Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gandikota Fort Trek - The Grand Canyon of INDIA

I grew up listening to the word Gandikota rahasyam (Secret of Gandikota) being used by most of us as a catch word (oothapadam) mentioning about a secret in a sarcastic manner. Even there was a very old popular movie, Gandikota rahasyam that was titled based on this word. For me Gandikota has just remained as an imaginary piece of a story in my mind from childhood till I grew up and later got to know that it really exists. And the stories are still stories. I never thought of visiting the place before, may be because of the fact that I know nothing about the place. During initial days of my travelling and trekking trips with adventure groups, I use to hear people talking about their experiences of trek to Gandikota which they have done couple of months back. I had a look at their photos which were stunning. I was awestruck by the beauty of the place and the landscapes with fort walls, red colored rocks and the gorge with a river Penneru flowing in between the rock hills. It’s how I added up Gandikota to my list of places to visit.

About Gandikota:
 Gandikota is a small village on the right bank of the river Penneru, 15 km from Jammalamadugu in Kadapa district, Andhra Pradesh, India.
The fort of Gandikota acquired its name due to the 'gorge' (in Telugu it is called 'gandi' and fort is called as ‘kota’), formed between the Erramala range of hills, also known as Gandikota hills and the river Penneru at its foot, reducing its width to a mere 300 ft. Situated amidst beautiful landscape and wild forests, it is endowed with vast natural resources. Surrounded by a deep valley and impassable hills, with massive boulders of red granite and the river Penneru that flows about 300 ft. below on the west and northern sides, its location affords strong natural defense to the occupants of the Fort and was impregnable.
Gandikota was founded in 1123 by Kapa Raja of nearby Bommanapalle village and a subordinate of Ahavamalla Someswara I, the Western Chalukyan king of Kalyana. It played a significant role during the Kakatiya, Vijayanagara and Qutub Shahi periods. The fort was made more impregnable by Pemmasani Thimma Nayudu. The fort was under the control of Pemmasani Nayaks for over 300 years.

How to Reach?
Gandikota is about 350Kms from Hyderabad. Jammalamadugu is the nearest town and It is just 15Kms away from Gandikota. To reach Gandikota by Bus one has to go to Jammalamadugu and hire an auto till Gandikota. Very few buses are running from the town to the village.

To reach Gandikota by train one has to reach Muddanur town which is the nearest railway station 27 Kms away. From here either we can hire a jeep or auto to Gandikota or even take another bus to jammalamadugu and an auto from there to Gandikota.

Where to Stay?

The only option to stay close to Gandikota is Harita Resort run by APTDC just outside the fort walls of the village. Or else one can check for small lodges in jammalamadugu.

Food options?
The Restaurant available at Haritha resort is the only option for food near the village apart from small shops that serve only chips, cool drinks and bisucuits.

What to See?
The Major attractions of Gandikota are
  • Gandikota Gorge view (Canyon view)
  • Madhavaraya Temple
  • Ranganatha swamy temple
  • Jama Masjid and others.

About our trek to Gandikota and the time we spent roaming in and around those fort walls
Its 1st week of February that we decided to trek to Gandikota as Keerthi kiran, who is pursuing his PHd in Germany will be coming on a Vacation and we have decided long ago to do this together. Finally Dinesh, Sailesh, Keerthi and myself, four of us have started to Jammalamadugu on Feb 8th evening. Basically Our main plan was not to stick to any plan. Only fixed point in our agenda for 2 days was to catch a bus back to Hyderabad on 10th Night.

We reached Jammalamadugu by early morning 0500 AM and waited for an hour until we were suggested by locals to give away hopes on Bus. So we hired an auto for 150Rs after a long bargaining session. The only person amongst us with camera is Keerthi Kiran who has got a DSLR. Needless to say that the photographer in him was at work in no time, as every now and then he use to ask auto driver to stop or slow down to capture each and everything that’s picturesque. The landscapes around us looked even more beautiful especially under the orange rays of SUN rise and the cool morning breeze made the ride more pleasant. At one point I felt like I am in a desert as its all open red rocky barren lands as long as you can see with very minimal greenery. The Road looked like a black curvy line drawn on a red canvas. Just before the fort there is APTDC hotel which we thought of visiting later. We can see many windmills spread across the hills nearby.

The Auto guy dropped us at the fort entrance. There is only one shop outside the village where we bought couple of water bottles and biscuit packets. Now its time to travel into the past. The fort walls are still intact standing strong as if they are narrating the history behind them to the future generations with Pride. As we were walked through we can see some sign boards indicating directions to temples and lakes inside the fort complex. We decided to trek along the inner fort wall which could be interesting instead of just walking on the paths already taken. We turned left and settled on a fort wall quiet away from the village. From here we can see the temples and masjid structures. There is a small door way underneath a wall as if it was an escape route which took us into the gorge between the inner and outer fort walls. We have to trek through this gorge to the back side of the fort into the canyon. 

 It was a very enjoyable walk with no hurry and ofcourse the great company we had, talking and making fun all the way. In an hour the Sun started doing his duty and the rocks responding which are well heated up by now, enough to burn our bums and whatever that is on it. We took many breaks where ever we find a shady place followed by a prolonged photo session by our photographer Keerthi. Though it was hot right under the sun, the moment we are under the shade of a huge rock or a tree suddenly it all turns pleasantly cool with nice breeze. 

We moved on ahead getting down through rocks on the way and making way through some thorny bushes. After some time we landed up in a plain grass land right between two huge hills on our sides. Yes this is what we are waiting for. Now we are in the Canyon with awesome views ahead of us. The river has very less water may be hardly 3-4 feet of depth. We saw a small cave on the other side which can be easily reached with this level of water but we decided not to try that to avoid delay in our plans. We were thoroughly enjoying the trek surrounded by the rocky hills standing like gigantic walls. We felt like lilliputs in gullivers travels.

We reached the backside of the fort right beneath the viewpoint from where there is a path to the top along a water pipeline. We went ahead further and found a nice and cool hide out under the shelter of the huge rocks. We spent more than an hour here relaxing. The water was very chilling in contrary to the heat outside. We climbed to the top along the pipeline and were in the village around 0230PM. We stopped at a small shop to have cool drink and in no time the lady owner of the shop started asking about us. Her name is Lakshmamma. She told us that the villagers were thinking that we are movie people as the shooting of a Telugu movie SAHASAM happened there last two days. When asked about any lunch options she told that there are no hotels in the village and we have to walk to the APTDC restaurant which we don’t want to do under this SUN. We asked lakshmamma whether she can cook  food for us for which we will pay. For which she honestly said that she cannot serve food us like hotels and she will prepare what they will have daily and we agreed happily. 

Within 45 minutes the food was ready. We had Dal and green chilli chutney. Dal was very verytasty and we swept off all the dishes in no time. It was a finger licking good pure Rayalaseema meal, ofcourse spicy too. After lunch she asked us to relax for some time and we were sitting at her shop asking her about the condition of the village, agriculture, factionism and many more things. Meanwhile Dinesh and sailesh had a nice power nap. At around 0400 we started from there to find a nice place to camp for the night, away from the village. We reached a watch point at one corner of the fort wall and decided to settled there for night.  We made arrangements including collecting firewood before it gets dark. Though the sky is clear and we are away from city lighting, the light from the windmills is still obstructing some stars to be visible. 

Big Camp fire lit well by Sailesh and Keerthi. We were talking all about our treks and other stuff while keerthi was trying capture star trails in his camera. We had some snacks in dinner followed by star gazing session by our STAR Sailesh. Its interesting to know such things and more over from sailesh as he use to tell some stories relating to them in between. Out of all of four of us Keerthi was the guy who never stop talking, most of the time pulling legs of sailesh with some satires from Dinesh often adding to this. Before dozing off we discussed the next day’s plan and Sailesh wanted to climb sudigundu (Needle point) near the view point. Here ends our Day under the stars and cool breeze.

Next day we woke up early and packed up things and moved to the view point for sunrise. It was a pleasant climate and cool breeze at the time of dawn. We sat for sometime on the rocks waiting for the sun to rise. The reflection of the SUN in the river made it more beautiful. We enjoyed the moment to the core. We moved on here and there climbing the rocks to find even better place for the view of the canyon and for a good place to sit and absorb the early morning positive energy rays of the SUN god. After spending an hour or so we next moved to climb a tall hillock which looks like huge rocks were placed on top of another to build like a tower. While passing through the bushes sailesh spotted  a small juvenile snake on the way which he carefully caught with the help of a stick and left into the trees inside. In 10 minutes we are on top. The top was like a flat laid rock enough for four people to sit facing all the four directions. The most thrilling things of all that happened from today morning were the jumping pictures of sailesh and keerthi at the edge of the hill and ofcourse scary too. 

As it was already scorching we started back to the village. We stopped at the temple for some time. Visited masjid and other structures on the way to Lakshmamma’s shop. We asked lakshamma to prepare lunch for us and told her that we will be back in an hour and left our bags in her house. We started walking towards the APTDC Gandikota hotel which is half a kilometer away from the fort. The hotel complex is huge and very neatly maintained. We can hardly see any tourist there as it is all empty. There is a museum which has a big photo gallery and lot of information about all the forts of Andhra Pradesh. This is much impressive collection of information I haven’t seen anywhere. We headed back to the village and by the time we reach lakshmamma’s house lunch was ready. Again, the food was too good and spicy. We thanked lakshmamma for her hospitality and tasty Rayalaseema food.

Our plan after lunch was to reach Mylavaram reservoir which can be seen far away from the view point which is actually the craziest thing to attempt on this terrain. We decided to trek along the river through the hills to reach the reservoir which we thought could be done with little difficulty. We started trekking along side of the canyon through the rocks and thorny bushes. Often we had to go down and come up again as the path was not clear. Like this we crossed couple of hills with some difficulty and terrain on the next hill is much tougher as if some small stones were spread across studded on the ground. It became tougher walking on this hill and the destination didn’t seem any closer and it was already 0400PM. We gave up on this plan and now the task ahead of us is to find out a way out to a nearby road, which is actually simple. We started walking perpendicular to the river and after half an hour we are on main road that goes to Jammalamadugu. We started walking towards Jammalamadugu hoping for an auto to hire that comes on the way. We walked almost an hour and there is no sign of a single auto till then except some two wheelers and couple of tractors. On the way we enquired a villager about any bus or auto, He told us at 0530 PM we can get a bus to Jammalamadugu. This will be the same bus that has to return from Gandikota which passed us 15 minutes ago. We stopped at a bus shelter and waited for the bus which came around 0600PM. We checked into a small lodge in Jammalamadugu and freshened up as our bus to Hyderabad is around 11 PM in the night. We had some snacks at local food joints and drank a lot of water as we were dehydrated a lot with the post lunch trek and skipped dinner. Our Bus was on time and we reached Hyderabad early in the morning.

This trip was most memorable one of which I still remember every single moment which made me write this blog in such detail even after a long period of one and half year. Hope You Enjoyed reading this and will add Gandikota to your bucket list.
See You Friends….

All Photo Credits to Mr Keerthi Kiran