I planned to spend my puja vacation with my family at some places where we can relax and have fun travelling at the same time. So, after much debate and discussions, we decided for a tour to Araku Valley and Visakhapatnam (Vizag): where one can view mountains and sea together.
Considering the holiday calendar of 2017, I made an itinerary as follows:
Day 1: Boarding from Howrah (HWH) railway station,
Day 2: Reach Visakhapatnam (VSKP); VSKP – Araku Valley (by car); Araku Valley sight-seeing (Tribal Museum, Padmapuram Garden, Chaparia falls and Coffee museum),
Day 3: Araku – Visakhapatnam (by car) and sight-seeing en route (Ananthagiri Coffee plantations, Galikonda view-point, Borra caves and Simhachalam),
Day 4: Relax by sea; Visakhapatnam local sight-seeing (Yarada Beach, Dolphin’s Nose, lighthouse and fishing harbour) after lunch,
Day 5: Visakhapatnam local sight-seeing (Bheemili beach, Thotlakonda, Rushikonda beach, Kailashgiri, VUDA Park, Visakha Museum, Submarine Museum, Ramakrishna beach and Matshya Darshini/aquarium),
Day 6: Relax by sea; board train from Visakhapatnam (VSKP),
Day 7: Reach Howrah (HWH).
According to the itinerary, I booked the train tickets 4 months before the scheduled date. Afterwards, I searched for accommodation and cab options. Finally, I booked standard non-AC rooms (costed Rs. 1200 per room per day including all taxes and breakfast) at Mayuri Resort at Araku run by APTDC and one private hotel named NSNR Residency at Ramnagar, Visakhapatnam. For booking cabs, I contacted Crazy Cabs and Venus Tours and Travels and finally confirmed an AC Tata Indigo for 4 day’s trip (September 23 – 26) for Rs. 8500 including all taxes, tolls, parking & driver charges from Venus Tours and Travels, run by Mr Ramakrishna (9299501309). My tickets were confirmed, hotels and cab were booked and we just needed to pack consciously as it would be the first trip for my 9-month-old son.
In Kolkata, the craze of Durga puja started already and hence, we expected high traffic on roads and serious demands for cabs. So, we started early booking an Ola cab towards Howrah station. We had to wait at Howrah for about half an hour until the train comes from the car-shade after a fresh shower.
The train started in scheduled time at 4.10 pm. Over teas and snacks, we discussed the trip-plans. By late night, we finished our dinner with Dalpuris brought from home and went to our berths to sleep.
We reached Visakhapatnam (Vizag) by 6.00 am and came outside. The Kirandul Passenger was waiting at platform 6 by then but, I booked a car for the entire trip. We opted for car as it would take much less time to reach Araku as Kirandul Passenger is a toy-train running on narrow gauge line crossing mountains and tunnels. Although, people prefer the Vizag-Araku journey via train as it passes through around 40 tunnels and the view is breathtaking. With the introduction of special coaches with bigger windows, one can guarantee comfort as well as better views like this:
We started our journey by 6.30 am through the urban roads with a hazy view of distant mountains of Eastern Ghats. The essence of puja was quite prominent even here be it from the surrounding kans or the clear sky.
We went on through the village paths full of lush greens and the valleys.
By 9.15 am, we reached Ananthagiri. We halted here to visit the coffee plantations and taste the local coffee. My mother got busy buying coffee and spices from the wayside stalls while I posed for some selfies.
Afterwards, we again halted for the local market to buy some custard apples. We were stunned with price for these fruits there as it was almost 10 times lesser compared to Kolkata. From this point, we started gaining some height crossing a few steep turns.
Finally, we reached the Araku valley. Here, the paths for vehicles and trains go parallel. While discussing the sudden changes in temperature and plantations, we reached the small town of Araku by 10 am.
We reached the Mayuri Hotel, finished the booking process and retired to our rooms after that long journey.
The rooms, like other from APTDC, were spacious and clean and the room service was prompt. After a long shower and short naps, we went for delicious dishes from the south followed by another nap.
We started our sight-seeing at Araku by 4.00 pm as the places were close-to-each-other. First, we visited Padmapuram garden. The entry ticket costed us Rs. 40 per head but no charge for cameras. A brief rain just an hour ago made the garden look greener.
Unless fascinated by flowers, I doubt whether one would like the place.
Though, they have made some serious attempts in recent years to beautify the garden with several statues of animals and persons from epics.
Compared to other entertaining statues or gardens, I found the toy-train a little more exciting.
Finishing the long and dull trail in the garden, we came to the Tribal Museum. The entry ticket for the museum is also Rs. 40 per head (and nothing for cameras).
The tribal museum started with one old building showcasing lifestyles of the tribal people but recently revamped with several entertainment options. Just after entering, we located the nearby places in detailed clay-models.
Then we visited the main old museum building.
It comprises of several clay-models showing daily lives of the tribal people starting from hunting, cooking and festivals.
They placed an exhibition room for photographs also.
By the exit area, there is a small market to buy souvenirs and a lake for boating. We tried our luck with the bow and some arrows to hit target. Dejected, we cam outside.
With the start of a drizzle, we came to our hotel rooms soon. The sight-seeing was over at Araku except the coffee museum. By late evening, we visited the coffee museum which displays the process of making coffee in details and mainly sells various blends of coffee, chocolates and coffee cakes. This is another place to collect souvenirs and we didn’t miss it. Annoyed with constant drizzle, we retired to our room soon, had dinner early and slept enjoying the cold.
We woke up early in the morning and got ready as had a long journey to finish. I liked the complimentary breakfast at Mayuri very much.
Then, we roamed at the beautiful hotel premises taking photographs for a while.
Finally, we started by 9.30 am for Vizag via Ananthagiri and Borra caves.
By 10.00 am we reached Galikonda view-point located just outside Araku. It’s a beautiful point to visualize the entire valley below.
Afterwards, we took a right turn through narrow village uphill to reach Thatiguda waterfalls. The water gushes down in several steps making it a wonderful sight but the way down was scary and steep. Having a child with us, we left the idea about going the whole way down to the falls but to enjoy playing with bow-arrows and darts once again.
By 10.00 am, we reached Borra. Some popular trivia on Borra is well-put just after entering the gate. The entry ticket here costed us Rs. 60 per head while Rs. 100 for the camera.
Borra is one of the unique places I visited ever. One can visit numerous mountains or several beaches but, a cave is something you don’t come across every trip you make.
The cave was huge and I was tired by the time, I reached its belly. But there were tiring options to just keep descending deeper and deeper into the caves through a fleet of steps.
My son, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy every bit of his first trip well enough.
With the darkness and subtle change in lighting, the cave offers an outlandish experience.
After exploring the dangerous terrains of the cave for an hour, we started climbing back.
Just near exit, we sat for a short gasp while quenching thirst with Mazaa…..
…. while my son was busy making new friends and trying his borrowed finery.
Near the crowded car-parking, we tasted the famous local dish: bamboo chicken, a tribal version of tandoori chicken.
Afterwards, we started moving towards Vizag. On our way, we got stuck in a rail checkpoint for carriage wagon.
On our way, we finished our lunch and reached NSNR residency at Vizag by 3.00 pm. We liked the hotel rooms and got lost in the cosy beds till sunset. Later, we had lazy walks to Ramakrishna beach (10 minutes walking distance from our hotel) in the evening and stayed there for long. After dinner, we came back to our hotel for sleep.
I had to wake up early as my son woke up. Hence, we had a nice morning walk again by the sea-side. The morning showed us the Bay of Bengal clearly. The beach was different here than we have at Bengal or Odisha: the beach here got a little slope, waves are far more strong and as the Eastern ghats meet the sea here, all the beaches of Andhra got stones which might be dangerous.
We enjoyed the sunrise here and stayed unless the Sun rises enough to burn us.
My son didn’t meet his chances at the sea so he rather spent his time on the rides in the parks. The popular beaches in Andhra like Ramakrishna, Rushikonda or Lawson’s bay got numerous parks and rides for the kids, couples and older people.
We came back to our hotel rooms when Sun started getting hot. Later, we had our complimentary breakfasts with idlis, had bathed and got ready for the day’s outing. We started at 10.00 am and in another hour, we reached Simhachalam temple. There was a long queue to enter the temple so I didn’t process further and stayed with my son in the shade while others took a shorter route to enter the temple giving a higher entry charge (Rs. 100 against the usual Rs. 20). As suggested by our cab-driver, we had prasad in the temple though I didn’t like that South Indian preparations. But, I liked the take-away prasad (Laddu) they were selling and hence, bought a lot of them.
It was about 1.00 pm when we finished at Simhachalam and started towards Yarada beach. We had to cross one hill completely to reach the Dolphin’s hill where it resides. We reached Yarada by 3.15 pm as took a lot of breaks to drink coconuts etc.
The beach offers a calm and secluded atmosphere to those looking for solitude and mental peace. The beach maintains its cleanliness and majesty, attracting lots of tourists. The water is clear blue, clean, carrying pretty distinct sand particles, that would probably go away after a wash.
With hills on either side, the long-stretched beach provides a nice and clean backdrop for photo-shoots.
We captured a lot of portraits for all of us keeping the waves tumbling at the rocks in the background.
By 4.00 pm we started from Yarada towards the Lighthouse. We reached and booked tickets for it with Rs. 10 per head (Rs. 20 for camera). It is fortunate for us that a beacon used by the Navy is open for visit when not in use in the day-time. Though the tower seemed like a 4-to-5 story building from outside, we had to toil a little to climb it.
But, the view from the lighthouse balcony is a breathtaking panorama: from the fishing harbour to the Rushikonda beach. Even more, one cannot realize where the vast sea merges with the sky. The lighthouse gets closed at 5.00 pm hence, we came out soon.
It was time to return. We were exhausted with the long journey, hot weather and day’s sight-seeing. We came back to hotel rooms drained but, after an hours rest, we had to come outside once again for some marketing. We visited some popular shops near Jagadamba cinema to buy some sarees and souvenirs from Lepakshi Handicrafts.
Due to tiredness, all of us woke up a little late. But, eventually, we finished our bathe and breakfast quickly as had to start by 9.00 am. Finally, we started at 9.15 am towards the day’s first destination: Bheemili beach. It was not among the popular destinations as was comparatively less crowded and located in the villages for fishermen.
On the opposite side of the beach, I located one cemetery.
We took a rest under the shades of the trees while enjoying a few custard apples. We now started for our next destination: Rushikonda beach. In our way, we had a few points (Thotlakonda, Rama Naidu Studio and Red sandhills) but decided not to visit. By 11.00 am we reached Rushikonda beach. Compared to other beaches of Andhra, it seems popular for bathing in the sea.
The beach is popular for various water-sports: kayaking, speed boat etc.
Then, we moved to Kailashgiri skipping the zoo (Indira Gandhi Zoo). Visiting a zoo would take huge time and on a hot day like that, walking a long way (about 4 km) carrying my son would be difficult: I thought. Instead, we focused on Kailashgiri which is a park with numerous seating options, shades, small restaurants and view-points. We parked the car near the sea and took a rope-way to climb the hill on which the park is located. The park-entry was Rs 5 per head and rope-way return ticket was Rs. 90 per head. They charged the park-entry separately as there are options to climb the whole way up using stairs (but, it is too long so suggested to avoid).
The park offered us numerous options for posing and fooling around. Though, the scorching sun was draining our enthusiasm and energy too quickly.
Exhausted too soon, we opted for a light meal at the restaurants and collected some souvenirs from a nice shop. While returning, we visited the Titanic view-point which offers a panoramic view of the whole city. I would suggest visiting the place after 5.00 pm during summer (as it closes at 8.00 pm).
We came down using the rope-way by 2.00 pm.
Then, we came to know that there is an alternative way to reach the park: by road. In that case, you get an option to ride the rope-way or avoid it.
Then we had to drive to Ramakrishna beach for affordable lunch options. Afterwards, we went to Visakha museum. A few war-artefacts from the past has been kept outside the building where inside they placed several historical treasures and artefacts (sculptures, coins, letters, consumables etc.) from this region.
Some interesting additions at the maritime museum are the artefacts used by the Indian Navy (in war or peacetime).
On another building of the district museum, testimonies of relatively modern times has been preserved.
Afterwards, we visited the Submarine museum, the first submarine museum in south-east Asia. We collected the tickets for Rs. 40 per head (Rs. 50 for the camera) and entered. The officials convey the history and technical details of the submarine in different languages (Telugu / Hindi) and hence, one need to enter (or, wait) in proper slots.
We entered inside, saw the resting facilities, operational chambers and all. I was personally astonished by the height of the submarine: it was about 5.5 feet and it should be really difficult to move for Navy officers of high statures to freely move down there, I thought.
Then, we hurried to the fishing harbour as it would get closed by 5.00 pm. We were fortunate to see a destroyer near the port.
On the another side of the port, we saw numerous fishing trawlers lined up.
The were option to do boating in the sea also. But, we were reluctant about that.
Instead, we scrutinized the life of fishermen in the trawlers a bit.
While returning, we took a few photos of the fishing market from the moving car as couldn’t stop there due to the foul smells.
Due to the long sight-seeing tour and hot weather, we were too exhausted and hence, returned to the hotel rooms.
The day was to relax and rest before the train journey to return home. We enjoyed the planned fashion and finally checked out at 2.00 pm after lunch. We took an Ola cab to reach Visakhapatnam station. Finally, we boarded the train by 5.00 pm (late by 40 minutes) bidding a warm goodbye to Vizag and retaining some beautiful memories to reminisce later.