Like always, some of us wanted the feel of a hill station while others wanted to feel the sand in their toes. So, this time, we made sure everyone got their share of happiness.
Visakhapatnam greeted us with blowing winds from the Eastern Ghats mountain range and the smell of the ocean from the coast of Bay of Bengal.
Our first stop, as soon as the sun rays tore through the curtains in our room and danced on our faces, was Rushikonda beach. About 20 km on the outskirts of the main city, this beach is the cleanest and one of the most beautiful in India. It took us some dumb charades to understand the local language (Telugu) and an auto ride worth Rs 200 to get there from the main city.
Soaking in the morning sun, I felt as though someone had given me my own private island where I could lie all day with not a soul to disturb except the tiny crabs which were bobbing and darting in the golden sand. With water lashing at my feet, absolved of any dirt or garbage, I collected sea shells and for most part of the day, swam in the sparkling water.
There were just a few local vendors on the beach offering coconut water and small souvenirs and just one small resort.
After a well spent day, we made our way to the Andhra Pradesh tourism office to book our tickets for a trip to the Araku Valley - a hill station located about 114 km from the main city.
Although the AP tourism website offers package details about the tour, it is not updated and there is no option to book the tickets online which is a little trying. However, it is advisable to book the government tour package only at their office and not go by yourself if you haven’t already been there. We made reservations to be used two days later and headed back to explore the town.
While roaming around, we stumbled upon a local restro bar (Zoom bar) opposite RK beach which later became our go-to drinking hole, what with its cheap liquor (read Budweiser), sumptuous fish, chicken, prawn fry and the view of the endless sea.
The next day, we went to the Submarine Museum housed inside a real submarine and located on the RK beach -- a must visit for anyone who goes to Vizag.
After that we made our way towards the fishing harbour where a boat ride is offered but we passed on it as it doesn’t provide much of a kick.
Strolling down the beach, which is not as clean as Rushikonda but offers the same beautiful views, we tasted the local mirchi vadas and tea and then headed back to our lodge.
The next day we visited Kailasagiri Park, a hilltop park covered with flora and tropical trees, offering stunning views of the Bay of Bengal and overlooking the whole city. To reach the park, one has to take the ropeway which is a thrill in itself.
After roaming around the park which has many attractions and small cafes, we descended down the ropeway when it started drizzling making the ride more worthwhile.
The fourth day was an early start as we had to catch the train to Araku Valley at 6 in the morning.
This is the best hill station I have ever been to and without a doubt it was my best train ride till date. The rail takes you through 58 tunnels and over 84 bridges while waterfalls can be spotted peering through thick lush trees and forests on both sides.
Upon reaching the hill station, which still gives a whiff of ancient tribes and primitive culture, we were taken to a tourism resort for some lunch and an evening of entertainment by tribes performing the traditional Dhimsa dance and asking us to join in.
Araku is also known for its bamboo chicken which only the tribals here can prepare and which we had the fortune to sample. The tribal communities cook chicken inside the hollow of a bamboo without using any oil or water and it is by far one of the best delicacies I have ever tasted. It is not served in restaurants, though it can be arranged from the local sellers.
Apart from its natural beauty and breathtaking views especially during rains, Araku is particularly popular for its famous coffee plantations and India’s first tribal growers' organic coffee brand. After taking some souvenir coffee packets and chocolates from a local shop, we were taken to the million-year-old Borra Caves.
Located deep in the Earth in the Ananthagiri hills of the Valley, the caves are at a height of 800-1300 m from mean sea level and were discovered by a British geologist in 1807. The beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites inside the caves has now been enhanced with a thematic lighting scheme. There are many mythological stories associated with these caves ranging from Ramayana, lord Shiva, Shiva lingam and so on but the beauty of the caves and the eeriness is what makes the place a tourist’s delight.
After the day well spent in the Valley, we boarded a bus when it started raining heavily. The panoramic views as the rain lashed the hills were magical. Pink, purple, red hues danced on lush green mountains and in the cloudy sky as our bus drove between towering trees and through the valley, back to Vizag.
It was the perfect farewell as heavy rains continued into the night ending our exquisite journey.
Food - Very spicy. Try local dishes like mirchi vadas, fish fry and biryani. Don't miss out on the bamboo chicken in Araku Valley.
People - Not many know English or Hindi as Telugu is the local language. However, we found the locals very friendly, helping and happy as Larry.
Transport - Easily available auto-rickshaws and affordable. It goes without saying that bargaining is the mantra here.
Shop - Buy souvenirs from Rushikonda beach. Handicrafts, coffee and chocolates from Araku Valley.