Nestled in the Eastern Ghats overlooking the mighty Bay of Bengal lies Vizag, home to one of the oldest and busiest ports in India. Tanya Munshi ventures beyond the city and discovers beaches, hillocks, valleys and other wondrous escapes and Illustrations by mindflyer+fei for SpiceRoute
Yarada is a popular local and tourist hangout during weekends, so the best time to get there would be early morning before the sun bestows its harsh rays — summer time can be especially hot if you’re unprepared. Hire a driver from Vizag to take you to Yarada in the morning and if you’re happy to spend the entire day there, including the hot sunny afternoon, end your day with a picnic dinner on the sand and take in the magnificent sunset. From Dolphin’s Nose, the view of Yarada is especially beautiful — don’t miss this sight on your way to the beach.
Bheemunipatnam (25kms, 1 hour)
This 25km stretch of coastline offers a quick break from the city. In 1861, Bheemunipatnam was one of the oldest municipalities in India although its origin can be dated back to the 16th century, when it was an important Dutch settlement. As a result, the beach is home to many dilapidated forts and monuments.
Bheemunipatnam lies in the confluence of the Gosthani River and the Bay of Bengal and is home to some of the oldest churches in the country, such as the Red Church and the Andhra Baptist, as well as a lighthouse dating back to 1868. You can also find the Vedic Adhyayana Research Institute Jeeyar Ashram (VARIJA).
Make an early start from Vizag so you reach here when the crowds are relatively smaller and the weather is not too hot. Late afternoon or early evening around sunset is also a popular time. The coastline makes for an ideal and beautiful picnic spot (just avoid sitting directly under the coconut trees!) so pack a basket full of lunch goodies. Don’t forget your beach essentials.
Etikoppaka (65kms, 2.5 hours)
Your visit to this part of India is incomplete if you leave without a special souvenir from Etikoppaka. This humble village boasts plenty of locally-made hand-crafted toys, pencil stands, keychains and other decorated crafts. Situated on the banks of the River Varaha, Etikoppaka is known for its age-old tradition of woodcarvings and artefacts.
Interestingly, their craft bears resemblance to the shapes and style of excavated findings of the Harappa and Mohenjodaro civilisations.
Etikoppaka means, “a group of houses on the banks of a river”, and the artistic toys are created from the Ankudu wood that are further lacquered with ochre, brown, green and other pastel and earthy colours. The colours used on these wooden toys and artefacts are made of nontoxic natural dyes from plant and vegetable extracts. You can also buy these handicrafts from the government authorised showroom Lepakshi (www.lepakshihandicrafts.gov.in). To know more about this village and their handicrafts, visit,www.etikoppaka.com
Erra matti dibbalu (20kms, 1 hour)
Erra Matti Dibbalu are natural ravines that have been crafted by the currents of the wind brushing against the soil over many years. Meaning “red mud hillocks” in the local language Telegu, you can stroll through ravines that look like large ant-hills. The hillocks were once known to reach a height of 40 metres but today they stand at only 15 metres.
Popular with film directors, Erra Matti Dibbalu is used to hosting trailor loads of film stars and their entourage, as it has provided the perfect backdrop to many Telegu films.
Drop by for a weekend and after walking through the maze of hillocks, you’ll finally reach the beach for some fun on the sand. Preferably travel in a group as it makes for a fun trip and you will have more collective brainpower to find your way out of the hilly maze. These mud hills are quite big and challenging and if you’ve never been to the area, it can be a little confusing. Get your sense of direction or even a compass before you start out. If you’re on your way to Bhemunipatnam, Erra Matti Dibbalu is perfect for a quick stopover.
Tyda (75kms, 3 hours)
En route to the Araku Valley, Tyda is a small tribal village best known for its eco-tourism resort, Jungle Bells Nature Park. It was established by Andhra Pradesh Tourism along with the Forest Department. Tyda offers interesting outdoor activities that even the kids won’t tire of. Besides the obligatory camping and bird-watching activities, there’s also some impressive trekking to be had.
If you decide to make a weekend of it, you won’t get bored. Go rock climbing or target shooting complete with bow and arrows. Kids will get a kick out of learning jungle calls and older kids will soak up interesting flora and fauna facts of the area with the help of some knowledgable guides.
Be sure to catch a folk dance show by the locals known as Dhimsa. If time permits and you really want to get back to nature, stay overnight at Jungle Bells. Accommodation ranges from wooden cottages, and wooden log huts. While you will hear many birdcalls out here, you won’t be able to make any calls yourself — mobile phone reception is non-existent, so be prepared to cut yourself off from the outside world, even if it is just for one night.
Jungle Bells’ multi-cuisine restaurant serves some delicious meals but the best bit is sitting around a bonfire and sharing travel stories with fellow visitors. Just make sure you carry mosquito repellent — it will come in handy.
Matsyagundam (115 kms, 5 hours)
Matsyagundam, a beautiful pool in the in the Araku Valley, is home to large species of fish. As the mythological story goes, a fierce battle once took place between the snakes (singarajulu) and fish (matsyarajulu). It is said that the mother fish collected all the other fish from a place called Gemmili to protect them from the snakes and ever since, the fish have come to live in this new place, hence the name matsyagundam or ‘fish pool’.
Hire a private vehicle from Vizag and head to Araku Valley. Using the valley as your base, you can easily drive to Matsyagundum for the day. It’s best to depart Vizag in the early morning to beat the traffic and you should reach Araku by midday. Stop off and have a break or continue the drive to Matsyagundam, which should take another one to two hours. Carry enough refreshments with you as the selection of restaurants en route is not very impressive.
If you decide to spend a day in Araku, head to the Hill Resort Yatri Niwas (tel: (089) 3624 9201/02/03) or Haritha Mayuri Resort (tel: (089) 36 249204, 249950, 0944 079 3518) for a meal or a comfortable room.
The weather in Araku Valley is pleasant throughout the year as it sits around 1300 metres above sea level. Bring comfortable walking shoes and your camera. The area also boasts the Machkhand River and the Sangda Waterfall.
Published in Spiceroute May 2009 issue – the in-flight magazine for Spice Jet Airlines.