For over a decade, we heard volumes of Papi Kondalu (Hills) and their scenic beauty, a few years people told us to visit the place before the hills were lost forever because of the proposed Polavaram Dam, Papi Hills was that ever elusive place that try as much as possible, the plan never materialised, inspite of the place being very close to Rajahmundry. It was always either the wrong season or the plans had to be dropped for inevitable reasons. This time too there was a threat to the plan but we decided enough was enough and we had to just do the trip, even though March was not a great time to visit the place.
You have different tour options to visit Papi Hills. Almost all tours start from Rajahmundry. 1. One can go on a day long cruise on the river that takes you to a few tribal villages, Papi Hills and back. 2. Another one takes you on the same route and drops you off at Kolluru, a tribal village on the banks of the river where you can spend a night on the sand banks in bamboo huts – this is was our plan. 3. If you are interested in a river cruise cum pilgrimage, there are tours that go further to Bhadrachalam. There are several travel agents who operate these tours, just search on the internet and you will know. We chose to go with Punnami Tourism because there were economical. Our plan was the Papi Hills cruise with night stay at Kolluru. The cost came to Rs.1600 per person inclusive of the launch/boat ride, accommodation and food. You can make the reservations through phone/email and advance payment can be made through online bank transfers.
Welcome onboard the Jabili !
All tour operators offer to pick you up from Rajahmundry and transport you to the launch stations, 30 kms away. Since we had our own vehicle, we could drive down to Purushothapatnam, a tiny village, 35 kms from Rajahmundry. We started at 7.30 AM from Rajahmundry and reached the launch station in an hour. The drive was through the picturesque Konaseema country side that was a treat for the eyes early in the morning.
Our tour operator had informed us that we had to board the launch boat named “Jabili” (Moonlight), if not for anything, you should make this trip just to experience these boat rides. At the launch station one can find boats from various other tour operators all lined up and waiting for passengers to arrive.
Hop on to the boat assigned to you by your tour operator and taste the slice of the Konaseema culture and entertainment. All these boats are air conditioned, they have decent rest rooms, seating on the roof and a stage for entertainment. Each boat has attenders who act as your guides, RJs, hosts and entertainers. Our launch boat, Jabili’s hero is a young man named “Nani”. He is the quintessential Konaseema young man, rustically stylish, broody yet entertaining, annoyingly funny, can dance in style – in short, he is a mini version of a Telugu film hero. He welcomes you to the boat in his stylish English, plays the noisiest music and exasperates you with his cracks ! But, there is something about the boy, after a while he simply grows on you.
Papi Hills, here we come !
At 10 AM, after all the passengers ambled in, the 65 kms river journey began. Before that, we were served a breakfast of Idly and Vada. As the boat left the bank, Nani gave us an introduction to Godavari and the tour plan and then he resumed playing noisy film songs. We let our minds shut off the noise and looked out the window to see the gorgeous Godavari greeting us.
Nani, donned the avatar of a guide and pointed out various landmarks on the way, the villages along the Godavari are popular spots for film shooting. One of the prominent landmarks are the foundation pillars of the Polavaram Dam.
Cellphone signals don’t work after 30 minutes and for the rest of the trip, you can forget about your phones.
After 45 minutes, the first stop was at the Gandi Pochamma temple in a small village. We got down for a very quick darshan. The deity is a tribal Goddess. None of these villages have access by road, the only way to reach them is by boat. A few minutes later, the boat again stopped at Devipatnam, where the Forest Reserve office is located and all boats stop here for obtaining permission to proceed towards Papi Kondalu since the whole area is a protected forest and eco reserve. Devipatnam is the place where the legendary Alluri Sitarama Raju took on the British to protect the interests of the tribals.
Non-stop entertainment !
For the next 2 hours or so, the boat roared with music and dance, the young men in the boat become your entertainers as they dance, perform mimicry, interact with the passengers and crack crude jokes, on the roof of the boat which becomes a makeshift stage. We just wanted the noise to stop but most people seemed to enjoy it, we are talking about the country side and their idea of entertainment is garish. You learn to respect that and soon you will find yourself getting used to it and laughing over it even if you don’t go and join the fun.
The sights before you are so mesmerizing that the noise doesn’t really bother you after some time. We walked to the boat deck and sat down taking in the beauty – the brown sand, blue river and multi-coloured boats, you will find many sight like this but each one seems to out do the other.
You will find fishermen busy at work, stopping to watch the launch boats pass by.
When scenes like this spread out before you, your mind seems to block out all the noise around, we could feel blissful silence within us.
Soon, it was time for lunch. Thankfully, the entertainment programme stopped but it we felt really sorry for the young men when they told us they weren’t salaried employees of the company that owns the boat and that their only source of income was the tips that people gave them for their performance. Lunch was a 5 course Andhra meal served in the boat and was great. We took a breather for some time before everybody was up on their feet, Nani announced that the much awaited Papi Hills were just round the corner.
The legend of Papi Hills
Like all places in India, Papi Hills has many legends associated with it. The most interesting story is that of the demon Papi, who decided to obstruct the flow of the Godavari by taking the form of the hills, this angered the River Goddess and she ripped through the obstruction, killing the demon. Nani told us so many other stories but none of us could understand them !
The story of the demon seems true because from the distance, the Papi Hills look like a wall, you would think the river ends at the foot of the mountain !
It is truly breathtaking to see a wall of hills appear before you suddenly. As you reach closer, you can see that there is a very narrow gap between the hills through which the river flows. The Papi Hills also get their name from the Telugu word “Papidi” which means the hairline of Indian women where the sindoor is applied.
The Papi Kondalu are part of the Eastern Ghats. The width of the Godavari here is reduced to less than 500 meters, compare this with the river’s width at Rajahmundry where it is nearly 3 kms wide ! May be Papi did really try to stop the Godavari !
The narrow stretch of the river also means that it is dangerously deep here. The Papi Hills form a natural boundary between East & West Godavari districts and Khammam districts. For the politically inclined, it could soon become a boundary between Andhra Pradesh and Telengana !!
But, beyond everything else, is the etheral beauty of the river and the towering hills, for describing that, unfortunately, our words fail us.
Just see, feel and soak in the experience it, is all we can say !
We settled down once again after the excitement subsided, it was slowly getting hot as the afternoon drew on when we reached Kolluru, the Bamboo Huts resort, we were to stay there for the night. However, the boat ride would take us further to Perantalapalli and drop us at Kolluru on the return. We got a glimpse of the Bamboo Huts on the bank and we couldn’t wait to get there !
Perantalapalli, is a tiny tribal village, 10 minutes boat ride from Kolluru. There is a Shiva temple here and a hermitage called Ramakrishna Hermitage. The boat stops here for 20 minutes for a visit to the temple.
There is a small stream in front of the temple, the water here is believed to be cool in all seasons. After the journey in the hot sun, the coolness was refreshing.
The village has no power, they thrive on solar energy, there is no access to the village by road or other means except boats. Visitors are expected to respect the customs and privacy of the tribals.
You can buy local handicrafts but you are not allowed to bargain. These bamboo handicrafts are very pretty and priced between Rs.30/-and Rs.100/-. We bought a bamboo flower bouquet and a very cute looking bamboo basket. The basket was actually shortlisted by someone else who wanted to buy it on the return from the temple, unaware of that, we bought it before them and it now graces our home ! Is this what we call destiny?
Dream world !
If you were to dream of heaven, wouldn’t it be something like this? The serenity will haunt you long after you leave the place.
We don’t think we could come up with these scenes even in our imagination !
Meanwhile, our “Jabili” was waiting to take us to Kolluru.
People heading to Bhadrachalam switch to another boat here. Perantalapalli, is a busy junction in the Papi Hills ! All the boats seem to have amazing co-ordiantion between them, considering that there are no phone signals.
We boarded our boat and 10 minutes later, after a 5 & 1/2 hour journey, we alighted at Kolluru. We knew we were in for a treat as soon as we stepped on the banks, the scene here was only a trailer !
Bursting with excitement, we walked towards the Bamboo Huts.
We will forever treasure the next 24 hours we spent here !