It took almost a year to gather courage and find time for this exciting ride. Owning a Royal Enfield was my childhood dream. I got this dream fulfilled in my age of 47 years. Inspired by neighbour uncle Verghese in my native, I dreamt of touring on bike. Probably I was in my primary class at that time.
‘Touring on bike now, at 48 years age? No way’, many cautioned me. I too was anxious. To go or not. I tried riding to nearby places initially. I found riding for about 200 kms with a yawning gap in between is not that tiresome. Trip to Shivagange hills was first among them. It is around 80 kms one way and 10 kms uphill trek to last point. I didn’t share the plan with anyone, fearing that my possible failure might make them laugh. The attempt was encouraging.
The dream of riding a pretty long distance again came to fore when kids announced to spend their Xmas holidays in grandma’s place. I have to put together all pieces of plan. In fact, initially, I didn’t have any plan at all. I just wanted to drive. There were many directions in front of me. The only objective was to visit as many new places in as many days as possible.
After much thoughts I zeroed on Andhra Pradesh direction, the state I explored much less. I read some blogs on solo drives. I spoke to some of my friends who could give some tips. Many of them are still sceptical on my travel. They cautioned me repeatedly. They asked me to carry a mini garage along with me. I brought minimum requirements like hand gloves, luggage cover and mobile phone holder, a clutch cable and a pair of tubes. My inner voice warning me to return if day one experience is not that good.
So the plan was set. It was Dec 21 morning. Long list of requirements was checked and ride is all set. After checking Rahu kala I headed towards Puttaparti which is 180 kms away. It was pretty good ride. About 70 per cent of distance is four way Bangalore- Hyderabad NH. A right turn after Lepakshi state highway starts. I reached Puttaparti at 12.30 noon. It was two and half hours’ drive. I wanted to stay in Prashanti Nilayam. However, the receptionist told they have the rule of not letting out room to single person (This rule haunted me in next two spiritual places too). I had to take a small cottage outside. Meanwhile in the melee I lost my specks. As a stop gap arrangement I purchased a reading glass.
Day 2: The destination was Ahobilam. The distance is 200+ kms. I started early morning. Checked GPS and spoke to some pedestrians to reconfirm. Route: Puttaparti- Mudigubba- Pulivendala- Jammalamadugu- Muddanur- Arlagadda. Language was another issue. I managed to understand what they are saying and convey what I wanted to know. Signs came handy. Ahobilam is a spiritual place and has strong sthala purana (place myth). A recently read book prompted me to add this to route. It is a Narasimha kshetra. It is believed that Lord Vishnu incarnated here into Narasimha (lion head and human body) too kill demon Hiranya Kashipu who was torturing his Hari bhaktha son Prahlada. Ahobilam has two parts, Upper and lower Ahobilam (Pedda Ahobilam and Chinna Ahobilam). Apart from two easily accessible big archeologically important temples, the upper hillside has nine (Nava) Narasimha temples. They are located in challenging places.
A fellow traveller of jeep which was taking five of us to Pavana Narasimha in a torturous drive, asked me curiously if I am in Ahobilam as a devotee or a curious traveller. Well, that was difficult to answer. A traveller can also be on devotion.
Day 3: I could not complete Ahobilam yet. Scaling Ugrasthambham and visiting all other kshetras was still pending. Yet another early wake up, I headed towards Pedda Ahobilam to scale Ugrasthambham. It is believed that Lord Vishnu broke a single rock pillar (sthambam means pillar) and came out as Narasimha to kill Hiranya Kashipu. The mono rock looked like split. Alas, I lost my way thanks morning’s bad light and took another way to walk for about one hour uphill. A pilgrim on the way corrected me and send me back. I lost valuable 2 hours. Way to Ugrasthambam is near to top most Narasimha kshetra, Jwala Narasimha. The route is very steep and without steps. The local guide warned it may take 3- 4 hours to complete the trek. Whatever may be difficulty one must try this trek to attain spiritual feeling. In fact, there is nothing to see on top except for a bell with a small idol. However, I am pretty sure that you will have a different kind feeling if you are a spiritual person. The total trek and walk to visit Nava Narasimha kshetras is around 25 kms. You may require two full days if you want to visit all of them. I have seen Ahobilam muth which was feeding pilgims near main shrine in Chinna Ahobilam. However, I was told that only a particular section is allowed there. But a trust in Yoga Narasimha shrine is providing free food to all from 9 am to 9 pm.
After having tasty prasadam in Yoga Narasimha shrine, I headed towards Mahanandi, another Shiva kshetra. There was not much crowd. Another an hour’s drive lead to Nandyal where I stayed.
Day 4: The end destination of the ride was Srishailam. I have read a plenty on this place. Akka Mahadevi, a vachanagarti, an ardent devotee of Chenna Mallikarjuna swamy of Srishailam. This is one of 12 Jyotilingam founded by Shankaracharya. Drive from Nandyal to Srishailam was scintillating experience. Route: Nandyal- Bandi Atmakuru- Velugodu- Dornala- Chintala- Srishailam. You drive through Nallamalla forest area crossing two ghat sections to reach the destination. A boy in Nandyal hotel warned me riding bike through Nallamalla forest showing photo-shopped picture of a tiger attacking two riders.
Nallamalla forest is a major forest best in Andhra Pradesh. It came to limelight when a chopper carrying the then Chief Minister of AP, Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy lost control killing all on board instantly. You could find caution notices frequently against riding fast. The single road has surprising bumps. The big carriers coming before are least bothered to give way. It was a challenging, still cherishing drive.
A simple conversation with a stranger may help one unexpectedly. I could experience it in a new restaurant just before Dornala. He is Guntur Ravi who ventured into hotel business with ‘Mayura Vilasa’, a highway side restaurant. There is no such restaurant between Atmakuru to Dornala which is completely a forest area. Guntur Ravi is a kind of person who can go out of his way to help others. He shared his number and also the cell phone number of one of chief priests in Srishailam. It was Monday. Srishailam was overcrowded. There were no rooms displays everywhere. I was totally blank before I could remember Guntur Ravi. I called Umaswamy, whose number the former shared. He spoke to central reception centre person and arranged for my accommodation!
There is no dearth of such persons I visited during the ride. Satish Reddy who was beside me during night prasadam, drove bike from Vijayawada. Within a few minutes of conversations, he said he wanted to do MBA in overseas just because his love wanted him to do so. Her argument is her parents will not get her married to Reddy if latter does not study abroad! I wished him good luck.
Day 5: Srishailam has an interesting ropeway and boating experience. It has a place called Patal Ganga in river Krishna. As name suggests its almost 300 plus feet down. Regular rope way will take you down to Patal Ganga (cost Rs 60). If you opt for a combo offer ropeway plus boating it would cost Rs 120. You can enjoy a 20 minutes boating. Fortunately, I have noticed a seal on the bank of the river. Also, you can also reach Akka Mahadevi caves where Sharane Akka meditated. APTDC takes you there only between 9 to 11 am, that too if there is enough number of enthusiasts. A four-hour turnaround trip would cost Rs 380. I had to contend with regular boating and return. This days’ journey is back to Nandyal (200+ kms) and rest.
Day 6: I headed towards Yaganti via Banaganapalle. Banaganapalle is known for its famous variety of mangoes. It’s a small town, about 70 kms from Nandyal. Infact it’s a junction to Belum caves and Yaganti. A google search indicated that there is a fort in Banaganapalle. I set the map and drove. It took me next to a graveyard with four pillars! Disappointed, I headed towards Yaganti. 20 kms from Banaganapalle, a beautiful bungalow welcomed unexpectedly. The name board indicated that it’s Nawab Mahal. Sitting on the top of a small hill, it provided a perfect photo-op location.
Yaganti is adobe of Uma Maheshwara temple. Built in Vijayanagar style of architecture the temple is in a beautiful location amidst forest and red stone caves. Right of the temple has three major caves, Agasthya cave, Shankara guha and another one houses Laxmi Venkateshwara shrine. Growing Basavanna (Nandi) idol is another interesting thing to watch in Yaganti.
Post Yaganti, I planned to visit Belum caves. It is one of largest and longest caves opened to public. The long passages, galleries make this natural cave system worth visiting. However, I felt Borra caves in Arakku is more interesting than caves in Belum. It is believed that caves of Belum formed over the course millions of years by the constant flow of underground water. The deepest point of cave is 150 feet down from the entrance level. I could not find any guide anywhere around to explain it.
Having a small bite in the restaurant there I started journey towards Gandikota. A number of colourful and wow! pictures of this fort village have been compelling to pay a visit. Gandikota is a small village on the bank of river Pennar. Nearest town is Jammalamadudu, 15 kms away. It is believed that river Pennar flow between the Erramala range of hills and created huge gorge. Gandkota acquired its name because of its gorge geography. It was a capital city of Kamma dynasty. You can drive inside the majestic fort to see a number of interesting places. For history buffs Gandikota houses Madhavarayaswamy and Ranganathaswamy temples apart from Charminar, Juma Masjid etc. Besides ruining Ranganathaswamy temple is view point. It provides breathless beautiful landscape. River Pennar flows at the foot of hill reducing its width to just 300 feet.
Gandikota is also called Grand Canyon of India. Locals said there is huge flow of travellers now especially from Bangalore. However, it has only one hotel run by APTDC which has mere 10 rooms. Paucity of accommodation allowed some locals to rob travellers. Some of them charge even upto Rs 1500 just for a tent accommodation that too without sanitation facilities. You have to use common toilets and bathrooms available in APTDC Haritha.
Day 7: It is my last day of ride. Distance between Gandikota to Bangalore is 300 kms. It tool Pulivendula- Kadiri- Gowrantla- Bagepalli- Chikkaballapura route. It was a just ride, eagerness to reach home and celebrate my 48th birthday!