We started the second day of out Gandikota trip with a visit to Belum caves. Belum Caves is considered to be the second largest cave system on the Indian subcontinent. We spent about an hour here, but did not explore it thoroughly as it was wet and slippery in parts, and also quite hot (and crowded). But it was certainly a unique experience.
From Belum caves, we headed to Owk Reservoir for lunch and speed-boating. The speed-boat was quite an experience, and highly recommended. Please note that the person sitting in the rear left seat can get very wet. In our case, this happened to be my daughter. We then had to halt at Owk town to purchase a new dress for her!
From Owk, we headed to Yaganti. On the way, and just before Yaganti temple, we came across the ruins of Nawab Bungalow. While only the facade of this impressive building remains standing, it’s still worth the detour to visit.
Finally, we reached Yaganti temple. The highlight of this temple is its impressive location, surrounded by cliffs. Cave temples dot the adjoining cliffs. While it’s a steep climb to visit some of these cave temples, they are extremely atmospheric and well worth the effort.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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: