Sunday, March 31, 2019

Andhra Chapter: Vizag and Araku Valley

Vizag is one of the underrated Indian city for tourism. It has clean beaches, naval museums, a hilltop accessible by cable car and is at driving distance to Araku valley. I had visited the city back in 2012 for a friend’s sister’s wedding and had covered the touristy places inside the city during a half day trip. I of course did not recall the places (pre-blogging days, duh!) until I went there again last month for another wedding which brought back memories of the good old days. Now my travel blogs provide me a memory anchor to remind me of places and things :)


Our last outstation trip together was to Pune in July 2018 so it had been a while since #GshnyTravels #WithHer happened. (Mandatory Blog link). This wedding trip to Vizag gave us an opportunity to spend time off from the usual routine. The plan was simple, attend wedding and visit places in the city on day 1, visit Araku valley on day 2 and a few beaches in the outskirts of the city on day 3 and return to Bangalore.

Araku is around 120 kms by road and the outstation prices of Ola/Uber to the valley were bit expensive. Would have rented a car if we knew to drive but since it was not an option, we rented a bike. We had done the same in Chennai a while back and it seemed more personalized and economical option for the two of us. Moreover, nothing like a ride along the winding roads right? The Beach road runs by the coast and we decided on a hotel at riding distance to this road which was a really good decision. 
The beach which was at 1min riding distance from our hotel.
We collected the bike on day 2 after the wedding and went to Kailash Giri which is the touristy place in Vizag. You can reach to the top by the curvy roads or through a cable car. You get the view of the eastern coastline as you go up the hill.

On reaching the top you have the titanic view point near the parking. There is also a toy train that takes you a full circle of the hill. On one end you get to see the coastline and other end of the ride you can see the view of the city. There are statues of lord Shiva and Parvathi on the top of the hill.

Apart from this you have the observatory which is closed for public and parks that give you view down the hill. The eateries all around will make sure you don’t starve if you spend more than couple of hours here. It was dark by the time we were done with the train ride so we couldn’t explore much.
As we headed back by the beach road we came across a bunch of beach facing cafes and lounges. We decided to stop for dinner at Percolator cafe which is by the R K Beach (Do try the outdoor wheel seating in this restaurant). This beach reminded us of Besant Nagar beach of Chennai. That was it for the day.
The next morning we took our sweet time to wake up and have breakfast before leaving to Araku an hour later than our planned time of 8am. Everyone I spoke to while planning this trip advised us to take the scenic Araku train ride. However we could not find much information about it online. The train was already full and the waitlist was something we couldn’t risk. Also the train leaves by 7am and we didn’t want to spoil our sleep during our vacation :) So we took solace in the fact that we had taken the train ride through the amazing valley’s in Switzerland and we could skip this one (Incidentally we said the same to ourselves when we couldn’t do the train ride in Ooty and pretty sure we will say the same incase we miss the train ride of Shimla :P). The train journey is said to have a lot of tunnels and breathtaking views (the description reminded me of the Gokarna - Goa - Castle Rock train route which provides similar views). Anyways for your information you can take general class ticket at the station and board the train. There are jeeps available to take you around places and drop you back to the station before the return train journey at around 4pm. There are also buses every hour between Vizag and Araku which you could consider in the worst case.
The first stop on your way to Araku valley would be Borra Caves. Borra Caves have limestone formations and are considered to be one of the deepest caves in the country. We reached by noon and after purchasing tickets and depositing the bag in the cloakroom we spent about an hour exploring the place. The department of tourism has put colourful lights which makes the cave look absolutely amazing. It is well maintained with guiding rails that help you walk around the ups and downs in the cave. 


 

We had our lunch here and I think we spent way more time at this place than we should have. There is a hotel run by the tourism department which provides you with meals and snacks but if you are a non vegetarian, then you should try the Bamboo Chicken which is a speciality of Araku. The chicken is cooked with local spices inside the bamboo shoot and tastes really amazing. A plate costs you Rs 150 which seems expensive but the quantity is decent for two people (which I ate alone).


Araku town is around 30 kms from Borra and the route takes you through the scenic valley. It was already 2:30 and we had a waterfall enroute to visit and plans to visit a reservoir on the way back. We decided to push our luck and continued riding towards Araku. The winding roads finally ended giving us a stretch of straight flat road. 


Araku is famous for its wooden toys/arts and coffee. There is a tribal museum which explains about the people, lifestyle and culture of the tribal population in the region. 


You can also purchase the wooden toys and jewellery here. We (to be read as she) spent quite some time shopping here as everything was actually cheap as compared to the prices we noticed in Vizag city.
The only other thing that we found interesting in Araku was the Coffee Museum which explains the various types of coffee and how they are prepared. It also details how coffee was accidentally discovered by goats which went hyper on eating the berries and the imam declared the berries evil and threw them into fire which released the aroma thus discovering coffee(phew, that was one long sentence). Then in Turkey a law was passed where a woman could divorce her husband if he was unable to provide her with her daily quota of coffee. There were more interesting trivia which I cannot remember as photography was prohibited there :( We bought original Araku coffee and coffee chocolates which were quite expensive actually. 
We hurried up and left Araku at around 4:30pm as we wanted to get down the ghat section before sunset. We stopped by a viewpoint which gave us some amazing captures of the valley.


On the way back we stopped by the Galikonda Viewpoint which is the second highest peak of the eastern ghats. 


At around 5:30pm we saw a diversion to a waterfall and decided to visit it since it was still pretty bright outside. 


This was a mistake for two reasons, first being there was no water (as you see in the pics above) and second being the petrol indicator was gone which means we could stop anywhere! Once you leave Araku there is only one Petrol Bunk in the 60 kms stretch between Araku and Shrungavarapukota and that one is near Borra. There was petrol in reserve but with rental bikes and the terrain you never know the mileage. After all the initial panic and going on neutral gear wherever possible we made it to Borra for Petrol. It got dark earlier than expected and we had around 60 more kms to go to reach the city. 50 of the 60 kms did not have street lights and there were potholes at random distances. The ordeal finally ended when we reached our hotel at around 9pm. It was quite an adventure.

Our flight was at 9pm on day 3 and we had the bike rented until 5pm so we scouted for places to visit. There were a bunch of beaches whose pics looked amazing as per google and then there was the naval museum that we had to visit. The bummer was that the naval museum opens only at 2pm so we had to do the beaches first in the sunny sweaty weather. We decided to goto the Yarada Beach which was in the city outskirts. You need to pass through the entire naval docks, shipping yards and industrial area to reach this beach (Google shows routes that actually go from inside Navy and Port restricted areas, hence better ask the locals for the actual route). 


After the initial google maps error we were finally at the beach. This is a relatively clean and lesser populated beach. If you wear comfortable clothes then you can climb up the cliff for a good picture of the beach.



On the way back to the city we came across the Ross Hill church which was recommended by Google Trips and I must admit that it did not disappoint. The church is near the Natural Harbour where you can see the ships/boats enter and exit the harbour. 



We were running short of time so we decided to skip lunch (We were not so hungry thanks to the heavy breakfast buffet) and head to the naval museums. We visited the decommissioned Tupolev Tu-142 anti-submarine warfare aircraft museum first. They have audio guides to help you understand the various aspects of flying this giant aircraft. You can enter the aircraft and get the look and feel of it. They have flight simulators and souvenir shops at the aircraft museum. Must say, was very impressed how this museum has been set up.

Opposite to this is the decommissioned INS Kursura diesel-electric submarine. Due to space restriction inside the submarine only 25-30 people are allowed at a time so we had a bit of wait time to explore this. If you have watched the movie Ghazi Attack then you will be able to relate and appreciate this submarine better.


There were a lot more places which we did not get to explore due to time constraint. There is an old light house, dolphins nose view point, a stupa and few other popular beaches which you could explore if you happen to visit Vizag. We returned the bike and while looking for places to have lunch(or rather dinner) we found Iron Hill Brewery which had good ratings so we ended the trip with a whole lot of junk food :) 

Notes:
- The one thing you need to know about Andhra Tourism is that you need to buy tickets for clicking pics using phone camera too! So that is Rs 50 for using mobile camera and more for DSLR and other cameras This applied to all places we visited.
- We stayed at Hotel Winsar Park which had good rooms and an amazing breakfast buffet. It is also situated around 300mts from the beach road. There are posh hotels near RK Beach if you like to stay near cafes and eateries. 
- Ola and Uber are bit expensive but are available whenever you need. The airport pickup point for cabs is outside the toll booth so you will have to walk a bit. There are rental and outstation rides available so it worth checking instead of taking a package from the hotel
- We used Royal Brothers to rent a Pulsar. At Rs 1500 for two days + Rs 700 worth of petrol we did not have to depend on cabs.
- The Rice Paper sweet and Mango Jelly are famous in Vizag.

Credits:
- Thanks to Srikar for inviting us to the wedding which made this trip possible for us
- Ajeeth Prabhu who guided me regarding the must do’s and must haves in Vizag
- Pavan Jami for organizing the trip back in 2012

You might also be interested to read: Yercaud, Lepakshi, Dandeli, Sakleshpur train route,


2 comments:

  1. Great job and interesting places you have travelled.Feels good to read your blog.Keep travelling create more blogs🇦🇶👏😀

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  2. I had a great time reading around your post as I read it extensively. Excellent writing! I am looking forward to hearing more from you.

    Vellore Golden Temple Tour Package from Chennai

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