I nearly ran out of cash the day I resumed driving towards Vishakapatnam/Vizag. Araku town had only 1 ATM and that day, it was out of order. It would have been too embarrassing if I had followed my heart and stayed back, instead of continuing further. Araku and Tyda both offered a lot of accommodation choices like cottages, home stays, resorts and campsites, but none accepted plastic money. So I drove quickly after realizing my diminishing fund, went up and down hills and valleys (4500-3000 feet) and finally entered the plains. Coconut and date palms took over the wet looking muggy skyline and grass huts of villagers lay scattered across the plains. Women bended low over their fields, cleaned rice in front of their homes and wove multitudes of bamboo baskets. Water buffaloes sauntered past in proud insolence with their scrawny owners at a distance.
Soon the outskirts of Vishakapatnam arrived and as usual horrendous traffic, noise and pollution preceded it. Gaudy pyramidal South Indian temples loomed and its bright colours clashed with baskets of flowers being sold in front of it. Brightly coloured and fragrant flowers are a part of daily fetish in South India and huge amounts of it are used everyday in temples, shrines and to adorn the glossy black hair of the long braided ladies. South India itself is a kaleidoscope of colours and people love the larger than life concept. Tender green coconuts twinkled from pushcarts and ruby red pomegranates were sold from baskets at the back of cycles. Purple grapes were bought in big bunches and deep orange grape fruits fought for space with golden yellow bananas.
It was pre Pongal (a major South Indian festival to celebrate bountiful harvest) and Vizag was filled with last minute frenzied shoppers. Huge waves of excited people flowed from one mall to another and movie stars sold anything and everything from huge posters. Fat, aging and balding men bedecked in gold romanced scantily clad voluptuous teenage actresses and lured shoppers to spend more. Their glinting smiles, raucous music belting out auto rickshaws and disoriented giddy shoppers created a traffic nightmare and it took me good 2 hours to just navigate my way around Vizag. I finally reached the hotel which was close to the popular Ramakrishna beach and crashed out. I had 1 whole day for Vizag and that day I had just enough energy to check in and pass out.
The next day dawned bright and sunny and I enjoyed the languid charms of Vizag to the fullest. I lunched at a seafood restaurant near RK beach and checked out the huge ships hulking in haze. Vizag is an important naval base and port city of India and is famous for heavy industries, shipping yard and steel plant. Although an industrial city, it is one of those few Indian cities I would love to call home. Eastern Ghats bordered it possessively on one side and the Bay of Bengal lay turbulent along its coastline. The huge waves and strong under currents made swimming dangerous at most of Vizag’s beaches, but it also provided the city with most amazing seafood cuisine.
My favourite Vizag memories include the shy smiles of gentle South Indians, who are gracious and warm hosts, the value for money fresh juice counters at every street corner and the amazing old architectural jewels. Very few Indian cities give me a warm, lively vibe and I felt it at every corner in Vizag. The beaches were filled with smiling children riding ponies, throwing frisbees, playing cricket and couples held hands coyly. I loved the far flung Teneti beach park, the lovely view from the Kailasagiri hill (mountain-sea cable car) and the clean, spotless drive leading to those places. The winding hilly road was broad and well maintained and the bordering magenta bougainvillea bushes glowed mellow in the afternoon Vizag sun. Bay of Bengal lay translucent and blue at one side and deep green forest reserves covered the hills.
The most beautiful Vizag sights which made me fall in love with this charming coastal city were the fishermen’s hamlets dotting the hilly road towards Rushikonda beach, the menfolk mending nets as their women dried fish in the sun on bamboo mats and the night view of the city from Kailasagiri hills. I also loved the way traditional South Indian flavours mingled effortlessly with the urban coolness. Temples stood stoically next to coffee shops and mornings saw heaps of glistening vegetables and flowers on sale. Yellow, white and saffron coloured mounds lay piled on gunny bags and ladies decorated their home fronts with rice paste rangolis. Strings of jasmines, roses and basil leaves wafted fragrance from thickly coiled hair and sandal wood paste and kumkums bedecked the foreheads. Just the perfect blend of traditional and urban cool and surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful places, it was no wonder that (irrespective of aging movie stars and traffic) I fell in love with Vizag at first sight.
TRAVEL TIP-Araku Valley is best accessed by the panoramic Kottavalasa-Kirandul line railway, which snakes through the dense jungles of Anantagiri range, 58 tunnels and 84 bridges. There are various buses, shared taxis and private cars which also cater to Araku Valley revelers and these range from Rs 20-2500 pp/one way. Accommodations are in plenty in Araku Valley and I stayed at the lovely Haritha Jungle Bells resort. APTDC also offers various tours in and around Vizag and their Araku Valley trips have mixed reviews. In Vizag, hotels of all budgets are found aplenty and the Hotel Winsar Park, where I had stayed offered excellent value for money hospitality. An erstwhile Dutch colony, Vizag itself offers a host of interesting nearby places like Dolphin’s Nose and the Port, Lighthouse, Lawson’s Bay beach, Simhachalam Temple, Submarine Museum, Yarada, Bhimili, Kondakarla, Ava and Gangavaram beaches, Ross Hill, Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary and the Buddhist caves at Bojjana Konda. Festival lovers and photographers will love the Visakha Utsav held in Vizag every December with great pomp and show.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE