Travel Bucket List: India – Andhra Pradesh Part 3

After having seen what Araku Valley, Vizianagaram, Annavaram, Samalkot, Kakinada and Rajahmundry has to offer, let’s move a bit more south within the state

Amaravathi
Known as the capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravathi is a planned city on the banks of the river Krishna and is renowned for being a site of a Buddhist Stupa that is a semi-hemispherical structure containing Buddhist relics and often called the Abode of God. The original structure was established during the reign of Emperor Ashoka which is now a meditation site in the city. Being built on a 217 km riverfront, the city is designed to have 51% of green spaces and its foundation stone was laid on 22 October 2015. The word Amaravathi in itself was derived from the ancient capital of Satavahana dynasty and was founded by Raja Vasireddy Venkatadri Nayudu in 1790s as the new capital of his zamindari estate. He moved there from his former capital Chintapalli in protest of alleged mistreatment by the British East India Company. Amaravathi is named after the ancient Amaravati Stupa, which was unearthed in the process of the town’s construction and is adjacent to the ancient Satavahana capital Dhanyakataka, which is now called Dharanikota. The word Amaravathi translates as the place for immortals.

The Amaralingeswara temple in the village is one of the Pancharama Kshetras for the Hindus and is devoted to Lord Shiva, the destroyer of the Universe. The temple has a 15 feet high marble shiva linga and it is believed that Lord Shiva is present in the structure of five lingams – Pranaveswara, Agasteswara, Kosaleswara, Someswara and Parthiveswara. Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, the temple has a lot of myths behind its creation. Maha Shivaratri or Magha Bahula Dasami is the main festival which is celebrated in a big way. An interesting fact about the Amareswara Temple is that it is situated at a point where the river alters its route. The temple is open daily between 6 am and 1 pm and then again from 4 to 8 pm

The Dhyana Buddha Statue is a gigantic statue of Lord Buddha and is known to be among the tallest Buddha statues in India, With a towering height of 125 feet, the Dhyana Buddha Statue was commissioned in 2003 and was completed in 2015. The status sits facing the pristine River Krishna and sprawls over a humongous green space covering 4.5 acres of land. The Dhyana Buddha Park, built around the statue is where people can visit and relax. The complex also houses a seminar hall and 20 luxury suites for Buddhist tourists visiting from all over the world. The statue and complex is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm and has an entrance fee of INR 20.

The Amaravati Stupa is a heritage monument and ancient Buddhist stupa under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India. Popularly known as the Mahachaitya, Deepaladinne or the Great Stupa of Amaravati, this is among the largest stupas in India. Built in two phases between the 3rd century and 250 AD, under the ageis of Emperor Ashoka, the premises also have an Archaeological Museum. With a height of 27 m and a diameter of 50 m, the monument has a circular vedika built with bricks and protruding rectangular Ayaka platforms for the four directions and houses Lord Buddha in a human form seated over an elephant. The five pillars of the platform represent the five main events from the life of Lord Buddha – the birth, the great renunciation, enlightenment, the first sermon and the final extinction. These platforms also have some crystal and one Ivory casket which have bone-pieces, precious stones, pearls and gold flowers. Boasting of the Mauryan style of architecture, the stupa has a semi circular spherical dome that is mounted on a circular drum like platform and has tales from Buddha’s life and the Jataka tales as well as animal and flower drawings. This entire structure was surrounded by pillars which form a railing. These pillars are separated by cross bars. The sculptures have been removed from the site but some ruins of the pillars remain. The stupa is open from 8 am to 6 m daily except Fridays when it is closed. Entry fees for Indians is INR 20 while foreigners need to pay INR 250.

The Amaravati Museum is a small but interesting archaeological museum which displays exhibits that range between 3rd century BC and 12th century AD and is currently run and by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Board. Some of the exhibits include statues of the Buddha with lotus symbols on his feet, curled hair and long ear lobes. Apart from this, there are also limestone sculptures of the goddess Tara and Bodhisattva Padmapani. Many of these Buddhist sculptures were excavated from here and now adorn the Chennai Government Museum and the British Museum in London. The museum is open daily from 10 am t0 5 pm and people above the age of 15 need to pay an entrance fee of INR 5 per person.

Vijayawada
Also known as Bezawada, Vijayawada lies on the banks of river Krishna surrounded by the hills of Eastern Ghats known as Indrakeeladri Hills. Geographically lying in the centre of Andhra Pradesh, the city, the second largest in the state has been described as the commercial, political, educational and media capital of Andhra Pradesh. Vijayawada is also considered a sacred place because of the Kanka Durga Temple dedicated to Goddess Durga and serves as the ritual host of the Pushkaram, a river worshipping ritual of the river Krishna. There is a legend which says that Arjuna, one of the heroes of the Indian epic Mahabharata, prayed on top of the Indrakeeladri Hill in the city and won the blessings of Lord Shiva to get the Pashupatastra to win the Kurukshetra War. It was called Vijayavatika or the Land of Victory in Telugu when Goddess Durga killed the demon Mahishasura and rested on the Indrakeeladri Hill by the River Krishna establishing the victory over evil hence the place got its name Vijayavatika, with Vijaya meaning victory and Vatika meaning Place or land in Telugu. Over the years Vijayavatika’s name was changed to Rajendra Chola Pura during the Chola dynasty, Bezawada during the British colonial rule and eventually to Vijayawada. The city is also the third most densely populated urban built-up areas in the world.

Vijayawada was founded around 626 A.D. by the Paricchedi Kings. History reveals that Vijayawada was ruled by King Madhava Varma, a king of the Vishnukundina dynasty. Chinese Buddhist scholar Xuanzang stayed a few years here around 640 AD to copy and study the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the last of the three pitakas, Pali for baskets constituting the Pali canon, the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. In the early 16th century, during the reign of Qutb Shahi dynasty, also known as the Golconda Sultanate, diamond mines were found near Vijayawada on the banks of the Krishna river.

Resting atop a small hillock in the southeast corner of Vijayawada is the Sri Ramalingeswara Swami vari Devasthanam, dedicated to Lord Shiva and is decorated like a bride, come Mahashivratri. Visitors also be treated to a breathtaking view of the colourful city and the River Krishna from here.

The Kanaka Durga Temple is a famous shrine dedicated to the Goddess Durga built in the Dravidian fashion. The temple is surrounded by the hills of Inrakeeladri, right along the banks of the Krishna River and finds mention in many sacred texts and Vedic literature. The Kanaka Durga temple is one of the many Shaktipeethas with the Goddess appearing in her Mahishasurmardini form here, along with the image slain demon king Mahishasura. It is believed that the deity is Swayambhu or self-manifesting. The deity’s face and body colour are of molten gold shade and the idol is bedecked with golden jewellery from which the temple gets its name Kanaka Durga, Kanaka in Sanskrit meaning gold. There are many legends about the temple. One legend says that this region was once strewn with mighty rocks which inhibited the flow of the Krishna river, leaving this area uninhabitable. To put an end to this problem, Lord Shiva was called upon and directed the hills to make way for the unobstructed flow of the river. The flow of the river gained strength through the tunnels or Bejjam, and hence the name Bezawada was born, which later got modified to Vijayawada. Another legend claims that Arjuna prayed to Lord Shiva on the top of the Indrakeela Hill to bless him and he was successful in passing the test that Lord Shiva had posed for him and gifted the Pandava with the Pasupat weapon, and hence the name Vijayawada was coined. The most famous legend obviously has Goddess Durga at its centre. It has two versions. One follows that the goddess visited the mountaintop where the temple is perched upon being worshipped and called by sage Indrakila, who is the inspiration behind the name of the hill range. The sage was tormented by the increasing menace of demons, led by Mahishasura and Durga responded to his plea, slew the demon king and made Indrakeeladri her permanent abode. Another one is that a Yaksha by the name Keela got a boon from Devi Durga that she would always remain in his heart. Granting him the boon, she said that he would be a mountain and she would perch in the temple nestled within the mountain range when the time comes. After killing Mahishasura, she kept her promise and made her home at Indrakeeladri. The main sanctum’s construction is in the form of a pyramid, with the surface embellished with delicate stone carvings. The most impressive aspect of the Kanaka Durga Temple is perhaps its golden crown, which can be spotted from miles away. There is also a shrine to Lord Shiva near the temple premises that goes by the name Malleswara Swamy temple. This temple is probably the only one in the world where the female deity is located on the right side of the male one, as against the traditional left side seat of the female consort. This is significant as this actually shows that the Shakti or feminine power of the cosmic universe is predominant here. The temple is open from 5 am to 9 pm on all days except on Thursdays when it is closed from 1 to 5 pm. However, there are separate timings for idol visits and other personalised pujas.

Dedicated to the Lord of serpents Kartikeya, the Subramanya Swamy temple is a shrine located on the foot of the Indrakiladari Hills. The temple worships all three forms of Lord Subramanya: Sri Dandayudhapani Swamy as a boy, Sri Valli Devayanai- his original form and lastly in the form of a serpent. It is carved out of sparkling white stone with intricate stonework embellishing the facade. The temple also houses a silver covered Garuda pillar as well as an anthill by the temple, the natural habitat of snakes. Visitors have to take a holy dip in the Kumaradhara river to reach the temple gates. The entrance to the temple is at the back, from where one can walk around the deity. Beyond the Garuda, the pillar is the main sanctum of the temple where the presiding deities, Subramanya and Shesha reside and worshipped on a daily basis. Legend says that after killing the demon ruler Tharaka, Shurapadmasura and Lord Shanmukha reached Kumara Parvatha with his brother Ganesha. He was received by Indra and his followers, who offered his daughter Devasena’s hand to Lord Kumar. The wedding ceremony took place on Margashira Shudha Shashti at Kumara Parvatha. Waters of several holy rivers was brought down for this ceremony, and with these waters, Mahabhishek also descended which later came to be known as Kumaradhara. The serpent king Vasuki performed penance for several years in the Biladwara caves of Subrahmanya to avoid the attack of Garuda. Shanmuka appeared to Vasuki and declared him his primary devotee. Hence, the prayers offered to Vasuki are nothing but the prayers to Lord Subrahmanya. The temple is open from 6:30 am to 1:30 pm and then again between 3:30 to 8 pm.

One of the most renowned Jain temples, the Hinkar Thirtha houses the only Jain shrine in the area. Adorned with Jain style of architecture, this is also one of the most beautiful structures n town. Somewhere amongst the hills of Krishna District, is the St Mary’s Church, also known as the Gunadala Matha Shrine. One finds an iron cross, erected on the top of a hill, and a museum housing holy relics. Also, the area is a centre of much festivity and devotion when it hosts the Annual Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The dazzlingly white Hazratbal Mosque is a sight for sore eyes. This mosque which has pilgrims from all religions to pray at the relic of Prophet Mohammad which is on display once a year and it is said having seen this relic will rid you of all the stubborn problems of life.

The Mogalarajapuram Caves are an ancient caves, dating to the 5th century and though a lot has been lost to ruins, the caves still hold religious and spiritual value as they house idols of Lord Nataraja and Lord Vinayaka amongst many more, a few cave temples and a shrine for Goddess Durga. The carvings here also hold amongst themselves, a carving of Ardhanariswara, which is said to be the only one of its kind across the whole of South India.

A monolithic example of Indian rock-cut architecture, the Undavalli Caves are carved out of a solid sandstone on a hillside and date back to the 4th to 5th centuries. This cave was originally Jain, but was later converted into a Hindu temple. Regarded as one of the earliest examples of the Gupta architecture, the Undavalli Caves is an an architectural marvel. From the outside, it looks like rows of cells arranged in different positions. There are three levels in the cave. The lower level resembles the Jain abode with many chambers and Thirthankara sculptures. The second level has a statue of a reclining God whose identity is still unknown, but locale believe the statue is that of Lord Vishnu and there are sculptures of lions and elephants on the walls. When one reaches the top of the cave, they can see a breath-taking view of the lush green surroundings and hills as well as the Krishna river flowing behind the caves. Tourists can even take the boat ride on the river enjoying the natural beauty. The caves are open daily from 9 am to 6 pm and entry is free.

The Kondapalli Fort is a marvellous 14th century fort located in the village of Kondapalli. The fort is considered of great historical importance and is just 23 km from Vijayawada. The village is famous for wooden toys, especially the Kondapalli Dolls. The Kondapalli fort is also called as Kondapalli Kota and was built by the Musunuri Nayaks. It served as a military fortification during the British era and was said to have been built as a centre of recreation, business and trade during the 14th century. The Kondapalli fort has three entry gates, with the first one built with one block of granite. This gate is called the Dargha Darwaza, and it is about 12 feet wide and 16 feet high. The second entrance is on the other side of the hill and is called the Golconda Darwaza. This entrance leads to the village of Jaggaiahpet. The striking fort has several towers and battlements, a reservoir with a spring and some water tanks. The Tanisha Mahal is located at the far end of the fortress perched in between two hills. The palace has several rooms or chambers and a vast Durbar Hall. The fort also has an English Barrack with eight rooms and an English cemetery. A colony in Kondapalli, known as the Bommala Colony or the Toys Colony is well known for crafting these toys which is a 400-year-old tradition in the region. This form of arts and crafts is believed to have started by a sage named Muktharishi who was blessed with the skills by Lord Shiva. It is believed that artisans migrated from Rajasthan to learn this art from Muktharishi in the 16th century. These artisans are now called Aryakhastriyas or Nakarshalu. References to these names have been found in the Brahmanda Purana. The toys are made of Tella Poniki which is a type of softwood found in abundance on the Kondapalli Hills. The artisans meticulously carve the wood into the required shape, soften the edges carefully and give a base coat of enamel paint. To colour the toys, they either use water-colours mixed with oil or vegetable dyes. These toys are mostly about mythological figures, art forms, animals and birds for children to play with and stay connected with nature and our culture.

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A museum of the Archaeology Department, the Victoria Museum is a walk through imprints of time and all it left behind. Browse through a rich and ancient collection of sculptures, idols, inscriptions, paintings, cutlery and weapons. The large Buddha statue in the museum from Alluru will leave visitors fascinated.

Standing on a whopping 160 pillars and offering an astounding view of the holy Krishna river, the Prakasam Barrage does a lot more than just looking majestic. This bridge connects the Kolkata – Chennai highway and facilitates the irrigation of over 1.2 acres of farm land. The entire bridge is lit up with soft yellow lights and is an amazing sight to witness.

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Being one of the 8 Mahakshetrams or sacred destinations of the country, Mangalagiri which literally translates to the auspicious hill is a charming town and one of the eight important Mahakshetrams or sacred destinations in the country. It is believed that Lord Vishnu manifested himself in the soil of Mangalagiri and that Lakshmi Devi has performed penance on its hilltop.

Looking over Vijayawada city from a height of 500 feet, Gandhi Hill was the first to have a ginormous stupa dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. Around the stupa, you will find six shrines dedicated to Gandhiji, a fully stocked library and the city’s only planetarium. The memorial hosts a breathtaking light and sound show in the evenings elucidating Gandhiji’s eventful life. A huge Gandhi structure of 15.8 meter height was inaugurated in 1968 and it is the first Gandhi Memorial in India constructed on a hillock. The panorama from Gandhi hill is mesmerizing and gives an enchanting view of Vijayawada city.

Bhavani island is one of the largest islands on a river and is located over the Krishna river at Vijayawada. The vast expanse of the island is the perfect place for a relaxing weekend. If one likes aventure sports and water slides, this is the place to be in. It is named after the Goddess Bhavani or Kanaka Durga whose temple is on the Indrakeeladri hill close to the island. Bhavani island can be reached by boat from the banks of Krishna river. Approaching the island from the banks, visitors will enjoy the lush green surroundings and beauty of the Krishna river. If you are on the island especially during sunrise, you have the most spectacular view of the sunlight dancing on flowing waters of the river. There are also numerous activities to pursue on the island- like water-skiing, kayaking, parasailing, as well as opportunities to enjoy some leisurely time snoozing on hammocks, fishing and picnicking. The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation has converted a barren island to an exciting tourist spot. A recently introduced attraction is the Tanvi boat cruise by Champions Yacht club on Bhavani island where visitors can cruise on the river at sunset or sunrise, and enjoy the cool breeze over the flowing water and these can be enjoyed for a small fee ranging from INR 50 to INR 300. To reach Bhavani island from Vijayawada, a five minute ferry has to be taken from the Punnami ghat.

Machilipatnam
Nestled on the banks of the Krishna river, the port town of Machilipatnam is steeped in a rich historical past with the town still reflecting the footprint of several foreign invaders in the country. In fact, Machelipatnam is believed to be one of the first colonial settlements of the British along the Coromondal Coast on the Indian subcontinent. Once served as a prominent port town, it later changed hands with several invaders including British, Arab, French and Dutch. This town has been known as Masulipatnam, Masula and Bandar. Masuli or Machili means fish and Patnam means city. Masula and Bandar which port in Persian and was also referred with the name Maesolia in ancient times.

Once serving as a major port, Manginapudi is today a fishing village located on the shores of a beach nearly 11 km from Machilipatnam. This beautiful natural beach is unique for its black soil and also a natural bay comprising shallow water level. A dance school on the beach side is famous for its classical dance courses of Kuchipudi. Apart from that, the beach also attracts huge crowds during the Maghapoornami festival when people come here to take a dip in the sea water. Another popular festival of Krishna Utsav held during the month of February or March see a flock of devotees on the beachside.

Hamsaladeevi is a tiny village near Machilipatnam and is situated at the confluence where the river Krishna merges into the Bay of Bengal. This point is known as Sagara Sangamam and is an important tourist attraction where the water can be seen in three different shades. The village also has a beach where visitors can enjoy gorgeous sunsets. The old Venugopalaswamy temple dedicated to Lord Krishna is believed to be really old that was constructed during the reign of the Chola kings and is one of the 108 Vishnu temples. The most important festival held from Magha Suddha Navami to Bahula Padyami, is celebrated in the honour of this deity.

This beautiful ancient temple of the Panduranga Swamy temple spread across an area of six acres is dedicated to Lord Panduranga Vithal and houses a statue of the lord that measures 3 feet in height and resembles the childhood appearance of Lord Krishna. The idol of the lord is beautified with a diamond studded crown and other ornaments. There is also a statue of Abhayanjaney Swamy lying in front of the lord’s idol. While the main entrance features a tower, the prakaram flanked on the three sides displays the descriptions of disciples of Lord Vithal. The temple is open to all with another temple dedicated to Goddess Rukmini, Radha and Satyabhama located just besides the entrance of this temple.

Dattashram is a holy site nestled along the sea housing an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva with another temple built recently situated nearby dedicated to Lord Datta. Owing to the sanctification of nine wells for bathing, Manginapudi is also referred to as Datta Rameshwaram being similar to the one in Rameshwaram. Another important shrine is the Machilipatnam Church quite popular among tourists and devotees built in the 19th century and comprises of prayer halls that were crafted by an Englishman.

A 50 m high lighthouse on Machilipatnam Beach is a sight of grace and beauty. Coloured with bands of black and white, this light house was renovated to the present form in 1982 and in February 1996, the old ‘D’ lamps were replaced by the 100W 24V halogen lamps.

Moving further south, in our next part we will explore Guntur, Chirala, Nagarjunakonda, Srisailam, Cumbum and Nellore

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