3 July

Saul Kere

A few weekends back, I finally visited a lake that I have been wanting to for a while. Located off Sarjapur Road, Saul Kere is a medium sized lake that is still, thankfully, untouched by the blight of modern development. The natural landscape with abundant greenery on and around the lake is host to numerous species of birds. A checklist of birds I saw over the course of a couple of hours is below:

  1. Little Grebe
  2. Great Cormorant
  3. Little Cormorant
  4. Darter
  5. Spot-billed Pelican
  6. Purple Heron
  7. Grey Heron
  8. Black-crowned Night Heron
  9. Indian Pond-Heron
  10. Cattle Egret
  11. Median (Intermediate) Egret
  12. Little Egret
  13. Glossy Ibis
  14. Spot-billed Duck
  15. Brahminy Kite
  16. White-breasted Waterhen
  17. Common Moorhen
  18. Purple Moorhen
  19. Common Coot
  20. Bronze-winged Jacana
  21. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  22. Spotted Dove
  23. Rose-ringed Parakeet
  24. Asian Koel
  25. White-breasted Kingfisher
  26. Small Bee-eater
  27. Coppersmith Barbet
  28. Lesser Golden-backed (Black-rumped Flameback) Woodpecker
  29. White-cheeked Barbet
  30. Black Drongo
  31. Ashy Woodswallow
  32. Common Myna
  33. Jungle Myna
  34. Indian (Rufous) Treepie
  35. Jungle (Large-billed) Crow
  36. Red-whiskered Bulbul
  37. White-headed (Yellow-billed) Babbler
  38. Plain Prinia
  39. Ashy Prinia
  40. Streaked Fantail-Warbler
  41. Pied Bushchat
  42. Tickell’s (Pale-billed) Flowerpecker
  43. Large Pied (White-browed) Wagtail
  44. Purple-rumped Sunbird
  45. Spotted (Scaly-breasted) Munia

Mangalore Road Trip: Day 5 – Drive back

We enjoyed a leisurely and delicious home-cooked breakfast kindly served by our homestay hosts on the last day of our Mangalore trip. After packing, we left Mangalore around 11 am. My plan was to take the Charmadi Ghat route, but a wrong turn meant that we ended up coming back the way we had traveled to Mangalore – along the Shirady ghat road.

The drive back was comfortable, We stopped for lunch at the same restaurant we had stopped previously – the Ossoor. After a break for evening snacks and coffee, we reached home around 9 PM. Thus ended a short but enjoyable road trip to a beautiful part of our country.