The New Year is here, time to draw up new plans but for the year that went by what better way to wind it up than a road trip? And if the purpose of the road trip is to realise a long cherished dream, even better. It has been our policy for some years now to take the last week of December off and travel (that we travel at the drop of a hat during the rest of the year is another thing !). We were worried if our travel dreams would end abruptly with the 21st December prophecy, thankfully, the world didn’t end and our travel plans were intact.
This time, we hit a jackpot by getting tickets for A.R.Rahman’s concert in Chennai, watching him perform live was something on our bucket list. A trip to Chennai obviously meant a road trip. Having a full week ahead of us, we decided to do a leisurely drive via Vijayawada, stopping over at hometown, Nellore before going to Chennai for the concert.
The vacation begins !
We set out on 24th December 2012 at 7 AM, it was an awesome feeling to be going on a trip on a Monday morning, beat the blues, we say ! It is a pleasure to drive on Hyderabad roads at that early in the day and when we reached LB Nagar, we were greeted by a thick fog cover with zero visibility beyond two vehicles ! The fog extended all the way to the Hyderabad-Vijayawada Highway. It was absolutely thrilling to drive through the thick fog. It was past 8 AM when the sun peeped out a little.
We could hardly see a thing on the roadside, we had no idea when we crossed Ramoji Film City, one of the main landmarks on the highway.
NH9, finally done !
When the fog finally cleared, our focus shifted to the highway. The Hyderabad-Vijayawada highway, part of the NH9, now NH 65, has always been a point of discussion on road travels. This highway connecting the two most important cities in the state was a double road till a few years back. The traffic was always insanely heavy and when the four laning work started, driving on this highway was a nightmare. We had seen it at its worst in November 2011 when we drove to Khammam with dangerous deviations every where. People had almost lost hope that they would live to see the four laning work complete !
We had zero expectations when we hit the highway but lo, to our utterly happy surprise the entire NH65 lay before us, sparkling new and world class ! We were overjoyed like we had accomplished something in our lives !! We simply breezed through our way to Suryapet in exactly 2 hours from when we started.
Breakfast in style at Suryapet
Suryapet, an important stopover on this highway and also a junction between various other towns, has always been famous for its dhabas and highway eating joints. The latest and the best on the list is the Highway food court “7”. This state of art food court has all the big brands including Subway and Baskin&Robbins. You wouldn’t believe a highway food joint in India could be of this standard, everytime we stop here, it makes us feel so good. We feasted on Idly, Pongal, Vada and coffee for breakfast and in true Andhra style, bought a audio CD of the latest Telugu movie “Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu”, well, when you are travelling to the centre of Andhra, be a true blue Telugu !
With the music keeping us good company (the title song has some beautiful lyrics and it played on repeat for close to 2 hours !) and a superb road, we reached the outskirts of Vijayawada by 12 noon ! Hyderabad-Vijayawada in 4 hours, we almost had tears of joy looking at India Shining through its highways !
15 kms before Vijayawada, lies Kondapalli, famous for the Kondapalli Fort and Kondapalli toys, we wanted to visit the Fort. One has to take a deviation from the highway, the sign boards are not very clear and it is always advisable to ask for directions (unless you want to stick to Google Maps like us and end up asking for directions after wasting some time!)
Kondapalli Fort belonged to the kings of the Reddy Dynasty that ruled this part of Andhra in the 1300s, since then it came under various other kings including the Gajapatis, Vijayanagara and the Qutubshahi kings. The fort is located on a hill surrounded by dense forests. In its heyday, it must have been a very difficult fort to penetrate.
There is a ghat road leading upto the fort, the road is very narrow and if there is a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, you will not find any place to squeeze through and one of the vehicles have to reverse to let the other pass. The drive is lovely, nevertheless.
There is a fee of Rs.5 to enter the fort. Kondapalli fort, today, lies completely in ruins, only a few structures remain of the once mighty fort.
This writer had visited this fort in 2004, nothing has changed in these years. The maintenance of the fort is pathetic. It seems to be a popular picnic spot, the popularity is evident from how badly the place is littered, every inch is filled with plastic plates, bottles, leftover food, polyethene covers. Every wall of the fort is full of graffiti. You will find the eternal lovers “Rehman and Rukku” proclaiming their love all over the fort ! One can never understand the mindset of our people, what sadistic pleasure do they gain by spoiling historical monuments? When on a picnic, is it so difficult to use a dustbin or take the stuff back and dump them at home?
We didn’t let the poor state dampen our spirits, that was the least we could do to respect the memory of the kings gone by. The Reddy Dynasty, founded by Prolaya Vema Reddy, a feudatory of the Kakatiyas, who grew in power at the end of the Kakatiya Dynasty. He built the Kondapalli Fort. The Reddy Dynasty ruled for over 100 years over the whole of Andhra and was a formidable opponent to the Sultans before the Gajapatis and later Vijayanagara Kings took over. Sadly, this kingdom does not usually appear in History books and remains unknown to common knowledge.
Even in its ruined state, one can see that the fort was formidable and huge. The fort walls and watch towers, now in ruins, run all around the hill, they are hardly visible now because of overgrowth of trees and shrubs covering them.
Towards the centre of the fort, there is an open space with small structure, the board says this was once the marketplace. Those small structures must have been shops. It is interesting that the fort had a bazaar area right in the middle !
Further up is the Royal Prison, the dark cells must have been witness to many a war and bloodshed and prisoners.
Beside the prison is the Royal Armoury, where once rested the symbols of the kingdom’s valour, today, it is a resting place for creatures hanging upside down from the ceiling !
Adjacent to the marketplace is the Rani Mahal.
This place must have once been buzzing with activity, beauty, vanity and gossip. Even today people use this place to sit and gossip, the quiet surroundings make a perfect setting, the only thing that hasn’t changed in 700 years !
A major part of the fort is the Dancing Hall. Only pillars of the walls remain of the dancing hall. There is a story that the last of the popular kings of the Reddy Dynasty Kumaragiri Reddy fell for a court dancer Lakuma Devi and even went to the extent of neglecting his kingdom !
When visiting forts, it always helps to read up a bit on the history, it opens up a whole new world of imagination as you walk through the remnants of people of yore otherwise a fort will only be a boring layout of bricks and stone, we always hear people saying there is nothing in a fort, that is because they do not make an effort to know the history and the hard work that went into making it. Probably, that is also why it is so easy for people to disregard monuments.
We left the fort with a parting look of the fort walls overlooking the Kondapalli village below the hill. There is also a small dargah outside the fort.
Kondapalli is also famous for wooden toys, known as Kondapalli Bommalu. These toys made of softwood are the traditional handicraft of Kondapalli. The toys are hand made and if you drive through the village, you could spot people making them in their homes. We found a vendor selling a few toys at the entrance of the fort and bought this cute little toy as a souvenir.
From the silence of history at Kondapalli Fort, we entered the noise of modern day Vijayawada by lunch time.