Concluding my posts on this topic, the following are the tourist spots that will take more than a weekend to visit, but are highly recommended if you are truly interested in exploring this part of the country:
· Srisailam, Mahanandi, Mantralayam and Ahobilam: I have clubbed these places together because one can plan to visit these places in single trip spanning 2-3 days. Srisailam is one of Jyothirlingas in India. It is some 250 KM from Hyderabad. Srisailam is also one of the most naturally beautiful lolcations in Andhra Pradesh. The drive from Hyderabad thru thick forest and hills would be very enjoyable. Apart from the temple, one can also visit the dam (on Krishna River) that abuts a huge Hydel power project. Mahanandi is about 120 KM south of Srisailam. Mahanandi is surrounded by Nallamala forests. About 15 km radius from Mahanandi, you can see nine Nandis known as “Navanandis” and Mahanandi is one of the Nava Nandis. From here, you have to travel southeast for about 65 KM to reach Ahobilam which another beautiful temple (Lord Narasimha) located on a hill in thick forests. Ahobilam is one of the 106 Divya Desams. From Ahobilam, you can return to Hyderabad (~380 KM) via Nadyal, Kurnool and Jedcherla. Or, you can travel to Mantralyam, some 160 KM to the west, to visit the temple/Mutt of Guru Raghavendra Swamy. The temple and “Mutt” complex is the main attraction here. Behind the temple the Tungabhadra river flows, if the rains are good in that year, which is also worth seeing. From Mantralayam, you can return to Hyderabad (~360 KM) via Raichur and Jedcherla.
· Konaseema (in East and West Godavari districts): Konaseema area in Godavari delta is famous for its lush green paddy fields, coconut groves and, of course, its back waters. The major tourist attractions here are – 1) the Boat cruise that starts at Dindi (near Narsapur/Palakollu) which also houses a brand new APTDC guest house and some private guest houses, 2) boat ride up to papikondalu (a hill range located between Bhadrachalam and Rajahmundry, through which river Godavari flows) from pattiseema near Rajahmundry, and 3) a host of temples near Amalapuram/Kakinada (Ainavilli, Muktheswaram, Muramalla, Draksharama, Kotipalli, G.Mamidada, Biccavolu, Pavivela, Mandapalli, Ryali, Vanapalli, Appanapalli, Antarvedi). Narsapur, Rajahmundry and Kakinada are accessible by train also. But I would rather you drive down to those places enjoying the greener parts of Krishna and Godavari districts. Decent hotels are available in Bhimavaram (near Narsapur), Rajahmundry and Kakinada, but at the other places you will have to make do with Panchayati Raj or forest guesthouse.
· Visakhapatnam, Annavaram, Araku, Bheemili: Visakhapatnam is the most beautiful place in Andhra Pradesh, period. Within the city you have places like Simhachalam (Appala Narasimhaswamy temple), Kailasa Giri – beautifully landscaped hill that gives a panoramic view of Vizag city, Gangavaram beach (abutting Vizag Steel Plant) where many Telugu/Tamil/Hindi movies were shot, and, of course, the famous beach road that stretches up to Rishikonda (where a lot of resorts are under construction) that is the site of Kali Temple, Naval Museum and Dolphin Nose (a view point). The city tour can be completed in a day. You need one full day for driving down to Annavaram (Sathyanarayana Swamy Temple) and return by evening. Then you need one full day for visiting Araku valley, with stopovers at Borra Caves and Tyda. Bheemili a.k.a. Bheemunipatnam is a small Dutch settlement 25 KM from Vizag. Its beach is very safe for swimming. The other sights of interest at Bheemili are Old Dutch fort, Church, Cemetery and Light House.
Bijapur-Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole-Hampi: This essentially is a trip for history lovers. We go thru the ruins of the capital cities/ temple cities built by Adil Shah dynasty (one of the 4 Bahamani sultanates), Chalukyans, and the great Vijayanagar Kings. Bijapur has many historical attractions, mainly related to Islamic architecture, such as Gol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rauza, Asar mahal, Gagan Mahal, etc. The drive from Hyderabad to Bijapur is 400 KM (try to stop over at “Café Ethnic” near Zahirabad, a unique restaurant that prepares a lot of dishes by using only millets). After overnight stay, the following day would be entirely consumed by sightseeing in Bijapur. Bijapur has decent options for accommodation. The next day, we travel to Badami, the regal capital of the Badami Chalukyas from 540 to 757 AD. It is famous for rock cut and other structural temples. The rock-cut Badami Cave Temples were sculpted mostly between the 6th and 8th centuries. The four cave temples represent the secular nature of the rulers then, with tolerance and a religious following that inclines towards Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Do you know that “Barso re” song in the film Guru was shot in Badami? From Badami we travel to Pattadakal, which is 22 km way. Pattadakal is the capital of the Chalukya dynasty of Southern India, who built the temples in the seventh and eighth centuries. There are ten temples including a Jain sanctuary surrounded by numerous small shrines and plinths. Four temples were built in Dravidian style, four in nagara style of Northern India and the Papanatha temple in mixed style. Remember, Pattadakal is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites, no less. We then travel to Aihole, which was the first capital of the early Chalukyas. Here they built over 125 temples in various styles and is said to be a laboratory of experiments in rock cut architecture. Visit Badami’s cave temples in the morning and visit Pattadakal and Aihole in the afternoon/evening, and stay overnight at Badami/Bagalkot. Next day we travel to Hampi, a drive of 150 KM, and take in some sights in the afternoon, and go to Hospet for overnight stay. We continue the sightseeing in Hampi next day too. Hampi is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Vast stretches of boulder-strewn hills make the backdrop of Hampi unique. Dotted around the hills and valleys are 500 plus monuments. Among them are beautiful temples, basement of palaces, remains of aquatic structures, ancient market streets, royal pavilions, bastions, royal platforms, treasury buildings.., the list is practically endless. The return to Hyderabad, a drive of 350 KM, is via Gangawati, Raichur and Jedcherla.