From the times of Indika
Before we begin our travel story, here is a little lesson in history that we gathered from our research on the internet. More than 2000 years ago, Megasthenes in his book on India “Indika” (was the Tata Indica named after this?), while talking about the races of India mentions the “Andhra” race, a race he considered powerful than their contemporaries, it seems they had an infantry of 100000, cavalry of 2000, 1000 elephants and 30 towns that had defensive walls around them !! This region of the “Andhra” race is identified as the region between the Godavari and Krishna Rivers or the modern day Telangana region. Ironical, isn’t it? Today people are losing their sanity about the two regions when they were always one and the same !!
The internet says, in 2005, the Archeology Department of Andhra Pradesh took up a project on identifying the 30 walled towns mentioned by Megasthenes and roughly identified 16 of them (Source: AP Archeology Department), one such place is Dhulikatta, a small village 30 kms from Karimnagar. Dhulikatta’s actual claim to fame, however, is the Buddhist Stupa belonging to the Satavahana period.
When we realized that a monument with such rich history behind it was on our trip route, there was no way we were going to miss it. From Vemulawada, our journey continued to Dhulikatta.
Following the Godavari
The drive to Dhulikatta took us to the interior parts of the Telangana region and throughout the drive, we seemed to be following various branches of the river Godavari. If the river is nearby, views like this are common but they simply never cease to make you go “wow” !
Dhulikatta is 30 kms from Karimnagar and about 60 kms from Vemulawada. It took us about an hour to reach Dhulikatta village, following Google maps and for a change asking directions !
The long search for the Stupa
We read on the internet that there was no proper road to the Buddhist Stupa at Dhulikatta and one had to walk for a kilometer or so. The AP Tourism website claimed that the 3 day Satavahana Festival is held here every year and so we expected some information boards or something to indicate that a monument of such historical importance was located in the village. Instead, we were greeted by amused villagers who were surprised that somebody was interested in visiting the “Buddhuni Gudi” (Buddha’s temple), they told us it was located at the far end of the village and directed us to a spot from where we had to walk.
We took a road that was supposed to take us to the Yellamma Temple, where we could park our car, we soon realized, there was no road, just a mud path that had developed deep trenches thanks to tractors ! How do you expect a Figo to tread the path of tractors?? But, the poor car put up a brave face and managed to take us across to the temple. There was a scary looking Banyan tree waiting for us, it looked like the tree demons straight out of folklore Telugu movies !
Beneath the Banyan tree, there were a few men with their toddy collection for the day, some of them gave us the “looks” when we asked them the way to the Stupa. They told us it was difficult to reach the Stupa as we had cross fields and streams. We, of course, were too excited to return without visiting it. As we began walking on the narrow path leading to the Stupa, suddenly a fear came upon us. There was only the two of us and it was obvious we were not locals, what if somebody attacked us? That’s the last thing you would want to think of when you are in a strange place, yet, we did not want to give up and went ahead. We were determined to find the ancient representation of Buddha’s Dhamma (Dharma, teachings of Buddha).
Silence is not so golden !
The entire path was deserted, not a soul and not a sound around. We walked and walked in the hot sun, amidst cotton fields with no idea if we were even allowed to enter those fields. What if the villagers caught us for trespassing?
Every now and then we looked behind us to see if we were being followed, in the open space, there was no where to even run and hide !
We walked for more than 15 minutes but there was no Stupa in sight even in the distance. After a while we arrived at a mini waterfall between the fields.
Turns out, it was not exactly a waterfall but more of a stream flowing down a bund built for irrigation. We were hugely relieved to find someone near the stream. He gave us further directions, half of which we could not understand because the village dialect was hard to follow, all that we understood was that we had to go forward and cross some more fields. Fields were the only landmark people gave us and how would you know which field to go to when all look alike??
More walking followed, we spotted an odd worker in the fields here and there in the distance, it was so quiet that you could hear their voices all the way. We tried shouting and asking for directions but nobody could hear us properly. The excitement soon began to turn in frustration. It was past noon by then, it was hot, sultry and we were tired. We wanted to go back but something kept pulling us to go on.
After what seemed eternity, finally, far across the fields, we spotted a mound covered with grass, we zoomed our camera lens and spot on, it was the Stupa !! We were overjoyed !
Only for a few minutes though. We could see the Stupa but couldn’t find a way leading to it, crossed an irrigation stream and walked further but somehow the Stupa was lost behind 4 feet high cotton shrubs ! We seemed to have a reached a dead end, so near yet so far ! We tried to find a way out to no avail and returned thinking we were being reasonable by not venturing into areas we had no idea about. This writer was close to tears, we didn’t come so close only to go back disappointed !
We walked back, consoling ourselves that we at least got a glimpse of the Stupa and thought may be we would come back some other time with a bigger group.
When we reached the mini waterfall, we met an old man setting up his fishing net in the stream. We casually asked him if there was no way to the Stupa. Like every other villager in Dhulikatta, he was amused, he laughed at us when we told him we returned because we were a little scared to go further. When we told him we were from Hyderabad, boy, was he impressed with us ! He puffed up his chest with pride and told us he would take us to the Stupa because he wouldn’t send visitors all the way from Hyderabad empty handed ! We thought for a moment if we could trust him but decided to go with our instincts and followed him. Did the Enlightened One send him to us?
Silent witness to 2000 years of history
And so, we followed Kanakayya, now our guide, through the dirt tracks and cotton fields of Dhulikatta.
We were told that it was easier to reach the Stupa in Summer when the fields and streams were dry. During the walk, we talked about life in Dhulikatta, politics, family and life in general. Kanakayya shared many a philosophical thought with us about hard work, satisfaction, happiness, some thoughts were so profound, we wondered if the presence of the Buddhist Stupa infused philosophical ideas into the people’s minds !
We crossed the fields and reached wastelands of the village and then came to the final hurdle in our quest for the Stupa. There was a stream that we had to cross, even Kanakayya didn’t know how deep it was or if it was safe to cross it. He walked ahead first through the water and found a safe way for us. The water was knee deep and there was no way we could see if there were any water snakes waiting for us ! We also met another villager, Kanakayya’s acquaintance who joined us in crossing the stream. We were too worried about slipping to even think of taking pictures !
We walked through the stream over slightly slippery rocks, stepped onto the other side and there it was, the Stupa, 2000 years of history, right before us ! For a history lover, it is overwhelming !
The main part of the Stupa is long gone, today, the platform and the ruins of the Stupa are all that remain. We approached it hesitantly, could we touch it? Were we intruding into sacred space?
There are few marble slabs near the Stupa. These slabs must have decorated the Stupa during the days of its glory.
At the side of the Stupa, there is a statue of Buddha. We doubt if it was a part of the Stupa, it looked like a recent addition.
The Archeology department conducted some excavations here and discovered pottery and coins from the Sathavahana and even the Roman period, there must have been trade links between the two kingdoms. The Archeology department seems to have cleaned up the place and renovated parts of it. There was also a report sometime back that treasure seekers destroyed a part of Stupa in search of hidden treasures. How do we teach our people to treasure our history and not look for treasures from history?
Is this all there is to see? Yes, that is all but it is not about what you see. It is about the experience of standing in a place that was once visited by the might Satavahanas, that was probably mentioned in what would have been the earliest travelogues on India, monks of ancient times must have walked this very path and now we had touched it. As the grass on the Stupa ruins swayed in the breeze, the Stupa seemed alive, history was talking to us !
After spending about 15 minutes, we decided to head back, not before taking a picture of Kanakayya and his friend, whose name we could not understand ! This picture is to say thank you to them.
We took a shorter route this time, thanks to Kanakayya’s friend, crossing the stream was easier on this route because it was only ankle deep here.
We passed by some more village folk, everybody found it funny that we came all the way from Hyderabad to see the Stupa ! We bid goodbye to Kanakayya who went back to his fishing, all he wanted in return was Rs.30 for toddy !! We wouldn’t let him go with just that, though. He was ecstatic when we gave him Rs.200/- and promised to be our guide again the next time we visited Dhulikatta. It was not about money but we didn’t know how else to thank him.
We had the most exciting time but when we reached the Banyan tree, we realized we were hugely relieved to be back safe and decided we shouldn’t be taking such risks unless we were in a bigger group. Wonder how AP Tourism listed Dhulikatta as a tourist place without making it even remotely tourist friendly. To give them credit, we were told the Tourism department was planning to build an accessible road to the Stupa, we hope they do it fast.
The path to Dharma is always difficult but the search for Dhamma at Dhulikatta turned out to be an adventurous one !
It was way past lunch time when we left Dhulikatta, we had to skip lunch and have biscuits bought at a nearby shop !
– If you ask us whether it is worth a trip to Dhulikatta, well, we leave that to you. If you are a history lover who wouldn’t mind a little adventure, do visit it.
– History lover or not, it is advisable to go in a bigger group. The people of the village are very kind, plain hearted and helpful but it is always good to be cautious. Be back before it gets too dark.
– Carry enough water as the walk to the Stupa takes about half an hour, especially if you lose you way.
– Take help of the locals if you can. When in a strange place go by your instincts about people, take their help only if you feel comfortable in their presence.
– The nearest centre to find transport is Eligad, you wouldn’t find frequent public transport to Dhulikatta, so take your own vehicle.
– There are a few shops in the village where you can find some snacks.
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