An evening with the gorgeous Godavari

Ask anybody from the “Ubhaya Godavari Zillas” (the Godavari district duo), as the East and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh are very populary called, about their famed sarcasm and acidic humour, they will proudly tell you “it is all in the Godavari water”, ask them anything about themselves and their region, their prosperity, their luxurious lifestyles, including their supposedly head strong egos, again “it is all in our water”. Such is the importance of the River Godavari to the region of Andhra Pradesh starting from Eluru to Tuni. The river is the lifeline of these two districts, making them one of the most prosperous, most beautiful regions in the country.

You should hear people of the Godavari districts talk about the Godavari, you would believe the river has a personality of its own ! Why not? From ancient times, the river has stood witness to events that have shaped India’s history going back all the way to the Ramayana and beyond !

Konaseema

If you say Godavari, the next thing that should come to your mind is Konaseema, the region beyond Rajahmundry upto where the Godavari and its tributaries meet the sea, the Godavari delta. This area is the rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh, the fertile delta makes this one of the best areas for cultivation. The green fields stretch before you as far as you can see, bordered by the browns and greens of the coconut trees. The greenery is broken by the blue of the Godavari as it breaks into small canals forming tiny islands before it goes on to meet the sea. All this translates to one thing – beauty !

Moving on, back from our Pancharama Kshetra visit, we had set up our date for the evening with Godavari.

Rajamahendravaram

The best place for a date with the Godavari is Rajamahendravaram. Rajamahendravaram was founded by the Eastern Chalukya king Raja Raja Narendra, the great Andhra king, under whose regime in the 11th Century, Telugu as we know it today took shape. He made Rajamahendravaram, his capital, located on the Godavari’s banks, the city grew into an important commercial and trade centre and when the British came along, it became the Rajahmundry of today (no idea why they spelt it Rajahmundry !)

Akhanda Godavari

Starting from Nashik in Maharashtra, Godavari flows into the Bay of Bengal at Antarvedi in Andhra Pradesh, about 100 kms from Rajahmundry. At Rajahmundry, the Godavari is the widest, stretching to almost 3 kms in width and is called Akhanda Godavari (Mighty, unbroken Godavari). When you stand on the banks, all you can see before you is the sea like wide river !

The two Godavari districts are located on either banks of the river. How the districts located on the banks of a River flowing in the West-East direction are called West-East Godavari districts is a mystery this writer has never been able to understand ! Logically, if the river is flowing in the West-East direction, it will have North-South banks. Anyway, do not go by this writer’s logic, the poor sense of direction (and logic too) of this writer are legendary !

The three Godavari Bridges

Google up Rajahmundry and the most popular images that will show up are those of the three bridges across the Godavari. These three bridges are the celebrities of Rajahmundry.

Havelock Bridge

Until early 1900s, the only way to cross the Godavari was by boats, this is still in practice in some villages where the only connection with the main land is by boats. In 1900, a railway bridge was constructed connecting Kovvur in West Godavari and Rajahmundry in East Godavari. This bridge was decommissioned in 1997 as it had served rail traffic for 97 years !

Godavari Arch Bridge

Right next to the old bridge or Havelock Bridge (named after the Governor who commissioned it), is an engineering feat, the Godavari Arch Bridge, a Bowstring Girder Concrete Bridge, which is believed to be one of the earliest of its kind in the world. This Arch Bridge was built in 1997 to take over from the old bridge.

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The banks along the river here are the perfect place for an evening. You can sit here, gossip and watch the sun set while the cool river breeze gives you company and the fishermen go about their business.

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The old bridge did not have railings, it must have almost been an adventure taking a train ride on this bridge, especially when the river was full !

Further to the left of these two bridges, far into the horizon, you can see the third bridge, the famous Godavari rail-cum-road bridge. We we caught a train passing through the bridge, it looked like a caterpillar though.

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The river here is so wide that you cannot see the other end of the bridges, the Arch bridge gives you a tiny glimpse, more like a light at the end of the tunnel !

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The Arch Bridge starts at Kovvur railway station and ends at Godavari station, a small local station just before Rajahmundry railway station. If you are lucky, you could spot a train passing through the bridge, there are some vantage points from where you can get a very close view of the trains, you can even read their boards. We were lucky to have caught the Mumbai-Bhuwaneswar Konark Express, probably running an hour behind its schedule !

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The above picture has all the three bridges, can you spot the other two behind the Arch bridge?

After spending a pleasant 45 minutes here, we took an auto to the Rail-cum-Road bridge. Though you can see it from the arch bridge, it is 2 kms away ! As we clicked pictures on our way, the auto-driver was impressed by our interest in Rajahmundry. When we told him that one of us hailed from Rajahmundry, he was even more impressed, he said even if one was from Rajahmundry, you needed to have the “feeling” to appreciate the beauty of your own hometown, “how many of them do?” he asked and went on to tell us that he had never taken a single picture in Rajahmundry but had posed for pictures at Tank Bund and Buddha statue in Hyderabad !!

Rail-cum-Road bridge

The Godavari Rail-cum-Road bridge is the icon and pride of Rajahmundry. Opened to traffic in 1977, this 2.7 kms bridge is the second longest rail-cum-road bridge in Asia.

The rail track is below the road way.

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The road way on this bridge, is the only road connection between Kovvur and Rajahmundry. The road way is part of National Highway 5 and sometimes when it is closed for maintenance, you will have to go all the way around to Dhawaleswaram, 5 kms away or take a boat across the river like old times.

The road way was under maintenance during this trip and we could walk on the bridge.

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A walk on this road at sun set will be one of the most unforgettable walks of your life, especially as you leave the land and walk across the 2 kms wide river, the river lit up and sparkling under the setting sun. Your experience will be spiced up if a train passes by below or a lorry/bus passes by you on the road way. The entire bridge vibrates and will scare you out of your wits !

We stood on the bridge and watched the sun set over Kovvur in West Godavari.

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From Rajahmundry, you can only view the sun set, for sunrise views, hop over to the other bank at Kovvur. The Kovvur side doesn’t have such vantage points, though.

In the distance, we could see people enjoying the AP Tourism boat ride that takes you under all the three bridges.

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Godavari Bund Road 

The Godavari Bund Road, bordering the river bank is one of the oldest parts of Rajahmundry. The road is dotted with centuries old temples, the oldest being the Markandeswara Swamy temple. During the 2004 Pushkaralu festival, the entire road was beautified with parks and walk ways. You can sit on the steps leading to the river and watch the sunset or catch “vennello Godari andam” (Godavari’s beauty in moonlight) as a Telugu song goes. Technically, if you want to see moonlight on Godavari, you need to go on to the opposite bank.

The Bajji Capital !

Rajahmundry is a food lover’s paradise. The roadside Bajjis are the best in the world. They come in different varieties and flavours and make a perfect evening snack. Every Bajji cart on the Bund road is crowded in the evenings and Bajjis disappear in minutes! These Bajjis are not your regular Mirchi Bajji served with chutney, their style of preparation is unique only to Rajahmundry. They make Bajjis with almost every vegetable, stuff it with nuts, crunches, spices and puffed rice and the juicy Bajjis have to be gobbled up in one go!

You can also go over to the inner bye-lanes near Annapurna Theatre and look for a Bajji cart that sells Nethi (Ghee) Bajjis, these Bajjis are dipped in Ghee, try this for a taste of heaven ! After you have had your fill, walk down to the stalls and drown them in a bottle of Goli Soda – your life is made !

For the pink of your health – Rajahmundry Rose Milk 

If you are a true foodie, even after binging on the Bajjis and the Goli Soda, you would still want to have Rose Milk, a drink which the people of Rajahmundry equate with the Somras of ancient India ! The divine Rose Milk can be found at Kotagummam market. Kotagummam literally means the Fort’s entrance, it is believed that the ancient fort of Rajahmundry was located here and that there are still some remnants of the 1000 year old fort. Today, the place is a busy, crowded market and in a small shop on the main road, you will find people thronging for a glass of Rose Milk like their life depended on it !

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The shop has stood in the place for 60 years doing a roaring business.Their Rose Milk is almost like a patent, it seems the rose milk essence formula is top secret ! The shop doesn’t even have a name, the board just reads “Rose Milk” and proudly proclaims that they don’t have branches any where else, there is one and only one Rose Milk shop in the whole world !!! This Rose Milk shop was featured in NDTV Goodtimes’ Highway On My Plate.

The Rose Milk comes in 3 varieties – Plain Rose Milk priced at Rs.15/- , Semiya Rose Milk, rose milk served with Vermicelli again Rs.15/- and Kova Rose Milk served with a milk sweet priced at Rs.20/-. Each glass is almost 300 ml. If you have a glass of each variety, you would have gulped down almost a litre of milk, which we did, the first time we tried the Rose Milk and weren’t able to take a single step forward because we were full to the brim ! We have been careful to try only one variety at a time since then.

The river, the bridges, the food, the drink – all this is sure to leave you overwhelmed, it always does for us and like always, we dragged ourselves back from a dream world.

Info tidbits

You must, must try the Bajjis and Rose Milk, your life is incomplete without having tasted them atleast once !

Take the AP Tourism Boat ride, it is a thrilling experience as you go under those massive bridges. The ticket costs Rs.20/- per head. The boat ride starts at Gautami Ghat near ISKCON temple.

Sitting on the steps and relishing the silence, the breeze, watching the trains go by, watching the sun set and moon lit river has to be included in the things to do before you leave this world.

The best time for your river side rendezvous is 5 PM to 8PM.

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