A state in the south-eastern coastal region, Andhra Pradesh is the seventh-largest state by area and tenth-most populous state of India. It is bordered by Telangana to the north-west, Chhattisgarh to the north, Odisha to the north-east, Tamil Nadu to the south, Karnataka to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east. Andhra Pradesh has the second longest coastline in India after Gujarat and was the first state to be formed on a linguistic basis in 1953. Once a major Buddhist pilgrimage site and Buddhist learning center, the state is also known as the land of the world-famous diamond Koh-i-Noor due to the Kollur Mine and the rice bowl of India because of its status as a major producer of rice.
The state comprises two major regions, Rayalaseema in the south-west and coastal Andhra bordering the Bay of Bengal in the east and north-east. The state is unique because it is the only state with three capitals – Visakapatanam, the largest city and commercial hub of the state being the executive capital, and Amaravati and Kurnool serving as the legislative and judicial capitals respectively. The state has the seventh-largest state economy in India with a higher than national average per capita GDP. The Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati is one of the world’s most visited religious sites, with 18.25 million visitors per year. The region is also home to a variety of other pilgrimage centres, such as the Pancharama Kshetras, Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga and Kodanda Rama Temple. The state’s natural attractions include the beaches of Visakhapatnam, hill stations such as the Araku Valley and Horsley Hills, and the delta of Konaseema in the Godavari River delta.
The early inhabitants of the state were known as the Andhras, tracing their history to the Vedic period when they were mentioned in the 8th century BC Rigvedic text Aitareya Brahmana. According to the Aitareya Brahmana, the Andhras left North India from the banks of river Yamuna and migrated to South India. The region also derives its name from the Satavahanas who are also known as the Andhras, the earliest kings of Andhra Pradesh and India. The Satavahanas have been mentioned by the names Andhra, Andhrara-jateeya and Andhrabhrtya in the Puranic literature. They did not refer themselves as Andhra in any of their coins or inscriptions; it is possible that they were termed as Andhras because of their ethnicity or because their territory included the Andhra region.
The state was ruled by Satavahanas, Eastern Chalukyas, Andhra Ikshvakus, Vijayanagara Empire, Mauryan Empire, Cholas, Pallavas, Salankayanas, Vishnukundinas, Kakatiyas and Rashtrakutas.
The Assaka Mahajanapada, one of the sixteen Vedic Mahajanapadas, included Andhra, Maharashtra and Telangana. Archaeological evidence from places such as Amaravati, Dharanikota, and Vaddamanu suggests that the Andhra region was part of the Mauryan Empire. Amaravati might have been a regional centre for the Mauryan rule. After the death of Emperor Ashoka, Mauryan rule weakened around 200 BC and was replaced by several smaller kingdoms in the Andhra region. The Satavahana dynasty dominated the Deccan region from the 1st century BC to the 3rd century BC. The later Satavahanas made Dharanikota and Amaravathi their capital, which according to the Buddhists is the place where Nagarjuna, the philosopher of Mahayana lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The Andhra Ikshvakus, with their capital at Vijayapuri, succeeded the Satavahanas in the Krishna River valley in the latter half of the 2nd century. The Pallavas, who were originally executive officers under the Satavahana kings, were not a recognised political power before the 2nd century and were swept away by the Western Chalukyan invasion, led by Pulakesin II in the first quarter of the 7th century. After the downfall of the Ikshvakus, the Vishnukundinas were the first great dynasty in the 5th and 6th centuries, and held sway over the entire Andhra country, including Kalinga and parts of Telangana. They played an important role in the history of Deccan during the 5th and 6th century, with Eluru, Amaravathi and Puranisangam.
The Salankayanas were an ancient dynasty that ruled the Andhra region between Godavari and Krishna with their capital at Vengi which today is modern Pedavegi from 300 to 440. The Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi, whose dynasty lasted for around five hundred years from the 7th century until 1130, eventually merged with the Chola Empire and continued to rule under the protection of the Chola Empire until 1189 when the kingdom succumbed to the Hoysalas and the Yadavas. The Kakatiyas ruled Andhra Pradesh state for nearly two hundred years and constructed several forts and were succeeded by the Musunuri Nayaks. The Reddi kingdom was established in the early 14th century, ruled from present day Kondaveedu and constructed the Kondaveedu Fort before it was taken over by the Gajpathis of Orissa, and later ravaged by the Muslim rulers of the Bahmani kingdom in 1458 and which the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadevaraya captured it in 1516. The Golconda Sultans fought for the fort in 1531, 1536 and 1579, and Sultan Quli Qutb Shah captured it in 1579, renaming it Murtuzanagar. It was reconquered by Vijayanagara who overthrew sultanate rule across the entirety of modern-day Andhra Pradesh, excluding Telangana. After this rebellion, the Bahmani sultans launched no further military campaigns outside their kingdoms, because the Maratha empire soon emerged as the strongest power in India. Today efforts are in progress to classify Kondaveedu Fort as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Vijayanagara Empire originated in the Deccan Plateau region in the early 14th century. The empire’s patronage enabled fine arts and literature to reach new heights in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit, while Carnatic music evolved into its current form. During the Vijayanagara Empire, the Pemmasani Nayaks controlled parts of Andhra Pradesh and had large mercenary armies that were the vanguard of the Vijayanagara Empire in the sixteenth century. The Lepakshi group of monuments are culturally and archaeologically significant as it is the location of shrines dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Veerabhadra which were built during the Vijayanagara Kings’ period. The temples are the location of mural paintings of the Vijayanagara kings, Dravidian art, and inscriptions. Near the temple complex is a large granite Nandi bull and on a hillock known as Kurma Saila or tortoise-shaped hill are other temples dedicated to Papanatheswara, Raghunatha, Srirama, and Durga. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has taken the initiative to include Lepakshi Group of Monuments among the UNESCO World Heritage sites in India.
The Qutb Shahi dynasty held sway over the Andhra country for about two hundred years from the early part of the sixteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century. In the early nineteenth century, Northern Circars was ceded to the British East India Company and became part of the Madras Presidency. Eventually, this region emerged as the Coastal Andhra region. Later the Nizam rulers of Hyderabad ceded five territories to the British that eventually became the Rayalaseema region. The Nizams retained control of the interior provinces as the princely state of Hyderabad, acknowledging British rule in return for local autonomy. However, Komaram Bheem, a tribal leader, started his fight against the erstwhile Asaf Jahi Dynasty for the liberation of Hyderabad State. Meanwhile, the French occupied Yanam, in the Godavari delta, and save for periods of British control would hold it until 1954. In 1947, Vizianagaram was the largest Hindu princely state in Andhra Pradesh.
After India’s independence in 1947, the Nizam wanted to retain the independence of the princely Hyderabad State from India, but the people of the region launched a movement to join the Indian Union. The state of Hyderabad was integrated into the Indian Union with Operation Polo in 1948. In an effort to gain an independent state based on linguistic identity, Potti Sreeramulu fasted to death in 1952 and after his death, the Telugu-speaking area of Andhra State was carved out of Madras State on 1 October 1953, with Kurnool as its capital city. On the basis of the gentlemen’s agreement of 1 November 1956, the States Reorganisation Act formed a combined Andhra Pradesh by merging Andhra State with the Telugu-speaking areas of the already existing Hyderabad State and Hyderabad was made the capital of the new state. The Marathi-speaking areas of Hyderabad State merged with Bombay State and the Kannada-speaking areas were merged with Mysore State. In February 2014, the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 bill was passed by the Parliament of India for the formation of the Telangana state comprising ten districts. Hyderabad would remain as a joint capital for a period not exceeding ten years and the new state of Telangana came into existence on 2 June 2014.
The state has varied topography ranging from the hills of Eastern Ghats and Nallamala Hills to the shores of Bay of Bengal that support varied ecosystems, the rich diversity of flora and fauna. There are two main rivers namely, Krishna and Godavari, that flow through the state. The coast of the state extends along the Bay of Bengal from Srikakulam to Nellore district. The plains to the east of Eastern Ghats form the Eastern coastal plains. The coastal plains are for the most part of delta regions formed by the Godavari, Krishna, and Penner Rivers. The Eastern Ghats are discontinuous and individual sections have local names. The Eastern Ghats are a major dividing line in the state’s geography. The Kadapa Basin formed by two arching branches of the Eastern Ghats is a mineral-rich area. Most of the coastal plains are put to intense agricultural use and the Rayalaseema region has semi-arid conditions.
We will start with Andhra Pradesh’s biggest city Vishakhapatanam which lies to the north of the state and work our way down to the south to the one of the wold’s holiest temples of Tirupati.
Also known as Vizag, Visakhapatnam is the executive capital of Andhra Pradesh and its most populated and largest. It lies between the Eastern Ghats and the coast of the Bay of Bengal and is the third largest city in the Indian east coast after Chennai and Kolkata and the fourth largest city in South India and serves as the headquarters for the Eastern Naval Command.
The city is home to the oldest shipyard and the only natural harbour on the east coast of India with the Visakhapatnam Port being the fifth-busiest cargo port in India. Nicknamed the City of Destiny and the Jewel of the East Coast, Vishakhaptanam was third cleanest city in India in 2017, the seventh cleanest in 2018 and 23rd in 2019. Visakhapatnam is surrounded by ancient Buddhist sites, most of which have been excavated recently and illustrate the legacy of Buddhism in the region.
With a history stretching back to 6th century BC, when it was considered a part of the Kalinga Kingdom, Vishakhapatanam was later ruled by the Vengi, the Pallava and the Eastern Ganga dynasties and was historically considered part of the Kalinga empire. Archaeological records suggest that the present city was built around the 11th and 12th centuries with control over the city fluctuating between the Chola Dynasty and the Gajapati Kingdom, until its conquest by the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century. Conquered by the Mughals in the 16th century, European powers eventually set up trading interests in the city, and by the end of the 18th century it had come under French rule. Control passed to the British Raj in 1804 and it remained under British colonial rule until India’s independence in 1947.
According to local belief, a 4th century king during a pilgrimage, halted at Lawson’s Bay and built a temple dedicated to his family diety Vaisakha, which was submerged under the sea, but the settlement which formed around the temple was named Vishakhapatanam after the Goddess. Another legend says the city is named after Sri Visakha Varma. Legend has it that Radha and Viśakha were born on the same day and were equally beautiful. Sri Visakka Sakhi was the second most important gopi of the eight main gopis and carried messages between Radha and Krishna and was the most expert gopi messenger. Another theory is that it is named after a woman disciple of Buddha named Visakha. The other names the city was known were Kulotungapatnam, named by the Chola King Kulotun I; Ishakapatnam, based on a Muslim Saint, Syed Ali Madani or Ishak Madani; Vizagapatam and Waltair during the British colonial rule.
The Rishikonda Beach also known as Rushikonda Beach is a stunning shoreline which remains unspoilt. It is also known as the Jewel of the East Coast and is located in the midst of a frothy blue sea and emerald greenery. A favourite among water sports enthusiasts due to the range of activities offered here, Rushikonda Beach is one of the few beaches that offers swimming under expert supervision. There is also a ropeway to the Kailashgiri hilltop from the beach from where visitors can enjoy a toy train ride. The Rishikonda Beach also houses the Iskcon Temple.
The Yarada Beach is an entrancing place which is surrounded by hills on three sides and the Bay of Bengal on the fourth and is covered with lush greenery and soft golden sands all over. It is an ideal location to view enchanting sunrise and sunsets. The beach is located about 15 km from Visakhapatnam and is not very crowded and is covered with coconut and banana plantations. Though there is no entry fee a charge of INR 30 is charged for entering the Arigold property and accessing the shops as well as restaurants there.
Very similar to a dolphin’s nose, Dolphin’s nose is a 174 m high rocky headland situated in the south of Vizag. The nose seems to be protruding out towards the Bay of Bengal giving it a rather fascinating look. A renowned powerful light house with a light beam that can be seen as far as 64 km out at sea is nearby. There is also a hill nearby named the Dolphin hill and is a restricted armed forces residential area. The back of the hill has a scenic, beautifully placed, secluded beach called Yarada.
The Lawson’s Bay beach is often considered an extension of Ramakrisha Beach and is a calm, serene and secluded stretch with lush greenery and whitish sands. The majestic sea with shallow crystal clear water and calm waves here is ideal for swimming, sun bathing and surfing.
Havi Konda, Thotla Konda, Bojjana Konda, and Salihundam located around the city were places of Buddhist excavations. The excavations of 1906 that took place have brought out many Buddhist monuments such as stupas and chaityas. It is believed that some of the corporal remnants of the Buddha were conserved at these sacred Buddhist places. Dantapuram, another Buddhist excavation site, has been beautifully placed at the confluence of river Vamsadhara with the Bay of Bengal. The excavations in this holy place have exposed many stupas and antiquities.
Bojjannakonda is a small group of six rock-cut caves on Bojjannakonda hill that date back to the 4th century AD when Buddhism was flourishing in the region. The caves have beautifully carved statues of Gautam Buddha which draw tourists and believers for its aesthetic and religious importance. The caves nearby also have stupas where Buddhist monks would meditate. The caves form a notable establishment of Buddhists in the region and stand out for its large group of monolithic stupas that surround a Maha Stupa which has a dome made of bricks. The three phases of Buddhism – Mahayana, Hinayana and Vajrayana are featured on the caves, chaityas and the monasteries. Bojjannakonda has six rock-cut caves, a group of stupas surrounding a maha stupa and chaityas surrounding the maha stupa. The caves have panels that have been meticulously sculptured. The main cave is comparatively larger and has sixteen pillars. It has a monolithic stupa right in the centre, creating a pathway around the stupas for pradakshina. The dome of several stupas is made of bricks. Two of these brick stupas hold stone relic caskets or miniature stupas. An umbrella is carved on the ceiling over the stupa. This umbrella was originally connected to the top of the stupa. However, after years of weathering the shaft that connected the umbrella to the stupa is no longer seen. The cave has two levels – the top level has a carving of Gautam Buddha where he can be seen sitting in a lotus position/ meditating posture with attendants around him. At the foothills, an image of a Buddhist Monk, Harati, can also be found.
Bojjannakonda marks one of the most significant Buddhist establishments in Andhra Pradesh during between the 4th and 9th centuries. During that time, the village, Sankaram, was known as Sangharam, meaning Boudha-Arama or Vihara. Between 4th and 9th centuries, Mahayana, Hinayana and Vajrayana flourished in Andhra Pradesh. The caves were found only after an excavation that was carried out in 1907 – 1908 where . items like mud utensils, seals, pots, terracotta beads, gold, lead and copper coins, and metal figures were recovered from the caves. An idol of Kalabhairav and an image of Harati were also later on discovered during the excavation. Open daily from 9 am to 6 pm, the caves come under the Archaeological Survey of India
The Victory at Sea War Memorial is located on Beach road and has a pyre lit permanently in honour of Indian martyrs. Missiles, fighter plane models and tankers are also kept around the memorial which can be seen from the main road itself when on the way to the beach. The monument was built in 1996 to honour the brave sailors of Indian Navy and the Eastern Naval Command who fought the Indo-Pak War and sunk PNS Gazi, a Pakistani submarine when Pakistan targeted the Visakhapatnam Port to destroy INS Vikrant, an Indian aircraft carrier.
The Submarine Museum is a museum inside an actual submarine, INS Kurusura, which was India’s 5th submarine. The museum is situated on RK beach, near the War Memorial and the beautiful scenery with clear blue waters and golden sand serves as a perfect location for the museum. The museum has artefacts, pictures and articles that share stories of strength and sacrifice of the sailors. The INS Kurusura served the Indian Navy for 31 years before it was decommissioned in 2001. The submarine was included on a key patrol mission in 1971 during the Indo-Pak war and has been an important participant in numerous naval exercises and goodwill visits. The submarine is 91.3 metres long and 8 metres wide. This USSR make, class I-641 submarine has a displacement of 1945 tons. Its diving depth is 280 metres and can accommodate about 77 sailors at a time. It has 22 torpedoes, 3 diesel engines, 448 batteries and reaches a speed of 15.5 knots. Post decommissioning, it was used a museum to spread awareness about Indian Naval Forces, the technology used and its development in India. It is a one of a kind project that was launched by the Eastern Naval Command. The only submarine museum in Asia, the interiors of the submarine has been re-arranged to allow a clear view to visitors. There are Naval Officers that serve as guides at the venue and they share their stories, experiences and the history of the submarine to the visitors. The Dressing Ship Honour has been awarded to the submarine despite being a de-commissioned submarine. The museum is closed on Mondays and on other days it is open from 2 to 8:30 pm. Children pay an entry fee of INR 20 while adults pay INR 40. You need to pay INR 50 for a camera and INR 500 for a video camera.
The Indira Gandhi Zoological Park is set amidst the Eastern Ghats and is a part of the Kambalakonda Forest Reserve. It acts as a home for approximately eighty different species of animals spread over an area of 625 acres and is one of the largest zoological parks in Andhra Pradesh. The Bay of Bengal is situated close by, which makes it an ideal destination to study flora and fauna right beside each other. This park also has a separate section for butterflies and moths, and this part of the park is open only during the day, as moths and butterflies cannot fly during the late hours of the day. The walls are adorned with pictures and information about these gentle creatures to spread awareness about them. The animal population here is perfectly complemented by the surrounding foliage of the Eastern Ghats, which surrounds this place on three sides. The area of the entire park sums to about 625 acres. There is even a mini train inside the park to view all of its premises. Entry fee for adults cost INR 10 and for children INR 5. There is separate ticket if you want to enjoy the mini train ride. For adults, the ticket price for the mini train is INR 15, and for children, it is INR 10. The park is open daily except Mondays from 9 am to 5 pm.
Kailasagiri is a hill top park at 360 feet and overlooks beaches, forests & the city with one of the best spots for a bird’s eye view of the bay. The park is well known for its panoramic view, peaceful atmosphere and scenic beauty, and offers plenty of leisure activities. The park is open from 11 am to 8 pm with the winters being the best time to visit. Entry fee is INR 5 and a round trip on the cable car costs INR 75 for an adult and INR 40 for children.
The Simhachalam temple is an ornate shrine revered to be one of the most important temples in the region. The temple is perched atop a hill 800 metres above and is dedicated to Lord Narasimha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The temple is embellished with extremely detailed stone carvings and design and can be spotted from a distance. This is the only temple in the country where Shri Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Swami, a combination of the third and fourth incarnations of Lord Vishnu, appears. Lord Narasimha appears here in the tribhanga posture and has two hands with the head of a lion on a human torso. The shrine follows strict discipline, and has detailed prayer routines for all days of the year undisturbed by the influx of pilgrims. This place is a treasure of traditional Vaishnavite culture. Interestingly, the statue of the deity appears in its true form only for 12 hours per year on the day of Akshaya Tritiya. On any other occasion, the idol is covered with sandalwood paste. The temple is open from 7 am to 4 pm and then again between 6 to 9 pm.
Ross Hill Church is one of the few locations that can be climbed to get a fabulous view of the quaint city and the port area. The attraction is frequently visited by photographers and nature lovers especially to view the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The church a beautiful architecture and a serene vibe with the hill atop which the church stands being the highest and the central hill in the region. Ross Hill Chapel was once the house of an Englishman and local judge, Monsieur Ross. The house was built in 1864 and was converted into a chapel in 1867. The region was severely affected by cyclones in 1870 and 1876 and in 1877, the church was renovated, and a new statue of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was installed. Since then, the church has been through several modification and renovations to accommodate more devotees. When the Japanese raided Visakhapatnam in 1942, a procession was taken to Ross Hill Church to keep the city and the inhabitants safe from the enemy. It is said that no raid has happened ever since. The church is open between 9 am and 6 pm daily.
In the next part, we will visit Araku Valley, Vizianagaram, Annavaram, Samalkot, Kakinada and Rajahmundry