100.ANDHRA PRADESH. (4) Guntur-Uppalapadu,Undavalli, Machilipatnam, Challapalli, Kuchipudi.

We leave Nizamapatnam and decide to drive to Guntur although it is not on the coast. The idea was to see the Chili growing region and the sight of red Chilies being dried in large quantities. Added to this was the desire to see Vijayawada-Amaravati. and how the new capital of the state shaping up.

Looking back, it was a disastrous decision. We missed a lot of coast, a Sanctuary and a Lighthouse in the Krishna river delta. In fact, we missed out on the entire Krishna river basin. However, there was the possibility that we would not have made it at all if we had tried to drive in the area. Krishna meets the Bay of Bengal using three different distributaries creating the delta which is marshy and wet. There are hardly any roads in the region. We were warned by an engineer at one of other lighthouses that it would be difficult for us to reach the Lighthouse as it requires a journey of 3 hours by country boat in addition to long road journey.

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If you look at the map above it clearly shows the absence of habitation in the Delta. I am not yet sure if made a major mistake by going up the Krishna and coming back to join the coast at Machilipatnam. One thing is sure, we missed some coastal places and also the bridge across Krishna.

The trip to Guntur was a disaster. There was no scene of drying chilies. It was not the season. We could not manage to get a reasonable accommodation and when we found one it had a horrible parking underground with an incline of more than 180 degrees.

Having come all the way to Guntur we decided to visit Uppalapadu a bird sanctuary located not far from the town. In fact, it is a largish Pond facing a temple which many birds find it convenient to breed.

It is managed by Forest department and they charge an entrance fee. The birds are the usual Spot-billed Pelicans, the Jacanas and a few others.

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Spot-billed Pelican

In short this is the Beginners Guide to birds. I hope the Guntur residents make good use of it.

We have now to get back to the coast and continue with our travel programme. We have to either get back to near to Nizamapatnam and cross Krishna downstream  or cross Krishna at Vijayawada and go south- eastwards. Our destination is Machilipatnam. We decide on the latter.

We decide to visit Undavalli Caves on the way.

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Undavalli caves are dated to 4th and 5th Century. Initially started as a Buddhist Viharas carved into the hill by Buddhist monks, the place was taken over by Hindus later on. It appears to be as a result to change of royal mind of the local kings who initially supported the Buddhist but later on favoured Hindus.

The exteriors:

Some scenes of the interiors:

Most of the statues, idols and images are now Hindu.The reclining Vishnu on serpent is the highlight.

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A part of the cave is a functional temple where Puja is conducted. The carvings are numerous and are in pretty good condition. Lovers graffiti is conspicuous by it’s absence. The place being a functional temple appears to dissuades the lovers-cum-artists.

The surrounding part of the countryside is green and beautiful. The Krishna is not far from here.

As you drive through this part of Andhra you will notice that the grass /hay generated by the paddy is stored in  the fields. In other parts of the country it is carried and stored near the place of farmer’s residence. The cattle who consume the hay is generally kept nearer the residences rather than the farms.

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We pass through Vijayawada but do not stop. Here is the Prakasam in the town. Krishna has a large number of islands in its stream, big and small.

We reach Machilipatnam late in the day to find that all hotels in the town are fully booked till the next day. A big man’s son is getting married and a large number of guests have arrived from other places. The bride or bridegroom seem to be studying or working in US or Europe as we see a number of young white men and women around, most certainly wedding guests.

We make another round of the hotels and lodges trying our luck and at the same time considering other possibilities like getting back on to the highway and look for accommodation. At last we come to a hotel where the receptionist says that they don’t have any rooms but they can offer a suit. This is OK by us. We need to take some rest urgently. They have a basement parking like most hotels in the area do and the entrance to the parking is a steep incline.

Machilipatnam has been a French colony which was subsequently taken over by the British. There appears to be no signs of the French presence left behind. At least they are not known. Before that it also used to be the principal port of the Golconda Kingdom and a major centre for the production and export of the famed muslin cloth.

The people here seem to be big fans of Saibaba of Shirdi, not the one nearer home.

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There is not much to be seen in the town but there is a beach and a Lighthouse about 12 Kms away. We go for it. It is called Manginapudi beach. The stretch nearer the beach is a very pleasant drive.

The beach has an ‘entrance’. Beaches should not have entrances and exits. It is a huge beach both lengthwise (seashore) as well the breadth from the sea to the ordinary land.

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entrance

 

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Religious icons add colour to the flat beach.

One of the visitors to the beach:

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The Lighthouse at the beach is quite tall, among the tallest in India and according to the keeper, people are not allowed to climb it. Every lighthouse has its own rules. Taking pictures? No problem.

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Next day morning we take off from Machilipatnam to visit two small towns. Challapalli and Kuchipudi.

On the way, we again come across a canal. These canals are the lifeline of coastal Andhra.

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Freshwater canal used for irrigation And fishing.

Between Machilipatnam and Challapalli we come across this depiction of Lord Krishna drinking fresh milk straight from the udders of the cow.

Challapalli is the closest that we approached the Krishna river on the Diviseema Island where the last northern distributary of  the river separates the other two parts of the peninsula. We do not reach the river banks.

Challapalli was the headquarters of  Yarlagadda Jamindars who rules this place and the surrounding countryside in the 16th to the 20th centuries. In the 19th century the ruling Jamindar constructed a palace which is the purpose of our visit.

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The Palace or Fort

 

The palace is not seen easily from the main road outside which is lined up with motor mechanics. There is an outer gate. As you enter, a couple of people materialize from nowhere demanding , what else, money. They say there are the caretakers. By the time we return they have disappeared.

The palace grounds seem to start at this entrance but there are some educational institutions inside which can be accessed through this gate.

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Main entrance

The palace, referred to here as Fort’, is a modest building with a few artefacts and portraits in the ground floor hall. The upper floor is not open to public. All in all is not a must-see place.

The palace compound has a number of fruiting trees which invite a number of birds including parrots feeding on the bananas. The descendents of the Jamindars do not seem to mind.

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The next stop is Kuchipudi which gave the name to a famous dance form. The town displays the artistic inclinations of its residents.  The entrance gate to the town has been done artistically:

The town Bus Stand has a small garden!!. The Bus Stand is miraculously clean.

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We make a brief visit to the school where the Kuchipudi dance is taught. It is a residential academy.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

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