Many of us consider an ideal holiday to be a trip overseas (if money were no object). We save up for months, uninstall online shopping apps and try to be content with a plate of Khichdi on a Friday night, but that is simply a preamble to the bloodshed that follows: the bank account shrinks to the size of Nora Fatehi clothes, tens of thousands of Kilometers are traversed in singular discomfort and we find ourselves thrown into the deep end once we end up where we thought we wanted to end up.
The urge to travel the world is tempered by the fact that our bank balance only allows us to take a stroll in our backyard. While we don’t, in any way, wish to discount the joys of international travel, we would still like to humbly point out that India is more than most other countries put together (no jingoism here): we have all kinds of landscapes, cultures, people, languages, weather, cows, goats, dogs and other sundry animals as well as rich wildlife, alpine forests, cold deserts, hot deserts, just desserts and incredible food.
It is with this in mind that we say – ‘Travel Begins at Home’.
International exposure is well and good, but what of our own country? Out of the 29 states and 7 union territories, how many have we even visited? The last time we encountered Daman and Diu was in our 10th standard social science textbook. Let’s move beyond the textbook and truly experience India for ourselves. Having said that, we encourage foreign travel too (as long as you take a Savaari to the airport)!
The Grand Canyon
The grand canyon is truly magnificent, an alien, martian landscape with dizzying promontories and impossible rivers. Stretching 277 miles and cutting a trench 6,000 feet deep, the Grand Canyon is every backpacker’s dream destination. Fun fact: the rocks at the base of the canyon itself are believed to be over 2 billion years old.
You may have seen countless pictures of the Grand Canyons, but nothing prepares you for just how huge it is. But did you know that there is something very similar closer home? Surprisingly this hidden paradise looks a lot like its American counterpart. So much so, that if pictures of both these places are put side-by-side, you would not know the difference! The resemblance is uncanny.
Gandikota v/s Arizona
This magnificent gorge has come to be known as the Hidden Grand Canyon of India. Located in a small village in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, Gandikota is largely non-commercialized. While no doubt the experience it affords cannot be compared with the experience of the Grand Canyons, there are considerable advantages:
- You don’t need a visa to visit Gandikota. You need one to visit the Canyons.
- Save about 1.8 lakhs on flight tickets. Use this money to buy a Tata Nano, save the children or just put it in the bank and enjoy an interest of 6%.
- Time and Effort: Traveling to Arizona is a 2-day process with stopovers, transfers and uncomfortable seats in economy (for those of us less fortunate). Gandikota is a plane ride + a short drive away from every major city in India. In fact, you can book a cab from Hyderabad to Gandikota and reach your destination in under 7 hours. You can also book a cab from Bangalore to Gandikota and reach in under 6 hours!
- The fort and Belum Caves. While the fort itself organically melds into the apocalyptic landscape, the caves present a completely different prospect. More on this below.
Best time to visit Gandikota
One should ideally visit Gandikota between September and February as the weather is quite pleasant around that time of the year. Summers here are brutal with temperatures soaring up to 45-degree celsius.
Our Recommendations for local sightseeing
If you plan on taking a road trip to Gandikota, be well prepared for bad roads and the absence of hotels and restaurants. There is a guest house in the vicinity of the fort but it’s usually booked out 4 months in advance. There is a single restaurant serving decent south Indian fare. Lot of people like to camp out here as well- the nights are starry and the view of the sunrise is truly spectacular.
1. Hike on the ancient Gandikota Fort
Gandikota Fort is stunning and also massive. Built in the 13th century, the fort is entirely constructed out of red sandstone. One can take a leisurely walk along the fort’s perimeter wall (a whopping 6 kms), stop by to watch the serene river, or watch the lovely red of the fort transform as the sun progresses from zenith to nadir.
2. Find yourself a sweet spot on the gorge and admire the view
Just like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, this massive gorge actually comprises of layers of rock. Climbing up the gorge might prove to be a little challenging, but the view at the top is totally worth the struggle. Sit on top of the rocks and witness a prehistoric landscape come to life: the Pennar river peacefully flowing, groups of birds flying over molten skies, the red rocks of the canyon meeting the red glow of the horizon and the green of the vegetation swaying in the wind.
3. Admire the interiors of the second largest cave system in India
If the Antelope Canyons in Arizona were always on your bucket list, you would do well to check out the Belum Caves. These constitute the second largest cave system in the Indian subcontinent, with long and winding passages, galleries, drafty halls and cool caverns with freshwater. The deepest point of the cave is known as Patalganga.
4. Imbibe the beauty of the Rayalacheruvu Lake
One can sit on the bank of the Rayalacheruvu lake and spend hours in tranquil reverie- the calm and pristine waters ahead, the purples and blues of the undulating, ever extending Erramala hills behind, the chirping of a hundred different species of birds and the stillness of indifferent nature.
5. Find peace and quietude in the architecturally rich temples
One can find remnants of two spectacular temples near the village– the Madhavaraya temple and Raghunathaswamy temple. The Raghunathaswamy temple is made of red granite and is somewhat curious as temples go: it doesn’t have a single idol. Instead, it lures in visitors with its complex system of pillars, hallways and corridors and the absolutely fabulous relief work. The Madhavaraya temple features sculptures of gods and common folk engaged in various rituals. Read more about some of India’s unique temples and monasteries here.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you are travelling from Bangalore, it is wise to stop for breakfast here because there are no decent places or even roadside eateries on your way to Gandikota. Carry enough water bottles and snacks for the journey. You will need them.
The only eatery that comes to your rescue once you reach Gandikota is the APTDC’s (Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) hotel. It’s a basic hotel, but they serve decent meals with limited options which are good enough.
As for stay, either book 4 months in advance, find accommodation in a town some distance away, or camp out in nature amongst the rocks, the stars, the river and the trees.
In conclusion, Gandikota is special- it may not be the grand canyon- but it possesses unique beauty. The Belum caves are truly fantastic, a must-visit, and the fort will undoubtedly take your breath away.