To India's Very Own Canyon Formation

Tripoto
23rd Jun 2018
Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

The Grand Canyon in the US is one spectacle of nature to behold; massive canyons carved out by the Colorado river for millions of years. While making a trip to this World renowned heritage site may not be up on everyone's fortune, fortunately India has its very own canyon gorge formation which can parallel any other such majestic wonders of nature.

The canyons at Gandikota, right next to the Gandikota fort complex is one such jewel hiding in plain hindsight. With the river Pennar flowing seamlessly through it Gandikota and Belum caves offers not only some smashing vistas but also throws light on the intricate work in the gorge formations and carvings inside the cave. Gandikota lies in the Kadapa district in Andhra Pradesh, while the Belum caves are situated in the Kurnool district, and is truly a gem that most are still unaware of. Owing to its close proximity to both Hyderabad & Bengaluru, Gandikota and Belum caves makes for a quick yet much rewarding weekend visit, with its breath-taking canyon views and underground caves.

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation 1/2 by Hrishikesh Baruah
Birds of Gandikota. L-R: Jungle Babbler, Red Vented Bulbul, Scaly Breasted Munia, and again a Red Vented Bulbul

I had Gandikota and Belum caves on my "to-visit-list" for the last 2 years or so but it just didn't materialize for one reason or the other. To my luck I had the fortune of coming across Muddie Trails on Meetup with whom I finally signed up for this trip. Finally, I may tick it off my list, maybe!

Travelling yet again from Mysuru I caught up with the rest of the members of the group at Hebbal. From here Gandikota is roughly around 6 hours of ride. Tried to snuggle in for some needed sleep, but the roads won't let me though. (Un)Fortunately though Gandikota witnesses scanty footfall due to very few even knowing about such a place existing in our country, so don't be surprised if you are the only one here on a bright sunny day. If you are planning a visit here then congratulations, you are one of those few lucky people who will be a witness to this maverick!

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation 2/2 by Hrishikesh Baruah
This region being very windy is home to many a windmills

Reached Gandikota at around 7 am, at Haritha resort managed by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism. You can consider this resort as an oasis in the middle of a desert as there is no other staying option that I could notice around the vast stretch of barren land. Windy, dry, barren land suddenly is the norm. The resort is very well maintained; clean public washrooms, courteous staff, and even better food. Our stay (camping) and food was already managed by the group leader at the resort. Some much need re-freshening and post breakfast we would head out to Gandikota fort, before the canyon.

Day 1

Gandikota Fort and Other Structures

The Gandikota fort is a 10 mins walk from the Haritha resort. The fort is mostly in ruins and offers a grand view of the Pennar river. This fort was built somewhere in 13th century, built by the Chalukya kingdom. Travelers have also termed it as the 2nd Hampi due to its resemblance to structures in Hampi. The fort complex houses the fort, jail, charminar, Madhavaraya Swamy Temple, Ranganatha Swamy temple, Jama Masjid, Kathula Koneru (water tank), granary. Explore all these structures properly before heading out to the canyon viewpoint. The route to the canyon viewpoint passes through Jama masjid and Ranganatha Swamy temple.

Charminar

Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

Madhavaraya Swamy Temple

Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

Gorgeous view of Pennar river from the fort

Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

Jail

Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

Jama Masjid

Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

Granary in front

Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

Ranganathaswamy Temple

Photo of Gandikota Fort, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

Gandikota Canyon Viewpoint

The Gandikota canyon viewpoint is a 10-15 min uninterrupted walk from the fort. And once you reach the viewpoint be ready to be "WOW'ed" over by the panoramic, stunning view that lie across. The Pennar river cutting through the reddish gorge is the sight you've been waiting for. On one side the Pennar river flows quietly till your eyes can stretch, while on the other the ruin walls of the Gandikota fort can be spotted along the canyon ledge. Nature, your art is fascinating indeed!

Photo of Gandikota Penna River View, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Gandikota Penna River View, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Gandikota Penna River View, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Gandikota Penna River View, Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

For the photography buffs one can easily spend 2-3 hours here, hopping from one boulder to the other capturing the canyon from all possible angles. The canyon is pleasing on the eyes during sunrise and sunsets when the sun goes a little soft on you. Nevertheless, once here you will just keep gazing at the endless canyon that lie ahead of you. Enjoy that view my friend :)

The other side of the canyon. The wall of the fort can be seen from here

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Standing tall

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Water Sports and Activities in Pennar River

We went back to the Haritha resort for our lunch. The 2nd half of the day was dedicated for water sports and activities. A short hike down to the Pennar river is another exciting part of the whole deal. This involves negotiating through some wild, thorny shrubs and plants, carefully hopping over some large boulder sections, and a baking sun biting on your back; all this under the huge canyons while keeping an eye on you. Once on the banks of the river kayaking, coracle boat ride, and swimming was organised. Initially few of us were skeptical about venturing out in the river, but the mandate to wear a life jacket made all our worries vanish. Kayaking was fun, more so chuckling at the ones struggling to pedal and coordinate with their partner. A dip in the cool and calm river was the perfect gift our body deserved on a hot and sultry day.

Hiking to the base of the canyon

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Hike down to Pennar river

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Almost there

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

kayaking

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Camping Under a Starry, Windy Sky

We had our camping arranged in front of the fort, on an open land for the night. The night was spent around a bonfire singing, dancing, and playing through the night. The wind conditions are quite fiery here at Gandikota, and especially at night.

Our fluttering tents and campsite

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Belum Caves

Day 2

Day 2 was planned for a visit to Belum caves. Blame it on my ignorance or lack of knowledge, based on all my initial googling I thought Belum caves are closeby to Gandikota. Well, not actually. Belum caves are a well 60 kms from Gandikota, and can take around 90 mins to reach. It was not the most pleasant journey from Gandikota to Belum caves as the hot air crashing on our face made for an uncomfortable experience. A huge statue of Gautam Buddha marks the entrance to Belum caves. The caves are almost 3.5 kms in its length but only around 1.5 kms are kept accessible for exploration to the public. Being completely underground it tends to get extremely hot and humid inside, as well as suffocating. Govt has set up fans to keep circulating air inside the caves. The formations inside the cave are mainly of limestones and it is believed that Buddhist and Jain monks used to stay and meditate inside.

Photo of Andhrapradesh tourism Belum caves unit, Kolimigundla, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Andhrapradesh tourism Belum caves unit, Kolimigundla, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Andhrapradesh tourism Belum caves unit, Kolimigundla, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah
Photo of Andhrapradesh tourism Belum caves unit, Kolimigundla, Andhra Pradesh, India by Hrishikesh Baruah

The inside of the cave are illuminated and renovation work were in progress while we were there. People who are claustrophobic may need to be careful before stepping inside. Once inside the cave a big open space welcomes the visitors. It is unfortunate to see some illiterate fools have carved their names and initials on the delicate limestone formations. It gets sweaty inside and ensure you don't venture out alone as there are chances of getting lost.

Gautam Buddha Statue at the entrance of Belum Caves

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Gautam Buddha Statue at the entrance of Belum Caves

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Gautam Buddha Statue at the entrance of Belum Caves

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

Once done with Belum caves do not forget to visit the Buddha statue that adorns the entrance to Belum caves.

Gandikota and Belum caves are yet to take off in a big way on the tourism map. Heck, most people have not even heard of such places. And then I wonder maybe its not a bad thing, as to most popular destinations and structures we have left a bad impact on them. Chances are you may never be able to see the Grand Canyon of Arizona, but our very own canyon of Gandikota will definitely live up to your expectations.

Haritha resort managed by the AP Tourism

Photo of To India's Very Own Canyon Formation by Hrishikesh Baruah

A big shout-out to the folks at Muddie Trails for organizing this awesome trip with such flair.

Things to Keep in Mind:

1. Stay hydrated. Carry enough water with you as this part of the country is extremely dry and can get hot during summers

2. Wear loose cotton clothes to remain comfortable

3. While at the Gandikota viewpoint be extremely cautious while moving from one boulder to the other. Chances of a loose boulder or slipping is common.

4. If you want to stay at Gandikota then check out Haritha resort managed by the AP Tourism board (+91 073822 37380)

5. Nearest railway station to Gandikota is Jamalamaddugu, and Tadipatri for Belum caves. Don't rely on public transport such as buses to reach either Gandikota or Belum caves. The most comfortable option is to rent a car.

6. And finally, DO NOT litter :)

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