Araku: A journey through 58 tunnels and enthralling valley views

11th Nov 2016

Araku Valley, a hill station nestled around 120 Kms from Vishakhapatnam offers a great deal of fascinating views, gushing waterfalls, coffee plantations, and a sneak peek into the tribal culture.

I like to travel with flexible plans so I never set any fixed itinerary to cover places of interest. For this trip, a planned structure was set up with a lot of placeholders. The structure included onward and return journey tickets to and from Vizag along with hotel bookings. The placeholders were to be filled dynamically as per the appeal and accessibility of the locations of interest.

The trip started with a short flight to Vizag from Hyderabad. Room hunting on spot becomes crazy sometimes, but mostly it's fun to bargain and get a great deal no online travel portal can provide. I've stayed in homestays and decent rooms for as less as 150 rupees per night. But this time, because of the short nature of this trip (just a weekend), I booked a room beforehand just a few minutes walk from RK Beach.

Day 1

The lane beside RK Beach is well maintained and was bursting with activity. Street side cafes, local vendors, creative sculptures, and gardens made this place a perfect place for an evening stroll. I started walking along the shore. After a few minutes of walking, I saw a group of people gathered near a shore, everyone looking down. I was guessing that it must be some sea creature washed ashore. And my guess was correct, it was a giant turtle presumed alive. People tried to put it back into the sea but within a few minutes, it was back to the shore.

The sun had already settled down and the high tides were washing up the shore. The beachside local vendors were wrapping up for the day. With each step forward, I was walking away from the crowd. At one moment, I couldn't see anyone around me for a few hundred meters. The moon was bright red and looked perfect in this setting. With this view settled in my eyes and rumbling sound of the sea in my ears, I walked back to my hotel room to rest thinking about the new destination waiting to be explored.

Day 2

The train to Araku valley from Vizag passes through one of the most scenic routes in India. The train passes through 50+ tunnels, several bridges offering amazing valley views, and multiple curves exposing the entire train. There is only one train which passes through this route once per day. The train starts from Vizag to 7.05 in the morning. Although it was too early for me (being a night owl), I managed to reach the station on time to catch this train.

Evening view of Araku valley

Photo of Araku, Andhra Pradesh, India by Sarabjeet Singh

The amazing thing about Indian Railways is that it can be economical beyond imagination. The ticket for 120+ Kms, 4 hours journey through a difficult terrain was just 30 rupees. I couldn't get a seat on the train because of Araku being a popular destination for local people as a weekend getaway. I secured the position at one of the doors as I was about to witness one of the most beautiful train journeys.

Within some time on the way, I could see the train approaching the hills. After a few minutes, the first tunnel was waiting for us to pass. As the initial compartment moved across the tunnel, the enthusiastic shrieks grew louder and suddenly the compartment went dark with loud screams from all corners.

It was not long when the train approached the second tunnel and again the screams continued. My excitement lowered after 20 or so tunnels but the overall excitement level in train increased with each passing tunnel. I tried to count the number of tunnels initially but with one after another, I lost count somewhere in between. As the train moved out of a tunnel, beautiful valley views kept the excitement levels pumped.

At around 11.30, I reached Araku railway station. There are a lot of autos and taxis outside which can be hired to travel around the valley. I decided to explore on my own so headed directly to my pre-booked hotel room. It is recommended to book hotels beforehand (if traveling in peak season) as stay options are limited. I booked a room through Oyo app and it was a decent stay option there.

Padmapuram gardens are just a few minutes walk from town center. I usually prefer walking for short distances but there are autos for hire for the lazy ones. While walking towards the garden, I saw a tractor down the road coming towards me. Without even giving a moment's thought, I stretched my hand to signal the driver for a hitchhike. He slowed down this vehicle, and I embarked on a free bumpy ride upto the gardens.

Chit-chat point for friends/family in Padmapuram gardens

Photo of Padmapuram Garden, Araku, Andhra Pradesh, India by Sarabjeet Singh

One major advantage of solo traveling is hitchhiking. It lets you save money and gather unforgettable memories. A ride on an open tempo or tractor is way worth than hiring an auto or taxi to reach the destination. Hitchhiking requires confidence and patience. It is usually not comfortable for everyone to stand in the middle of the road with their thumb out. Moreover, it may be several minutes or maybe hours of waiting before you get your free ride. So, it is a great way to understand yourself and boost your confidence and patience.

Shiv-Parvati statue inside the gardens

Photo of Araku: A journey through 58 tunnels and enthralling valley views by Sarabjeet Singh

I walked around the gardens overlooking the hills. It was sparsely crowded thus very peaceful. There were many varieties of plants and flower beds on display. I spent nearly 30 minutes exploring the gardens and left for Tribal museum.

There was an entry ticket of 40 rupees for the garden. There is nothing unique about the gardens and it can be skipped if planning for a tightly scheduled trip.

The museum provides a peek into the life of tribal people. It shows about their accommodation, occupation, art and culture through well-carved effigies. There is a hut which hosts several seeds. Live pottery can be experienced within the complex.

A decorative pot being created at Tribal Museum complex

Photo of Tribal Museum Araku, Araku, Andhra Pradesh, India by Sarabjeet Singh

Dhimsa dance in the garden area

Photo of Tribal Museum Araku, Araku, Andhra Pradesh, India by Sarabjeet Singh

The coffee museum is located very close to Tribal museum. This complex has a coffee souvenir store, craft store, snacks bar, trampoline, cricket nets along with the coffee's discovery and processing history hall. Dhimsa dance form, popular among the tribals, can be experienced live here.

It is a great place to hangout and taste sumptuous coffee products. Coffee raspberry chocolates are a must try here along with hot/cold coffee. The craft store is enormous and hosts a huge variety of art and craft items for sale. I stayed here until sunset before moving back to my hotel.

Dhimsa dance live inside Coffee Museum

Photo of Araku Valley Coffee Museum, Araku, Andhra Pradesh, India by Sarabjeet Singh

The night sky was clear and starry. The weather was chilly at night and there were bonfires arranged at many hotels along the road. I chatted with locals while relaxing beside a bonfire.

Borra caves

Photo of Borra Caves, Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India by Sarabjeet Singh

Borra caves are one of the largest caves in India. A deluxe bus journey from Araku amidst valley views and coffee plantations led me to Borra junction. Caves are located around 6 Km from Borra junction where share autos ply at regular intervals. There were many bamboo products on sale on the way, bamboo mugs and jugs being the most interesting.

There were unexpectedly enormous amount of tourists here. I walked towards the ticket counter near the entrance gate. The scene outside the entrance gate was totally disappointing. The place has a serious need for proper management or online ticketing system. The ticket queue had around 40 to 50 people. To add more pain, the entrance gate had even more people waiting to enter the caves.

I once thought of leaving back to Vizag and give the caves a skip but something within me wanted not to turn back after coming this far. Since I had limited time, I tried asking locals already in line to get a ticket for me. Well, it didn't work as nobody agreed to get me a ticket and I got disgusting looks in return. There was a separate line for ladies and I tried to convince a woman who finally agreed to get me an entry (Rs 60) and camera ticket (Rs 100).

The caves are majestic. It was amazing to see stalactites and stalagmites in the caves. Several colored lights have been set up which adds up to the beauty of the caves. One needs to crawl in some parts of the caves to reach ahead. The caves were crowded and noisy throughout. I tried to find a quiet corner to sit back and enjoy the strange formations inside but couldn't find any.

The way to the temple at the top of the cave

Photo of Araku: A journey through 58 tunnels and enthralling valley views by Sarabjeet Singh

A staircase is set up in the middle of the cave that reaches the extreme top and ends at the entrance of a small cave on the top. I was excited to explore the smaller caves up on the top. The final steps of the staircase are very steep and clumsy. I spent around an hour on the staircase in the hopes of finding something unique on reaching the top. The cave on the top holds a shrine with formations that locals believe to be related to Shiva. I initially regretted spending so long in the queue to visit the shrine but then a thought made me change my mind. The place was so crowded mostly because of the temple. Thus, the presence of the shrine made people come out of the comfort zone of their homes and experience the unique environment inside the cave along with paying tribute at the temple.

I think that the temples are situated high up on mountain tops or deep inside caves to let people travel and experience what mother earth has in place for us.

Day 3

INS Kursura: Submarine Museum

Photo of INS Kursura Submarine Museum, Beach Road, Paanduranga Puram, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India by Sarabjeet Singh

It was totally a unique experience both in the valley and the caves. I left for Vizag from the caves where I visited the INS Kursura museum submarine before taking the flight back to Hyderabad. I came back with the boxes of chocolate, tribal metal deer souvenir, and a bagful of new experiences.


1. Carry ample cash to Araku or Borra as it would be tough to find ATMs or places which accept cards.

2. Try combining both rail and road routes as both the routes are scenic and exciting.

3. Do try the local bamboo chicken and shop for tribal souvenirs.

4. Spend a night at Araku and experience Dhimsa dance performed by locals while sitting near a bonfire.