No matter how many times you visit Srisailam, the place continues to excite you, it is one of those place that you never get bored of. If you live in Hyderabad, Srisailam and the nearby areas can easily account for atleast 10 weekends of road trips.
So, on a Friday afternoon, we drove to Srisailam, it was our Figo’s first visit to Srisailam. We even had a visitor all the way from Delhi and we were very keen to show off Andhra Pradesh ! Srisailam Highway from Hyderabad, is one of the best highways in the state, a double but well maintained road, giving you an absolutely pleasurable drive. The drive becomes more enjoyable once you reach the ghat road as you drive through the thick Nallamala Forests.
Our first stop was the Mallellatheertham Waterfall around 5.30 PM, nestled in the dense woods, on the way to Srisailam. When we reached there, there was hardly any water trickling down ! We were surprised and slightly disappointed because roughly a year back, we visited the same falls and there was a beautifully cascading waterfall. There is something with this Delhi boy and waterfalls, this was the second waterfalls we visited with him that had no water !
As evening was setting in, the entire wood became cool, quiet and dark, there was absolutely nobody around and we had the forest all for ourselves. It was a moment of ultimate peace and bliss ! Thankfully, there were no monkeys to disturb the tranquility of the place, unlike the last time when they terrified this writer and spoilt the mood.
Look ! A Sambar !
We resumed our journey back to Srisailam, driving through the ghat forest road in the dark is an experience in itself, exciting and scary at times, what would happen if you got a flat tyre or your car broke down ! Srisailam, being a part of the Nagarjuna-Sagar Srisailam Tiger reserve, wild animals can be spotted crossing the road after dark, there are signboards at junctions to watch out for animals crossing the road.
We chatted on as we drove through the forest and suddenly, all three of us passengers let out a scream that made the guy driving the car jump in his seat ! On the roadside, peeping out of the dark forest was a huge Sambar deer, with its eyes shining out of the darkness, its antlers alone were 3 feet long and it would have exceeded us in height ! Wow, it was an arresting sight, even though we only had a glimpse before we zoomed past, the vision is something we will tell our grandchildren about !
For the next one hour, this was our topic of discussion, until we saw this !
The Srisailam Dam and Hydro Power station on the Krishna River, beautifully lit in the night ! If you are driving to Srisailam from Hyderabad, you have to pass the dam, even during day time, this massive in height dam, is quite a sight but this was first time we were seeing it lit like this, it was beyond beautiful !
Having been treated to two wonderful sights within a hour, we were delighted as we reached Srisailam. It was 8 PM and after quickly checking into the accommodation provided by the temple authorities, we went to have a darshan of the Jyothirlinga, Lord Mallikarjuna and Goddess Bramarambha. The darshan took us roughly an hour. We headed for dinner at the AP Tourism Haritha hotel where we got information for the boat ride to Akkamahadevi Caves. That was our plan for the next day.
Ropeway to the river
We were told that the boat/launch ride starts from Pathalaganga area, Pathalaganga is actually a part of the Krishna River and one can take a rope car ride to reach down to the river. You can buy tickets for the rope car and for a visit to the Akkamahadevi Caves at the ticket counter, it costs around Rs.200/- per person. The ride is fun as it slopes down the hill to the river.
It was close to 10 AM and we were told the boats would operate only if there were a minimum of 20 people ! We waited as people came down the rope cars only to go towards the Pathalaganga, hardly anybody seemed interested in going to the Akkamahadevi Caves. After half an hour, a huge group came down and we thought the wait was over. Turns out that those incharge had goofed up, it was a large group that was touring together and the boat that was ready was deployed for them. We were fuming by then but decided to take it easy and wait for the next boat to arrive. We chatted up, gossiped and tried some experimental photography to entertain ourselves.
Finally, after almost 2 hours of waiting, a boat arrived, thankfully there was another big group of tourists so the boat could start right away. The motor launch roared to life and excitement took over us as we rode away from the dam.
AP Tourism conducts the official trips to Akkamahadevi Caves, in addition, there are some private boat operators, though it is always advisable to take the official trips. There was a guide in the launch who entertained us with some interesting stories associated with Srisailam.
Akkamahadevi Caves are located 18 kms from Srisailam on the river route. The caves get their name from Akkamahadevi, the 12th Century Kannada philosopher of the Veerasaiva Bhakti cult. It is believed that Akkamahadevi did penance in these caves. The ride is through the pristine waters of the Krishna River bordered by the Nallamala Hills.
The journey is an hour long but you can never get enough of the sights around you. Though the only thing that you can see during the entire hour is blue water and brown/green hills, every time you look up it looks different and you continue to be astounded by the beauty.
After an hour, the boat anchored at the entrance of the pathway leading to the caves. From the boat it looked like a gaping hole in a huge rock wall. You have to trek for about 10 minutes to reach the mouth of the caves. The trek is easy but one has to be a little careful because the path is close to the edge.
Slip a little and you will end up here !
There is a joke about how if you fall into the river here, people can pick you up at Nagarjuna Sagar, located 150 kms away downstream, you might actually reach there faster that way !
At the end of the short trek, we finally got a glimpse of the entrance of the cave.
At the mouth of the cave, there is a massive naturally formed arch, serves as an imposing gateway to the cave temple.
The rocks which outline the cave are wind weathered and it looks like the wind carved out natural sculpture on the rocks for millions of years.
In the dark shelters and openings in these rocks, you can still find ascetics of the Veerasaiva cult, all looking very mystic, complete with saffron clothes, long beards, matted hair and meditating amidst smoke from ritual fires.
Caves that take your breath away !
The purpose of a trip to the Akkamahadevi Caves is to visit a naturally formed Siva Linga deep inside a particular cave. The caves are completely devoid of any light whatsoever and at the extreme end where the Siva Linga is found, there is very little oxygen to breathe freely !
People are sent inside in batches of 20 at a time otherwise, it will get suffocating inside the cave. From this point at the entrance of the cave, there is no light, you have to carry candles to find your way.
We do not know if it is a worldwide phenomenon or an exclusive Indian trait but if you ask Indians to form a line and wait for their turn, they can never stay put ! Wonder what makes us such restless, impatient people?
The entire group of around 80 people who came by the boat were asked to form a line and they were going to send 20 people at time but people became so impatient that they broke lines and rushed inside. Halfway down, they were forced outside because the people deep inside the cave were becoming breathless and choking as the limited air supply was being used up the hordes of people swarming inside ! We stood outside and refused to go in until our turn came, which annoyed several people, so we let them go in and get suffocated. After much yelling by the authorities and some serious lessons in discipline by us, finally some sense dawned on the people and they marched out and stood in the line !
After almost 45 minutes, it was our turn, only 6 of us were left. The moment you enter the cave, you can hardly see a thing, you cannot even find your feet unless you bring the candle down to your feet ! And, the cave is full of bats.
Some super “intelligent” photographers used flash to click pictures because it was too dark and everytime they did that, they ended up disturbing the innumerable bats which flew over us in anger. People seemed to forget that they were standing in the bats’ territory ! Some more yelling on our part drilled this lesson into their heads, phew, such undisciplined tourists we are !
From here it gets very hot and sweaty and is a walk in the dark towards the a small tunnel like opening which leads to the Siva Linga. It also gets slightly suffocating as there is absolutely no chance of fresh air coming in.
The tunnel is only 3 feet high and one has to literally crouch and crawl to go into the final chamber where the Siva Linga is located, only one person can go in at a given time. A claustrophobic’s worst nightmare !
It was one hell of a thrilling experience as we stood outside the chamber in the darkness, waiting to go in, sweating in the heat, breathless for fresh air and scared by a bat that was hanging upside down right over head !
To reach the Siva Linga through the tunnel, one has to crawl and then walk sideways because it becomes very narrow towards the end to even walk forward, god save the healthy ones !! The Siva Linga is actually a tiny rock formation in the shape of a Linga which Akkamahadevi is believed to have worshipped. There is place enough for just one person to stand, the only light is the light from the torch light of the guide but the moment you spot the Siva Linga, you feel re-energised. Is it the presence of the Divine or the relief that you finally reached your goal?
As the last of us came out, the guide, impressed by us for being well-behaved tourists, allowed us to take one more picture of the tunnel leading to the last chamber, he even flashed his torch light for us to give us enough light to take a picture.
When we stepped outside the cave into the open air, we realised how much we yearned for fresh air. The fresh oxygen gushed into our lungs and we literally breathed a sigh of relief ! The only thought on our minds was how Akkamahadevi managed to meditate inside the cave? How did she even manage to trek all the way up to these caves through the dense forests in the first place? Only immense faith in the Divine and great control of the mind and body could have brought her here to meditate.
There is a small stall here which sells some soft drinks, tea and a few eatables, we sipped the tea and chatted with the guide who now seemed to have grown fond of us ! It was almost 2 PM by then and we got onto the boat which took us back to Srisailam main land. It was very sultry for a December afternoon, thanks to the huge water body beside us, it sapped us of our energy. By the time we reached back, we were famished. Thankfully, the restaurant near the rope way counter was open and served a decent meal though it was almost closing time.
Exhilarated by the unforgettable experience, we began our journey back home by 3.30 PM. We breezed through the journey and reached Hyderabad by 8.30 PM. Nothing could stop us from gushing over our trip, not even the disappointing Biriyani we had for dinner at Haveli, Madhapur!
People usually give Akkamahadevi Caves a miss because it takes up half a day but it is one of those hidden treasures in India that should not be missed for anything.