Belum Caves & Gandikota, The Grand Canyon of India
These aren't the days of Marco Polo's or Robinson Crusoe's. Thanks to Columbus and his look alikes, There is nothing big left in the world to explore and our generation is best left to explore Avatars and Pandora's floating mountains. We don't write books based on our travel. apparently books are worth only if we are doing around the world in certain number of days, you know! so we write blogs to fulfill our quest of sharing our experiences or just blabber about our achievements and then throw in the big blue sea called Internet. We, the paper-free generation. -There is not much left to readers' imagination either.- since we, the Modern-Day Columbus who know how to use every damn kind of camera ( yup ;)) in the world, provide enough photographs from each and every angle. Still, somehow, since we do believe in Prophet Muhammad's saying..
"Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled"
and DIY ( Do it yourself, i.e. you know what i am saying. it actually applies to everything in life) We keep up with our titbits of exploring what we like and dislike including small things and small places.
(check out all the images from belum caves and gandikota on flickr )
Before I go ahead, here is a disclaimer, whatever I wrote above, with a We is totally I, me and myself. You don't want to own it. don't ! that's perfectly all right. So well, as you can already see above with pictures and title of this post, this writeup is all about places. I doubt if they are left unexplored anymore. at least one of them. but 2 years back when I visited this place, it certainly turned super-hit in our network and we sure sent few bunch, running and sweating all wanting to jump off the cliff ~500ft down in the river pennar, and if not, explore a river running deep down the ground which took the shape of 3.5KM cave with natural formations all over, i.e. a truly psychedelic escapade to two of the natures' finest wonders. All this in about 250-300Km distance from hip and happening International city of Bangalore. India indeed is full of surprises.
After we did our initial research, saw a photo or two, we, a small survivor not so roadies but lets explore all jungles and mountain peak in the world gang, set out in a very modern day AC taxi aka Toyota Innova, on a friday night with 6 of us plus our driver, that does make us 7 Yes we do treat our driver as human being and as one of us. we started at about 10 w/ out dinner, but it took us about 12 to reach Andhra-Karnataka Border, and when we stopped at one small shop on National Highway 7, I think they had pretty much nothing to offer except India's ever favorite poor man's drink, Tea. (Its my favorite too btw and no I am not poor, handle the contradiction, please!)
The onward overnight journey had nothing specific to offer, we kept stretching our legs left right making muliple crosses inside the car, changing seats often and some crazy songs in the same CD since all other CDs refused to play and we had no heart to listen to Kannada songs at midnight while riding under the stars. however, it was definitely one kannada song, the horror kind, which helped us wake the driver up when he stopped the car took a forced nap, in an old petrol station with no petrol, located somewhere, in the middle of Anantpur and Tadipatri state highway. ( we ofcourse dint want him to sleep but go on and reach belum asap, how inhuman of us).
The road till Tadipatri is alright. Belum and Gandikota in different directions from the main junction of the town where the straight road state highway takes you. if you go right, you reach Gandikota, if you take a left, you go to Belum caves. What we did was to book one room (6-8 beds) in Punnami lodge at Belum for 2 days, since there were no other better option around the area, including tadipatri of course. So we continued our Journey towards Belum and I still remember it was still dark, when we saw the Ultra-cement plant approaching, and with all the lights and sparkles from so far, it did look nothing less than one approaching San Francisco. ( Totally me again, you might think otherwise) it sure was like a small city on on the hilltop. and fortress perhaps, and I loved it. I still regret not stopping and taking a photograph since i kinda thought we'd be coming back from this side at about same time, so i could take a night shot later. but as you know or will know soon. we dint.
Nothing else interesting at dawn that I could remember, and by the time sun rose, we were at Belum Caves. I have to say, I liked the place almost instantly. almost impossibly peaceful, surrounded by small hillocks, (not many actually) which we thought first were the caves ( yup you wont think since you'd read it already) the famous kurnool black tiles and few tractors splashing sand, and oh a beautiful Buddha Statue. Top it all, the big clean and fresh room in the lodge, Oh it was such a blessing ( considering we are jungle men/women and we crash almost everywhere sometimes yes!) If it wasn't for golden sunlight and yellow-red sun shining on Buddha, I wouldn't have got off the bed and went for a shoot. few did prefer to stay in the room though, others went on shooting spree (only shoot photos, we aren't killing types really).
There was a downside too though, I think there wasn't no tea early morning, the restaurant was closed and there is pretty much no other facility in the entire vicinity of " happy making tea sort" so we have to wait till 10 AM for the restaurant to open, and we starving to kill ( not in literal meaning), ate everything put on our table. hold on, it was all veg. I remember. Andhra style food. some found it spicy but I cried with happiness. since I, Rajput Northy, love anything chilly in any form. but here to your giggle. its been almost 2 years, and i m sure you'd be well pampered there. (happy? )
Now that I have been there, Wiki or any other page, I can understand, it was a little blurred to me though, Yes the caves were first explored about 130 years back. they came in to APTDC (Andhra tourism in short) notice in late 1980s and they decided to shake hands with ASI ( Archeological society, i.e. the official explorer, and protector of all history) and I agree the caves are in good hands. since the timing is maintained, there is no food items allowed, not even water. so absolutely nothing to throw inside, and a Guide is mandatory. someone to look over the naughty you eh. there is only half part of the cave, which is open to public, I have no idea what they are doing with the rest of it. but whatever is open, is well illuminated and its a better sight than any Disney created caves and Dinosaur houses, in which they take you in train. this is not for kids, or grown up kids this is one real deal.
In case you're still wondering whats big about this 100+ feet down under passage, then let me tell you. there is history, there is mythology, and ofcourse there is natures old and long process which has made this underground caves wall, take different formations such as stalagmite and stalactite. these formations resembles so many things, some gets as close to as a shivlinga. there are freshwater spring deep inside one of the chambers which you need to go climbing iron stairs and then in to a narrow gauge. and there are simple meditation halls created as well. once you go you realize its important to go exploring with a guide, else you, wonder kid of the new world, might get lost into well lit and semi lit passages. while the heat takes every ounce of your body water, you keep jumping from lions gate to musical chamber to patalganga.it took us about 2+ hours to see the entire cave and be back to the opening. we practically drank 10l water each plus sitting under the handpump cooling down the burning skin. we were this thirsty. Apparently our guide told us we were supposed to lose about 2KG weight in the cave. hmm. did we feel light, I have no idea.
After coming out we did some munching session, including having a lots of ice creams and junk food, (we had a breakfast plus lunch already) and rejoiced our moments inside, with many bottles of mountain dew-dar ke aage jeet hai. I wonder if I have to really explain that in words how you feel inside, its different for everyone, and as I mentioned earlier a little should be left to imagine. the Pictures I was posted in above slider, are low light shoots since I did not want to show people inside or take the focus away on the pathway etc. this is the pure visualization of the place and how gorgeous it looks in different color lights. Well, You have to see for yourself.
There must be few other things come up by now around the cave, as planned then, we however, took a tiny little rest, in that really hot afternoon and then began our drive to Gandikota the same day. we took the Jammalamadugu route to reach the reservoir. which is about 60KM. the road is/was bad then, there is nothing much around. so while we are on that road, I should rather take you to history of Gandikota and what its all about.
Kota in most of the languages means fort, Gandikota is ruins of a fort built around 11th century, by a Chalukya king, The fort I believe was impassable because of the surrounding hills and the deep valley and certainly the deep gorge by Pennar and one more river, was its saving pass, since no one could win the fort, until it was later conquered and exploited. There are two beautiful temples towards the north, next to the gorge, built in 1100 and another is built in Vijayanagara style temple architecture. there is a mosque as well and a big deep pool which I was told was used for bath after killings, or something like that. this fort is still inhibited btw. the town Jammalamadugu is just 15kms. however you wouldn't find much rides until unless if things have been drastically changed in past two years.
So one is about the fort, and second is about the canyons which we are about to see. lets not ruin the surprise, we did the entrance from the east. i.e. just after crossing the town , we took the bridge and an actually good road on the hills after certain hickup, it took us not much time to reach the gate of the fort. till now nothing was really visible, except few water bodies on the far right. which we thought were gandikota reservoir? one of big one? - but it wasn't since we came from the opposite side. (*according to the map ) it took us about 2 hours or so to reach this place from Belum Caves, not to far really. this is when we dint anticipate the 40KM of the roads to be this bad. Anyways, again there was no tea, we had some coconut water from one shop at the entrance and then we headed inside.
Gandi is Gorge in Telagu, the canyon which you cant see even if you roam around the small fort, but view of the barren dry red land is still amazing. a little walk inside the fort towards west takes you to the pigeon tower, and there you realize, oh people are still living in the fort. but does anyone knows where our canyon is, i guess not. perhaps they do, but we are unable to exchange a word with them. language problem huh. we can certainly see a temple on our left and something high further on our right but where is the river flowing. hmm.. is this the right place? or we need to cross the mountain and then only we can see our so called grand canyon. ( no one called it that before actually until we saw it and shouted our lungs out, so its all okay uhmm)
some of us left behind, some went to see the temple, and me and another fellow, jungleman walked on the same road ahead, to see if we have any luck finding what we came here for. there was big mosque and a van parked up on a slope and suddenly there we see, many of school/college boys and girls. we wondered if they came to see the fort or the gorge. we tried to pass our confusion forward to the maruti van driver but he dint understand either. so I thought of taking a short right, uphill before we go further down on that straight road which does point to a curve in a hill pretty much looking like if a huge river ran over it.
On the right we had that pool and then further up the temple, but i wasnt really looking at it rather trying to find if there is something hidden behind those huge rocks and if at all we are lucky and we find the gorge. in the hope i ignored the temple and walked a little ahead and just couldnt believe my eyes. it was that couple of hundreds feet tall tower, standing on its own on the bank of a river totally on its own, as if it was telling everyone, how strong it is, still. and what next, I started shouting and giggling which i generally don't, but hello, i was the Columbus of the day and I had the right ;)
It was a bit difficult and dangerous too, to climb through rocks to reach this side of the edge of the rock wall to get a good look at our own grand canyon, but we had no issues. the wind was strong on the top, it was helluva scary to hold on to that edge and look down, but it was worth it. the view was something to behold. it was nothing man made really. it was all nature. and it existed in the neighborhood. who thought it was. we took the pictures from every angle, possible of everyone, hanging, flying, dragging and giggling with happiness ( nut cases) , we paved the way for others (college crowd) also to come up
some of them actually went down the wall created to go down to the river, but we were happy up. it was getting dark and when someone came screaming only we realize this is an ASI site, and everything gonna get close to tourists at 6PM. we still had temples to explore. and so we did. paying some bucks and a ride to the town to the caretaker.
so if you haven't got it why we call it grand canyon is because of the red granite gorges and green river. this might not be as grand as grand canyon itself, but it indeed is massive. the river flows along for quite a distance, and we actually saw it from one point. so we can not really estimate how long the gorges are though its deep and wide enough. the caretaker did tell us about the boat ride in the river as well. which certainly dint happen the time we were there. March, the beginning of the summer but yes it was certainly one place we wanted to explore in full. me too. haven't yet got a chance though :-/
We went back to belum because of two reasons. one the direct road to tadipatri was not safe in the dark, we were told and secondly we like the guest house so much, we wanted to crash asap. the dinner was also not available after 9-10PM so we decided to have food in Jammalamadugu ( what a tough name, i m writing it for the last time huh) town itself. and it was indeed tasty not sure it was hunger or something else, we were licking fingers but.
Keeping the second day of this already successful trip easy, we started late, had a nice spicy breakfast, looked around the small houses enroute tadipatri, built with kadapa black tiles, which also reminded me of houses in muraina, Madhya Pradesh, which are made of similar red tiles. we later reached hindupur, had an amazing lunch and then reached lepakshi temple, explored it leisurely and got back in bangalore about 6 easily!. (easy-vizy told ya!)
Route Map :
Below is the route we took. For the return trip, We took a took a diversion towards Hindupur to visit Lepakshi enroute bangalore, and were back in the city by evening 6.
The Place is easily accessible for a weekend trip, from Hyderabad and other cities as well.
View Larger Map
Trip Logistics :
This trip is easy to plan on your own. the best way to travel to these two places is 4 wheeler, hired or your own. however if you wish to motorbike, you can do so. for those who want to visit only Gandikota, there is a diversion from Tadipatri, the road leads you to the reservoir.
Its been two years since I visited the place, I am sure the APTDC Punnami Guest house and restaurant under construction at Gandikota then, must be up and running now. i.e. you must be having an option to stay there. Otherwise, The guest house at Belum Caves is best place to stay. the booking details for belam caves are avilable on APTDC website.
Best Time to Travel : October to Feb since the Belum Caves underground heats up to incredible high and can dry you off very quickly. the food items and water bottles are not allowed inside the cave. such however is not the case at Gandikota. but being in the open dry land, Summer must be avoided.
Responsible and Green Travel : Both the sites, Belum Caves, and Gandikota fort and canyon, including temples and mosque are protected by Archeological Society of India. Hence using the tripod is one thing not allowed at any of these sites. also I wouldn't ask you to tap or not tap to hear the sound coming from stalactite formation. The caves are well lit to see and admire different formations.
Word of Caution for Gandikota : as I mentioned in the blog, Gandikota is a bit dangerous, so be careful if you want to climb the boulders or you want to go down the gorges.
P.S. I am not posting any details about Lepakshi, here, will write another post for that.