I woke up with a start. Did I miss it?
Checked my phone. 3.45 am. Maybe not then, I thought, allowing myself a sigh of relief.
I was on the Coromandel express, traveling to Visakhapatnam. This train goes till Chennai and halts at Vizag at approximately 4 am – for 20 minutes (I made it a point to find out the duration). Reason enough for me to be anxious out of my mind –because I was traveling alone and I can really, really sleep through a lot of things.
I climbed down my berth and went to the door. It was still dark outside. But the fresh, morning air was a nice change from the stale one in the AC compartment. I stood there, waiting for my eyes to get adjusted to the dark and checking whether the station was near. It wasn’t until an hour later, that I finally saw the outlines of the Visakhapatnam station. And just as my luck would have it, it began raining heavily, right at that moment.
I dragged my stuffed duffel bag up the stairs leading to the overhead footway, and followed the crowd out to the station exit, where I was instantly surrounded by auto drivers.
“Madam, auto? To airport?”
I looked at him in wonder. Why on earth would I get down from a train only to get up on a plane? Guess it was too early in the morning for anyone to think coherently.
I chose a different auto driver, agreed to pay him a ridiculous fare, gave him the address and was soon on my way.
The first thing I noticed, the moment we were in the city, was the roads. Wide, smooth and clean – quite an alien concept for someone coming from Kolkata. And soon, the hills surrounding this city came into view. The gentle undulating outlines, the greenery all around and the empty, winding roads – it made for a pretty picture! Visakhapatnam is indeed a good-looking city.
The trip to Vizag was decided on a whim. I was talking to my friend who lives there, and she said you should come here sometime and I thought – why not? So here I was, on Diwali day, sitting in an auto with wet seats, looking at the picturesque horizons and the pouring rain, heading towards my friend’s place. I was praying for the rains to stop – we had a lot of plans for the day.
My friend’s place was near the highway, and I reached there within 45 minutes or so. Some really strong coffee and a quick breakfast later, we were on our way to Kailashgiri. And yet again, I was taken by the sheer beauty of the roads – and the emptiness. Clearly, the absence of humans is often enough to make a place look picturesque. By the time we reached Kailashgiri, it had begun to drizzle. Undaunted, my friend and I carried on.
Stop 1: Kailashgiri
“So, what’s there to see here?” I asked, feeling as upbeat as any tourist on the first day in a new place.
“Umm…there’s the ropeway…and Shiv Parvati statues…and some view-points there I guess…” my friend went on, sounding more clueless than I would have liked her to be.
“Okay…so where to first?” I asked.
“I don’t know exactly…is there a map here?” she said.
I looked around, frantically. “Yes! There.”
We stood in front of it for a while – her, studying it and me, really hoping she gets maps.
After some more of her looking in every direction, I said, “You know what? Let’s just follow the crowd.”
And off we went. The first stop was the most obvious one – the ginormous Shiv Parvati statues. This is one of the most popular must-see attractions in Vizag, and for a good reason – it’s REALLY hard to miss it. The statues are HUGE, all white with both the deities looking EXTREMELY alert. But beautiful, without doubt. Would have looked even better without the throngs of people in front of it, with their selfie sticks flying in every direction – but so is life.
We took some awkward selfies in front of the statues (all of which I promptly deleted) and then we moved on to what are regarded as the “view-points”. Essentially, these are the points from where you get some of the best views of the city – you get to see the hills, the sea, the dreamy greenery all around….and the manic smile of some person who will invariably butt into your frame right when you’re about to take a picture. These viewing points are pretty crowded because no one wants to miss the view and most eventually just keep standing there, looking at their phones more than the view.
We got annoyed with the crowd and decided to move on and explore the rest of the park.
Kailashgiri is basically a nature park, with loads of trees, landscaped grassy areas, and some really disturbing looking sculptures.
There are plenty of sitting areas, a cafe or two, and paved roads that lead to more grassy and tree-filled areas. It’s a nice place for a walk or a chat with your friends – kind of reminded me of the Rabindra Sarovar lake in Kolkata – minus the lake and the couples making out unabashedly. And at times creepily…with their eyes open, following you. I digress. I had heard the ropeway ride was the prime attraction of this place, but that day due to the weather, the ropeway rides were canceled. So, there wasn’t much sense in hanging out there any longer. We proceeded towards our next destination – Rushikonda beach.
Stop 2: Rushikonda Beach
I know I am repeating myself, but OH MY GOD the roads that led to Rushikonda! I was watching the motorcycles zip past and was SO tempted to hop on one of them. The winding roads, against the backdrop of green, hilly mounds, slightly gray clouds and the sea coming into view soon enough – sheer perfection!
It’s no secret that Vizag is known for its beaches, and Rushikonda is one of the most famous ones there. As far as I know, bathing is not allowed in Rushikonda due to the strong currents (very few beaches in Vizag are considered bathing friendly). And yet I found people frolicking in the sea here. As per my friend, most of the deaths by accident in Vizag happen at the sea. I could see why. The seas are treacherous out here. With a distinct I-told-you-so personality.
We walked down to the Rushikonda beach, and were greeted with sights of people either sitting by the beach, eating papayas and corns or bathing in the sea. We looked at the sea for a while, then got busy with our phones. After taking some really subpar pictures at Kailashgiri, this was our second chance.
We turned around to find a really dark guy (not being racist, just factual), with a DSLR hanging from his neck, looking at us and gesturing with the camera.
“Ledu,” my friend said, which means no in Telegu and which incidentally was the first Telegu word she learnt here. Smart girl. Sometimes, that’s the only word I need all day.
“Instant print. Nice powtow. Le lo. Teity rupees,” he persisted.
“You want one?” she asked me.
“Umm…do you?” I asked back.
And this is where you know the photographer has won.
We stood together and he took a picture. Then he asked us to “pose” – showing us poses too masculine for our comfort.
“No, no..one is good. Thanks.”
Rushikonda beach is pretty rocky, which is what makes it so beautiful. You can see little snails crawling out of the rock crevices and all over the wet sands. And then there’s the hilly backdrop, which instantly makes everything photogenic.
There’s a serene quality to this place – in spite of the crowd around. Sit here for a while and look at the sea, and you’re bound to feel it.
Stop 3 – Rama Naidu Studios
This is one of those “tourist attraction spots” you hear people rave about, but once you’re there you wonder why. This is a film studio set – that is there are fake houses, shops, hospitals, view-points, auto- rikshaws built in here for shooting purpose. And hence, unless there’s a shoot going on, there’s nothing exceptional to see here.
Except maybe for the view from the viewing points. The studio is on a hilltop, from where the view is wonderful. There’s this one area within the studio where old pictures of yesteryear actors are kept. But apart from that, there’s nothing here, really. Walking around the studio didn’t take too long and this was the first time I was truly bored that day. I feel you can give this place a miss, without any regrets.
Stop 4 – Thotlakonda Monastery
I knew this place would be my favourite spot for the day the moment I stepped in it.
The name Thotlakonda is derived from the rock-cut cisterns that are here, hewn into the bedrock. This Buddhist complex is situated on a hill near the Bheemlipatnam beach. Inside, you’d find remains of stupas, viharas, Votive stupas, Chaitya Grihas etc along with untainted natural greenery and an air of silence.
The placid breeze that fills this place makes it all the more peaceful. It is believed that in its heydays this complex accommodated more than 100 Buddhist monks. This place is not just historic but meditative as well. I was both taken back to the ancient times and brought to the present moment.
If you’re a practitioner of mindfulness, this place will be your Kingdom Come. Just sitting there, taking in the tranquil surroundings and listening to my own breath filled me immense joy. Do NOT miss this place on your trip to Vizag.
Stop 5 – Visakha Museum
Disclaimer: I did not want to visit this place. Because the end of the day is not the best time to visit a museum – not for me at least. I feel sleepy and impatient. This is again one of those popular touristy spots. And hence our driver simply drove up to the museum and turned off the ignition. So much for free will. I had to drag myself into this place. This museum is mainly filled with maritime exhibits – no surprise there since Vizag is a port city.
The exhibits included lot of historical artefacts, ancient armoury, models of warships, planes and submarines, naval uniforms, compasses, along with route of Vasco-da-Gama’s maiden voyage to India and more. Now, I’m not much of a museum person, so for me it was an okay experience. But my friend had a good time – she read every one of the description notes and scrutinized every exhibit. There’s also an anthropology section in this museum, spread across 3 floors. My friend made me climb each one of them. It had exhibits of stuffed animals, portraits, coins, silk costumes, manuscripts, crockery, letters, jewelry, diaries, periodicals and maps use by the earliest settlers in this region. Overall, if you’re into museums, this place is definitely for you. If not, make sure your driver understands AND accepts that.
[No pictures of the museum exhibits, as we weren’t allowed to take any]
That concludes my first day at Vizag. On the way back we bought a few candles and lit up the balcony.
The entire city was going crazy with crackers. It was nice though – standing on the balcony, watching the sparks light up the skies and reminiscing about our college days in Kolkata. We went to bed early, as the next day we were up for a visit to the Araku Valley. More about it in my next post!