Fabrics and Sarees of India Part 1

A flowing six-yard drape of beauty and grace, the saree can be called India’s national dress for women. Every state and community has their fabrics and materials that are unique to the region and drapes that instantly brings a specific community to mind. The saree consists of an un-stitched stretch of woven fabric arranged over the body as a robe, with one end tied to the waist, while the other end rests over one shoulder as a stole or shawl, with a part of the midriff showing. It may vary from 4.1 to 8.2 metres or 4.5 to 9 yards in length, and 60 to 120 cm in breadth. The saree is part of the traditional wear of women of the Indian subcontinent in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & Nepal. There are various names and styles of sari manufacture and draping, the most common being the Nivi style. The sari is worn with a fitted bodice commonly called a blouse and a petticoat.

This post started as my ode to the different fabrics and sarees available in the country and I soon realised this is much larger than just naming the various fabrics in the country. So this is now a three-part short series because I wanted to showcase as much as I can of the amazing fabrics available. And on a personal note, this is also a repository for me to refer to because one of my dreams is to have a saree from every Indian state.

Sadee is a Hindustani word that means a strip of cloth that evolved to sāṛī in modern Indian languages. The word śāṭika is mentioned as describing women’s dharmic attire in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist literature called Jatakas which could be equivalent to the modern-day saree. The term for female bodice, the choli evolved from ancient stanapaṭṭa. Rajatarangini, a tenth-century literary work by Kalhana, states that the choli from the Deccan was introduced under the royal order in Kashmir. The petticoat is called sāyā in Hindi and Urdu, parkar in Marathi, ulpavadai in Tamil, sāẏā in Bengali and eastern India, and sāya in Sinhalese. Apart from the standard petticoat, it may also be called an inner skirt or an inskirt.

The history of a sari-like drapery is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, which flourished during 2800–1800 BC around the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. Cotton was first cultivated and woven in the Indian subcontinent around the 5th millennium BC and dyes used during this period are still in use, particularly indigo, lac, red madder, and turmeric. Silk was woven around 2450 BCE and 2000 BCE.

The word sari evolved from śāṭikā a Sanskrit word mentioned in earliest Hindu literature as women’s attire. The sari or śāṭikā evolved from a three-piece ensemble comprising the antarīya or the lower garment; the uttarīya which was a a veil worn over the shoulder or the head; and the stanapatta, a chestband. This ensemble is mentioned in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist Pali literature during the 6th century BCE. This complete three-piece dress was known as poshak, a generic term for a costume. The ancient antariya closely resembled the dhoti wrap in the fishtail” version which was passed through legs, covered the legs loosely and then flowed into a long, decorative pleats at front of the legs. It further evolved into the Bhairnivasani skirt, today known as ghagri and lehenga. The  Uttariya was a shawl-like veil worn over the shoulder or head, and evolved into what is known today known as dupatta and ghoonghat. Likewise, the stanapaṭṭa evolved into the choli by the 1st century CE.

It is generally accepted that wrapped sari-like garments for the lower body and sometimes shawls or scarf like garments called uttariya for the upper body, have been worn by Indian women for a long time, and that they have been worn in their current form for hundreds of years. Based on sculptures and paintings, tight bodices or cholis are believed to have evolved between the 2nd century BCE and the 6th century CE in various regional styles.

After this short history about the saree, let’s take a trip around the country to see the various fabrics and sarees available in the different states of India. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I have probably missed many regional varieties, so apologies in advance if I have missed something I should not have.

Andhra Pradesh

Chirala: A coastal town also known as Kshiraputi, Chirala, which means saree in Telugu is renowned for its handlooms that are soft and durable. With more than 60% of the town’s population belonging to the weaving community, the looms used in the town are mostly pit or fly shuttle looms and the motifs in the fabrics and sarees are usually geometrical designs. The weavers of Chirala produce, cotton sarees, seico sarees that are a fine blend of cotton and silk fibres and kuppadam or the Gadwal type. The hand butta is another fascinating design feature of Chirala sarees, where colours are manually added in-between the zari design. Kalamkari printing is also a speciality of the Chirala saree.

Dharmavaram: Handloom silk sarees, Dharmavaram fabrics are textiles woven by hand with mulberry silk and zari which is fine thread traditionally made from gold or silver. The Dharmavaram fabric has a GI or Geographical Indications tag.  Kriya Shakthi Vodavaru Swamy named Dharmavaram after the name of his mother, Dharmambai around 1153–54 and by the 19th century, the silk handloom industry emerged as the main occupation. Paintings on the roof wall of Lepakshi temple and the Latha Mandapam depict the designs of Dharmavaram sarees. These saris are worn in the winter months or when it is cold and on special occasions and are mostly used by dancers of Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi.

Kalamkari: A type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, Kalamkari is produced in Isfahan in Iran and Andhra Pradesh. Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari, which involves twenty-three steps. There are two distinctive styles of Kalamkari art in India, the Srikalahasti style and the Machilipatnam style. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari is where the kalam or pen is used for freehand drawing of the subject and filling in the colours and is entirely hand-worked. This style flourished in temples centred on creating unique religious identities, appearing on scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners as well as depictions of deities and scenes taken from the Hindu epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari involves vegetable-dyed block painting, where the dye is applied to the fabric with the help of wooden blocks. The natural dyes for the cloth are obtained by extracting colours from various roots, leaves, and mineral salts of iron, tin, copper, and alum and mixing them with cow dung, seeds, flowers, and milk.  Historically, Kalamkari used to be termed Pattachitra, an art form still found in neighbouring Odisha and other parts of India and Nepal. The term Pattachitra translates to patta, meaning a cloth, with picture or chitra. Paintings made on fabric and fabric scrolls are mentioned in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Jain literature. Under medieval Islamic rule, the term Kalamkari is derived from the words kalam, which means pen in Telugu, and kari, which means craftmanship and this style became popular under the patronage of the Golconda sultanate.

Mangalagiri: Mangalagiri Sarees and fabrics are produced by handloom weaving in Mangalagiri, a town in Andhra Pradesh. Mangalagiri cotton silk sarees are a unique variety, woven from cotton, and feature characteristic features such as zari on the border and no woven pattern on the body. Borders in thick gold thread or zari, traditional patterns in Nizam, and simple mono or multicoloured striped pallus adorn the fabric. The sarees have various designs like leaves, mango, parrot, and gold coins. The soft and comfortable all-weather fabric generally has no pattern on the body and is known to have no gaps in its weaving with missing saree threads rarely found. As the town is also the abode of Lord Narasimha Temple, the saris are also used by the devotees for devotional purposes.

Uppada: The Uppada Jamdani Sari is a silk sari style woven in the town of Uppada in Andhra Pradesh and is known for its light weight. The saree was also accorded the Geographical Indication tag from Andhra Pradesh. The name Jamdani is a Persian terminology, in which Jam means flower and Dani means a vase. The Jamdani style of weaving originated in Bangladesh and was brought to the south and Uppada village in the 18th century and recreated with a local flavour. old The Jamdani style of weaving is about 300 years old and in 1972, Uppada weavers were recognised by the Indian government with the President’s award. The Uppada Jamdani saree is a beautiful textile with a silk-like texture and is lightweight. The weaving of the saree takes between 10 to 60 days for which least 2-3 weavers spend 10 hours a day. There are around 3000 looms producing Jamdani sarees in and around the Uppada and Kothapalli area. Around 40% of the local weavers are women. The saree consists of a cotton body with a silk pallu and is completely handwoven. The saree is woven in such a way that it can be folded and fit inside a matchbox. The speciality of the Jamdani saree is that the design is shown on both sides of the fabric.

Venkatagiri: Woven in Venkatagiri near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, this fabric has also been accorded the GI tag and is known for its fine weaving. The history of the saree dates back to the early 1700s in the Venkatagiri village and were encouraged by the Velugoti dynasty of Nellore and also by the Bobbili and Pithapuram dynasties. In those days, they were mostly woven fabrics for royalty and landowners.

Assam

Assam Silk: Assam silk refers to the three major types of indigenous wild silks produced in Assam —golden muga, white pat and warm eri silk. Assam was well known for the production of high-quality silk since ancient times. The knowledge of sericulture probably arrived with the Tibeto-Burman groups which arrived from China around 3000-2000 BC. Genetic research on silkworms shows that Assam silk originated in two specific regions of Assam, the Garo Hills in the ancient Kamrupa Kingdom and Dhakuakhana in the ancient Chutia kingdom.

Muga silk is the product of the silkworm Antheraea assamensis endemic to Assam. The silk produced is known for its glossy, fine texture and durability and has a natural yellowish-golden tint. It was previously reserved for the use of royalty. This silk can be hand washed with its lustre increasing after every wash. Very often the silk outlives its owner. The silk has been given the Geographical Indication (GI) status since 2007.

Pat silk is produced by the Bombyx textor silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves. It is usually brilliant white or off-white and must be dried in the shadows and not in direct sunlight. Eri silk is made by the Samia cynthia ricini which feed on leaves of castor oil plant. It is also known as endi or errandi silk. Because the manufacturing process of eri allows the pupae to develop into adults and only the open-ended cocoons are used for turning into silk, it is also popularly known as non-violent silk which is soft and warm and is popular used as shawls and quilts.

Bihar

The Bhagalpuri or Kosa or Tussar Saree is Tussar silk that is valued for its rich texture and natural deep gold colour. The tussar silk weaving industry in Bhagalpur is more than a century old and has about 30,000 handloom weavers working in producing the sarees. Bhagalpuri silk is made from cocoons of Antheraea paphia silkworms which are only found in India and is processed at Nathnagar at Bhagalpur. The unique dyeing technique of these Bhagalpuri silk sarees sets them apart from the art silk sarees. The saree was supposed to have been produced in ancient times and even Mughal rulers patronised the weavers. But the technique soon got extinct and was revived about 200 years back by the weavers. The silk fabric is extremely soft and lightweight and is known as the queen of fabrics.

Chhatisgarh

The Chattisgarh Kosa saree is Tussar silk similar to the Bhagalpuri Kosa. Kosa silk is mainly derived from Antheraea mylitta, an Indian silkworm and is special type of tussar silk that is drawn out of the cocoons grown on trees like Saja, Sal, and Arjun mostly grown in Chattisgarh. The silk is widely popular owing to its sturdiness, purity and soft texture. The dull golden brownish texture of the silk is its signature trait, but can also be found in natural shades of dark honey, fawn, orange, pale golden and cream. The actual colour of kosa is a dull gold, but the finished fabric is dyed with natural dyes extracted from natural dyes. The towns of Champa and Korba are known for their production of Kosa Silk, and the silk produced in Champa is considered to be the best silk.

Gujarat

Bandhini: A type of tie-dye textile decorated by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design, Bandini or Bandhani dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization where dyeing was done as early as 4000 BC. The earliest example of the most pervasive type of Bandhani dots can be seen in the 6th-century paintings depicting the life of Buddha found on the wall of Cave 1 at Ajanta. The main colours used in Bandhana are natural. As Bandhani is a tie and dye process, dying is done by hand and hence best colours and combinations are possible in Bandhanis. The fabric used for making Bandhani sarees and dupattas are loosely woven silk called Georgette, or cotton known as Malmal. The knots are tightly tied, and the rest of the fabric is dyed in multiple stages. This leaves the knots undyed and hence a beautiful flower-like pattern appears all over the cloth as a design.

The term bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root bandh which means to bind or to tie. Today, most Bandhani can be found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Sindh, Punjab and Tamil Nadu where it is known as Sungudi and is known as chunri in Pakistan. The art of Bandhani is a highly skilled process with the technique involving dyeing a fabric which is tied tightly with a thread at several points, thus producing a variety of patterns, depending on how the cloth is tied. The main colours used in Bandhana are yellow, red, blue, green and black.

The Bandhani work has been exclusively carried out by the Khatri community of Kutchh and Saurashtra. Bandhani work is also done in Rajasthan, where different colours and designs are used than in the Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat. Establishments of varying sizes in the entire Kutch belt in Gujarat produce many varieties of Bandhani. This Bandhani style is called Kutchi Bandhani. Bandhani tying is often a family trade, and the women of these families work at home to tie patterns.

Patola: A double ikat woven sari, usually made from silk, the Patola saree comes from the town of Patan. Similar to Bandhani, Patola sarees are also a type of tie and dye process and are well known for not losing their colour at all. They are very expensive, once worn only by those belonging to royal and aristocratic families. Patola sarees are found in two different types – the Rajkot Patola and the Patan Patola. These two are differentiated with the Rajkot Patola having a single ikat weave that is dyed vertically, while the Patan Patola has a double ikat weave and is dyed horizontally. The word patola is the plural form; the singular is patolu.

To create a patola sari, both the warp and weft threads are wrapped to resist the dye according to the desired pattern of the final woven fabric. This tying is repeated for each colour that is to be included in the finished cloth. The technique of dyeing the warp and weft before weaving is called double ikat. The bundles of thread are strategically knotted before dyeing. Patola saris from Surat, Ahmedabad and Patan are renowned for their colourful diversity and geometrical style.

Silk weavers of the Salvi community from Maharashtra chose Gujarat as the home for their renowned patola fabric. It is believed that the Salvis went to Gujarat in the 12th century to acquire the patronage of the Chaulukyas Rajputs, who ruled Gujarat and parts of Malva and south Rajasthan, with Anahiwad Patan as their capital. Legend says that over 700 patola weavers came to the palace of Raja Kumarpal, at the personal request of the king. The Solanki or Chalukya rulers used to dress in patola silk on special occasions. The art of Patola weaving is an ancient one. According to some historians, the art of Patola weaving was known also in the 4th century as seen by the carvings at the Ajanta caves. After the decline of the Solanki empire, the Salvis founded a rich trade in Gujarat. Patola saris quickly became a sign of social status among Gujarati women and girls, especially as part of streedhan or the items that a woman can claim as her wealth.

There are four distinct patterns which are woven primarily in Gujarat by the Salvi community. In Jain and Hindu communities, double ikat saris with entire designs of parrots, flowers, elephants and dancing figures are generally used. In Muslim communities, saris with geometric designs and floral patterns are typical, being worn mostly for weddings and other special occasions. Maharashtrian Brahmins wear saris woven with plain, dark-coloured borders and body and a bird design called Nari Kunj.

Tanchoi: Tanchoi sarees are one of a kind, having spots all over the surface and woven with a dual colour warp. The stand-alone feature of the Tanchoi saree is that the fabric texture background has a satin finish. Extra threads are added to give these sarees the appearance of being embroidered. Famed for the intricate and small weaving patterns over the fabric, the commonly used motifs are those of flowers, small birds in flight, peacocks and parrots. Tanchoi silk is said to have been brought to India by Chinese traders in the 19th century and later adapted to suit the preferences of the Indian market. Three Parsi brothers are said to have travelled from India to China in the 19th century and were enamoured by the technique. After learning the skill, they came back to Surat, Gujarat and trained the weavers in the technique and then evolved the Tanchoi weaving technique into Indian versions.

Tangaliya: A handwoven, GI-protected textile, made by the Dangasia community, the 700-year-old indigenous Tangaliya is native to the Surendranagar district in the Saurashtra region. The textile was usually used as a shawl or wraparound skirt by women of the Bharwad shepherd community. Woven on pit looms at homes, the technique involves weaving knots in colours contrasting to the warp colour to create the effect of raised dots. The weaving is based on precise mathematical calculations. The weaver has to count the warp yarns each time, before hand-knotting the dot in acrylic yarn, to produce geometric patterns. A single mistake can lead to the final design looking faulty. The effect of the pattern also has a tactile feel, similar to braille, because of the raised surface of the dots. This has become the signature style of the textile. Another important aspect is the visual effect of dots, which is most striking and appealing on dark colour bases, especially black. The graphic quality of white dots mixed with other bright coloured dots gives the craft its special appeal. Moreover, due to the ease of knotting the white colour yarn compared to coloured yarns, white dots were common. Traditionally, most woollen shawls featured graphic patterns of white and maroon coloured dots on a black base. With every wash, the cotton textile tends to become denser and integrates the dots even more finely between the warp and weft. Today, there are only fifteen families in Surendranagar pursuing this craft.

Jammu & Kashmir

Jamawar: Jamawar is believed to have been derived from the word jam which means a shawl or robe and war, which implies the chest, in either Persian or Kashmiri. The fabric is believed to have found its way to Kashmir from Persia and reached its peak during the heyday of the Mughal dynasty in India. Owing to the elaborateness that goes into the making of the weave, it takes months on end to craft a finished Jamawar piece, and sometimes, even years, depending on the level of intricacy involved. Jamawar is traditionally woven with a rich blend of Pashmina wool, cotton and silk. Given the generous use of colours and motifs, the finished weave is highly iridescent. One of the many distinguishing factors of the Jamawar is that it is so intricately woven that its front and back, both look identical, with no stray thread sticking out of its surface. A dominating design element of the weave is the paisley, which derives inspiration from Persia; other motifs of flora and fauna, too, are seen. Jamawars also feature a wide use of hand embroidery and traditionally, a single jamawar piece was woven with up to 50 varying hues.

Kani: The Kani weave is said to have originated in Kanihama village of Jammu and Kashmir, and its exquisiteness earned it the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2008. The word Kani translates to bobbins in Kashmiri because the weave involves extensive use of wooden bobbins on which varicoloured threads are wound. Legend has it that the art of weaving Kani shawls was first brought to Kashmir in the 15th century by Persian and Turkish weavers, who introduced this art to Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, the eighth sultan of Kashmir. One of the most defining characteristics of the Kani weave, colloquially known as Kaniwar, is its impeccably patterned motifs. These motifs, which include flowers, gardens, creepers and paisleys are brought to life through a technique called twill tapestry featuring double interlocking, wherein both the warp and weft yarns are mounted diagonally onto each other on the loom.

Traditionally, Kanis are crafted from the pashmina wool of the local Changthangi goat. At the time of weaving, the loom is packed with bobbins or kanis, through which the craftsmen carry out the fashioning of the weave; a total of nearly a thousand bobbins or more can be used for a single weave. Each colour is woven in individually, with the help of bobbins wound with threads of that particular colour. The designs are first drafted in the form of sketches, in a grid-like format called naksh, after which each step from the draft is dictated to the weaver. An elaborately woven Kani shawl can take anywhere from 9 months to a year to be made, with two artisans working on it.

Pashmina Silk: A fine variant of spun cashmere, the animal hair fibre forming the downy undercoat of the Changthangi goat, Pashmina today may refer either to the material or to the variant of the Kashmir shawl that is made from it. The word pashm means wool in Persian, but in Kashmir, pashm referred to the raw unspun wool of the domesticated Changthangi goats. Both generic cashmere and pashmina come from the same goat, but generic cashmere ranges from 12 to 21 microns in diameter, whereas pashmina refers only to those fibres that range from 12 to 16 microns.

Samples of wool fibres discovered from corroded copper artefacts from Harappa dating back to the Indus valley civilization are extremely fine and resemble Pashmina and Shatoosh. In Mughal times, this was used as an indicator of rank and nobility. Pashmina blankets were also vital additions to a wealthy woman’s dowry in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The wool for pashmina is collected by combing the undercoat of the goat, and not by shearing, as in other fine wools. The entire process is carried out by hand by specialised craftsmen. The approximate time put into producing a single traditional pashmina stole is about 180 hours. Kashmiri embroidery or Kashida as it is known, employs bright and colourful designs, with motifs of floral borders, paisley and chinar leaves and other inspirational settings of nature. The patterns and the colours of Pashmina silk saree harmonises with nature. A heavily adorned pashmina silk sari with zardozi aari embroidery is a must in any bride’s trousseau. China accounts for 70% of the world’s cashmere production.

In the next part, we’ll see more fabrics and sarees from other states.

Travel Bucket List: India – Andhra Pradesh Part 6

After Kurnool, Mantralayam, Gandikota, Tadipatri, Anantapur and Puttaparthi, in this last part about Andhra Pradesh, we will visit some interesting places, including the world famous Tirupati temple.

Lepakshi
A small quaint village, Lepakshi is located at a distance of 120 km from Bangalore. Founded in 1535 AD by Maharaja Aliya Rama Raya of the Vijayanagara empire, Lepakshi is a trove of several fascinating archaeological sites, beautiful ancient temples and rich culture. Each structure narrating a story of its own, this enchanting village also derives its name from the Sanskrit language meaning rise o bird and has folklore attached to it. Locals believe that according to the legend of Ramayana, Jatayu fell in Lepakshi after getting injured by Ravana. The village is most famous as being home to the Lepakshi Temple, known for the stunning Vijaynagar style of architecture and hanging pillars. A magnificent example of timeless art and architecture, the temples of Lepakshi celebrate the might of Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra. Apart from richly carved temples with inscriptions in Kannada and hanging pillar, the most striking feature of Lepakshi is the largest monolithic idol of Nandi Bull in the entire subcontinent made of granite. Lepakshi is a treasure trove of a fascinating range of art forms and traditional crafts. Visitors should make sure to stop and should shop for the handicraft items which Lepakshi is famous for, including things like banjara embroidery, brassware, cotton and jute durries, kalamkari paintings, Kondapalli toys, cherial scroll paintings and Bidricraft.

The Veerabhadra temple is dedicated to Lord Veerbhadra and built back in the 16th century. Also known as the Lepakshi temple, it is famous for its architecture characterised by hanging pillars and cave chambers. Another thing that makes the temple unique and a place to must visit is a footprint that is believed to be of Goddess Sita. As soon one steps inside the temple, they get glimpses of the history of Vijayanagara kingdom by way of pictorial representations. From the figures of musicians and saints to that of Parvati and Lord Shiva, the Lepakshi Temple has everything. Apart from the architectural importance, the temple according to Skanda Purana, is a divyakshetra, in other words, an important pilgrimage destination of Lord Shiva. The highlight of the temple is the Statue of Nandi Bull, made from a single granite stone. The temple is open daily between 5 am and 9 pm.

Located near the Veerbhadra Temple is another striking feature of the village, the idol of the Nandi Bull and paintings. This monolithic sculpture of Nandi crafted out of granite stone measures 4.5m in height and 8.23 m in length and is believed to be the largest statue in India. Other than this, another brilliant craftsmanship in form of sculptures and mural paintings can be seen on the walls of Natya and Kalyana Mandapams which are also popularly referred to as dance and wedding halls. In fact these incredible carvings are regarded as the finest specimen of Vijayanagara style of architecture.

Horsley Hills
Located near the southwestern border between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Horsley Hills is a hill station that is often called the Ooty of Andhra. Located at a height of 4312 metres and is well-known for its breathtaking landscapes, Horsley Hills is also called as Yenugulla Mallamma Konda. The picturesque landscape of Horsley Hills also doubles up as a destination for adventure sports and activities such as trampoline, shooting, bow and arrow, wall climbing, water walking, rappelling, swimming pool, fish spa and a mini zoo. In addition to its tranquil natural charms, it is also the land of Kalyani, the oldest known eucalyptus tree which is believed to be around 148 years and one is at it, visit the Thimmamma Marrimanu banyan tree which is said to be the world’s largest banyan tree spread covering an area of 8 acres. The highest point of the hills offers a mesmerising view of the surrounding foliage, and the sight is serene against the backdrop of the sapphire sky. Situated closeby is the Horsley Hills Environment Centre which is home to a number of animals such as deer and crocodiles. The Gurramkonda Fort and Governor’s house are other fascinating pieces of history should be a part of a weekend getaway. A part of the Eastern Ghats, the hills in the region are believed to be one of the oldest in terms of geological existence. How the hills came to be known as Horsley Hills is a story, it is said that there was once a horse that guarded the Gurramkonda fort situated closeby with such ferocity that as long as it remained there, no one dared to attack the fort. The title of the hills near the fort was hence dedicated to the selfless service of the horse, and the name Horsley Hills or Horsley Konda came to be. Some others believed that it is named after a British General with the same name who built a bungalow here.

Chittoor
Steeped in religion, devotion and architecture, Chittoor is blessed with scenic beauty, cascading waterfalls and a beautiful hill station. Also known as the Mango City, Chittoor offers multiple varities of mangoes to please its visitors.

The Kanipakkam Vinayaka Temple was designed and constructed in the 11th century by Kulothunga Chola I, a revered Chola king. It was then rebuilt in 1336 by the Vijayanagara rulers. The name Kanipakam itself breaks into Kani meaning wetland and pakam meaning the flow of water into the wetland due to its presence next to river Bahuda. A Siva Temple was also created in the complex when Kulothunga Chola expanded the temple. It was to show his devotion to Lord Shiva as well as Lord Ganesha. What makes the Kanipakam temple unique is the fables and legends associated with it. It is reported that the idol of Vinayaka or Lord Ganesha grows every year so much so that the armour offered to the deity 50 years ago does not fit anymore. This historical temple with Ganesha as its primary deity is also known as Shrine of Water and is in Irala Mandal. The regal Kanipakam temple has immense religious significance and importance because of its miraculous idol. The water found in the complex is believed to be holy and can cure various deformities. Pilgrims visit this temple before going to Tirupati since it is a Vinayaka Temple. The Kanipakam temple is very well maintained by the authorities despite being a major crowd puller and is a rapidly developing complex. This unique sanctuary of Ganesha is in the middle of a river. Its significance lies in its purity and rich heritage.

The famous idol which led to the construction of the Kanipakam Vinayaka Temple has many stories linked to it. The most famous legend speaks of three farmers who were dumb, blind and deaf by birth. They needed water to irrigate their fields. They found a dried-up well and decided to dig it more. One of them started the work and was surprised to see his iron implement hitting a stone-like formation. As he continued to dig, he found that blood was oozing out of the stone. Soon the whole water had turned red because of the blood. He called out to the other two farmers to witness the event. As they had been present for such divine intervention, their deformities had disappeared. When the villagers found out about their miracle, they thronged to the well and decided to deepen it. However, they couldn’t as a self-manifested idol of Vinayakar emerged from the waters of that very well. Even today, the idol resides in the well, and its water branches are perineal and eternal. During the monsoon season, the well overflows and the water is provided to the devotees as Tirtham, holy water. The river of Bahuda, along with the banks of which the temple is built, also has a very popular story. Two brothers Sanka and Likhita were on a pilgrimage when the younger brother Likhita felt hungry. Ignoring his elder brother’s advice, he plucked a mango from the nearby mango grove and ate it. Sankha felt betrayed and reported his actions to the ruler, who in punishment deprived Likhita of both his arms. Later, when Likhita was taking a dip in the Bahuda river, a miracle occurred. Both his arms were restored! Hearing this, the ruler renamed the river as ‘Bahuda’ meaning human arm. The temple is open from 4 am to 9:30 pm with darshan timings from 6 am to 1 pm and then from 4 to 8 pm. The various poojas and sevas vary in fee from INR 116 to INR 7500 depending on the type of ritual devotees wish to perform at the temple

Hidden like a jewel behind the lush green forests of Andhra Pradesh lies a serene and tranquil place named Nagalapuram. Also known as Nagala Hills, it is famous for the various adventurous activities proffered in this scenic village. Nagalpuram is also known for housing the Nagalpuram Falls. A group of 3 waterfalls, it offers a great trekking opportunity and a stunning panoramic view. The trek to the waterfalls starts from the Arai Village where the journey starts from Nagala Dam. The dam welcomes the trekkers with a serene view and shows the way towards the waterfalls. The trek starts off on the simple plain ground until the water stream. The water stream is where the difficulty level elevates considerably and trekkers need to concentrate on every step there onwards. The nature of water as we know it is beautiful but also harsh at the same time. The intermittent positioning of the waterfalls and their pools are of great help to the trekkers and especially when the sun is right above the head. After sweating throughout the path, the sight of a cold water pool gives a joy uncomparable. Throwing the backpack down and getting rid of the shoes while running towards the pool and then taking off in the air to hit a perfect dive is not something that can be experienced often. Nagalapuram was built by King Krishna Deva Raya, the ruler of the Vijayanagar empire. He named the place Nagalapuram in the loving memory of his mother, Nagamamba.

Situated in Nagari Valley near Tirupati, the Kailasakona waterfalls are a beautiful perennial waterfalls with an interesting story behind them. Legend has it that Lord Kailasanatheshwara performed the marriage of Lord Venkateshwara Swami and Goddess Padmavati and later performed penance here. The water here at the Kailasakona waterfalls is crystal clear and is rich with minerals and is believed to have medicinal properties and healing effect. The foot of the waterfall can be reached and one can only gape at the awe-inspiring sight. To reach the waterfall, look out for the 10 km milestone on the way to Puttur and take a left deviation and drive for about 2 km.

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The Kaigal fall is nestled amidst the Koundinya Wildlife sanctuary and derives its name from the village Kaigal, that surrounds it. Locally known as the Dumukurallu waterfalls which is a Telugu word used for a sound resembling the sound of falling stones from above, the Kaigal falls are perennial. The waterfall is subdivided into three cascading falls and water falls from a height of approximately 40 ft. The water forms several small pools at the bottom.

The Koundinya Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife sanctuary plus elephant reserve, housing exotic Asian elephants. There are around 78 elephants here, currently with an an abundance of flora and fauna. Acacia and bamboo are the two common plants that are found here. Several species of birds can be found here with the sanctuary being a popular attraction around April. There is a beautiful forest guest house which can be stayed in. The sanctuary is around 52 kms away from the Kaigal falls and will take about an hour or so to reach the sanctuary from Kaigal. High hills and deep valleys surround this immensely beautiful wildlife sanctuary. There is a shivalinga installed near the falls which the locals visit on special occasions like Shivaratri. The waterfall splits into three singular falls, one of which flows over this Shivalinga and it is a beautiful sight to view water cascading over the Shivling.

Also known as the Ubbalamudugu Falls, the Tada Falls is a gorgeous waterfall located near the near the Tricity and Oneness temple. Cascading from a towering height of around a 100 m, the crystal clear waterfall falling down the rocks is a visual delight and a sight to behold. The Siddulaiah Kona forest is nearby which is an ideal place for trekking, hiking and other foresty activities. Besides, Tada Falls is known for its an incredible landscape, lush greenery and ethereal hillocks. Also close by is the stunning Pulicat Lake and Shiva temple. Since the waterfalls are located in the woods, trekking is the most common way to reach the falls. Vehicles can be parked at the parking lot which is 10 km away from the falls before the trek. There is also a 3 km trek that goes along a clear stream for novice trekkers as well as a mid level trek up along some boulders to the base of Tada Falls. This trail is laden with dainty streams and lush green landscape sprawling all over, offering a pleasant experience and a gorgeous view.

Srikalahasthi
Located 37 km from Tirupati, the holy city of Srikalahasti is famous for the Srikalahasti temple. It is one of the most important Shiva temples of south India built during the ancient Pallava dynasty. The place is an excellent example of south Indian architecture with highly adorned gopurams and extensively carved interiors that unfold the charms of Dravidian style pf architecture.

The Srikalahasti temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was constructed in 1516 by King Krishnadevraya of the Vijayanagara empire. The elaborate structure of the temple complex is a breathtaking view right from the entrance. It has intricate carvings of numerous mythological illustrations that one can explore in the divine surroundings. This magnificent temple is often referred as the Kailasa and Kashi of the south and represents one of the five elements or the pancha bhootas, vayu or air. The temple is open from 6 am to 9 pm daily and the Rahu Kethu Sarpa Dosha Nivarana Puja which takes place in the outer courtyard costs between INR 300 – 500 while within the temple premises, it costs between INR 1500 to 2500

At the centre of the city, is a significant temple dedicated to Lord Murugan known as the Subrahmanya Swamy temple. A modest climb of 150 steps take you to the temple, surrounded by flattering views of the city. The temple gathers much festivity and glitter during a 8-day festival called the Aadi Krithika festival. During this time a procession is carried out where Lord Subrahmanya Swamy and his consorts Sri Valli and Devasena are taken out on various vahanams.

With hills and streams around, the Bharadwaja Tirtham is a religious site with some of the most beautiful surroundings. The statue of Vinayaka with water all around, makes the spot all the more enchanting. One of the popular attractions of the town, this is a must visit area.

The Bhakta Kannappa temple houses an idol of Bhakta Kannappa and is tied to the legend that a tribal youth called Bhakta Kannappa gave his eyes to the Lord Shiva idol in the temple. Respecting his devotion, offerings are made to Bhakta Kannappa before they are to Shiva Linga, in this temple.

Steps through a hillock, surrounded by wide views takes one to a an ancient dedicated to Goddess Durgambika. Like most areas in the area, this one too finds itself a scenic backdrop and much natural beauty around.

Literally translating into ‘the valley of the thousand lingas’, the Veyilingala Kona Waterfall is a local favourite and one that visitors also gravitate to. The water here is said to have properties that can cure skin diseases and it is believed that a dip into the pristine water here can grant one salvation and is one of the most beautiful spots in the town.

Tirupati
Situated in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, Tirupati is known for Lord Venkateshwara Temple, one of the most visited pilgrimage centres in the country. Tirumala is one of the seven hills in Tirupati, where the main temple is located. The temple is believed to be placed where Lord Venkateshwara took the form of an idol and is hence home to the diety Govinda. Tirupati is one of the oldest cities of India and finds mention in plenty of ancient Vedas and Puranas.

The non-stop chanting of ‘Om Namo Venkatesaya’, the mad pilgrim rush and the 8-feet tall idol of Lord Venkateshwara – everything about the Sri Venkateshwara Temple is majestic. Spread over an area of 26 kilometres and visited by nearly 50,000 pilgrims every day, the temple is also commonly referred to as the Temple of Seven Hills.

There are other temples in Tirupati too that you can visit, including the Sri Kalahasti temple, Sri Govindarajaswami Temple, the Kondandarama Temple, the Parashurameshwara Temple, and the ISKCON temple. Tirupati is home to a unique geological wonder that you shouldn’t miss out on! The Silathoranam is a natural arch formed out of rocks and is located at the Tirumala Hills.

Home to the most famous and important Vaishnavite shrine of Tirumala Venkateswara Temple and other historic temples and is referred to as the spiritual capital of Andhra Pradesh, Tirupati is one of the eight Swayam vyaktha kshetras dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Tirumala is one of the seven hills in Tirupati, where the main temple is located. The temple is believed to be placed where Lord Venkateshwara took the form of an idol and is hence home to the diety Govinda. Tirupati is one of the oldest cities of India and finds mention in plenty of ancient Vedas and Puranas. Spread over an area of 26 kilometres and visited by nearly 50,000 pilgrims every day, the temple is also commonly referred to as the Temple of Seven Hills. In Dravidian translation, Tiru means the sacred or Goddess Lakshmi and pathi means abode or husband. Tirupati or Tirumala is referred to as Pushpa-mandapa in the Acharya-Hridayam from the 13th century. According to the Varaha Purana, during the Treta Yuga, Lord Rama resided here along with Goddess Sita and Lord Lakshmana on his return from Lankapuri. As per the Purana, a loan of one crore and 11.4 million gold coins was sought by Lord Balaji from Kubera for his marriage with Padmavathi. To pay back the loan, devotees from all over India visit the temple and donate money.

The city became great Vaishnava centre during the time of Ramanujacharya in the 11th century, from where Srivaishnavism spread to other parts of the Andhra Desa. Tirupati survived the muslim invasions and during the early 1300s during the muslim invasion of south India, the deity of Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam was brought to Tirupati for safekeeping. The first temple at Tirumala Tirupati was built by King Thondaiman, the Tamil ruler of ancient Thondaimandalam who is said to have built the original Gopuram or tower and the Prakhara in the 8th century. The temple town for most of the medieval era part of Vijayanagara empire until the 17th century and its rulers contributed considerable resources and wealth to the temple. The city has many historical temples including the Venkateswara Temple which bears 1,150 inscriptions in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada languages which specify the contributions of the Pallava Kingdom around the 9th century, the Chola kingdom around the 10th century and the Vijayanagara empire in the 14th century.

There was no human settlement at Lower Tirupati until 1500, but with the growing importance of Upper Tirupati, a village was formed at the present-day Kapilatheertham Road area and was named Kotturu. It was later shifted to the vicinity of Govindarajaswamy Temple which was consecrated around the year 1130. Later the village grew into its present-day form around the Govindaraja Swamy temple which is now the heart of the city. In 1932, the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple was handed over to Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams by the TTD Act of 1932.

The Sri Venkateshwara temple is dedicated to Lord Venkateswara, a form of Vishnu, who is believed to have appeared here to save mankind from the trials and troubles of the Kali Yuga. Hence the place is also known as the Kaliyuga Vaikuntha and the Lord here is referred to as Kaliyuga Prathyaksha Daivam. The Tirumala hills are part of Seshachalam Hills range and are 853 metres or 2,799 ft above sea level. The Hills comprises seven peaks, representing the seven heads of Adisesha with the temple lying on the seventh peak, Venkatadri, on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini, a holy water tank. Hence the temple is also referred to as Temple of Seven Hills. The Temple is constructed in the dravidian architectural style and is believed to be constructed over a period of time starting from 300. The Garbagruha or sanctum sanctorum is called the Ananda Nilayam. Lord Venkateswara is in a standing posture and faces east in the garbha gruha. The temple follows the Vaikhanasa Agama tradition of worship and is one of the eight Vishnu Swayambhu Kshetras and is listed as 106th and the last earthly Divya Desam. The temple premises had two modern queue complex buildings to organise the pilgrim rush, the Tarigonda Vengamamba Annaprasadam complex for free meals to pilgrims, the Vaikuntam queue complex which is a series of interconnected halls that leads to the main temple, hair tonsure buildings and a number of pilgrim lodging sites. It is the richest temple in the world in terms of donations received and wealth. The temple is visited by about 50 to 100 thousand pilgrims daily or 30 to 40 million people annually on an average, while on special occasions and festivals, like the annual Brahmotsavam, the number of pilgrims shoots up to half a million making it the most-visited holy place in the world.

Standing to the north of Sri Venkateswara Temple is the Sri Varahaswami Temple which according to legend is said to belong to Sri Adi Varahaswami. It is advised to first pay a visit to this temple before visiting the Venkateswara temple, the reason being that Sri Varahaswami owned the seven hills on which the Venkateshwara temple stands. He agreed to hand the hills over to Sri Venkateswaraswami, on the condition that he too, should be worshipped. Hence, Sri Venkateswaraswami asked his devotees, to first pay a visit to Sri Varahaswami and then to him.

At a distance of about 5 km from the Tirumala temple in Tiruchanur, is the Sri Padmavathi Ammavari Temple dedicated to Goddess Padmavathi, also administered by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam. Legend has it that while Akasha Raja of Thondamandalam was having a great yagna performed and had the earth ploughed, he found a little girl in a lotus flower, and hence the name, Padmavati. A voice from the skies asked him to love and bring up the child. As she grew up, she was married to Lord Venkateshwara. The temple is frequently visited by the devotees on their spiritual trail around the town.

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The Vedadri Narasimha Swamy temple lies at a distance of 70 km from Tirupati and was constructed by Sir Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar. It holds great mythological importance and is believed to be the site where Lord Vishnu battled with the demon rasksash Somakadu, won and took over the vedas from him.

The Sri Govindarajaswami temple is a 12th century Hindu Vaishnavite shrine built by Saint Ramanujacharya and is one of the biggest temple complexes in the district. The presiding deity is Lord Vishnu, also called Govindarajaswami. The beautiful traditional Dravidian architecture and its rich culture attract tourists in quite a large number every year.

A little away from the city of Tirupati, the Sri Venugopalaswami temple is devoted to Lord Venugopalan with the idol of Sri Sita Ramula Pattabhishekam. Some of the main festivals celebrated in this temple are Annual Bhramotsava, Ugadi Asthanam and Sankranti Utsavam.

The Sri Bedi Ananjaneyaswami Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman. A legend states that Lord Hanuman wanted to go searching for a camel but his mother tied him with bedis and went back to the Akash Ganga. Many believe Lord Hanuman can be seen even today standing at that very location.

Dedicated to the Lord Vishnu, the Sri Veda Nayaranaswami temple is one of the few temples in the country that depict the incarnations of Lord Vishnu whose prime form, Matsya or the fish is also depicted. This is the place where Vishnu defeated demon Somaka and took the form of a fish to retrieve the Vedas thrown in the water by the demon.

Situated on top of Narayangiri Hill amidst beautiful scenery, the Srivari Padalu temple is believed to be the place where Lord Narayan first set his foot on earth. It is an important pilgrimage and visitors flock in large numbers to offer prayers to the footprints of Lord Narayan.

The Sri Kalyana Venkateswaraswami temple is an ancient Vaishnavite temple, also considered an archaeologically important monument in India. The presiding deity is Lord Venkateswara, who is considered to be highly powerful and can absolve one of their sins, doshas and get rid of any obstacles they face in their lives.

An ancient shrine dedicated to Lord Venkateswars, the Sri Prasanna Venkateswaraswami temple is a dravidian architectural splendour with a magnificent idol of the presiding deity. It is a believed that offering prayers to the deity here relieves one of doshas or sins and removes obstacles one faces while achieving their goals.

The Sri Kodandarama Swamy temple or the Kodandarama temple is a temple in the heart of Tirupati, dedicated to Lord Rama. The Varaha Purana suggests that Lord Rama, Sita Devi and Lakshmana stayed here when returning to Ayodhya from Lanka. Built by the Cholas in the tenth century, this temple commemorates their stay here. While Ugadi and Ram Navami are celebrated on a grander scale, the Brahmotsav is also celebrated here every year. There is a sub-shrine dedicated to Anjaneya or Lord Hanuman, Lord Rama’s most devoted devotee.

Kanipakam is a village most famous for the Kanipakam Vinayak temple, built in the 11th century by King Mahavarman Sundara Pandian and for the Shiva temple which was built by King Kullotunga Chola. The rich religious significance of the temples and the stunning ancient architecture attracts visitors in large numbers each year.

The Akasha Ganga Teertham is a waterfall, located at a distance of 3 km from the main temple which has water flowing all throughout the year and holds immense religious significance. Pilgrims can also pay homage to the Devi temple situated very close to the waterfall which is beautiful sight to see during the monsoon season. A sacred lake located amidst dense natural vegetation, the waters of the Tumbhuru Teertham is believed to have magical powers and can absolve one’s sins and help them attain moksha. The attraction is also famous for its natural beauty and is frequented by nature lovers for nature walks. A Shaivite temple, the Kapila Teertham is a famous pilgrimage in the city located at the entrance of a mountain cave at the foothills of Tirumala Hills and is a marvellous example of Dravidian architecture. The presiding deity is Lord Shiva who is locally known as Lord Kapileshwara and the idol of the deity was installed by Kapila Muni. Japali Teertham is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is situated amidst dense forests. It is believed that Lord Hanuman used to visit the location often to quiet his mind and soak in peaceful atmosphere. It is also believed that Lord Rama and Goddess Sita also stayed here. The water of the Teertham is said to have magical powers and can wash away all the sins a human has made. It is believed that taking a dip in the holy Papavinasam Teertham can absolve one of their sins. It is also famous for its scenic beauty with the route going to the falls going through uneven rocky trails amidst beautiful surroundings making it a perfect location for nature walks.

The Chakra Teertham waterfall is a famous water body considered to have high religious importance. It is believed that Lord Brahma performed penance at this location which was later cleansed by Lord Vishnu with his Sudarshan Chakra. The place where his Chakra fell is known as Chakra Teertham. The water is said to have healing powers and can absolve one of their sins. Considered a sacred waterfall, the Vaikuntha Teertham is associated with the legend of Ramayana. It is believed that Lord Rama’s vanarsena or monkey army located the teertham. A dip in the holy waters is considered to bring luck, good fortune and absolve one of their sins. At a distance of 4 kms from the city centre, the Kapila Theertham is a popular waterfall situated inside the premises of the Kapileswara Swamy temple at the base of the Sheshadari Hills. The water cascading down of 100 metres to form a pool at the base is a gorgeously enchanting sight to see. Located in Sri Venkateswara National Park, the Talakona Waterfalls is the highest waterfall in the region and a famous picnic spot. The water is believed to have medicinal properties and comes from an unknown underground stream. The attraction is also famous for trekking and has several trekking routes running around it amidst the scenic natural surroundings.

Also known as the Natural Arch, the Silathoranam is a notified National Geo-heritage Monument and a distinctive geological feature 1 km north of the Tirumala hills temple, near the Chakra Teertham. One of only three of this kind in the world, the arch measures 8 m in width and 3 m in height, and is naturally formed in the quartzites of Cuddapah Supergroup of Middle to Upper Proterozoic due to natural erosive forces. Silathoranam comes from two Telugu words, which comes from sila meaning rock and thoranam meaning a garland. Thus it means a garland strung over a threshold, connecting two vertical columns or an ‘arch’ as in this case. Mythology related to the arch, linked to the famous Tirumala hills temple of Lord Venkateswara, has three versions. According to one version, the arch resembles the hood of a serpent, a conch and a discus, all symbols of worship in Hindu religion and considered to be the source of the idol of Lord Venkateswara or Lord Balaji at the temple. The second version is that the main deity in the Tirumala temple is of the same height as the height of the arch. The third version is that Lord Vishnu, known as Balaji or Venkateswara at the Tirumala temple town, is supposed to have put his first foot down at a place called Padalu or Sreevaripadalu which is the highest point of Tirumala hills, the second step at the location of the arch. Thereafter, the next step is stated to have been placed where his idol is now worshipped in the temple at Tirumala.

Almost neighboring the Sri Venkateshwara Temple, is Swami Pushkarini Lake. According to the legends, the lake belonged to Lord Vishnu and was located in Vaikuntham, his divine abode. It was brought to the earth by Garuda, for the sport of Sri Venkateshwara. Extremely holy, the pilgrims usually take a dip in the waters of this lake before proceeding to the main temple.

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Located about 10 km from Tirupati and on the Eastern Ghats, the Venkateshwara National Park with an area pf 353 sq km and a biosphere reserve is home to endemic plant species and interesting fauna species like Slender Loris, Tree shrew, Wild dog etc. Bird watchers are also in for treats like the crested serpent eagle, the Indian roller and kingfishers etc. But the main attraction of this national park are the three waterfalls, viz, Talakona, Gundalakona and Gujana. The park is open on all days from 9 am to 5 pm with an entry fee of INR 50 for adults and INR 10 for children. The best time to visit the park is between December to March and August to November.

Located amidst the beautiful natural surroundings, the Deer Park in Tirupati houses a large number of deer and other regional flora and fauna. Tourists on their way to Tirumala often take a pit stop here and spend a few hours in the company of the deer, feed them and also watch them thrive in their natural habitat.

The Chandragiri Palace & Fort is a 11th century monument built by the Yadav Naidu kings and is also associated with the Vijayanagara Kingdom. The stunning structure is a perfect example of Vijayanagara architecture. Tourists are drawn by its rich history and heritage value. The attraction has fortnightly light and sound shows and the annual celebration of Madras Day.

Established in the year 1980, the Sri Venkateswara Dhyana Vignan Mandiram in Tirupati is a museum that houses some of the most traditional articles that are used to perform Puja. There are many stone and wood carved items that can be found here. The museum is extremely beautiful and fills into you a sense of religious faith not easy to describe.

The Sri Vari Museum is where one can get a glimpse into the religious history of the region. The museum has an impressive collection of artefacts that give insights into the ancient history and architecture of the temple that includes sculptures, photographs, scriptures, temple and pooja utensils, etc.

Regional Science Centre at Tirupati is a famous planetarium with a marvellous sky observation deck, galleries, parks and equipment of the highest quality. The centre also holds several demonstrations, exhibitions and shows in schools and institutes through their mobile science exhibition.

We have come to the end of our travel around Andhra Pradesh and I hope you have had as much fun reading it as I did researching and writing it. We will soon explore another state of India, so keep reading!

Travel Bucket List: India – Andhra Pradesh Part 5

After Guntur, Chirala, Nagarjunakonda, Srisailam, Cumbum and Nellore, let head south to tKarnataka.

Kurnool
The judicial capital of Andhra Pradesh, Kurnool is the state’s 5th largest city and is also known as the Gateway of Rayalaseema. Although the area has been inhabited for thousands of years, modern Kurnool was founded in the 16th century with the construction of the Konda Reddy Fort. Derived from the names Kandanavōlu or Kandanōlu, Kurnool used to be a crossing on the Tungabhadra River, where the bullock cart caravans are believed to have greased their wheels with kandana being a reference to grease. The Belum Caves have historical importance in the city as well as the Ketavaram rock paintings which are dated back to the Paleolithic era.

Yaganti, is famous for its temple of Sri Yagantiswamy, dedicated to Lord Shiva and is also known as the Uma Maheshwara temple. This ancient temple dates back to the 5th and 6th centuries and houses the idol of Shiva and Parvathi fused together, called Ardhanareeswara carved out of a single stone. The temple is not only of religious significance but also because it has many striking and unusual features. To begin with, Yaganti is perhaps the only temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, where he is worshipped in the form of an idol, instead of the Shiva Linga. The temple also has the Agastya Pushkarni, where water flows from the bottom of the hill, throughout the year. Worshippers take a dip in the holy water as a form of worship to the deity. There are different stories revolving around the origins of the temple. According to one story, the sage Agastya wanted to build a temple for Lord Venkateswara here but for some reason, the statue of the Lord could not be installed be here, and the sage then penanced for Lord Shiva. When Lord Shiva appeared, the sage realised that the place suited him better and then requested Lord Shiva to appear in the Ardhanareeswara form, to which he obliged, and which is present form worshipped here. According to a second story, when a devotee of Lord Shiva, known by the name of Chitteppa, was worshipping the Lord, the latter appeared to him in the form of a tiger. Chitteppa recognised that it was Lord Shiva in the tiger form, and he exclaimed Neganti Shivanu ne kanti, which means I saw Shiva. . The festival of Maha Shiv Ratri which falls around October or November each year is celebrated with great pomp and show at the temple. The numerous natural caves in the hills around the temple were home to several saints throughout the ages, prominent caves include the Agastya cave, which is believed to be the place where saint Agastya performed penance to get Lord Shiva’s blessings; the Veera Brahmam cave, the site where Potuluri Veera Brahmam, who is known as India’s Nostradamus, wrote some chapters of his prophecies in the Kala Gnanam and the Venkateswara Cave. All these caves are open for worship from dusk to dawn. A fantastic feature of the temple is its Pushkarini, a water stream with very pure water with no one being able to figure out the exact reason of how the water flows into Pushkarini in all the seasons and a bath in the holy Pushkarini before visiting Shiva is considered to be highly beneficial. Also according to legend, crows do not fly in Yaganti because when sage Agastya was meditating here, Kakasura, the king of crows had disturbed him from his meditation. The sage, in turn, cursed the crows not to enter the premises and since the crow is considered the vehicle of Lord Shani, he cannot enter the temple. Perhaps the most famous legend associated with the temple, is the growing Nandi. Not just a belief, by documented by the Archaeological Survey of India which says that it is because the rock has a growing nature associated with it.

Konda Reddy Fort, also known as the Kurnool Fort or Kondareddy Buruju, is located 2 km from Kurnool railway station. In ruins today, the structure was built by the rulers of the Vijayanagar Empire. The modest looking structure, once housed a tunnel that passed from under the Tungabhadra river and still holds a majestic watch tower, looking over to the city that grew around it.

The Adoni Fort is a 15th century monument built during the reign of the Vijayanagara dynasty and served as a military base with its walls stretching over 50 km making it the largest fort in the country. After the downfall of the Vijayanagara empire, the fort was in the possession of the Bijapur Sultanate and later, after the defeat of Tipu Sultan, came under the British rule.

The Belum Caves are black limestone caves which are the largest and longest cave system in India famed for their unique formations such as stalactite and stalagmite formations and formed over many million years. A centrally protected monument of national importance, the Belum Caves has numerous pathways with intricate patterns of water streams on limestone. One of the most striking features of the cave is the stunning rock formations called Saptasvarala Guha (the chamber of seven notes). Here, you can hear the musical sound when struck with the wood, bamboos or knuckles. Simhadwaram, which means doorway for gods is a breathtaking archway giving an illusion of a lion’s head. The Kotilingalu Chamber contains thousands of naturally made lingams. The lingams are formed of stalactites. Voodalamari is another stalactite formation resembling a banyan tree. Thousand hoods, yet another stalactite formation is shaped in the hood of thousands of cobras. Dhyan Mandir is an interesting rock limestone formation shaped as a bed with pillow, local legend suggests this place was used as the meditation centre by all saints. Today more than three and a half km of the cave has been successfully explored of which only a kilometer and half is accessible to tourists. In some places, the depth of the caves goes as deep as 46 m, this point is known as Pataalaganga. An underground stream flows all year at this point, gliding over the rocks and hiding beneath the surface again. The cave consists of various long passages, galleries, large cavities with fresh water and water tunnels and three spectacular sinkholes. A major structure of the caves is dedicated to the period when it was invaded by the Jain and Buddhist monks. Evidence of the Jain and Buddhist remains have been found in the caves. A meditation den, saint’s bed, and several relics were discovered from the cave. Few relics found inside the caves could be dated back to 4500 BC. An enormous forty feet high statue of Lord Buddha was installed outside the caves to commemorate the roles of monks in the caves. The base of the statue consists of a lotus which also has a huge room within but does not have such a good condition. The caves are open from 10 am to 5 pm with Indians paying INR 50 and foreigners INR 300 as entry fees.

A scenic village, Mahanandi is surrounded by dense forestation with the Nallamala Hills located to its west. The village has one of the nine shrines dedicated to Lord Nandi, also called Nava Nandulu and famous for a 10th century ancient temple, the Mahanandiswara Swami temple which draws pilgrims every year on the occasion of Mahashivratri.

Dedicated to Lord Narasimha Swami, the Ahobilam or the Nava Narsimha temple is the only temple where all the nine forms of the deity are worshipped. Ahobilam is believed to be the middle of Adishesha who expands all over the Nalmalla Hills. The temple was built according to the Vijayanagara style of architecture and houses idols of all the nine forms of Lord Narasimha Swami. The temples are are distributed all over the hill and have idols of the deity in their respective forms made of stone and most devotees cover all the temples in one trip to the region.

The Sai Baba Temple located on the banks of the river Tungabhadra is a beautiful star-shaped structure with a traditional Shikhara in the centre on the top. The sanctum sanctorum has an idol of Sai Baba made of pristine white marble. The complex also houses a meditation hall that can accommodate about 800 people.

The Sri Mahayogi Laxmamma Avva Temple is dedicated to Lakshmamma, also known as Avva. She was born in a poor Dalit family, had nothing to live off of and was considered insane because she was always found muttering to herself. Some believed in her powers and offered her food and clothing till she was alive. According to a legend, Avva’s limbs were mutilated but the next day she was seen doing her regular chores and after many such miracles she has been considered an avadhoot.

The Sri Ranganayaka Swamy temple is an 18th century temple built by Krishnadvaraya of the Vijayanagara dynasty who wanted to build a temple similar to the one he visited in Srirangam. He later dreamt of Lord Vishnu telling him that an eagle will direct him to the location where the temple must be built and the beautiful Vijayanagara structure is an architectural treat.

An important pilgrim centre dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, at the Kolanu Bharathi Saraswathi temple the century-old tradition of Aksharabhyasam is performed at this ancient temple. It is also considered to be the abode of Goddess Sri Bharati. The temple complex also has a Shivalinga, known as the Sapta Linga Kshetram, and a statue of Kaala Bhairav who protects the region.

A 19th century shrine dedicated to Lord Satyanarayana, the Satyanarayana Swamy temple is famous for its splendid architecture with a magnificent entrance and beautiful bas-relief and sculpture work on the gopuram.

On the banks of River Handri is a 17th century structure known as the Tomb of Abdul Wahab. A monument with elaborate workmanship, two majestic domes, verandahs, arches and more, the tomb was built after the death of Abdul Wahab Khan, the first Nawab of Kurnool. The tomb located near Osmania college and also known as Gol Gummaz as it slightly resembles Gol Gumbaz of Bijapur was recently renovated and is now in a much better condition.

The Jumma Masjid in Kurnool is a 17th century mosque built by Madu Qadiri who was a governor under Adil Shah. The splendid architecture of the mosque includes beautiful minarets, magnificent domes and spacious prayer halls making it a tourist attraction as well.

The Nallamala Forest is over a vast region of the Eastern Ghats and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna including antelopes, neelgais, chinkaras and leopards. The forest area also includes the Nagarjunasagar – Srisailam Tiger Reserve. The natural landscape, the dense forestation with several stupendous waterfalls and other water bodies, make the attraction perfect for nature lovers.

A park with igneous rock formations, the Oravakallu Rock Garden has a restaurant, small ponds, boating facilities and a cave museum.

Ranamandala Konda is a religiously important attraction in the region as it is believed, this was the place where, during their exile, Lord Rama shot an arrow and it formed a lake to provide water to Goddess Sita. This is also where Lord Hanuman is believed to have fought demons while Rama was sleeping to ensure he doesn’t get disturbed. The attraction also has the famous Ranamandala Anjaneya Swamy temple which is a shrine with no roof.

A wildlife sanctuary spread across an area of 614sq kms, the Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary offers its visitors a journey into the wild, close to nature, amidst a number of diverse species of flora and fauna. Established in 1988, Rollapadu is especially known for being the home to the endangered species of the Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican. The wildlife sanctuary, spread across the huge area is the home to many birds and reptiles. With the Rollapadu village nearby, a man-made water reservoir, preserved for the consumption of wildlife, another reservoir for the collection of rainwater, Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary also sets a very good example of the mutual coexistence of mankind and nature. The sanctuary is open from 7 am to 6 pm.

Mantralayam
A holy town, Mantralayam is located 74 km from Kurnool on the banks of the Tungabhadra river near the border with Karnataka. The town is known for Sri Guru Raghavendra Swami, a follower of the Vrindavant cult of Lord Krishna and a saint who entered into a samadhi alive in front of his disciples in the 17th century, a Madhwa saint who is considered to be a reincarnation of Prahlada who was a daitya king saved by Lord Vishnu’s Narasimha avatar. The temple and the Mutt complex are the main attractions here. The temple elephants and chariots carrying the deity around the temple on special occasions are spectacular as is the Tungabhadra river. The temple is open from 6 to 8:30 am, 9:30 am to 2 pm and between 4 to 9:30 pm though the best time to visit is during the evening aarti at 7 pm. Other sites worth visiting in the vicinity of the complex are the Panchmukhi Anjaneya Temple, the Lakshmi Venkateshwara Temple & the Vedic Pathshala or school.

Gandikota
Known as the Grand Canyon of India, Gandikota is a small village near Kadapa flanked by the Pennar river on the right. The village is popular for the spectacular gorges formed by the river cutting through the Erramala hills. The narrow valleys with streams running between them and the steep rocky walls to give them company remind one of the Grand Canyon and requires a walk of almost a km from the main gate to reach the boulder from where you can observe the mesmerising view from the viewpoint near the fort. Located 1.5 hours away from the Belum Caves, the ruins of the Gandikota Fort built in the 13th century and flanked by the Pennar gorges on both sides and protected by a majestic 5-mile wall is spectacular. Built in red sandstone, the fort boasts of beautiful, intricate carvings in the interior. It also offers sweeping views of the hills and valleys below. In addition to a granary, jail and ruins of some temples, there are several structures within the fort that one can visit. The Raghunathaswamy temple is a unique temple inside the Gandikota Fort housing no idols but has airy corridors, complex hallways and is flanked by an array of towering pillars. The Madhavaraya temple on the other hand, has several idols and is a living masterpiece of ancient architecture. Boasting of several sculptures, the temple is a local favourite. The beautiful Jumma Masjid mosque situated within the premises called the Jamia Mosque, has a beautiful architecture, similar to that of the Charminar mosque in Hyderabad and is a popular camping spot because of the green cover in the vicinity.

Tadipatri
An ancient temple town, Tadipatri was built during the golden years of the Vijaynagar empire. The Chintala Venkataramana temple is home to numerous, yet rare imagery of gods and their sculptures. Walking inside will reveal to an image of Lord Vishnu with multiple arms. This image of the deity is supposed to take on the forms of many other gods, such as one set of hands showing Lord Ram with a bow and arrow, while another set of arms shows Lord Krishna with a flute he. Built-in the shape of a chariot, the Chintala Venkataramana temple’s shrine dedicated to Garuda is made out of granite and carved with great detail. And it is similar to the Vittala Temple at Hampi which holds the Garuda mandapa. A protected heritage site from the 16th century, it is believed that the Bugga Ramalingeswara temple had been constructed between the years of 1490 and 1509 and is without any doubt, a must-visit for everyone. As one enters the temples, they are greeted with skilfully carved sculptures, towering gopurams and musical stone pillars. Sunsets are amazing with the temple as a backdrop. The temple is very distinct because of the occurrence of a natural underground spring, from where water creeps into the Garbha Griha. The water automatically drops onto the place where the Lingam is installed. It is believed that Saint Parasurama lived here and did extensive meditation here. The entire Shiv Purana is written on the temple walls. A beautiful village and mandal located within the heart of Bathalapalli, Anantasagram is a destination for nature lovers because of the huge amount of greenery and water from the riverbanks.

Anantapur
A town in transition, Anantapur is at the confluence of the past and the future and reverberates with flashes of India’s glorious history and the true ethnic traditions and values. Anantapur also receives the second-lowest rainfall in India. It is said that the place has derived its name from Anaatasagaram, a big tank, which translates into endless ocean. Chikkavodeya, the minister of the Vijayanagar King, Bukka-I constructed the town of Anaatasagaram and Bukkarayasamudram.

Like all other ISKCON temples, the one at Anantapur, located at Somaladoodi village on the outskirts of Anantpur, is just as beautiful. The temple is in the shape of a horse-drawn chariot, with statues of four huge horses at the entrance. This temple is known as the Radha Parthasarathi Temple and was inaugurated in February 2008 and has a restaurant attached to it. The beautiful temple looks even more scintillating at night when lights illuminate its walls. The most cherished festival is Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna. The temple is open daily from 4 am to 12 noon and from 4:30 to 8:30 pm.

A recent addition, the Hanuman statue at Mounagiri is built several feet high and can be seen from several km afar as well as a temple, for those who wish to pray. The 37 feet tall Hanuman statue is made up of a single stone and was completed in the year 2010.

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The Penukonda fort is located at a distance of nearly 70 km from Anantapur. Previously known as Ghanagiri, the name of the fort is derived from the word Penukonda, which literally means big hill. This historic fort was once the second capital of the Vijayanagar empire. According to archaeologists, the fort was built by Vira Virupanna Udaiyar’s rule, the son of King-Bukka I of Vijayanagar. A huge idol of Lord Hanuman is placed inside the fort. The 11-feet tall Penukonda Fort houses multiple mosques inside among which the Sher Khan Mosque is the most important. The Gagan Mahal, a palace inside the fort, was built back in the 16th century. Another palace, the Babayya Darga was constructed to symbolise harmony between Hindus and Muslims.

Situated 300 meters above sea level, the Gooty fort is one of the oldest hill forts in the state and the country. The name Gooty is derived from the town’s previous original name, Gowthampuri. Having been designated as a monument of national importance, the fort has been the stronghold of the Chalukyas, Mughals, Marathas, East India Company as well as the Vijayanagara empire before the Qutb Shahi dynasty took over. It is mentioned as the King of Forts according to various historical inscriptions found here. The mammoth Gooty Hill covers a vast area is surrounded by the town on three sides and the westernmost point housing the citadel of the fort. The ruins of the fort are dotted by numerous different buildings and spaces such as granaries, bastions, gunpowder magazine, ramparts, storerooms and temples. The fort is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm and there is no entry fee.

The Anantapur Clock Tower is the landmark in the town innagurated in 1947 and stands 71 m tall in the middle of the town and is well maintained.

Thimmamma Marrimanu is a huge banyan tree located at about 70 Km from Horsely Hills. This historical Marrimanu tree is has been preserved since ancient times with the word marri meaning banyan and manu meaning tree in the Telugu language.

Puttaparthi
The holy abode of the Sathya Sai Baba, Puttaparthi is a town which takes you back to the days of ashrams. A tiny town, Puttaparthi has gained global fame as a religious centre offering modern approaches to religion, for being a unique village with urban facilities. Though Puttaparthi does not have many natural marvels or traditional tourist attractions, its richness and substance lie in its spiritual significance.

The main attraction here is the Sathya Sai Ashram known as Prashanti Nilayam, literally translates into the abode of peace. In the ashram one finds sprawling and beautiful educational institutions, stadiums, museums, hospitals and all the modern facilities capable of accommodating thousands of devotees at a time. The most discernible part of this ashram is the assembly hall where Sathya Sai Baba used to give his darshan. Inside the ashram is a banyan tree which was planted by by Sai Baba himself and is a silent zone for meditation in the ashram and is known as the Meditation Tree. A thick metal plate placed at the root of the tree is said to be joined by Sathya Sai Baba to boost the spirits amongt those who meditate here. The area is divided into separate parts for men and women. However, women are not allowed to visit before sunrise and after sunset for safety reasons. It is also believed that banyan trees have the power to purify the air all around, making the environment of the ashram all the more pristine. There is also an old tamarind tree in the ashram known as the Wish Fulfilling Tree. It is believed, that as a kid Sai Baba would take his friends up to this tree and ask them to think and wish for any fruit that they want to have, and the tree would give theme the same. The tree is located on the slope of a hill shadowing the Chitravathi river below.

The Shiva temple stands today where birthplace of Sathya Sai Baba is believed to be. One of the significant religious centre of the town, the Anjaneya Swamy Temple, dedicated to Lord Hanuman, houses a Siva Linga, believed to be brought by Sathya Sai Baba from Kasim, and a beautiful deity, which too shares a legend with Sathya Sai Baba. It is believed that as he was about to carry out the ritual of walking around the diety to worship and pay respects, the diety stopped him by saying that it is it, who should pay respect to him instead. At the foot of this deity one finds a pool of water which devotees believe to depict Lord Hanuman’s tears as his devotion to Lord Rama. The only temple in India dedicated to Sathyabhama, a lover and consort of Lord Krishna is here in Puttaparthi. The beautiful temple finds its origin to a dream that Sai Baba’s grandfather had where Sathyabhama appeared and asked him for an abode. The temple is adorned with various images of Lord Krishna. The Gopuram is a large and decorative gate devoted to Ganesh the elephant god. Built in 1975 as a birthday commemoration to Sai Baba, the gate is adorned with many multi-colored idols and stands over the entrance to his Ashram. Close to the Gopuram, is the Samadhi shrine, a cenotaph dedicated to Sai Baba’s parents. Morning prayers are carried here between 9:30 am and 11:30 am and the evening prayers are carried out between 4:30 and 6:30 pm. The area is also the site of an annual festival observed on Easwaramma Day, that is the death anniversary of Sai Baba’s mother. The festival is carried out with bhajans and special prayers and distributing food.

One of the most beautiful structures in Ashram, is the Chaitanya Jyoti Museum, which houses all stories and incidents of the life of Sai Baba, all the way from his early childhood. Visitors are introduced to the godliness and divinity of Sai Baba through multimedia presentations and more. The structure too, is a specimen of fine architecture and design which combines Chinese roofs, Moorish Spires, Gothic arches and Japanese and Thai styles. The museum was designed by a NASA scientist, Art-ong Jum Sai.

Inside the Ashram, one also finds a fascinating Planetarium known as the Sri Sathya Sai Space Theatre which on every Thursday conducts a show on space and astronomy with the idea to educate and create more awareness amongst the masses about the disciplines of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics. There is a Spitz Space System which is used to get some amazing views of the night sky. The theatre can hold a maximum of 200 people at a time and tickets for the shows are given on a first come first basis. The show is available in both English and the Hindi, with the English show taking place between 10 and 10:45 am and the Hindi one between 11 and 11:45 am.

Close to the University in the ashram is the Spiritual Museum which showcases the foundation of one of Sai Baba’s main teachings, that is the unity of religions. The museum is constructed in a Shikhara style of architecture and the design also derives inspiration from North India’s Jain temples. The museum holds replicas, idols, artifacts and other instances of religions from all over the world. It also depicts and displays teachings of a number of saints and major religious convictions.

In our next part, which is the last one, we see Lepakshi, the hill station of Horsley Hills, the town of Chittoor which is a blend of old and new and the temple towns of Srikalahasthi and the world famous town of Tirupati

Travel Bucket List: India – Andhra Pradesh Part 4

After Amaravathi, Vijayawada and Machilipatnam, let’s see what else Andhra Pradesh has to offer.

Guntur
Known as the Land of Chillies, Guntur is famous for its massive chilli market yard. It is the 24th most densely populated city in the world, 11th most in India and third most populous town in Andhra Pradesh located at a distance of 30kms from the newly coined capital Amaravathi and forms a part of the new AP Capital Region. The earliest reference to the present name of the city can be dated back to the period of Ammaraja I who ruled between 922 and 929 AD, the Vengi Eastern Chalukyan king. In Sanskrit, Guntur was referred to as Garthapuri, which translates to a place surrounded by water ponds. The earliest recorded reference of Guntur comes from the Idern plates of Ammaraja I. The inscriptions stones in the Agastyeshwara temple in the Naga Lipi, an ancient script, dates back to about 1100 AD in old Guntur and is considered one of the its famous temples. The region has been historically known for Buddhism and the first Kalachakra ceremony performed by Gautama Buddha himself. With the arrival of the Europeans in the late sixteenth century the city attained national and international significance when the French shifted their headquarters from Kondavid Fort to Guntur in 1752. The Nizams of Hyderabad and Hyder Ali also ruled the city until it came under British rule in 1788. With a busy industrial scenario, Guntur forms part of the prominent Vishakhapatnam-Guntur Industrial corridor and is renowned as a textile and transport hub in India.

Kondaveedu lies about 17 miles from Guntur and houses an ancient fort belonging to the 13th century built by the Reddy kings comprising of 21 magnificent structures. Situated on the top of the hill, the views from the fort are amazing. The place also offers an ideal trail for trekking. A group of several temple located at the base of the hillock provides a captivating sight with Kathulabave and Gopunatha Temple being two of the many temples in the area. The best time to visit the fort is between October and March and the fort is open all days and has no entry fees.

Bhattiprolu is a small village mainly known for its Buddhist stupa that is a centrally protected monument of national importance. Originally known as Pratipalapura, Bhattiprolu was ancient Buddhist town that used to flourish during the rule of the Sala dynasty. As per records, King Kuberaka used to rule this town around 230 BC and the stupa is known to have been built around the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. The stuapa was found during excavations between 1870 and 1892. Boasting of a diameter of 40 m, and an additional basement of 2.4 m, the great stupa is also called the Mahachaitya. The Mahachaitya also has a large halls with several pillars, some ruined votive stupas which have several stupas of Lord Buddha. Besides this, there were also some stone receptacles found- which contained a copper vessel, silver casket and golden casket, with enclosed beads of bone and crystal etc. During exavations in Bhattiprolu, examples of the Brahmi script were found written on an olden urn with the relics of Buddha. This script has been named as the Bhattiprolu Alphabet and experts believe that the Telugu and Kannada script was inspired by the same.

Originally known as Kondakavuru, Kotappakonda Trikutaparvattam is famously known as Kotappakonda or Trikutaparvattam meaning a three-peaked hill which actually lies nearby. Located nearly 25 miles from Guntur, it offers a panoramic view of majestic hills from any direction. The popular three peaks derive their names from Hindu mythology namely Vishnu, Brahma and Maheswara. Another place worth visiting is Guthikonda Cave as well as the Someswara Swamy temple is another popular place to visit. Kotappakonda Trikutaparvattam is open daily from 6 am to 12:30 pm and then again between 3 to 8 pm.

A place to admire a large number of endangered species of Birds, the Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary is situated in the southern side of the city. The water tanks in the region are a perfect place to enjoy a beautiful spectacle of birds like the spot-billed pelicans and painted storks. The number of bird species has, however, has reduced in the recent time from 12,000 to 7000. There is an entry fee of INR 30 per person.

Chirala
Also known as Ksheerapuri, which translates as the town of milk, the peaceful town of Chirala was founded by Minchala Paleti Papayya and Minchala Paleti Perayya. Over time, the name changed to Chirala, where Chira means a sari. The town and the surrounding areas are known for their high-quality hand-loom industry and is known as Mini Bombay or Chenna Bombay. Chirala is famous for its quiet beaches, splendid panoramic view and extremely hospitable people. The beaches of Chirala are untouched by human malice and over-population. The two prime beaches of the town include the Ramapuram Beach and the Vodarevu Beach which are famous for their silent and peaceful nature, where one can hear the waves roaring and chirping of birds with unparalled sunrises and sunsets. Chirala is an abode of magnificent temples, churches and glittering local market. Some of the noteworthy places include the St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the Veera Raghavaswamy temple, the Padmanabhuni Swami Temple, the Sai Baba Temple, the St. Luke Church and the Pooleramma temple.

Nagarjunakonda
An island today, Nagarjunakonda is a historical town, located near Nagarjuna Sagar, near the state border with Telangana. The ruins of several Mahayana Buddhist and Hindu shrines are located at Nagarjunakonda which is one of India’s richest Buddhist sites, and today lies almost entirely under the Nagarjunasagar Dam. The town is named after Nagarjuna, a southern Indian master of Mahayana Buddhism who lived in the 2nd century, who is believed to have been responsible for the Buddhist activity in the area. The site was once the location of many Buddhist universities and monasteries, attracting students from as far as China, Gandhara, Bengal and Sri Lanka. 3rd and 4th century inscriptions discovered there make it clear that it was known as Vijayapuri in that period with the name Nagarjunakonda dating to the medieval period. The Ikshavaku inscriptions invariably associate their capital Vijayapuri with the Sriparvata hill, mentioning it as Siriparvate Vijayapure.

Situated at the top of the hill, the Nagarjunakonda Caves depict the life of the Buddhist civilisation that existed here. From the beautifully carved sculptures, the inscriptions on the cave walls to the life sized statues and relics of the Buddha, this cave offers a visual treat. Apart from this, there is another cave situated underground and is horizontal and is said to be the second largest cave in the Indian sub-continent. The museum in the premises offers a collection of excavated artifacts belonging to the era. Open daily from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm, there is no entry fee to access the caves.

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The chief abbot of Nalanda University, Acharya Nagarjuna established a University and meditation centre known as Dhamma Nagajjuna and many people from far and near came to learn the Dhamma and helped in spreading it all over Southeast Asia. Today this is known as Nagarjuna Sagar and is a Vipasna meditation centre that teaches the Buddhism way of living. The basic course is of a 10 day meditation programme, free of cost and involves living there with minimal belongings and attaining oneness with nature and oneself. The course is conducted in Hindi, Telugu and English. Though the course is free, prior reservations need to be made.

The world’s largest masonry dam protected with 26 gates measuring 14m in height and 13m in width, the Nagarjunasagar Dam is built across the Krishna river. The dam has a storage capacity of nearly 11,472 million cubic meters with an irrigation capacity for 10 acres of land. The dam is 150 m tall and is 16 kms in length while also being a major tourist attraction. It is among the first irrigation projects started by the Indian government as an element of the green revolution. Today, apart from offering not only irrigation facility, but it is also a source of hydroelectricity and attracts a large number of tourists owing to its great magnificence as well as the cover of dense green surrounding it offering a captivating view. The best time to visit the dam is between October to February and it has an entry fee of INR 20 for adults and INR 15 for children. Boating in the dam can be done daily except on Fridays at 9 am, 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.

Srisailam
A hill town, Srisailam is famous for the Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga Temple and is one of the 18 holy Shaktipeethas or pilgrimage sites for the Saivism and Shaktism sects of Hinduism. The town is classified as both a Jyotirlinga and a Shakti Peetha. Situated on the banks of river Krishna, Srisailam is identified with a wildlife sanctuary and a dam.

On the southern bank of the Krishna river is a temple the town Srisailam is known for. The Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple, is the most celebrated temple of the town and finds it roots in the sixth century, when it was built by King Harihara Raya of Vijayanagar. According to legend, Goddess Parvati cursed sage Bringi to stand, as he only worshipped Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva, after consoling the goddess, gave him a third leg, so that he could stand more comfortably. Visitors can find the idol of sage Bringi standing on three legs here as well as idols of Nandi, Sahasralinga and Nataraja. The walls and pillars of the temples are also adorned by beautiful carvings and sculptures. One of the most beautiful temples of the town, this is the one sacred structure, located on the Nallamala hills, that should not be missed.

At the highest point of Srisailam, referred to as Sikharam, one finds a temple dedicated to the Sikhareswara Swamy, watching over the landscape and a pristine Krishna river flowing below. Sikhareswara Swamy is one of the forms of Lord Shiva and is believed to possess the power to free his devotees from their sins. Here, at this abode of the Lord of Sikharam, you can find some of the most beautiful views in the area with another temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha.

A recent addition to the temples of Srisailam is the Hemareddy Mallamma temple located close to the Mallikarjuna Swamy temple. The temple has an ashram next to it.

Located amidst beautiful surroundings, the Sakshi Ganapati temple is a small little shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Devotees believe that Lord Ganesha knows who visits the Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga and keeps a record and shows it to Lord Shiva. Hence, devotees visit this temple first to register their visit before visiting any other temple in Srisailam. There is a modest climb of 10 steps to reach the sanctum of this temple which is nestled amongst dense woods.

A modest temple, housing a Shiva Linga, the Hathakesvara temple tends to be one of the most frequently visited temples, by locals. The temple is said to at the same place as where Sri Adi Sankaracharya, created one of his philosophical texts.

Situated at a distance of 20 km from Srisailam, the Ista Kameswari temple is dedicated to an avatar of Goddess Parvati, Goddess Istakameswari. Dating back to somewhere between the 8th and 10th centuries, the temple is based in the middle of a lush green forest and boasts of stunning landscape. Known to have a striking architecture and beautiful designs, the temple is located inside the folds of a cave that makes it all the more interesting and unique. Other than the surroundings, the highlight of the temple is the idol of Goddess Kameswari which is said to have a super soft texture although it is made in hard steel. It is believed that the Devi can grant any wish to the devotees if they visit it even once.

Srisalam is known for its devotion towards Lord Shiva, and a rocky bank of this river has in each of its rocks, believed to be an image of Lord Shiva. The belief also grants the bank its name, Lingala Gattu.

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The setting of Akkamahadevi caves around 10 kilometres away from Srisailam in Telangana is a natural wonder. Located right across the Krishna river, the caves are a natural formation that has been in existence for more than a million years amidst the Eastern Ghats. With its naturally formed arch at the entrance which stands without any support of any kind, the main attraction is the deep-lying Shivalinga inside the extensive maze of pathways. The lingam is a popular religious shrine, dedicated to Lord Shiva and has attracted tourists and pilgrims for centuries. The hills of the Nallamala range across the ghat section offer serene, picturesque views of the vista around, en route the Akkamahadevi Caves. The Krishna river is the sole route available to access the caves, and the small but scenic journey is said to be well worth the effort. Private and public boat operators undertake these short trips from the small piece of habited land, close to Srisailam. Bordered by the towering Nallamala hills on all sides, ride may last up to an hour or so. The caves are named after the Kannada poetess, saint and philosopher of the 12th century, Akka Mahadevi. She is said to have performed penance and offered prayers inside the caves to the naturally existing Shivalingam deep inside the cave formation.

As the river Krishna turns down hill, it is called Patala Ganga or the underground Ganges with a certain spirituality in the air. One can also try the enjoyable ropeway car ride and look down at the majestic river and lush green beauty all around. The starting point of the ropeway is near the Srisailam Mallikarjuna temple. The ropeway is open from 6 am to 5:30 pm while you can enjoy boating from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Cost of the both the ropeway and the boating is INR 50 for adults and INR 35 for children.

One of the main centres of attraction for the town, the Srisailam dam is also one of the 12th largest hydroelectric projects in India. A blend of uninterrupted natural beauty and engineering genius, the Srisailam dam emerges out of the verdant greenery of the Nallamala Hills to mark its presence and is built across the verve of the Krishna river and nestled in a deep canyon, surrounded by forests and sceneries, finding a home in the sound of gushing and falling water. The road up to the dam is a scenic beauty too, and the view of the Srisailam Dam is a sight to behold. The foundation of the dam was laid down in 1960 and was completed in 1981 with the second phase undertaken in 1987 to convert the site into a multipurpose project with a capacity to generate additional 770mw of power.The imposing structure of the dam is perched at a massive height of 300 metres and the edifice itself is 145 metres in height and 512 metres in length. One of the best things to do around the Srisailam dam is to spend some quality time as one looks over to the gurgling waters of the Krishna. The view from the top of the dam is an astonishing sight, especially when the water is released and one can see the might of its flow. Visitors can also explore the dam using the ropeway and taking a boat ride on the Krishna river. The dam is open from 6 am to 5 pm daily and entry is free.

Octopus View Point is a view point is located 5 km before Domalpenta and offers amazing views of the adjoining forests, enchanting gorges and the mesmerising backwaters of the Krishna river. It is so named because of Krishna river down below looks like an octopus spread between the hillocks. It provides a spectacular bird’s eye view of the entire valley below. In addition to that, there is a regular safari tour conducted by the reserve that is the major highlight of the place.

Paladhara Panchadara is a beautiful scenic spot that is located around 4 km from Srisailam and can be reached by a flight of stairs that leads to an infusion of several streams. The gurgling of streams along with the beauteous natural environment surrounding the place makes it the perfect spot to reflect and unwind. It also holds significant religious importance as the name of the central stream Paladhara Panchadara is derived from the Hindu God Lord Shiva. It is believed that the stream was named after the one originating from Lord Shiva’s forehead with pala meaning forehead and dhara meaning stream. It is believed that Sri Adi Shankaracharya stayed here in the 8th century while he was meditating. He created his renowned masterpiece Sivanandalahari right here as well as the Bhramaramba Ashtaka where he praises Goddess Bhramaramba. Paladhara Panchadara is open between 9 am and 5 pm daily.

Find yourself fascinated as you witness instances of the livelihoods and cultures of the tribes of Andhra Pradesh at the Chenchu Lakshmi Museum. Also, honey collected by the tribes and packaged by the state government is also available at the museum for sale and is a true specialty to take back home.

The Srisailam Tiger Reserve occupies a total area of 3,568 acres, making it one of the largest tiger reserves in India. The Srisailam Dam and Nagarjunasagar Dam are also located in the reserve area. Apart from tigers, one can spot other animals like the leopard, sloth bear, dhol, Indian pangolin, chital, sambar deer, chevrotain, blackbuck, chinkara, and chowsingha. There are other reptiles and amphibians also found in this area including crocodile, Indian python, king cobra and Indian peafowl.
One also finds a number of crocodiles in the down waters of Srisailam Dam, where a breeding programme, supported by the local government is being carried out.

Cumbum
Cumbum town is widely popular for the age-old man-made lake here. Also called Gundlakamma Lake, it is built on the rivulet of the same name upon Nallamalai Hills. The lake is 7km long and has a width of 3.5km. Cumbum Lake is touted as one of the oldest man-made lakes in Asia. It has its roots in history as it was built by Gajapati rulers of Odisha back in 15th century and was later modified and its anicut was built by Varadharajamma, Vijayanagar princess and wife of King Krishnadevaraya back in the 17th century. Details provided from the Imperial Gazette of India shows that in those days, the lake supplied its water to 10,300 acres of land for the purpose of irrigation which is why it earned the reputation of being the second-largest irrigation tank in Asia. That Cumbum had been under the reign of Mughal rulers are proven by the inscriptions here in the town. There are two, particularly, which belong to the early 18th century. One refers to the death of Sheriff Khaja Muhammad, who was the Qiladar of the Cumbum fort during the reign of Aurangzeb and the other refers to Muhammad Sahib, the governor of Cumbum during the reign of Muhammad Shah. Since the lake is located in the lap of Nallamala forest, one can visit the nearby temples and waterfalls too. The Srisailam temple is nearby as well as the Bhairavakona waterfalls which includes the monolith Bhairavakons temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati as well as eight smaller temples carved out from the hills.

Nellore
Nellore is a beautiful city lying on the banks of the river Penna and was known as Vikrama Simhapuri in ancient times. There are various theories linked to the origin of its name. A mythological story from the Sthala Purana depicts a lingam in the form of a stone under a nelli tree. The place gradually became Nelli-ooru with Nelli standing for the emblica tree and ooru generally means place to the present day Nellore. Another explanation is that the town got its name from the extensive cultivation of paddy in and around it with Nell meaning paddy and ur meaning town. The Gazetteer of the Nellore District considers the latter the more plausible etymology. Nellore had been under the rule of Mauryas, Satavahanas, Cholas, Pallavas, Pandyas, Kharavela of Chedi dynasty, Kakatiyas, Eastern Gangas of Kalinga Empire, Vijayanagara Empire, Arcot Nawabs and other dynasties. The town was under the rule of Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty in the 3rd century BC and then conquered by the rulers of the Pallava dynasty and was under their rule till the 6th century AD, subsequently the Chola rulers ruled Nellore for a long period of time. The Telugu Cholas met their decline in the 13th century. Tamil inscriptions indicate that it formed part of Chola kingdom till their decline in the 13th century and later became a part of Kakatiyas, Vijayanagara Empire, Sultanate of Golconda, Mughal Empire and Arcot Nawabdom. In the 18th century, Nellore was taken over by the British from the Arcot Nawabs and was part of the Madras Presidency. The city had an important role in the emergence of the Telugu language and the formation of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Potti Sriramulu, who fasted until death for the formation of Andhra Pradesh, hailed from Nellore. The town is known for its rich agriculture and has been an exporter of rice, sugarcane and cane based products, prawns, shrimps and a varied set of crops. It is the 6th most populous city in Andhra Pradesh.

Also known as Ramathirdham, the Ramalingeswara temple is located 30 km from Nellore city with the presiding deities being Lord Shiva and Goddess Kamakshamma. Devotees also visit temple to worship Lord Vigneswara and Subhramanya. An ancient temple, it serves as a magnificent architectural grandeur and is easily accessible from Vellore via a state highway.

Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Narasimhaswamy temple lies about 13 km from the centre of the town with Lord Vishnu being worshipped in this temple in his fourth incarnation. Also referred to as Sri Vedagiri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple, the place holds several myths. The Santhana Vriksha located within the temple premises is said to bless the childless devotees while the Kondi Kasuli Hundi is considered to rid the sufferers from venomous snake and scorpion bites. A much smaller place of worship dedicated to Adi Lakshmi is also can be spotted above the main temple. The temple is open daily from 4:30 am to 12:30 pm and then again from 3 to 7:30 pm.

Lying on the banks of Pennar river, the Ranganatha temple is one of the most revered temples of Nellore. The temple is great religious significance and is considered to be the oldest temples of the area. The temple is also known for its beautiful architecture and exquisite carving and houses seven gold pots adorned with huge mirrors within the temple premises. The Addala Mandapam or minor hall situated within the complex is famous for its intricate inlay work. It is also a major part of the temple being the place where the idol of the presiding deity of the temple, Lord Sri Ranganathswamy is enshrined. The temple is open daily from 6 am to 12 noon and then from 2 to 9 pm.

Barah Shaheed Dargah is a mausoleum located very close to the sea in Sulurpet. The place was established in the honor of 12 martyrs and there is a common belief that those who visit here to pay their respects, have all their wishes fulfilled. The dargah is a sight to behold during the time of Moharram when a festival called Rottela Panduga is held for three days.

Mypadu Beach is a mesmerising beach with pristine seawater and golden brown sand and is located about 25 km from Nellore on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. One can take a long peaceful stroll across the beach or sit in the sand, contemplate about life or just absorb the beauty of the location. Open from 5 am to 6 pm and managed by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, this beautiful beach serves as an ideal place to relax and connect with nature.

Renowned for being one of the most significant pelican habitats in southeast Asia, the Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary is every bird watcher’s dream location. This sanctuary is located just near the village of Nelapattu and is spread over a total area of about 459 hectares. The sanctuary is also a crucial breeding site for the spot-billed pelicans and is also home to significant plant areas like the Barringtonia swamp forests and the southern dry evergreen scrub. Other than the spot-billed pelican, the sanctuary is an important breeding ground for other birds as well, such as white ibis, openbill stork, night heron and little cormorant. In all, 189 different species of birds can be found here, of which 50 species are migratory. These migratory birds include the common teal, shoveler, spot-bill duck, grey heron, black-winged stilt, and garganey gadwall. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1997 and is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Entry fee for adults is INR 2 and for children, is INR 1 while foreigners pay INR 400/ If heavy vehicles need to enter, it will cost INR 100 and INR 50 for jeep and cars while it is INR 10 for two or three wheelers. If visitors plan on taking photographs, the camera fww is INR 50.

Patu Ru is a small village lying about 10 km from Nellore and is a perfect place to stock up on handicrafts and handloom sarees for which the village is renowned for. The village is settles between the triangle formed by Kovuru, Damarmadugu and Kovuru.

Our next part will see us exploring Andhra Pradesh’s judicial capital Kurnool, Gandikota, Tadipatri, Anantapur and the temple town of Puttaparthi

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