Remember that time when you were sure that an itinerary was just a marketing trick and there would be nothing as they promised? Well, my thoughts on Plan The Unplanned’s Gandikota- The Grand Canyon Of India itinerary were just the same when I saw a waterfall in the itinerary. Though I am from Hyderabad I never visited many places in my own state of Telangana. So, the only way I could know about something was to hear from someone else. And from whatever I heard from others about Kadapa district, it wasn’t certainly pleasant. Stories of factions, a vast expanse of barren area and whatnot.
And adding to my already clouded mind, the drive wasn’t that exciting either. I mean if at all, it was back-breaking. So that’s how my journey to the Grand Canyon Of India started. Boring highway, dragging ourselves through dense traffic and the speed-breakers that almost broke my back. But little did I know, that I was in for a huge surprise. Not only did the place surprised me, but it did so overwhelmingly well that I was just stunned. I realized, nature always finds a way to surprise you. And what’s the fun in enjoying all that beauty if you can’t share it with fellow travel freaks. So fasten your seat belt, we’re going on a ride to Gandikota.
A Trip Down The Memory Lane
It was another Friday in November of 2019. By this time, it almost became a habit for me to go on trips on Friday. So much so that my colleagues and friends asked me upfront, “where to this weekend?”. And like all Friday evening trips, we slogged through the heavy traffic.
But once we crossed the Hebbala flyover, it was a breeze. By the time I realized, we crossed Devanahalli already. The driver was driving so fast that the heavy wind gushing through the windows gave a feeling that we were flying instead. Introductions and ice breakers followed and within no time, the bunch of strangers were all set to have the time of their lives for the next two days.
The trip to Gandikota was my 9th trip as a trek lead. Looking back I realized how I grew up in the past few months. I signed up for trek leading because I got excited at the prospects of helping more and more people get close to nature. At the same time, improve my interpersonal skills. And looking at myself interacting with all these strangers turned friends, having fun and getting introverts like my(past-self) to talk, I smiled proudly.
Within no time, we were in Anantapur, the bordering district in Andhra Pradesh and gateway to the hinterlands of the state. We took a final break at Palasamudram with some hot chai and dozed off.
The Back Breaking Drive To Gandikota
I didn’t realize when we were all engaged in chatter, but the driver was driving insanely fast. The usual drive to Anantapur from Bengaluru takes over 3 hours of time. But we reached there in 2.5 hours. But I didn’t bother about this until I closed my eyes. We were now driving on the road to Kadapa. I was in deep sleep when a sudden jolt displaced me off the seat.
I thought it was a miss from the driver and went back to sleep after pushing my body back into the seat. Then I fell into deep sleep and a few moments later, another jolt displaced me off the seat again.
Thought it was another miss and settled down in the seat. The same thing repeated over and over again. I was then wide awake and observed the road putting my head out into the ice-cold passage.
I wanted to check if there was anything wrong with the road. The road was perfectly fine and then I started observing the driver. Mind you this is probably around 3 AM. That’s usually the time when I should be dreaming about my fantasies and not watch the driver. But I did. I stared at the driver to see if he was sleepy and was closing his eyes rendering his driving capabilities useless when the bus approached a speedbreaker.
But no. Our man wasn’t just wide awake, he was listening to music and rocking his head back and forth. Soon the bus approached another speed breaker and I saw a sense of excitement in his eyes.
He looked at the speed breaker how Usain bolt looks at the 100m finish line. Keen to reach there withing reducing the speed.
The Curse Of Reaching Early!
Realizing he was enjoying the drive and had no regard for the 14 people sitting behind him, I slipped back into my seat for a fully-interrupted sleep.
Owing to the driver’s antics, we reached Gandikota 2 hours earlier than we were supposed to. Now being a trek lead, I was normally worried about reaching late and having to cut down on the itinerary. But boy, reaching early, that too 2 hours early was a first. I got down the bus and looked around. It was nothing but pitch darkness.
I called up our contact person there and he didn’t pick the call. I strolled around but had no sight of a single human being. A few moments later, he called me back. I told him that we were from Plan The Unplanned. His reply was, “Why did you guys come so early? The guys occupying the tents from last night haven’t woken up yet”.
I was sleepy, I desperately wanted to crash, and didn’t have any energy of thinking about a solution. Then I told him to give us some space for people to freshen up and we’ll continue to sleep in the bus. I informed everyone about the same and dozed off for what was expectedly the most peaceful 40 minute sleep I ever had (If I ever had one).
At around 6:30 AM, I was wide awake and got down the bus. I looked around and there was a huge fort at some distance. There were two hotels, like the ones from my village, with wooden structure where the palm leaves are laid down on the top to give shade.
The doubts of the promises made in the itinerary rushed back into my mind. So, I freshened up and asked the guide about the plan.
He said, we’ll to go waterfalls first.
The Hidden Gems Of Gandikota
It was 9:30 AM by the time we finished freshening up and had a delicious breakfast. Gandikota is a really really small village. Perhaps, hardly 500 people stay here. The food was exceptional compared to what you’d normally expect from such a village.
We then started the hike to the waterfalls. It was mid November and parts of the country were already recording lowest temperatures. But Gandikota was something else. The sun was so bright that I felt he didn’t have any regard for the winter like how the driver didn’t care about our backs.
While the Sun threw those unbearable and boiling hot sun rays at us, we continued to walk into the unknowns undeterred. The road ahead diverged into a muddy road. The trail was full of rocks and granites.
But after a while, something caught my eyes. It was too sunny and I was already sweating so much, I had to squint to take a good look at it.
A tiny layer of greenery covered the amber-coloured rocky hill in the distance. The greenery and the hill tapered towards left and plunged into a vast bright blue reservoir creating a tall cliff.
I was slowly started to realize that it was indeed a reservoir of the Mylavaram dam 14 Kilometers away from Gandikota. Now I was breathing easy as I saw water and hills. I figured a waterfall must be somewhere close.
A Tropical Paradise In Gandikota
So we marched ahead in search of a paradise, one that had no fairies but could certainly melt your heart in a jiffy. Soon after we got closer to the backwaters, a wall stopped us. I looked back at the guide and he signalled us to jump onto the wall.
And I followed the instructions and jumped onto the wall and my jaw just dropped. The wall stood on a huge rock, the rocks dotted with scanty vegetation has a small pool of turquoise blue water. Water trickling down the slopes of the rocky hill filled the pool. It was almost like a tropical paradise and I couldn’t wait to jump right into it.
I quickly climbed down the slope carefully and ran to the edge of the pool. Our guide handed us the safety jacket and I jumped into the pool in a split-second.
Contrary to what I thought, the water was so cold that I shivered for the first few minutes. We played in the water for close to 1.5 hours. In that time, I did countless jumps or dives into the water. It would’ve been thrilling to do it without the safety jacket, I reminded myself that I was there to take care of the people, not the other way around.
The entire waterfall experience was so surreal that it definitely tops the list of most unexpected things I’ve seen on a trip.
Nature is such a magician!!
Inspiring Interactions In Gandikota
After the waterfalls, we walked back to the homestay for lunch. I had an interesting conversation with an elderly lady on the way back. She was also from Hyderabad and is a CA by profession but a travel freak at heart. She owns her own CA services firm.
Earlier that day, I was also constantly pushing her to take a leap of faith and jump into the waterfalls. She was afraid. But almost everyone around the falls cheered her to take the bite the pill and jump.
Then later while we were walking back to the Gandikota village, we spoke about our professions and interests. Her attitude toward life amazed me. I remember saying that I was struggling to do something I love and I envied her guts to start her own firm. She replied back with a lot of amazing advice but one line that stayed with me till today was,
“Of all the things you’re doing today, who is prioritising what “YOU” really wanna do?”Inspiring Stranger at Gandikota
She said that very casually and trust me unless someone has internalized such practices, it doesn’t come that naturally. And she went onto say, If you think you’re not making enough to live a life you want, then figure out ways to make that money. And to live such a life you have to take a few or a lot of leaps of faith. I realized all the time I was pushing her to take a leap of faith and jump into the pool, I was actually missing how a lot of life is like that.
A Trip Back In Time At Gandikota
I was really grateful for that conversation. And more importantly, that moment made me realize what I gained from trek leading. If not for all those trek leading trips, and infinite conversations with strangers, I would have simply kept to myself on this day and missed an amazing conversation. Looking back it all adds up but I definitely didn’t think it would when I started.
It was just a leap of faith.
Post lunch we headed to explore the Gandikota fort. The entrance isn’t straightforward like the ones I was used to. There were many gates connected by a serpentine path. We raced past all those entrances and reached the interior of the fort. I saw few houses inside the fort with the cattle tied in front of their houses. After speaking to a few people, I learned that Gandikota fort has an entire village inside it. A village inside a fort was surprising beyond measure.
And soon after I walked into the fort area, I saw a board called Charminar. But the Charminar I knew and the one here didn’t have many similarities. This one looked a lot like the malnourished cousin of Charminar in Hyderabad. We walked further ahead and found another structure with the word prison written in front of it. Although the only one imprisoned there today is a large number of bats. We walked further ahead towards the Madhavaraya temple.
Teleportation Portal At Gandikota To Hampi
It was a random walk in the ruined fortified area until we reached Madhavaraya temple.
The temple gopuram reminded me of the Hampi but the real magic was that it indeed acted like a teleportation portal. I felt like I was in Hampi, among the grand ruins of Vijayanagara kingdom as I entered the temple premises. The temple’s architecture was similar to the one I have observed in Hampi and the cheery on the top is that there was no presiding deity, just like many temples in Hampi.
We continued walking on the same trail and reached Juma Masjid. I was confused beyond a limit at this point. What is it with a fort having a prison, a Hindu Temple, A Masjid all within a 100 meters distance from one another? If all those who questioned the religious tolerance in India visited Gandikota, they’d see how wrong they are.
But that question stayed with me and I hope to find answers very soon with my research into the History of Telangana and other places I visited. We continued walking and just adjacent to the masjid there was another temple. A temple called Ragunatha Swamy temple. Again in ruins but it offered a spectacular view of the gorge. The gorge that we were so eagerly waiting to see after a small glimpse of it by the campsite earlier today.
We then continued walking towards the Gorge. The view that we have been waiting for. It is for this view that we all came to Gandikota. As we walked on the rocks, towards the end of the fort, we saw a huge crowd. Until then I thought there weren’t many people but I think everyone else just skipped the ruined beauties and headed straight for the main attraction of Gandikota.
The Gorgeous Gorge At Gandikota
As we walked, I got a glimpse of the gorge. Tall rocky structures, stacked up in against one another, The turquoise blue Penna river, filled the gaps between them. The lush greenery on top of the canyon added the much-needed crown to the view. But once I reached closer, I simply couldn’t believe myself.
The amber coloured rocks, the slow-moving Penna river in between and the greenery, it was all too beautiful that it was beyond comprehension. Who knew the barren area of Kadapa was hiding such a spectacular natural beauty in plain sight. But that’s the job of nature right. To put things out in the open, spread it all over only to have most humans miss the simple joy of witnessing them.
The clock was ticking 5 PM now and it was time for my most awaited moments in any trip. It was time for the golden hour. The sun sets on the opposite side of the gorge, so I turned around to witness the magical moment. But something kept nagging me in my head and drawing me towards the gorge view.
The myriad shades of colours the sunset spilt over the sky didn’t interest me anymore. Sitting atop the Gandikota fort, looking at the Gandikota Gorge, I just kept staring at the view. I for once didn’t care what the colour turned during the sunset behind me. I was consumed by how the rocks turned yellow to gold to orange and how the water just minded its business not caring what I thought about its snail pace or the earthly reflections.
It was an all-consuming experience so profound that it definitely ranks as one of my top sunset moments.
A Starry Night By The Gorge Of Gandikota
After the golden hour ended, we started the walk back to the homestay. But as destiny had it, the sunset sky was still on and I saw these beautiful hues spread over the top of the temple and masjid.
We walked back to the homestay and freshened up. Went to the camping area for dinner. The thing with Gandikota is that there is only campsite and everyone wants to be there. So by the time we went for dinner, the entire camping area resembled the VV Puram food street in Bengaluru.
We had the delicious dinner and gathered around the bonfire. The usual stories started, dance and songs followed. I indulged in it fully thinking best moment of the trip, the golden hour was behind us. But my mind kept wandering off to something else.
The dark sky dotted with twinkling stars was a pretty sight in itself. The full moon enhanced the beauty even further. But I turned my head towards the reservoir for a stunning view. The moon’s reflection in the backwaters, the gorge pushing itself into the view while the twinkling stars and shimmering white moon observed the magic unfold. It was certainly a jaw dropping view and is one of my favourite campsite picture till date.
Belum Caves- A Stunning Natural Beauty
After a fun night filled with laughter and stunning natural starry night, it was time to leave Gandikota.
We planned to visit Belum Caves, the largest and longest cave system open to the public. These caves are naturally formed caves because of continuous underground water flow for hundreds of years.
While I was walking into the caves and observed the shapes formed, a realisation dawned upon me. For hundreds of years the water just kept on flowing. Probably the caves started with a tiny crevice. But over time the water persisted and kept flowing and cutting through rocks. And after hundreds of years you get a beauty like that.
It just goes onto show that it takes an incredibly long time to create anything beautiful and satisfying. If you’re willing to persist for longer stretches of time, making incremental progress, then you have a shot of creating something satisfying.
Anyway, if not for the life lessons, Belum Caves is a must visit for the pure natural, architectural and structural engineering wonder. It’s nothing like I’ve seen before.
If Gandikota Grand Canyon gives you the views of Grand Canyon, Belum Caves actually let’s you experience that by yourself.
We ended the trip with a visit to the Buddha Statue outside the Belum Caves. Had some delicious Rayalaseema spicy food and panted our way back to Bangalore.
Thanks for sparing your time reading it. Hope it was worth your time.
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This is post No. 23 of the weekend blog post series I started writing 5 months ago. If you’d like to check out the other posts, click here.
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Whoa!!!! I was just reminded of my trip to gandikota last year…. Had missed the waterfalls though… Still had an amazing time!!
[…] culture and some impressive natural art. I’ve been to the Belum caves during my trip to Gandikota and I was surprised beyond words. Caves just make you realize that nature indeed is the greatest […]