During this year’s sankranthi season I went to Guntur and Tenali to visit my parents and in-laws. After spending a couple of days in Guntur, I thought it would be good idea to go on a long drive towards Ongole (southern coastal Andhra), stopping at a couple of places on the way to meet some ex-colleagues who were also vacationing in their native places. However, my friend-cum-navigator suggested going in the opposite direction, i.e. towards eastern coastal Andhra, to visit a friend who lives in a village deep into west godavari district. It was an easy decision to make considering the greenery and festive fervour that can be expected in godavari districts, and those 1.5 days of travel turned out to be the best part of my sankranthi vacation.
On Jan 14 (the day of bhogi, 1st day of 3-day sankranthi festival) I woke up early and walked around our neighbourhood (in Guntur) to observe the bhogi mantalu (the customary log fires lit up to drive away the early morning chill, and to dispose off the old wooden furniture in the house). After some heavy breakfast, I started waiting for my friend-cum-navigator to turn up, and it was 12 noon before he appeared along with another common friend. Without any further ado, we started off, in a relatively new Hyundai Verna.
Our destination is chinchinada village in west godavari district that is about 190 KM from Guntur. We did the 30 KMs between Guntur and Vijayawada in about 25 minutes. In fact, one can consistenly drive over 100-120 KMPH on the re-laid, 6-lane NH-5 (connecting Chennai and Kolkaka). The only irritating factor is that there are 3 toll gates between Guntur and Eluru (a distance of 90 KM) where the aggregate toll fee (one-way) is Rs. 70. Between Vijayawada and Gannavaram (the location of Vijayawada airport) we were caught up in a traffic jam caused by festivities near a temple. We reached Eluru at 2 PM. We decided to halt at Eluru for lunch as chinchinada is another 95 KM from Eluru. We sprang a surprise to a friend, a resident of Eluru, by calling him up and asking him to join us for lunch. He instead asked us to come over to a govt. guest house where he is busy playing cards with his colleagues. After some card games, some beer and heavy lunch (at 5 PM), we decided we are getting late and started towards chinchinada. BTW, the lunch was from “Appala Raju hotel”, which is apparently quite famous in Eluru. The curries of country chicken, quail and prawns indeed tasted good.
Now, there are 2 routes for reaching Bhimavaram (a major town, and chinchinada lies further 25 KM from this town) from Eluru. The shorter route is via kaikaluru, but one has drive mostly on a narrow road adjacent to a canal, and hence the drive will be slow. The other route is to continue driving on NH-5 for about 50 KM and then turn right into a 2-lane road that leads to Ganapavaram and then Bhimavaram. We took the option of driving fast on NH-5 and though we slowed down once we turned towards Ganapavaram, we were enjoying the sights (paddy fields, coconut trees, etc.).
We drove thru Bhimavaram and palakollu and finally reached chinchinada at 8.30 PM. By this time the booze, heavy lunch and the drive (I was the sole driver through out the trip) have really worn me down. So I was more than happy when our host suggested a hot bath first up. Our host in chinchinada is an amiable and soft-spoken “Raju garu” who was introduced to me a couple years ago by a common friend in Vizag. Raju garu lives in a joint family in a 12-room bunglow. In next 40 minutes, we freshened up and were ready for a long night. Raju garu took us to a special place for, ummm.., drinking the appetizers. Chinchinada abuts the godavari river, and across the river is east godavari district. There is a huge bridge connecting chinchinada and the village (Dindi) on the other side of godavari. Raju garu asked me to stop the car near the mid-section of the bridge, climbed out, and arranged the drinks and snacks on the pavement. As a Hyderabadi my first reaction was to enquire about the police finding us there. Raju garu waved off my fears and fixed me a stiff peg. After much guzzling down and non-sensical talks, I politely reminded Raju garu that we may be getting very late for dinner. He assured me that godavari districts never sleep during the 3 days of sankranthi, and that men folk are supposed to go on 72-hour non-stop binge of playing cards, betting on cock fights, and booze & eat sessions. True to his word, we were served piping hot food (rice, country chicken curry, fish curry, tamarind pickle, sambar and curd) at 12.30 AM. I was so glad to hit the bed at 1 AM.
The next day (i.e. the day of Sankranthi) I woke up at 7 AM, found Raju garu and others still asleep. I went for a short walk around the place to snap pictures of the village waking up to its daily routine.
I could see some small smoke coming from the direction of some houses, and that is indicative of those big boilers that some people still use to heat water for taking bath. I went back, freshened up and got ready for another busy day. Around this time one of my fellow travelers from Guntur also got ready, and asked me to accompany him on a quick trip to a neighbouring village (called Elamanchili). My friend apparently visited Elamanchili every summer during his school days to stay with his babai’s (chacha’s) family. Elamanchili is a picturesque village with a huge fresh water lake right in the middle of the village.
My friend located the house his babai used to live and, to his surprise, found the other tenants of that huge house still living there. While my friend was engrossed in conversation with his old acquaintances, I was served vada, pulihora and payasam, twice. Around 9.30 AM we some how pulled away from Elamanchili and picked up the guys in Chinchinada and started towards Antarvedi.
Antarvedi is the place where river Godavari enters Bay of Bengal, and is home to famous Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple. For these 2 reasons, lot of people from Godavari districts flock to Antarvedi on every possible occasion. We reached there by 11 AM, finished Darshan, and drove off to the sea shore a couple of kilometers away.
The sea side was hot and humid (it’s almost 12 noon), and I started getting reminders from Guntur that I am supposed to spend the festival day with family rather than getting busy making friends in a faraway place. Therefore, we decided to give up on spending some time at the “cock fights” and headed towards Chinchinada. We reached a place called Dindi by 1 PM.
Dindi is a village on the banks of godavari from where we can see Chinchinada across the river. There are some newly built guest houses (by AP tourism dept and also by some private operators) on the banks of godavari in Dindi. AP tourism dept is also operating 4 two-bed room houseboats from these guesthouses. These are the Konaseema houseboats you will find a mention of in AP tourism dept’s website. The guesthouses and houseboats are tastefully done, and are highly recommended for a 2-day vacation.
Raju garu wanted some appetizers before the lunch, got his wish fulfilled under the cocunut trees near the guest house. The lunch in Raju Garu’s house was great and plenty. The menu was wild boar curry, egg keema, potato fry, sambar and a lot of pickles and powders. After finishing the lunch we were very tired, but had to start towards Guntur as it was getting late. My other 2 friends slipped into deep sleep immediately after entering the car, and I drove non-stop to Guntur in 4 hours following the same route (chinchinada-bhimavaram-ganapavaram-eluru-vijayawada-guntur). I have spent the next 1.5 days in Guntur and Tenali before returning to Hyderabad on Jan 17. Overall, it was a trip that left me asking for more (of godavari districts).
You can find the pictures of my trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25316907@N08/sets/72157604378665299/detail/
The photos of Dindi guest house and houseboat are borrowed from the websites, as my camera ran of out of charge when we reached Dindi.