I gasped with amazement as I stood at Borra Caves in Andhra Pradesh. All the photos I had seen earlier didn’t do justice to the resplendent beauty of these caves that were formed 150 million years ago. One of its kind, the various shapes of stalactites and stalagmites are to be seen to be believed. From the human brain complete with its grooves to Shiv Parvati, a naturally formed Shivling, a rishi’s beard, animal shapes of a tiger, elephant and horse to a corn of cob, you can feast your eyes on this natural wonder.
I visited Borra Caves as part of the “Anokha Andhra” tour which is curated by Kshitij Holidays. Visit to the caves is clubbed with Araku Valley. It is a hill station popularly known as the ‘Ooty of Andhra Pradesh’. The last couple of kilometers of the drive to Araku Valley from Visakhapatnam aka Vizag is picturesque with lush foliage on either side of the road. The Tribal Museum at this hill station showcases the life of the indigenous tribes including their festivals, household items, agricultural and hunting equipment, musical instruments, pottery, homes and jewellery.
The museum also houses stalls selling tribal souvenirs like wooden knick knacks, artefacts, accessories, soaps, homemade chocolates, honey, amla and turmeric powder. Outside the museum you can sample adivasi bamboo chicken which is made in front of you. Here chicken is cooked inside a hollow bamboo giving it a healthy distinct flavour. The other tourist spot is the Padmapuram Garden while coffee and pepper plantations are abundant on the way to Borra Caves from Araku Valley.
Enroute to Vizag, we visited the Sri Satyanarayana Temple at Annavaram. At Vizag, Rushikonda Beach is a lovely beach where one can enjoy the waves, water sports and coconut water. I particularly liked the Kursura Subramine Museum which is located on RK Beach. INS Kursura is the fourth submarine of the Indian Navy and after she was decommissioned, has been converted into this unique museum. The only such museum in South Asia, it gives an insight into the life of a submariner and life at sea.
While Kailasagiri Hill gives panoramic views of Vizag from its various vantage view points, a good way of experiencing Kailasagiri is to take the circular toy train ride. The major attractions are the mammoth statues of Shiv-Parvati. One can also stroll in the well maintained garden. The ancient temple of Simhachalam which was constructed in the 11th century is atop a hill. The temple has intricate carvings and a scenic view greets you as you drive up to it. In Vizag, for souvenirs one can visit Lepakshi Handicrafts at Jagadamba Junction.
The “Anokha Andhra” tour of Kshitij Holidays starts with darshan at the holy places of Mantralayam, Kurvapur and Pithapuram. Mantralayam or Manchale is located on the banks of the River Tungabhadra and is associated with the saint Raghavendra Swami. The darshan starts with Devi Manchalamma who is the presiding deity of Manchale followed by darshan of Sri Anjaneya Swami Sannidi and Sri Raghavendra Swami at the Sri Raghavendra Swami mutt. The other Temple at Mantralayam is the Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple where Hanuman in the rock is self manifested.
Kurvapur is where the first incarnation of Lord Dattatreya ie Shripad Shri Vallabha meditated for 14 years and then immersed himself into the River Krishna flowing in front of the spot. You get to the temple in a coracle boat which is a traditional circular boat made of bamboo, coir and plastic making it a novel boat ride.
Pithapuram is the birthplace of Shripad Sri Vallabha. The Dattatreya temple conducts abhishek at 9 am and a palkhi is carried at 7 pm. Kunti Madhava Temple is another temple revered in Pithapuram while at the Lord Dattatreya and Anagha Devi Temple the offering given is of raw rice. Kukuteshwar Mandir has the 10th Shaktipeeth of Sri Puruhuthika Ammavaru Devi, a temple showcasing the five incarnations of Dattatreya, a Shiv Temple and a holy tank on the premises of this temple. Shradh or prayers for the departed are also conducted here. In Pithapuram one can get to view rustic living including homes made with thatched palm and coconut. One can also drive to Uppada for silk and cotton sarees and dress material.
The reason I chose Kshitij Holidays and their “Anokha Andhra” tour is because a friend had highly recommended it. Kshitij Holidays has been curating this tour since the last 6 years and what I appreciated is that one of the partners (Varsha / Shripad Deshpande) personally accompanies the group every time instead of handing it over to their representative. This professionally planned and executed itinerary can be customized as well. Kshitij Holidays is the first one to introduce a tour to Kurvapur and Pithapuram. Even today it is the only travel company in Pune offering an exclusive tour of “Anokha Andhra” which covers Vizag, Araku Valley and Borra Caves.
Successful launch of the flagship tour of Kshitij Holidays, specially designed for senior citizens for Goa viz. “Aaji Ajoba chi Goa Sahal” in 2006, inspired Shripad who is the Pune Chapter Chairman of Enterprising Travel Agents Association (ETAA) to concentrate on offbeat destinations and concept tours. And the travel company launched “Anokha Andhra”, Bhagwat Katha Saptah and Ram Katha Saptah at holy destinations viz. Brindavan, Shukatal, Naimisharanya and Ayodhya. Special care is taken while designing these tours to ensure comfort to meet requirements of senior citizens and provide a combination of visits to holy places and pleasure destinations.
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