Marvel at Caves and Crannies- Kurnool

A trip that was pending since over two years finally took wings last weekend. The places covered were an unusual combination of natural and contrived elements that created beauty. Had the both not been there, the existence of these places would have a lesser value than what it is today. An overnight drive was aimed at starting our trip from Bethamcherla- a town in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. A couple of articles on the internet had caught our interest to visit this place which is a treasure trove for archaeological studies. Invaluable Pleistocene remains have been excavated from several caves that are scattered around this region. We wanted to explore the Yerrajala & Billa Surgam caves in particular after being impressed by the photos online. However, even after talking to several localites, we failed miserably to get anywhere close to the places we were looking for. Language was a BIG concern there and for any small enquiries too, the curious people would throng in large numbers and stare at us while we were trying to communicate with our hand signs. Luckily, we had a Telugu-ite in our group who would do most of the talking throughout the trip. So, the day started somewhat on a low note.

As per the plan, the first day was a long one with target being to reach Gandikota for sunset. We had already spent 3 hours doing nothing and we decided to skip Yerrajala and proceed with the rest of the itinerary. The winding roads of Tadipatri are carved out of the rocky hills that are rich sources of the infamous Kadapa stones used in constructions. The sedimentary rocks that have formed over years can be seen in layers which make driving along this stretch a delight! We stopped at several spots to photograph the beautiful landscape as we drove through to reach our next destination- Yaganti. This is an ancient cave temple patronized by the rulers of the Sangam dynasty. Keep left is the rule one needs to bear in mind in order to cover all the caves located around, where each one has a special story to tell. Just keep taking the stairs whenever & wherever you spot them so that you don’t miss out on any caves. A flight of steep stairs takes you to Agastya Cave where Lord Shiva is worshipped. And yet another chamber leads you to Lord Venkateshwara. Although, the lord is otherwise known for all the wealth, the minimal deco and the dimly lit chamber has some positive energy that emanates out of the place. We needed a little more time than what we had thought of to observe this place where the art, history & mythology co-existed.

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The temple pond at Yaganti- amidst a backdrop of several caves

On our return, we halted at Banaganapally village, in front of a mansion that stands magnificently atop a small hillock by the road side. An old rusted name board read- ‘Nawab’s bungalow’. Though the exteriors have stood the ravages of time, the interiors of this imposing structure built of wood and rock is crumbling. Inspite of being featured in several movies, nobody really knows who the Nawab who owns this bungalow is. Further into the drive, we stopped by for a quick group photo at the Owk reservoir. We were stopped quite literally while we were trying to capture a photo with the serene backdrop of the dam. The wind blew so hard that we were struggling to move against the strong currents and felt stationary most of the times. It was my first time experience of fighting the wind. I really wonder how strong a storm could be..!!

Having found NO hotels for breakfast, it was a hungry drive down to the Belum village. After wandering around, we settled down to have lunch at the only A/C- restaurant in the region (with no electricity for A/C service) on a recommendation by a localite. Not like we had an option either..!! After a quick lunch, we drove over to Belum caves. As expected, the weekend crowd was insane but the weather was in our favour on that breezy afternoon! On a flat/potent fertile land that seemed fit for cultivation, there appears a deep well like opening in the land. A steep flight of stairs takes one by surprise as he enters the infamous caves. The magnificent stalactites & stalagmites formations of limestone make Belum caves the longest and the 2nd largest complex in the country. Several ancient remnants of pre-historic human dwellings and relics of the Buddhist era have been discovered marking the caves on the map of archaeological and culturally important places. Due to the crowd, high humidity levels and low level of oxygen inside, most of us had a severe headache by the time we walked out of the place to sunlight. But, whatever the hardship, it was totally worth every drop of sweat.

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Inside the Belum caves

We were running behind schedule and we had to zip, zap, zoom… to reach to the sunset point… After a 2-3 hrs drive, we were excited as we spotted the windmills dotting the distant horizon and the long wall of the Jammalamadagu fortress spread across bordering the land’s end. It was an indication that we were approaching our destination- Gandikota. But the sunset..??? Hell yeah! We did make it in time, but the clouds played spoilt sport! Never mind, we still had chores to accomplish before it was dark. We wanted to go where the road took us and that’s the reason we hadn’t booked our stay. We were carrying tents and sleeping bags as backup with us. The trip had been good so far and we hoped that all went fine till the end.. As expected, the rooms were all occupied at Haritha- The only stay option around for miles (A resort run by the AP tourism). We negotiated with the caretakers to let us use the washrooms and dining facility. After striking a deal with a couple of villagers, we hiked down the steep gorge to pitch our tents for the night. It was really dark and well past 9.00.p.m. when we started our descent down to the river ridge. The descent seemed longer than expected with the luggage and the total darkness adding to our woes even while a few loose stones rolled down our feet as we paved our way down carefully. Once we reached the bottom, it was immense silence that had engulfed the calm environment and our cubicle bred minds. The fresh cool air filled our souls. It had been a windy day throughout and the river side could’nt be left apart. We managed to pitch one tent with great difficulty and the rest decided to just cuddle inside their sleeping bags. The weather wasn’t harsh and the cool temperature remained pleasant right till dawn. Only thing we were hoping for was that no water was let from the nearby dam and we all don’t get washed away in the dark 😉

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That’s the view from our tent- from the Pennar river bed

We all were awakened by the first rays of dawn and opened our eyes to a dream… We all knew we were camping on the ridge of river Pennar but only with sunlight, we realized that we were actually sleeping on the river bed!! No wonder that the soil felt moist and loose while we were struggling to pitch our tents last night!! With the mighty gorge standing all around us, our hearts skipped more than a few beats at the splendid view of the painterly beauty. We strolled across the river bed till both ends of the fort wall taking in sufficient clean air into our lungs through the billowing winds and the burnt yellow-green grass. We cooked maggi and ate bread-jam for breakfast and soon, we had to call it ‘Pack-up’ un-desiring lest face the brunt of the burning sun while we climbed back with the entire load. Once on top, we explored the view point, the old mosque, the fort remnants, the granary and the temples in the village. The entire village exists within the fort walls. It was a beautiful place to bid good bye!

The Pennar gorge at Gandikota Photo credits: Arun Kumar B.R.
The Pennar gorge at Gandikota
Photo credits: Arun Kumar B.R.

For a pious traveler, a visit to the Lakshminarayanaswamy temple in Kadiri town and the Madhvarayaswamy temple at Gorantla, both from the Vijayanagara era would complete their trip. Half a day could be well spent at the Lepakshi complex too if opted for which lies on the way. The drive back to Bangalore through the bypass road was another highlight where we travelled mostly through protected forest reserve area. The Rollapadu bird sanctuary- the only habitat for the largest flying bird in the world, the endangered – ‘Great Indian Bustard’ in Andhra lies just a small deviation away. The mighty rocks balancing on each other and the greenery all along just made every bit of the trip so joyful. We had to reach Bangalore to drop a friend at the airport for her late evening flight! Thus ended a quick weekend… like zip, zap zoom…!!!

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