The shortest night and the longest day (June 21) happen to be our wedding anniversary. It is also the peak summer with temperatures hovering much above 40 degrees Celsius in most parts of the country. In the last 28 years, we have usually escaped to the cooler chimes during this time even for a short duration too. Last year it was Thailand but this year overseas vacation was ruled out as our passports needed renewal and we weren’t sure if it would happen quickly within time for visas, so we settled for Visakhapatnam or Vizag.
Why Vizag –
- It’s a new place by the sea
- From Hyderabad, it is just an hour’s flight time
- The movie Ghazi Attack had created some curiosity about the place
- It was the most convenient destination considering time constraints
- We would never even dream of going there from Delhi
- However, the most compelling reason was Srini, colleague of Deepika; let me elaborate…
Srini is from Vizag; his family is in Vizag while he works in Hyderabad and visits his family once in two months or more frequently based on the holidays he can club together. Since the time I met him for the first time, he had been urging us to visit Vizag. In the run up to our decision, he preempted our call with a detailed itinerary for our visit to Vizag. We had planned to stay at Novotel and had been negotiating with them for a good deal when Srini suggested that he will look into it as he was going there and moreover has friends in the hospitality sector. Sure enough, he checked out the Novotel and also the Taj Gateway and mailed the much negotiated deals of both the properties.
The Taj Gateway offer was way better than the Novotel considering both are beach front properties next to each other. We settled for Taj as suggested by Srini and he promised to pick us from the airport.
All of us were looking for a break from our daily uneventful life but for me the biggest worry was walking Rolf in my absence, even for just two days. The professional walker called Ishwar whom I had engaged earlier called to express his inability due to his sister’s engagement ceremony at their village. Thereafter, I spoke to the guy who washes the cars (including ours) in the housing complex and does walk some of the dogs in the evening. He was reluctant for the morning walks as he said there are over 40 cars that need washing up before they go out but eventually agreed to take out 30 minutes and walk Rolf. Just to be sure of his commitment I asked him to start a day before we are to leave. And as I had premonition, the guy did not turn up and his mobile was switched off!!! This reaffirmed my view that most of these local guys not trustworthy. These guys simply do not live up to their commitments and will invariably ditch you at the last moment. Luckily, our housekeeper stepped in and ended our misery saying that she will take Rolf out in our absence. In the morning of our departure, I took out Rolf for walk reducing her load a little.
Our flight from Hyderabad was at 11 am while Ayush’s flight from Bengaluru was scheduled around 12:30 pm. The flight was uneventful and we landed in Vizag on schedule at 12:30 pm. Srini along with his son was there to pick us up as promised. The drive from airport to the hotel took about 40 minutes not because of the distance but for the traffic congestions.
Taj Gateway and Novotel are adjacent properties separated by a road and owned by the same person but managed by two different hospitality chains. Novotel, comparatively is a newer property but Taj has a old world charm about it. We were checked into the Premier Room for the first night as the Suite was not available that night. There was a big surprise for us as we entered the room; it was all decked up with heart shaped balloons fit for a honeymooning couple. There was a complimentary Cake along with the fruit basket. This was all the handiwork of Srini and we were thankful to him for making our 28th anniversary memorable.
Ayush was expected to land around 2 pm and I had asked him to take Ola or Uber cabs to reach the hotel but again Srini insisted that he will send the car with driver to pick him up. He would simply not listen and said that the car will remain at the hotel and as per the itinerary we will see the Kursura Submarine Museum and the Kali Temple before going to his home to meet up with his family. Later, the car would take us to the Kailasagiri and finally to the Greenpark hotel for dinner.
We were starving but waited for Ayush to come and then went down to the Coffee Shop and had a light lunch. By the time we finished our lunch it was almost 5 pm, so we rushed to finish our tour for the day. The first place was the Kali Mandir, next to Ramkrishna Ashram; since I do not visit any religious place of worship and Ayush too has taken that path, we stayed out while Deepika went inside. We took up the opportunity to pick up a bottle of whiskey from a shop about 100 meters away. The next stop was the Kursura Submarine Museum. It’s a Russian built vintage submarine commissioned in Indian Navy way back in 1969 and had seen actions in 1971 war. It was decommissioned in 2001 and thereafter it was converted into a museum and placed at R K Beach, Visakhapatnam. Looking at the space inside, I wondered, this being Russian make how those guys (being much bulkier than Indians) could move around!! However, it was an amazing experience being in submarine, albeit on the land and not under the water!!
INS Kursura (S20) was a Kalvari-class diesel-electric submarine of the Indian Navy. She was India’s fifth submarine. Kursura was commissioned on 18 December 1969 and was decommissioned on 27 February 2001 after 31 years of service. She participated in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, where she played a key role in patrol missions. She later participated in naval exercises with other nations and made many goodwill visits to other countries.
After decommissioning, she was preserved as a museum for public access on RK beach in Visakhapatnam. Kursura has the distinction of being one of the very few submarine museums to retain originality and has been called a “must-visit destination” of Visakhapatnam. Despite being a decommissioned submarine, she still receives the navy’s “Dressing Ship” honour, which is usually awarded only to active ships.
Kursura has a length of 91.3 m (300 ft) overall, a beam of 7.5 m (25 ft) and a draught of 6 m (20 ft). She displaces 1,950 t (1,919 long tons) surfaced, 2,475 t (2,436 long tons) submerged and has a maximum diving depth of 985 ft (300 m). The complement is about 75, including 8 officers and 67 sailors.
The submarine has three shafts, each with a six-blade propeller. She is powered by three Kolomna 2D42M diesel engines, each with 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW). She also has three electric motors, two of them with 1,350 hp (1,010 kW) and one with 2,700 hp (2,000 kW). She can achieve a maximum speed of 16 knots (30 km/h) when on surface, 15 knots (28 km/h) when submerged and 9 knots (17 km/h) while snorkeling. She has a range of 20,000 mi (32,000 km) at 8 kn (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) when surfaced and 380 mi (610 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph) when submerged. There are 10 torpedo tubes to carry 22 Type 53 torpedoes. She could lay 44 mines instead of torpedoes. She also had a snoop tray and I-Band radar for surface search.
After decommissioning, the ship was towed to RK Beach in Visakhapatnam and was established as a museum ship, which is the first submarine museum in South Asia. The idea of the boat’s conversion to a museum is credited to Admiral V Pasricha. Towing the submarine 600 metres to its final location took 18 months and cost ₹ 55 million. It was inaugurated by the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu on 9 August 2002, and it was open to the public from 24 August 2002. Six retired naval personnel serve as guides and another one as the curator. Kursura has the distinction of being one of the very few submarine museums to retain originality. She has become a famous tourist attraction of the city and has become a “must-visit destination” of Visakhapatnam.Daily visitors usually range between 500 and 600 and shoot up to 1,500 during the tourist season.
Our next stop was Srini’s home close to the Kailasagiri Hills. His apartment was on the second floor, a decent sized property, sparsely but elegantly done up. It immediately reminded me of some of the households that I have visited in Kolkata and other places in Bengal, there is no pretence here and atmosphere is always very warm. We had met his son earlier and now met his mother and wife too. His mother was a teacher in school and her subject used to be Hindi. While his wife worked in the administrative section (head) in a big chain school and worked practically 7 days a week. The son had just completed CA Inter while doing his graduation in Commerce alongside. I also got to know that Srini is a certified Cost Accountant and Company Secretary. He had also completed his CA Inter and the father-son duo plans to become Chartered Accountants, together. Bravo and all the very best wishes for them.
We just had our lunch and were quite full but still had some home cooked snacks and coffee before leaving for Kailasagiri. Srini instructed the driver to take us to the Greenpark Hotel afterwards where he would join us for dinner.
Kailasagiri is a hilltop park in the city of Visakhapatnam in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The park was developed by the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA) and comprises 380 acres of land covered with flora and tropical trees. The hill, at 173 metres (568 ft), overlooks the city of Visakhapatnam.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh awarded Kailasagiri as its “Best Tourist Spot” in 2003. On average, around three hundred thousand Indian and foreign tourists visit the park every year. To protect the environment, VMRDA has declared the hill a plastic-free zone. A cable car connects to the top of the hill, the first of its kind in Andhra Pradesh.
Though there was a rope-way to reach the top of the hill, we went up by road as it was getting dark. There was a huge statue of Shiva-Parvati which is a great tourist attraction even at night and with lights focused on the statue making it surreal. There is a walkway around the park but not well lit for a night walk and there were real possibilities of encountering few slithering varieties in this rainy season. We took some pictures of the city bellow from the viewing gallery which provided panoramic view and looked around the place which had a cafeteria serving snacks and beverages. What surprised me is number of Bong tourist there speaking loudly and creating a ruckus.
When we reached Greenpark hotel there was no sign of Srini and when Deepika called him up, he said that it will take them about half hour to reach and meanwhile we should go to the restaurant and have the starters as he had already made the reservation.
We went to the Indian Speciality Restaurant called R & G and sure enough there was a table reserved for us. R & G serves buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. The service concept is quite similar to BBQ Nation with the exception that they don’t have live grill on the table for the starters but serve them piping hot from the kitchen that’s separated by a glass enclosure. We ordered our drinks and the snacks started ‘flying’ in to our table literally and we had to tell them to slow down as other members are yet join us. In terms of variety it was standard fare of chicken and lamb kebabs, grilled and steamed fish, tandoori prawns and for vegetarians there were Harabhara kebab, tandoori cauliflower, paneer tikka and chilli-potato. However, the taste was lip smacking and beyond our expectations. We were so full with the starters that there was no space for the main course but just to give company to Srini and his family, we got some of the items from the buffet counter to taste which was decent but not as exceptional as the Starters. The dessert counter had gulab jamun, jalebi with rabri and ice cream besides different flavors of Kulfi.
Later, Srini dropped us at the hotel and reconfirmed the details of the cab and of the driver who would take us to the Borra Caves, the next day.
As usual, I was awake around 5 am well before the alarm would buzz. I freshened up and made tea for Deepika and myself. Later, Deepika & I went for a stroll on the beach. I have seen that all beaches just like the mountains look similar from the distance but changes in look and feel as we get closer. The R K Beach was quite different from the beaches of Puri (Odisha) although both are on the eastern coast kissed by the same sea – Bay of Bengal. In Puri, the waves are strong and high even during low tide but here the Bay of Bengal was quiet very unlike its character.
In India, rarely I have seen a clean beach unless it is maintained by a private property (example being Taj Exotica in South Goa). Looking at the littering makes me sad and angry. Why can’t people be sensitive to their surrounding? No amount of Govt Program like Swatchh Bharat will work unless the citizen become sensitive and stop littering. And to think about it, the Vizag municipality has installed litter bins every 100 meters and still the tourists and even locals have thrown empty packs of chips, beverage bottles here and there.
We walked for about half hour and then came back to get ready for breakfast. Ayush had woken up and to our surprise bathed and ready to move. We quickly bathed and went down to the Coffee Shop for breakfast. We also packed up our bags as the hotel was upgrading us to a suite. The driver of our cab called up to inform that he was waiting at the hotel parking. For a change he spoke in Hindi with clear diction. Yesterday, we had a tough time communicating with Srini’s driver who could hardly speak or understand any other language other than Telugu.
After a sumptuous buffet breakfast (the best part of staying in a starred hotel), we left for Borra Caves and if time and weather permitted, the Araku Valley Coffee Plantation as well. The driver informed that the distance was about 100 km and would take approx 3 hours to reach.
The Borra Caves, also called Borra Guhalu, are located on the East Coast of India, in the Ananthagiri hills of the Araku Valley (with hill ranges’ elevation varying from 800 to 1,300 m (2,600 to 4,300 ft)) of the Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh. The caves, one of the largest in the country, at an elevation of about 705 m (2,313 ft), distinctly exhibit a variety of speleothems ranging in size and irregularly shaped stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are basically karstic limestone structures extending to a depth of 80 m (260 ft), and are considered the deepest caves in India. The native name for the caves is Borra Guhalu. Borra means hole in Odia language and guhalu means caves in Telugu language). The caves were discovered in 1807, by William King George of the Geological Survey of India.
On the discovery of the caves, there are several legends, which the tribals (Jatapu, Porja, Kondadora, Nookadora, valmiki etc.) who inhabit the villages around the caves narrate. The popular legend is that a cow, grazing on the top of the caves, dropped 60 m (200 ft) through a hole in the roof. The cowherd while searching for the cow came across the caves. He found a stone inside the cave that resembled a Lingam, which he interpreted as the Lord Shiva who protected the cow. The village folk who heard the story believed it and since then they have built a small temple for Lord Shiva outside the cave. People flock to the temple for worship and the cave to get a glimpse of the Lingam.
Another lyrical legend is that the Shiva Lingam representing the Hindu God Lord Shiva, is found deep in the caves and above which is a stone formation of a cow (Sanskrit: Kamadhenu). It is surmised that the udder of this cow is the source of the Gosthani (Sanskrit: Cow’s udder) River which originates from here, flows through Vizianagram and Visakhapatnam districts before emptying into the Bay of Bengal near Bheemunipatnam.
The Gosthani River, which originates from these caves and flows between the solidified stalactites and stalagmites in the karstic limestones formation, is the cause for the development of the odd shapes of structures. Water percolating from the roof of the caves dissolves limestone and trickle drop by drop to form stalactites at the roof of the cave and then dripping down to the ground form stalagmites. These deposits have developed into interesting forms and structures inside the caves such as Shiva–Parvati, Mother–Child, Rishi’s beard, human brain, mushrooms, crocodile, temple, church, etc. These shapes have captured the imagination of tourists, while some have been given religious interpretations.
The caves are deep and totally aphotic. There is an area in the caves with limited light penetration. The stalactites seen in the caves are about 0.1 to 3.5 m (0.3 to 11.5 ft) in length while the stalagmites are 1.2 m (3.9 ft) long and columns are 6 m (20 ft) in height and 0.75 m (2.5 ft) in width. The height of the cave is 12 m (39 ft) and the length is about 200 m (660 ft). The average temperature of the inner cave wall is reported to be about 16 °C (61 °F). Sulfur springs discharge into the cave passages causing corrosion of limestone. While the caves are basically limestone formations, the area surrounding these are of mica formations which are prospected for precious stones like rubies.
Archeological artifacts (Paleolithic implements) have been found in the caves. The excavations carried out in the caves by the archaeologists of the Andhra University, have unearthed stone tools of middle Paleolithic culture dating back 30,000 to 50,000 years, which confirm human habitation.
The fauna observed in the caves are predominantly bats, as well as the golden gecko. The type of bat reported is the fulvous fruit bat (Rousettus leschenaultii) – a species which roosts in large caves, old buildings, dungeons and dark areas of old forts. This species has short and slender musculature with large, well developed eyes. They feed on flowers and fruits, like jamun, guava, silk, cotton and mango.
The drive from Vizag to Borra Caves is mostly through hilly roads with nature creating the scenic beauty all around. Moreover, it being monsoon season, the greenery was abounded and the rain water created seasonal waterfalls all along the way. We took some photographs only to realize that what we can see through our naked eyes – the 3-D views, the camera lenses can’t see or differentiate and the ethereal beauty of the nature can only be seen and not captured.
One of the railway tunnels
Camera couldn’t capture the real view
We came across the AP Tourism resort called Jungle Bells and stopped to freshen up and stretch our legs. We also decided to have our lunch there on our return. As we started from Jungle Bells a light drizzle started and became our company all through our drive to Borra Caves.
The driver suggested that we should taste the famous Bamboo Chicken of Araku Valley and we readily agreed. We paid Rs.100/- as advance for half kilo of chicken (Rs.300/- for 500 gm is a bit steep). The process of cooking is innovative, there’s no oil involved; the chicken is marinated in spices and inserted in a bamboo tube adding little water before sealing it. The bamboo pipe is then put on an open charcoal fire which cooks the chicken slowly but surely. We had asked for medium spicy knowing the locals prefer fiery stuff. The final product was well cooked, flavorsome and delicious. I never had such succulent melt in-the-mouth chicken.
We engaged the services of a guide who I found to be reeking of alcohol smell and whose diction suggested that he was from the neighboring state of Odisha. I was proved correct. Getting into the cave involved going down a staircase which I estimated must have more than 100 steps and was a bit worried at the prospect of climbing up while returning. But the lure of getting into a cave was just too much so we followed the guide as he kept showing us the stalagmites and stalactites and narrating stories some of which, I am sure is just his imaginations. The guy had limited rote knowledge which he kept repeating. In the darkness of the cave, he showed us some formation using his torch which he claimed are husband-wife, mother-n-child, lion and eagle face. The one which he claimed to be Shiva-Parvati, was a huge attraction of the tourist and some enterprising guy had created a small enclosure near it with a Shiva-Lingam and pictures of gods where people willingly donated money, Deepika included.
The return, as expected was really grueling for middle aged people like us and it took some time to reach the top with couple of resting periods at the landings while Ayush could climb up with ease and waited for us smiling at our predicament. The intensity of the drizzle had increased by the time we finished our Bamboo Chicken making us abandon the idea of going further to Araku Valley of Coffee Plantation and we decided to return to Vizag.
We stopped at the Jungle Bells for lunch. When asked what’s fresh in the menu, the manager cum steward cum cashier said everything is fresh explaining that whatever we order will be cooked then n there accordingly (custom cooking). There was no chapatti/ roti available so we ordered for egg curry (safe option), karahi paneer, dal-tadka and one each of veg & egg fried-rice. The food was not only fresh but aromatic and tasty as well and it was consumed very quickly.
The driver estimated our ETA at the hotel to be 7pm and true to his estimate he dropped us at 6:45 pm but before that he took a detour to show us a coffee plantation near the Borra Caves where we had freshly brewed coffee and picked up some locally grown spices. On the way while we had stopped at the traffic signal in Vizag, we saw a bunch of houses which were painted in bright vibrant colors. The driver informed that the name of the colony is Hanuman Waka and every house in that colony is painted in bright vibrant colors just like some Spanish and Italian villages. I don’t know how it will feel in high summers but under an overcast sky, it was looking fabulous.
The hotel had moved us to the suite which had living/ dining room with a balcony that provided 180 degree view of the sea and a spacious bedroom. There was a fruit basket and a platter of chocolates and the latter was consumed immediately.
We sat down in the living area for a couple of drinks before heading for dinner to Ming Garden, the Chinese & Oriental restaurant of Taj Gateway Hotels. The dinner was a treat from Ayush on our anniversary and we loved it. The television was showing India-Afghanistan cricket match (ICC-CWC 2019). India having decided to bat first was expected to score at least 350+ runs against the lowly ranked opponent but the Afghans had other plans and India ended up with a paltry score of 224 runs in 50 over’s. There was a real possibility that Afghans will create an upset when they started off well but the Indian bowlers kept taking wickets at regular interval and the poor Afghans folded up 12 runs short of the target.
On the final day (or rather morning) of our stay in Vizag, Srini came around 6:30 am to take us to explore the beaches of Vizag. The first stop was Yarada Beach which also famously called Sunrise Point as you can get a brilliant view of the sunrise on the distant horizon. We also had coffee from Araku valley and it was one the best south India filter coffee I have ever tasted. Thereafter, we drove down to Rishikonda beach which was perhaps the cleanest beach in Vizag.
We asked Srini to join us for breakfast but he politely declined saying that he had already promised his son to take him to his favorite restaurant for breakfast. He said or rather insisted that he will come around noon to drop us at the airport but as it unfolded later, the hotel had a complimentary drop to the airport and we readily took that option, saving him unnecessary driving and allowing him to spend some quality time with family in his short visit.
Vizag Airport is quite small but clean. We had reached quite early because Ayush’s flight was 30 minutes before ours. He was flying Indigo and got his boarding card immediately but we had to wait for another half hour for Spicejet counter to open. And then I realized that in order to keep our flight times close to each other, I had booked our flight in a smaller aircraft (ATR-Bombardier). I am very apprehensive about flying in small aircrafts having had some turbulent experience earlier. But to my great relief the Captain of the flight superbly maneuvered both the take off and touchdown later.
In many years, this was the first vacation which we took up alone otherwise mostly we have had the company of Basu’s (our dear friends) and we did miss them.