Searching for a road trip destination from Hyderabad and having already explored Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal, Hampi and Goa, truthfully speaking, we were not really spoilt for choice. Gandikota, our desi version of the Grand Canyon, was the pick. And so we set out early on a Saturday morning through the Hyderabad Bangalore highway – NH44. As the world woke up, we drifted across the expressway lost in the sounds of old rock music.
Gandikota is close to 400 km from Hyderabad and the first stretch of 200 km through NH44 was suave, left us wanting for a cruise control mode in our Swift Dzire VXI. Well maintained roads, four lane and some times six lane highways bordered with colorful flowers and hills were a sight to sooth the soul. It is only when one ventures out of urban civilization does one become aware of the more simplistic life that exists out there. Farmers and shepherds glided by, some ploughing their fields, sprinkling pesticides, some managing their cattle and goats.
About a year back during our road trip to Hampi, we had missed having inviting highway eateries that looked safe and hygienic for a halt. This time, we were gifted with quite a few choices. M Food Court, Food Pyramid being a couple of them. After a hearty breakfast of hot Idli and Dosa, our journey continued as we passed through the abysmal roads of Nandyal and Panyam to reach Royal County resort in a place named Proddatur in the Kadapa district of Andhra by 2 PM.
That day was set aside for being lazy and indulgent. After a hot water bath, a sumptuous lunch of Tandoori Roti and Chicken curry followed by a two-hour afternoon siesta, we went down to the swimming pool as the sun took our leave for the day.
We woke up fresh the next day morning, excited about the adventures in store and headed for the Gandikota Gorge, a drive of 40 km brought us to the base of an old 13th century fort ruins that consisted of an abandoned mosque, a couple of temples (Madhavaraya Temple and the pillared Ranganath Swamy temple) reminiscent of the Vijaynagara architecture, a granary and a jail. Eventually we climbed up the way to get a view of the gorge. A narrow valley with steep rocky walls with Penna river flowing in between them. “Gandi” meaning gorge in the local language Telugu and “Kota” meaning fort literally gives the name Gandikota or Fort on top of Gorge to the place.
We made our way up through massive red granite boulders to view the gorge from different angles. The view, the breeze and the tranquility of the place do demand a few moments of your leisure time, although we were slightly disappointed with the sight of almost no water in the gorge. Mylavaram Dam was visible in the distance and we realized that the water has been impounded.
Having spent an hour and having clicked loads of photographs, we headed for another attraction in the region nearby, the famous Belum Caves.
A drive of 60 km and 90 minutes later, we found ourselves at the gates of the Belum Caves. The entry can be spotted from a few km away itself with “Belum Caves” being engraved in white on a nearby hillock, the Hollywood style and a giant 60 feet high white Buddha deep in meditation sitting on top of a white lotus.
Belum Caves have been formed naturally by the erosion of of the limestone rocks by carbonic acid or acidic underground water formed by the reaction of limestone and water from river Chitravati that flew ages ago in this area and has changed course since. Belum derives its name from the Sanskrit word for caves “Bilum”. This 3.4 km underground cave was brought to fame by a British geologist in the 19th century but the caves were not explored till another century.
We hired a guide who spoke just Telugu and went around the dark maze for more than an hour, coming in and out of narrow passages lined with stalactite and stalagmite formations created by the perennial erosion of the rocks. The inside of the caves is lit up in sodium light and is extremely humid. The legend has it that Buddhist monks meditated in these caves. Long winding passages sometimes opened up into spacious chambers and otherwise led us to dead ends. We found a little stream flowing in the deepest part of the caves called Patalaganga. The stalactite formations formed shapes like the trunk of a banyan tree or an inverted crocodile on the wall or icicles dropping from the roof. The caves breathe though the many naturally formed pit holes which look like cavities in the roof.
Having explored the caves, we were back under the open to sky roof that let in sunlight and that is believed to have been the root of the discovery of the caves. It had been a day of climbing and trekking and of course driving a bit and so we headed back to the resort for some much-needed breather.
Day three, we packed our bags and set out on the roads again, this time on our way back to Hyderabad. 150 km and the bad roads of Nandyal and Panyam behind us, we halted at the Orvakal Rock garden in Kurnool. It is convenient as it is dead on the highway, no detour is needed. This is a 1000 acre park with igneous rock formations specifically silica and quartz interleaved with pools of water. One can hike up to the many view points to get a bird’s-eye view of the place.
Having captured the place in our camera and having explored a couple of hiking trails, we hit the road again. And thus culminated our short weekend getaway. Are the places recommended? Yes, definitely worth a shot. Experience the many wonders of Mother Nature!
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