Located at 114 kilometers away from Vishakapatnam and snuggling close to Odisha border, Araku Valley was absolutely enchanting. A beautiful lush valley, hidden in the bosom of Eastern Ghats, Araku has a rich indigenous community culture, lovely coffee and pepper plantations and beautiful misty weather. While most people enter Araku Valley from Vishakapatnam, I did the reverse and found the winding road serenely empty. My resort had a cluster of cottages, a lovely stream and my little Araku getaway lay hidden behind a screen of dew dripping bamboo groves. I rested on the beautiful teak 4 poster bed, luxuriated in kiss soft breeze and breathed in coffee rich fragrance.
A spicy coffee fragrance hung over Araku Valley like a cloud and with every breeze, it came in waves. Araku Valley is teeming with coffee plantations and the premium organic “Araku Emerald” brand of coffee is very popular globally. India’s first tribal organic coffee was launched here in 2007 and it forms the major livelihood for the tribal population of the valley, either as farm hands or small planters. I spent a lazy day walking around the little hilly hamlets, dipping my feet in cool streams and catching rain drops underneath fern fronds. There was also a tribal museum somewhere in Araku town but after the glimpse of their real life, I gladly gave it amiss. While Araku’s beauty is supposedly at its prime in monsoon, that early summer it was equally breathtaking.
Araku is one of those places which remains drenched in a soft light nearly all the time and the skies are always baby blue. I felt happily elated as I walked around the hills, sat jostled with a group of brightly clad tribal ladies in an auto rickshaw and did not even mind the blasting raucous music it belted out. Fields lay stretched on both sides of the road and I walked in aimlessly, remembering the lines of the beautiful poem, “The Solitary Reaper”. Although the tribal communities housed around the town are pretty modern and have quite an advanced lifestyle, PTG or primitive tribal groups who live in the interiors of the valley still have not changed their ancient ways of living. However they are quite hospitable and their performance of Dhimsa dance is much sought after by the trekking groups who visit them.
TRAVEL TIP-Araku Valley offers a host of activities to suit the leisurely pursuits of all kinds of travelers. There are wonderful treks, hikes and bird watching trails, along with visits to the deep interiors of the valley. The valley stretches for approximately 35 kilometers and has interesting caves, waterfalls and rivulets. Borra Caves, near Tyda is very popular for its beautiful stalactites and stalagmites and makes an interesting day trip from Araku Valley. It is believed that the Ramayana trio of Ram, Sita and Laxmana had stayed there during their 14 years exile and the surrounding forests are a part of the mythologically important Kishkinda forests.
I did not bother about any of these attractions and was happy to just stare at the blue sky, lying on the golden fields. Wild flowers carpeted till the distance and a heady fragrance filled the sunshine. I returned to the cottage and read a book on my sunny patio till a soft dusk fell. The brilliant blue sky turned a shade of most exquisite violet and fireflies filled the darkness. It seemed as if stars had fallen on earth like rain and hung from trees like fairy lights. Night crept in fast and millions of stars drenched the sky. A soft table lamp glowed honey beside my bed and fat moths hit the window pane softly.
The next day I left early and soaked in the fresh glistening morning beauty. Monkeys, hills, waterfalls and forests passed by in an enchanting manner and crinkled old men crouched at quaint shepherds’ huts smoking chillum. Pungent smoke curled out beneath their bushy moustaches and they grinned at me toothlessly as I stopped the car. Tribal ladies trooped by busily, clean scrubbed, with flowers in their hair and their gaudy sarees glistening with bling. Joyful children tagged behind them laughing with bundles of chicken, gourds and pumpkin seeds. I took the most leisurely drive stopping at every bend and spending hours at every viewpoint.
I was heading towards Vishakapatnam and had all the time on my hands. Rusty people covered jeeps scrunched past and rivers glistened in the sun like molten diamond. Bamboo kiosks selling freshly brewed coffee, spices and other condiments mushroomed in dozens and it was perhaps the most fragrant drive in the world. I stopped for a cup of coffee and immediately got tempted by the mouth watering aroma of spiced chicken. It came from the famous bamboo chicken, the most special dish of the region and a must try for all meat lovers.
A man was making bamboo chicken under a canopy of dewy trees and its sizzling aroma mingled tantalizingly with spitting charcoal. Freshly marinated succulent pieces of chicken were wrapped in leaves and stuffed inside a tender green bamboo, which was placed on charcoals for roasting. Both sides of the bamboo were plugged with more leaves and juices trickled out from them hissing and spitting on the fire. The chicken was thus steamed inside and cooked in its own juice without a single drop of oil and I could not resist buying a portion of it. The bamboo chicken was tender, spicy and absolutely delicious. The bamboo and the leaves imparted their special flavours to the dish and I could have stayed there forever.
It started raining again, the typical mountain drizzle and I enjoyed its silvery haze with my cup of coffee and leafy bowl of bamboo chicken. Smoke curled from my coffee, rain kissed my face and the chicken made my eyes water. It was paradise for me and for the first time during my traveling years, I wished for time to stop.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE