105.ANDHRA PRADESH. (9) Visakhapatnam , Thotlakonda,Bheemili, Bheemunipatnam.

The Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region starts almost immediately after one leaves Anakapalle. A large hill appears from nowhere on the sea coast. In fact the Eastern Ghats are located much further to the west. The hills of Vizag appear to be the foothills of the eastern ghats somehow detached from the main range to create a city in between.

The city and the region around is an ancient settlement. The history goes back to the days of Kalinga Kingdom in Odisha of which it was a part. In the subsequent centuries it was ruled by the Cholas from Tamilnadu and some local kings until it fell into the hands of the French in the 18th century. The British wrested control from the French in the early part of 19th century and ruled till the Indian independence.

Vizag as the town is also known as  is a great natural harbour, a major port and an important naval base of Indian Navy. The combination of these gives the metropolitan region a population of over five million, the largest in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Kailasgiri Park on the northern side of the town is a standard tourist attraction with road access as well as a ropeway. The views of the beach and the sea below justifies the climb.

We just pass through the Zoological park which occupies quite a large area on the side of a hill close to the sea.

 

The War Memorial on the beach is another place we visit as probably everyone does when he is in Vizag.

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We have not lined up many places to see in the city. There is a famous lighthouse of course and a couple of other hills which we would see to get a view of the town from the top.

Dolphin’s Nose Lighthouse must rank among the most visited lighthouses in the country. It is on the tour operators itinerary. To reach the Dolphin’s Nose is quite difficult. One has to take a round of the entire town and climb a hill from the south side to reach it. The shorter roads are in the Naval area and not open to public.

The lighthouse is not a great structure but the views from the lighthouse are.

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There is a Dargah close to the lighthouse. We skip it.

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The next day we start early and continue along the road north of the city towards Beemunipatnam with the Rushikonda beach as the first halt.

The development of the city is in the narrow space north to south with the hills forming the obstruction towards the west. This continues throughout till Beemunipatnam.

Not far from Rushikonda are several hills in which ancient Buddhist sites have been found, some of them are quite well preserved despite their age of 2000 years+.  Bavikonda and Thotlakonda hills are the ones we decide to visit.

We visit both the places in quick succession. For someone not conversant with the Buddhist architecture they look the same- the Viaharas and the Stupas etc.

 

At Bavikonda ( which means Hill of Wells), we find a number of water cisterns created to collect rainwater which would perhaps last the monks a whole year as it would be difficult to find alternative source of water on the hill.

The Yellow-whattled lapwing breeds well in the hills keeping company and providing background sounds to the Buddhist stupas.

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The entrance arch to the   Thotlakonda    site built by the Andhra Pradesh government is more grandiose that anything the Buddhist monks might have thought of constructing 2000+years ago.

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Thotlakonda entrance gate

About 15 Kms north of Rushikonda the river Gosthnai meets the sea after encircling the hills which form the backdrop to Vishakhapatnam town. Bheemili beach is next stop. What distinguishes the beach is the large number of sculptures and statues in concrete depicting various religious themes.

 

Bhimili beach has a lighthouse, arguably the shortest one in the country. It is called Bheeminipatnam Lighthouse and is about 10 meters in height, overall.

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The Lighthouse

Gandhiji’s statue looks strange, probably the walking stick has been taken away it.

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Gandhi and the Lighthouse.

The Telugu love for statues and sculptures does not end here. It continues to the Bhimunipatnam town and beyond into the hills.

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Naracimha  on the Hill

In the town square itself there are a couple of sculptures, quite prominent.

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Mermaids by the dozen

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From the scriptures

 

The major one and worth looking at in detail is depicting various facets of the life of the town and probably the region.

Fisherwoman. (The birds are real, not a part of the sculpture.

Men at sea, catching fish.

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The townsfolk.

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And the white man who spent time here, not in the very distant past.

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Text by Suryakiran Naik  suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

104.ANDHRA PRADESH. (8) Ethikoppaka Vadrapalle & Anakapalle

The eastern Ghats are not as majestic and extensive as the Western Ghats but this range has it’s own charm. In coastal Andhra Pradesh one can feel their presence only when one drives north from Kakinada towards Vishakhapatnam. The low but pretty hills towards the west look beautiful and have their own little secrets. The Paddies in low lying areas with the banana and coconut plantations in the progressively higher lands is almost the norm.

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Higher up in the hills are the means to sustain a small institution. We are here to visit this little artistic industry. The village of Ethikoppaka is not widely known outside but has a rich tradition of making lacquered wooden toys. About 20 families here are involved in making various types of wooden toys and other decorative articles for the last hundred years or so.

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The wood used is exclusively a single species of tree called Ankudu in Telugu and known to science as Wrightia tinctoria , a softwood tree found in the Eastern Ghats. The other ingredient is the lac made from certain species of insects found in the region. Together they lend a distinctive brilliance to the artefacts made.

The village is small and in the middle of nowhere. One has to leave the highway and drive on the village roads to reach the little hamlet. For us it was worth it. Here are the shops in the village mainly visited by the traders from various places including exporters.

The variety produced is amazing, given the limited range of ingredients used. Here are some samples.

The manufacturing is done in residential houses almost as a domestic activity using small lathes and a lot of manual work. The owner of the shop we visited invites us to see how the manufacturing is done. A room at the entrance to the house is all the space that is used in shaping the wood on a small lathe machine.

Here is a video.

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ANAKAPALLE is our next stop. It is not a seaside town but is not very far from the sea, the Pudimadaka beach is about 25 Kms.

The first place we visit is the Vadrapalli Lake and Kondakarla Bird Sanctuary. Although designated as a Bird Sanctuary there is hardly any government presence here and much less by way of infrastructure. But this place is a gem, not to be missed.

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To start with it is a serenely beautiful lake with  hills for the background making it picturesque. The birds? No, there are not many at this time of the year (last week of February). The migratory species have already departed leaving the locals to enjoy the lake without crowding.

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Hillside cut to build a temple on the shores of the lake

 

 

There are two things an observer will not fail to see here. One is the boats which are used on the lake. They are unique. The bottom portion of the Tala or the Toddy palm (Borassus flabellifer) is dug out to make the canoe in which a single person (or may be two although I did not see one carrying two people). It appears to be an innovation of the fishermen operating on the lake. However further innovation has resulted in joining two of the canoes together for the tourist trade.

 

The boatmen offered to take us around the lake in one of these contraptions. Fearing for our lives, we declined.

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How can the artists be left behind when the local invention has been a success? The boats get their decorative paint.

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The villagers around the Vadrapalli lake appear to be resourceful people, using the locally available materials to fashion their means of livelihood. Apart from the canoes they have their own fishing equipment. The traps with one-way doors are laid in the lake and the fish collected using the canoes.

 

Here is another interesting equipment. This fishing net is made by using the spines of the Borassus palm leaves and reinforced by the synthetic material. The conical nets are like the miniatures of trawl nets used in the commercial fisheries on the seas.

The fish caught here are not only the edible species but also a few of the ornamental tropical fishes for the aquariums.

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We return to the main village road and proceed towards east, the seashore. Our destination is the Pudimadaka Lighthouse.

One has to pass through a fast coming up Industrial Park with excellent roads and then through the salt pans to reach Pudimadaka. We miss a turn which leads us to Lighthouse and land in the thickly populated fishing village. We are guided to the lighthouse on the narrow footpath through a maze of huts to reach the rear side of the Lighthouse. Language is a serious issue.

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The saltpans on the way.

 

The seashore is rocky and one can see the large rocks and hillocks in the sea, probably the reason for the existence of the lighthouse. Otherwise the fishermen here seem to be using the very small traditional boats and there is no port nearby.

 

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Fishing boats on the beach.

 

Here is a typical house on the hill slope leading to the Lighthouse.

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And here is the lighthouse.

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And the Pudimadaka temple.

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It is ti,e for us to return to Anakapalle for the night halt. Whilst travelling in this region one cannot fail to notice that the farmers are growing sugarcane but one does not see any sugar mills. Upon inquiry I am told that this region produces Jaggery (or Gudh) on a large scale. We decide to stop at a roadside jaggery making unit.

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The process used as simple as elsewhere in the country.

Squeeze out the juice from the cane.

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Collect the juice in a vessel.

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Boil the juice using the cane residue called bagasse and there you are.

 

You have to only squeeze the jaggery in the desired mounds for transportation to the market.

The next we come to know is that Anakapalle is among the largest Jaggery markets in the country, in fact ranked 2nd after another one in Uttar Pradesh. We decide to have a look at the market named after the Filmstar turned Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

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This place deals exclusively with Jaggery. We were hoping to see the trading, how the sale is made by the farmers. No, the day and time is not right. It is saturday and no auctions are held. Come back on Monday around 10 am.

But you are welcome to look around. In fact the traders or agents whoever they are were very happy to have visitors on the premises. They fed me chunks of jaggery despite my protestations that I am diabetic.

What we could witness was the arrival of vehicles loaded with jaggery and the unloading process for storage till the auctions on Monday.

The Jaggery is not packed or wrapped by the farmer producers. That process is done by the traders after they purchase the goods. Hence we can see only the naked mounds of various weights.

This lot was sold earlier yesterday and is now ready wrapped in plastic sheets and gunnies and ready for transportation.

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The unloading:

 

 

The storage in the vast open warehouses.

You must have noticed that the jaggery comes in various colours and shades and that determines it’s quality. There are various grades commanding various price levels. The top quality is the lightest in colour.

What happens to the darkest variety?

It is sold

Why do people buy it? is it edible?

It is bought to make country liquor

Is it legal?

Well, we don’t make or sell liquor here.

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With this information we leave Anakapalle and continue towards Vishakapatnam.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik &  Veena Naik

Videos by Veena Naik

 

 

103.ANDHRA PRADESH. (7) Kakinada & Kadiyapulanka

Yanam to Kakinada is a short distance but we have booked a room at the Haritha Beach Resort owned and operated by the AP Tourism Development Corporation which is located by the sea at the northernmost corner of the town or perhaps outside the town as the place is called Vakalpudi. As we are travelling from the southern side we cross the almost the entire town to reach the place.

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In the vicinity of the resort is the Lighthouse. It is known as Vakalpudi Lighthouse. We are allowed to climb the stairs up but decline as we are a bit tired after the long drive in the morning.

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Apart from being a seaport, Kakinada is also a major fishing harbour. Right in the centre of the town one can see a large number of fishing boats anchored in the creek which cuts across the town.

Kakinada also has a sizable fishing boat making industry. The location is right in the centre of the town along the creek. One can watch the various operations related to making wooden boats.

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It is a busy little place with boats at various stages of completion.

This one is almost complete and getting painted.

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There is a temple in the midst of the shipbuilding area. A small temple probably with the specific function of blessing the boats under construction.

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When you are visiting the boat building yard, you can’t fail to see the little market for dry fish in the vicinity. The eastern seaboard of India appears to be fond of dry fish much more than the inhabitants of the western part of the country. One can see dry fish sold in most of the coastal places.

 

Probably the only recreational place Kakinada offers to the visitors is the Hope Island. This island has formed during the last two hundred years (200) and is a tadpole shaped. The 16 Kms long island is more of a sandbar with vegetation. The slim southern end extends up to the Coringa wildlife sanctuary near Yanam. It is said that this island is responsible to make the  Kakinada port the safest harbour on the east coast of India.

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AP Tourism provides boat facility to travel from the Fishing Harbour to the island and back.

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The boat ride is a return trip with a very short stay at the island. The island by itself offers nothing. It is barren except for a lighthouse which you notice as you approach the island.

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The ride between the harbour and the island takes you through a busy shipping lane.

One can even watch midstream loading of ocean-going vessels.

People visiting the island in the boat seem to be doing so for the pleasure of the ride rather than actually doing something on the island. In our boat is a large family and as we approach the island we realize that they have come as a group to celebrate the first birthday of this little boy. We join the festivities and act as the unofficial photographers.

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Hope island is rich in seashells. We pick up several of them for our collection.

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The island seems to have a population of pretty squirrels. This one is nibbling at a coconut washed ashore, perhaps from the offerings made to some God.

KADIYAPULANKA is not exactly a coastal place but we decide to visit it for its famous nurseries and flower market. Located near Rajahmundry along one of the Godavari’s many water canals the place is worth visiting. From Kakinada one drives westwards through the green countryside and the maze of canals which support year-long agricultural and horticultural activities in the region.

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A large gathering of Openbilled Storks

 

The entire place is awash with plant nurseries. Countless. And they seem to be growing all kinds saplings, jut name what you want.

The main road divides the flower market into the Wholesale and the Retail parts. The Wholesale market building is under construction and is custom-designed for the products traded here.

We are a bit late for the early morning auctions but still can see the huge quantity of flowers traded, and the vast variety.

The smaller retail market is all the more interesting. It is here that one can see the garland-making and value-addition to the flowers sold on the opposite side, around a small temple.

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Temple in the flower market.

 

Garland making appears to be major activity here. The garlands are custm-made for various uses. Temples & Gods, Marriages, political functions etc. etc.

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The giant garland, made to order. for a temple.

 

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On the roadside near the retail flower market, this man sells home-made sweets unique to this region.

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The sugar and other ingredients are wrapped in a thin sheet of what looks like a paper but is in fact a film made with starch gleaned from the water in which rice is boiled. It is called Pootharekulu.

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Pootharekulu

 

To wind up this post here is a brief video of how they make Rs 5000/- per piece garland.

 

 

 

Text: Suryakiran Naik

Pictures : Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video : Veena Naik

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

102.ANDHRA PRADESH. (6) Sacramento, Yanam, Coringa.

Between Antarvedi in the south to Yanam in the north the river Godavari meets the Bay of Bengal by means of 4 distributaries, forming a classic river delta, rich with soil brought in by the river. This is the rice bowl of India made all the more useful and productive by an intricate network of canals and waterways. The irrigation system is credited to the British administration and more specifically to an irrigation engineer who has become a legend by the name of Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton. The importance of the irrigation system built by Sir Cotton is of immense importance to the region and is so acknowledged by the people benefited by it. You will see the statues raised to the memory of Sir Cotton everywhere competing for space with the post-independence political leaders. In 2015 a ‘Pindaparidhanam’ ceremony was conducted on the banks of Godavari to the memory of Sir Cotton, a honour reserved for one’s departed ancestors. That gives us an idea about the degree of reverence the people have for this irrigation engineer.

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Sir Cotton on Horseback at a village square.

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Sir Cotton with Lord Parashurama for company.

 

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Bust at a village in West Godavari district

  

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Among the statues at Yanam

 

Starting from Dindi on the banks of Godavari we decide to make a stopover at Yanam (which is a part of the Union Territory of Puducherry) but before we do that we have another spot to visit, a lighthouse in fact.

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The new Lighthouse (L) and the old one (R)

 

 

 One has to pass through Bojjavaripeta and Kandikuppa in the Amalapuram Taluk to reach a fishing village called Pora to find a lighthouse named Sacramento Lighthouse. Is the name not a contrast to the surrounding places? Does it not sound very foreign? The lighthouse got it’s name from a ship that floundered and perished in the sands near the coast. The sand bars formed along the coast in this area of east Godavari district are notoriously treacherous. To ensure safety of the ships the Sacramento Lighthouse was completed in the year 1895.

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The orignal 1895 lighthouse, now discarded.

 

 The picture below shows the lighthouse compound with the staff quarters bearing the imprint of colonial administration.

 

 

 Sacramento Lighthouse is difficult to reach. It is not the distance but the terrain. One has to drive through a maze of village roads, cross a number of fish and prawn culture ponds, cross a couple of mangroves and at last a bridge so narrow, a car can barely pass. This must be one of the narrowest motorable bridges anywhere!!

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village on the way.

 

 

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A Bridge Too Narrow

 

 The striking part of the region indeed the whole of Andhra Pradesh is the existence of large number of statues at every conceivable place.

 

 

XXXXXXXX  YANAM

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Yanam Entrance

 

 

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The trademark gates of Puducherry at all the 4 places

 

When you cross the last distributary of the mighty Godavari, you drive into the former French territory of Yanam. Yanam which is now a part of the Union Territory of Puducherry and the surrounding areas of Andhra Pradesh have nothing to distinguish between them. One can walk from one to the other without knowing. The only differentiating factor perhaps is the price of fuel and liquor which is lower on the Yanam side.

We try to find some ‘French’ past- architecture, art, food, monument etc. There is none or next to nothing. Yes, there are a couple of government buildings and a Church. Surprising? Or we were not properly guided.

 

 

 What dominates the town is the post-independence riverside beach and recreation area on the north Bank of Godavari, replete with statues of politicians and the large plaques indicating which politician inaugurated the statues.

 

 

Yanam has a couple of good restaurants purely local and do not indicate even remotely any French influence. Culturally the place is pure Andhrite. We could witness the procession of Virabhadra right in the centre of the town.

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 Yanam is now shaping up in a different way. It is the hub for the KG-2. The Krishna-Godavari Gasfields. Reliance group is quite active here.

 

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XXXXXXXXXXXXXx Coringa.

The area north of the mouth of Godavari where there is considerable drilling activity for natural gas is also a bilogical hotspot. The dense mangrove forest has prompted the Andhra government to declare a sizable area as a wildlife Sanctuary. Coringa is located between Yanam and the port town of Kakinada to the north.

 

This sanctuary will not survive long despite the dense mangrove cover. It is under threat from all directions. To to the south are the gas drilling activities. To the west are the prawn culture ponds which are almost inside the sanctuary. The overall picture of the sanctuary indicates that it is being turned into a picnic spot. A road  inside is even named. To add to the problem are the huge number of students who make the sanctuary a lovers lane.

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Nobody seems to be bothered about the wildlife for which the place was set up.

 

At low tide the mudskippers are quite active in the mangroves.

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The extensive wetlands facing the Bay of Bengal and the meeting of the Godavari made this area economically important during the British regime. This is born out by the fact that there used to be extensive shipping activity along this part of the coast. In spite of the wetlands and the mangrove cover the area boasted two lighthouses. We have seen one at Sacramento and another one was supposed to be functional at a place in the mangroves in the past. It is no longer functional and cannot be reached by road. There is a possibility of reaching the place by a boat journey of four hours as indicated by the boat operators. We decided to pass it and be satisfied with a pictureof it found in the sanctuary.

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Text by Suryakiran Naik. suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

Photographed by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

101.ANDHRA PRADESH. (5) KAIKALURU TO ANTARVEDI

 

Kaikalaru may not ring a bell even among the born Andhrites. It is a very small town. The only reason this place has achieved some kind of fame is perhaps the presence of a bird sanctuary and that precisely is the reason for us to be here. The Sanctuary is called Kolleru Bird Sanctuary.

The first hurdle is finding a place to stay. We have driven all the way from Kuchipudi and don’t want to dance here looking for a hotel. There are not many options available. There are a couple of lodges in the town. The best one among them admits us for a night with a condition that we will wind up and disappear from the place before 8 am. A ‘marriage party’ has booked the entire hotel from early morning onwards, next day. We agree to the terms and conditions and dump our bags and proceed to Kolleru, not very far, for a sunset view of the birds. This is the second time in Andhra Pradesh that we found it difficult to get a place to stay, courtesy marriages.

We dump our bags and rush to the sanctuary which is not very far off for a sunset view. Not bad. Lot of birds though not a great variety. The winter has ended and most of the migrants have found their way back to their homes. We have to make-do with whatever is left behind. Not bad. We enjoyed.

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To their credit the Forest Department of the AP government has maintained this place very well. Creditable cleanliness. The guys around there try to make some money by taking people for a boat-ride in the lagoon which is not really required. You can see all the birds without the boat ride. Interestingly most of the people visiting the sanctuary do so for the boat-ride.

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The steel structures that you in the picture above are unprecedented on a large scale like this. Anyways the birds make good use of these stands.

The silhouettes of the birds seen against the light of the setting sun are really worth seeing.

We get up early the next day to make sure we are not thrown out of the room by the ‘marriage party’. We get back to the Sanctuary for a sunrise session of pictures. Lovely. There is a bund through the sanctuary over which the locals take their buffaloes for grazing in the wetlands beyond which adds to the glamour of the place.

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Among the species we found were Asian Pied Starling, not found on the west/south coast of India.

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Asian Pied Starling

And a few other passerines.

 

After a round of morning birding we continue northwards. We drive through the towns of Bhimavaram and Narsapur to cross the Godavari at Dindi. The Godavari delta is charming. The greenery appears to be year-long. As much as nature there is a human being who takes the credit for this. Sir Arthur Cotton a British irrigation engineer is worshipped in this part of the world, deservedly. He will appear in detail in another post in this series.

The riverside is calm and serene:

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From east Coast of Godavari,late in the evening.

Kaikalaru to Dindi is a long drive taking us the entire morning. We reach the Dindi Coconut Country Resort for a late lunch. This place is on the east bank of the river. The river is navigable for small craft and the surrounding countryside is lush green with coconut plantations and paddy fields.

This greenery stays with you all along the coastal belt and more particularly in what is called the Krishna Godavari Basin. We are in the month of February, but that does not seem to make any difference here with the irrigation-induced greenery.

The next day morning  we drive to a place called Anatarvedi. Coconut plantations, harvesting and processing is a part of the life here.

Rope-making out of the coconut husk does not seem to be an industry here. We did not see it anywhere. Maybe it did not develop here or the locals here were quick to abandon it with the advent of the nylon. Or perhaps we did not notice it.

Antarvedi is where one of the three distributaries of the great Godavari meet the Bay of Bengal and is considered as a holy place by Hindus. The modern people in Andhra call it ‘MIXING’. The term ‘mixing’ here means mixing of the sweet waters of the river with the saltwater of the sea. ‘Mixing’ is a widely used term in Andhrite English. Is Teluglish the right word?

Before we reach the mixing place, we come across this very popular temple of Laxminarasimha . The pilgrimage to Godavari ‘mixing’ is not complete without visiting the temple.

The Mixing ( I continue with this word as I don’t know a better substitute. Confluence does not appear to be right term as it refers to mixing of two rivers) by itself is not a spectacular place. In fact it is not a specific place. It is a general area where the river meets the sea and this is not the only place. This river meets the sea at three different places and  this is the last northwards ( or eastwards depending on how you hold the map).

The lighthouse is more than a kilometer from the seashore and does not give a much better view of the mixing from the top.

The  Red Ghost Crab appears here in large numbers.

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This boy insisted that he has a Driving Permit.

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There is a temple between the town and the beach. We stop here for a few pictures of the Deepstambha, the lamp-post which is wooden, for a change. In most other temples they are made of metal.

Done with the mixing and we take a different route to get back to the Coconut Country Resort, through a different set of villages and diffrent canals, for a part of the way. And then we stumble upon another temple with a lot of artwork on its walls. Unfortunately we have did not bother to ask for the name of the place and the temple and all the writing are in Telugu. Anyway the paintings are done by someone who understands art.

As you drive around the rural and semi-urban areas of Andhra Pradesh, you cannot escape he Telugu love of statues. They are everywhere. This tempts me to make a separate post on that subject. Here are a few.

The above selection includes mythological figures, recent politicians, Irrigation Engineers etc. Andhra Pradesh is incomplete without these images.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Veena Naik & Suryakiran Naik

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

 

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

99.ANDHRA PRADESH. (3) BAPATLA-SURYALANKA, NIZAMAPATNAM.

Our original plan to stay at Chirala beach has gone haywire as no accommodation was available that Sunday afternoon. The nearby beach of Vodareru did not welcome us either and we were advised to go and find accommodation at Bapatla. Bapatla is a typical small town which has an engineering college.

As you enter the place various models of manual bicycle/tricycle vehicles attract your attention, a feature that will continue till the end of our tour in West Bengal. Here is a goods carrier which can comfortably double up as passenger carrier. I don’t know how they manage in the rains.

What do we do in Bapatla? The Engineering college is not likely to admit us. There are not many things to be seen here. Right? Wrong. Every place in this world seem to have something to offer as its own.

Here is a hearth, a cooking place which uses the rice husk very effectively. In fact, rice husk (and groundnut husk) can provide a lot of fuel for the rural people. The rice husk is commercially available in bags.

Probably that is the reason the Rikshaw puller we saw above is able to get a good meal at an affordable price at such places. We, coming from Pune found the breakfast ridiculously cheap. And it is GOOD and fresh, and it is not using any fancy plastics- this leaf is good enough. In Andhra they rarely serve Masala Dosa, most of the time it is the plain Dosa with Chuttney.

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The serving leaves under the paper, usually yesterday’s newpaper but the application forms for mobile phone connection serves the purpose better.

We had, whilst checking on the places of in this part of the world on the internet come across a place called Suryalanka or Surya Lanka. We thought we will drive down from Bapatla for a few minutes and continue on our way. When we actually land at Suryalanka, we change our mind. The beach is quite good. When we say, a beach is good, please also consider the fact that both of us are born and brought up in Goa.

We make a reservation at the APTDC’s Haritha Beach Resort for the next day and return to Bapatla for the night halt as we have already booked at a hotel there, but not before we see this fried-fish market at the beach.

A variety of fish is available on the beach, ready to eat and at fiercely competitive prices.

The next day we return to Suryalanka. The Haritha beach resort is as close to the beach as possible. If it is any nearer water will enter the rooms at high tides. That is the reason probably they are built on stilts. Just in case.

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If you are a keen observer you will, late in the evening, find the lights from two different lighthouses from the middle of the Suryalanka beach- to your right (which is south) is the Vodarevu lighthouse we visited yesterday and to your left (the north) you see the lights of Nizamapatnam lighthouse. This is made possible by the crescent-shaped beach starting from north of Chirala and ending south of Nizamapatnam.

The beach is quite a busy place during the day but later in the evening as people return to Bapatla and other places.

The beach is sandy but the colour of the sand is not white. It is yellowish and a lot of black.

The seawater is pumped from the beach to the private ponds in which prawns and shrimp are grown. Here you can the pipelines going across the beach. At first glance they look like fishing nets which they are not.

The RED GHOST CRAB, a creature so famous in Odisha and West Bengal coast makes its first appearance in this area. It is a fabulous creature, very shy though.

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The Crabs that we ate here are a different species. They are the Mud Crabs which were caught in the estuary a mile away from the beach. This is the freshest seafood one can have. Mud Crabs live a couple of days out of water, very sturdy creatures!

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And here is how they are cooked at the Suryalanka Beach.

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There is a method of cleaning fish- removing the scales which we observed here. The fish are rubbed on a stone. This would require some skill to make sure that you remove only the scales.

The Statue Culture of Andhra Pradesh starts appearing near Bapatla with some force. Between Bapatla and Suryalanka you will find this statue of Mrs. Indira Gandhi modelled on her grand-daughter.

At Suryalanka beach and the Haritha resort you can’t fail to see the Rose-Ringed Parakeets. They are in large numbers.

Our next port of call is Nizamapatnam. As the crow flies Nizamapatnam is hardly 15Kms from Suryalanka. As I mentioned earlier the light from the lighthouse there can be seen from Suryalanka. However, there are two creeks in-between and therefore no road to connect the two places. The shortest road is via Bapatla and is 40 Kms.

We first gothrough Bapatla and then branch off on a country road. Driving through the countryside is a pleasure. We skip the Nizamapatnam town and head for the coast.

The fishing harbour and market are located on the mouth of a creak. It is a sizable and busy fishing harbour.

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The harbour has a ice-loading bay whereby the fishing boats can get the ice directly into the hold.  This is a labour saving innovations which many of the fishing ports in India have not adopted. The process is done manually and it is quite tedious. At times the loaders have to rally across several boats to get to the target hold. Unfortunately at the time of our visit it was not operational.

The warehouses/ Cold Storage are is quite extensive giving an idea about the importance of this harbour.

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The fishing harbour are seems to have expanded in the near past at the cost of the Mangrove forest surrounding it. One can easily see the encroachment on the Mangrove habitat.  If this continues on a large scale there will be the harbour and no fish.

The entire fishing port area is dominated by the trade in dry fish. Fish of the low value not commanding good price at the retail market is dried. The deciding factor is the transport cost and the cost of ice.  You can’t spend money on transport and face a situation wherein there are no buyers at the end.

The dried fish has two end users. The major one in terms of quantity are the manufacturers of fishmeal used extensively as protein-rich poultry feed. This is the low quality , high volume and high weight catch. It makes sense to dry it. It is sold in bulk.

And then there is the edible dry fish which commands good price depending on where you sell it. The Ribbonfish and the Bombay Duck can make you rich if you get the right market.

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And if you have the time, inclination and knowledge, you can make ‘premium’ dry fish. It needs the efforts to clean, remove the innards and then dry. This lasts longer and as I said is a premium product.

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The cheap  bagged dry fish mostly meant for the factories with ready money will continue to dominate the market until some value addition is cleverly done.

Nizamapatnam has a lighthouse. I am not sure if it serves any useful purpose other than providing employment to a few people. This applies not only to this lighthouse but to all of them in these times of GPS etc. This one is very close to the harbour and not a problem in reaching.

We are done with Nizamapatnam, named after the Nizam of Hyderabad the erstwhile ruler.

Dont you want to visit the town?

No, Thank you. We are tired and have to drive quite a bit before we stop for the day.

We come back to the main road and see these ladies selling something off their aluminium pots.

It is Toddy ( will convert into an alcoholic beverage if fermented). It is a healthy drink rich in nutrients before fermentation. We taste some.

It is the sap of this palm tree. We use the sign language to confirm the source.

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We continue, leaving behind a fish-rich place.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik.

98.ANDHRA PRADESH. (2) NELLORE To CHIRALA.

From Armagaon we drive to Nellore for the night halt. Geographically we should have first touched Krishnapatanam first as it is to the south of Nellore.For logistical reasons, we come to Guntur first, check in a hotel, arrange for servicing of the car next morning and take some rest.

Nellore  is a commercial town and except for a couple of old temples there is nothing of interest to be visited. We decide to take some rest.

The car is delivered back after servicing in the early afternoon next day and we drive to Krishnapatnam. The port appears to be used mainly for imported coal meant for use in the thermal power stations. The long conveyor belts bear this out.

There are a number of power stations in the area and the landscape is almost completely dominated by them.

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The lighthouse is unremarkable but has a pretty garden in the compound. It has a Relay Station as well.

The beach is quite good but do not seem to have many visitors. Firstly, it a bit far from Guntur the nearest town, then one has to cross the port area to reach it.

The main purpose of the beach appears to be for immersion of idols. Or have these idols come from another place, thrown ashore by the sea?

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We return to Nellore for the night halt and start early morning next day for Kavali which we decide to make our next stop. There is not much to be explored here except the Lighthouse at Ramayapatnam.

The highway up north is a beauty. You drive through the rich green landscape for miles and miles:

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You cant miss the Hanumans- Anjaneya, on the way. there are a number of them- in all shapes, sizes and colours. I think there is a competition in Andhra Pradesh to build these statues- bigger, taller and colourful.

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Thinly veiled Christian evangelism is in competition:

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Ramayapatnam is a small village. You cross the Buckingham Canal and enter it. This is the second time Iam referring to this canal and I will have to defer the expalanation a bit to the next post. In the meatime you can have a look at it as we enter the village:

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This fishing village has a lovely beach.

The Lighthouse is the highlight of the village.

As we move around the village and the beach we across these fishermen mending their nests in the village square:

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There is a small temple as well just opposite the Christian ‘ Meditation Park’. It has a number of megaphones mounted on it, in all direction. A brilliant recipe for a communal riots. If the village folks manage without it, they are great.

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And then my attention is attracted by a solitary man sitting in a corner and working quietly on something. As I approach closer I realize that it is something close to my heart- Shellfish. They find a species of it here which I am seeing forthe first time:

It is difficult to separate the edible portion without breaking the shell. They break the shell and recover the edible flesh. very tedious and very time-consuming. I guess they cook it after separating ( as is done with some types on the Karnataka coast) or the flesh is dried for storage. The language barrier is huge and I am not able to communicate with the person and he does not appear to be very happy doing what he is. It is like forced labour to him.

This area also happens to the groundnut growing area. You will find the groundnut shells being used as fuel for cooking- in large quantities:

We drive through the villages for quite some time and see a rich agricultural region. Watermelons are one of the fruits grown in large quantities here. We stop at a farm to buy some fresh fruit.

We retire to Kavali for the night halt but not before a flat tyre in a remote village. A couple of young guys were very helpful in getting us out of the trouble and make sure that we reached Kavali in time for dinner.

The next day early morning we start from Kavali for Vodarevu Lighthouse and with the intention of  staying at Chirala, probably the best and the most famous beach in Andhra Pradesh after Vizag.

We start very early without breakfast and with the intention that we will have breakfast at one of those small roadside eateries who serve fresh home-made south Indian items. That was not to be.

We are a Tanguturu Toll Plaza and find a ‘Food Plaza’ on top of the Toll Plaza. This is novelty for us:

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We park and take a lift up. The view is good and the food is not bad either.

We proceed towards Chirala bypassing the large town of Ongole on the way. The distance we cover today is about 130 Kms which is not we intended initially but there was nothing much to be seen on the way. Ongole could have been made a stop but that being not on the seashore we decided in favour of Chirala.

Before we reach Chirala we stop at a small village for some coconut water and witness this phenomena.

A small Pick Up parked by the roadside attracts my attention as some people have gathered around it. As I go closer I realize that fish is being sold from the Pick-Up.

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Fish is sold on the roadside on Sunday morning. What is the big deal?

The big deal is that the fishes are alive,in water in the load body of the Pick-Up.

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And to keep them alive an Oxygen cylinders are carried in  the vehicle to keep the water oxygenated.

The fish variety is from freshwater ponds and seems to be in great demand here on this Sunday morning. It is expensive but people are willing to pay for the live fish dressed in front of them.

The cleaning involves ‘skinning’, removing the skin off a living fish. Look at this video:

 

 

After this new experience we reach Chirala after midday to find that there is no accommodation available anywhere. The hotels and resorts are full for the week-end. What is the option? try Vodarevu beach six kilometers away.

Vodarevu is an extension of Chirala, the only difference is that Vodarevu is a fishing harbour and Chirala is an upmarket beach destination. Vodarevu does not have many places to stay at but the beach appears to be quite nice although a bit smelly because of the fishing activities.

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One resort agrees to provide us a room but the same is not ready. Some people who checked in on Saturday are likely to vacate. When? the manager is uncertain.

Which is the nearest other place where we can rest? The unanimous advice is -Bapatla.

We turn towards Bapatla but after having a look at the Lighthouse at Vodarevu.

The Indian Roller has been keeping us company from the time we touched eastern coast of India. He shows up every day from the telephone or electrical wires.Here we find him close by on a mound of paddy straw.

We move on to Bapatla.

 

Text & Video by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

 

97.ANDHRA PRADESH. (1) Sullurupeta- Sriharikota- Armagaon.

We leave Pulicat and drive towards Sullurupeta 71 Kms. away and in the process, cross the Tamilnadu border to enter Andhra Pradesh. Except for the script on the sign boards nothing changes for the first few Kilometers.

We drive westwards to come to the coastal road which will take us to Sullurupeta. We lose our way and drive some distance to see this temple.

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 And then two botanical surprises. One is a palm in full bloom but dying. The leaves (fronds) have dried but the upper part is full of fruit which I believe the plant is using for propagation of the species.

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 The second one is a Peepal (fig) tree growing with the support of a palm. The palm is totally weakened and may not survive long. On a closer look I find that the Peepal has its roots in the soil. It is not likely that it is dependent on the palm for the nutrients. This tree usually grows on its own. Then why should it strangulate the palm and virtually kill it? I found the same phenomena once again in another part of Andhra much later.

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 The place bearing the name Sullurupeta is not well known but Sriharikota is. It is the place where the Satish Dhawan Space Centre of Indian Space Research Organization, is located and forms the nucleus of India’s aerospace launches. We stayed at Sullurupeta on 7th and 8th of February. The manager of the hotel we stayed advised us to stay a few days more if we want to witness the launch of a rocket. On 15th February, they successfully launched the rocket carrying a world-record 104 satellites.

Sullurupeta is 22 Kms. from Sriharikota on the eastern side. A road cuts across the northern edge of Pulicat lake to carry the ISRO people most of whom appear to be staying at Sullurupeta, to the Satish Dhawan Centre.

We never expected to go so close to the place from where the launches take place. Surprisingly one can drive up to the gate of the launch centre without any security check along the dedicated road which cuts through the Pulicat lake.

 Sullurupeta is a small town and apparently is dependent on Sriharikota for much of the action. It is on the Chennai-Kolkata highway. Here is the Google map which gives a good idea of the place. You can see what appears to be a bridge between the two places which is actually a road with provision for the water to pass underneath at various places.

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 We have a look at the local fish market which sells both the freshwater as well as the sea-fish.

 Among the barber shops in town is this one. The customers include many rocket scientists. I decide to have an Haircut here with the hope of getting some rocket science in my head.

  We had decided on a halt at Sullurupeta as it is credited with two bird sanctuaries. The vast Pulicat lake shared by Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh is a shallow lagoon that supports a huge variety of marine life which in turn attract a large number of migratory as well as local birds.

It is the second week of February and the summer has set early this year which reduced our chances of any significant bird sightings. We were happy to be proved wrong. On the very first visit we were greeted with a huge flock of Flamingos feeding on the northern side of the lake.

 Here is a video clip:

 

 

The next morning was the turn of a sizable number of Spot-billed pelicans to appear and in between there was a wide variety of waders and of course the Painted Storks.

 The shallow water along the road are also used by local people to for small-scale fishing. The water is not deep enough to use boats.

 Nelapattu is officially designated Bird Sanctuary by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department and it is close to the sea and therefore we cannot ignore it. There are not many people in Sullurupeta in the know of this place. We decide to drive on and try to spend some time there. The nearest place to the sanctuary is Polireddy Palem. We are at the gate early afternoon and it is closed. We wait and look inside to see some signs of life- wild as well as human. There is none. After half an hour some women workers appear at the fence.

I must record here something that I experienced. Many people presume that since Andhra Pradesh was a part of the erstwhile Hyderabad principality, people would be knowing some form of Hindi/Urdu. It is not true. That presumption may be true of region around the city of Hyderabad. The typical lingo of Hyderabad never percolated down to the whole state. Certainly not to the coastal Andhra Pradesh.

The ladies try to explain to us about a death of a staff and that being reason for the closure of the sanctuary. We return to the hotel. The hotel manager makes his inquiries and informs us the next day that one of the staff members of the sanctuary had died in a road accident that day and the sanctuary had to be closed and will remain closed the next day as well. We have no option but to skip it and proceed with our travels.

Our next night halt is to be the town of Nellore but south of Nellore along the coast is a lighthouse. The name of the place is Armagaon. We try to find out from various people at Sullurupeta if we can go to Armagaon driving along the coast and without going up to the highway. There are no satisfactory answers and the Google map is not of much use. At last we meet a young guy who is conversant with the topography.

‘Yes, you can go along the coast’

We are very happy.

‘But you will have to leave the car behind. Your car will not go’

‘Why? is the road so bad?’

‘Road is good but there are a couple of places where you have to cross in country boats and they might find it difficult to take the car in’

We get the message and drop the idea. The lake is shallow but the guys at Renault did not make my Duster fit enough for a Normandy-style landing We drive along the highway up north and branch off to Armagon Lighthouse the next day. It is quite a bit of driving. The first part is on the highway and pleasant. Then you leave the highway and take the country roads with a number of villages along. We reach Armagaon early afternoon.

 One has to cross an institution called to Buckingham Canal to reach the Lighthouse. We will visit this Canal later on in another post in some detail.

 A lighthouse was built here in the year 1853 by the British. It was abandoned in the year 1928 on account of widespread attacks of Malaria. It was brought back into use in 1938. It worked from 1938 to 1983 when a new and taller lighthouse was built.

This is the old lighthouse now used as a water tank. Brilliant alternative use of a Lighthouse. Who says bureaucracy is inefficient?

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 The new Lighthouse. This one was more or less abandoned when we visited. There was nobody inside the compound. We waited for some time then made inquiries in the surrounding locality. The locals tried to be supportive of the staff who had gone about their own business leaving the lighthouse to the winds. They assured us that the guys will come back after half an hour.

We decided to go and visit the beach. A good beach but so remote from the population centres.

  We drive back and have our customary coconut water on the way. Here we find a new type of knife for cutting the green coconut,  quite different from the one we had seen down south. This one has a long handle.

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 We drive through rich agricultural lands where combined harvesters are used even in paddy fields. We are now nearing the rich Krishna-Godavari basin.

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 We reach Nellore for a late lunch and for some rest.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

Video: Veena Naik

 

 

 

96.TAMILNADU (11). VEDANTHANGAL, SANDRAS MAHABALIPURAM, CHENNAI & PULICAT.

VEDANTHANGAL is not on the coast and therefore it should not have been a part of this tour. But it is not very from the coast either. It is only 53 Kms. from Mahabalipuram. We decided to succumb to the temptation and visit it for its uniqueness and the bird life that one is expected to see here.

In the year 1858 the then British collector of Chengalpattu passed an executive order establishing Vedanthangal as a ‘sanctuary’ apparently without any supporting legislation. In 1936 it was officially declared a ‘wildlife sanctuary’ and in 1962 it became a Reserve Forest under the Madras Forest Act. In 1988 the Vedanthagal Lake Bird Sanctuary came into existence under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. All through these legal tangles the farmers of this area zealously guarded the lake and it’s birds especially the visiting migratory species. It is on record that they even petitioned the government against the British officers hunting in the area.

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The farmers have a good reason to guard the place and the birds. On the opposite side of the lake is a large area growing paddy using the lake water. Because of the birds, free fertilizers are added to the lake water. A Bund separates the lake from the paddy fields and the water flow is controlled by 4 small gates. The Bund is now converted into a beautiful pathway and two watch towers have been constructed. The small sanctuary with a very high density of birds is regulated by the Forest Department of the state.

Many farmers are benefitted by the bird droppings which work as a natural fertilizer. Here at Vedanthangal this same phenomenon has been harnessed to the maximum benefit and very systematically.

The lake and the paddy fields on the opposite side.

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The water level was quite low this year (2016) on account of lesser rainfall and consequently the lake attracted fewer birds. By the time of our visit in early February 2017, most the migratory species had already made their way back to their own countries but a number of them could still be seen.

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Pair of  Painted Storks

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pair of Spotted Owlets

 

 

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Asian Spoonbill

 

 

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An young whistling Dock

 

 

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Rare view of a Painted Snipe.

 

A Moorhen with her chicks:

 

 

We came to Vedanthangal later in the afternoon Chengalput and decided to come back next morning again so we retire to Chengalput and make a second visit the next day ear;ly morning. This lake affords great opportunities for bird photography even for the amauteurs.

Vedanthangal is a place to remember.

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Everyone knows MADRAS. Now it is called Chennai and after some time people will forget Madras as they have forgotten the name SADARS which is 68Kms. south of Madras or Chennai. Sadurangapattinam was the original name before the White Man arrived.

During the Europeans’ race for the colonies on the Coromandel coast Dutch established a post here in the 17th century. The fort or at least the part which exists is in a fairly good condition and free of encroachments. The location is between the Madras Atomic Power Plant and its residential colony. The existence of the power plant and a Research establishment ensures excellent road connectivity to the fort, right up to the doorsteps.

The entrance:

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The Granary:

Sadras was basically a trading post and not a military garrison. It has a lot of space for storing merchandise. The major items traded in the area at that time were grains, ghee, muslin cloth and salt. The view of the sea from the Fort:

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In 1818 the British raided the fort and probably the first war between the two  powers was fought here in 1818 and is called the Battle of Sadras in the history books. The Dutch lost.

The Dutch seem to had been preparing well for their dead. Wherever there were Dutch establishments the graves have survived very well. We have seen them at Surat, Cochin, Pulicat and here. Immaculate graves with proper inscriptions and what is to be noted- extremely good construction which has survived 300 years or more.

When you enter the fort, turn to your right to get a view of the cemetery and the graves.

The ghosts here are friendly:

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MAHABALIPURAM or MAMALLAPURAM is an UNESCO World Heritage site is our next stop. Much has been written about its fabulous sculptures and temples. It is too technical for me to comment on.

Historically this place was also a port trading with Sri Lanka and South-East Asia. It flourished from the 1st century AD under various South Indian dynasties including the Pallavas ruling from Kanchipuram.

Some unfinished work of the sculptors:

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Krishna’s Butter Bowl. is this what they call this stone?

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Among the living things is a tree which has taken this curious shape among the granite boulders as if imitating them:

Mahabalipuram has a lighthouse ensconced in the granitic rocks. It provides an excellent view of the surroundings even from its base.

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The recently started Museum of seashells is a must-see. It is a private museum housing a huge collection of a seashell put together by a single individual. It must rank as the biggest such museum in the country. The only competitor is on the island of Diu in Gujarat and is much smaller.

A fish merchant with a passion for the seashell – Mr Raja Mohammed has spent time and money to collect a vast 2000 species and 40,000 specimen of seashells. An entrance fee is charged but you will feel it justified.

The displays have been arranged in a professional way but need some rearrangement to bring the exhibits in line with the biological classification of the shells.

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CHENNAI  is not on our itinerary. We have been there before. We would have skipped it altogether but we had to be there to attend two weddings. Lighthouses is something we do not skip on this coastal trip. We landed at the Chennai Lighthouse which is attractive as it has an elevator. It happens to be a Monday their weekly off. The only other two places we dropped by is the Fort St George and the Church of St Thomas. The latter because we had met him on our way on the western coast in Kerala.

The Lighthouse:

Fort St George. I must record here that our visit to this place was during the third short-lived Chief – ministership of O Paneerselvam. The security was tight indicating his presence on the premises. A week later he was out.

The Church of St Thomas:

The next day morning we start early and this is our last day in the state of Tamilnadu. The destination is Pulicat.

The 60 Kms drive from Chennai through Thiruvallur district to Pulicat takes you through interesting countryside. The first half is through the areas abutting the new ports that have sprung up north of Chennai and the other half is the typical seaside villages. The roads, by and large, are good though narrow.

Pulicat Lighthouse is an elegant structure and at 50 meters high one of the tallest in India.

Tamilnadu shares the Lake Pulicat with Andhra Pradesh and has only the southern end of it to its share. Fishing activity on the Tamilnadu side is quite high. Probably the fishing takes place mostly in the Andhra waters.

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Pulicat is supposed to have a fort, a Dutch Fort. It is nowhere to be seen. We make inquiries and sent from one corner to another. I understand that the fort was more of a warehouse and a flat building which is now used as a government school and health centre.

True to their reputation the Dutch cemetary survives unscathed.

The gate is closed and we had to take the pictures from the gate. On notable feature of these graves is that there is no Cross to be seen. Instead you can the skulls and bones as seen on the sign boards indicating danger.

In between the above four place that we visited we attended two weddings in Chennai city. Here are some pictures from the weddings:

Late in the day we leave Pulicat and make our way towards Andhra Pradesh. Our travels along the Tamilnadu coast lasted 22 days.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik