If you work for an organisation that selects declared holidays to coincide with a weekend, don’t quit it ! In March this year, when Ugadi turned out to be a Sunday, one our guy’s company was nice enough to declare a holiday for Sri Rama Navami because that would make it a long weekend, followed by another long weekend for Good Friday. We chose to go on a short trip during the first long weekend. While several places were shortlisted, it came down to Amaravati, the capital of Andhra Pradesh and then to the river side at Dindi. Our Ecosport was given some time off as our friend wanted to test his driving skills and his new i20 Active.
This was also one of those trips that we decided not to take our camera and just use our mobile phones to click pictures, our camera is yet to be serviced after it developed a snag during our Delhi trip in November and we also wanted to just chill without thinking about clicking good pictures.
A drive on the Vijaywada Highway will always include a plan for breakfast at one the swanky food courts on the Narketpally-Suryapet stretch, this time, we stopped for breakfast at N-Grill just a little before Narketpally. We took the NAM Expressway till Piduguralla and then deviated towards Guntur. The distance between Pidguralla and Guntur took us about 2 hours, the double road was good except for some lorry traffic.
As you near Guntur, one can see the nearby hills blasted off for construction, it is always sad to see how human beings don’t think twice before taking nature for granted.
As they say, nature has enough for everybody’s need, not for their greed. We might think, we own nature but every now and then, it does show us who is the boss !
This signboard caught our attention when we entered Guntur.
Amaravati – The Capital !
It was lunch time by the time we checked into our hotel, Delight Guest Rooms, a good hotel with decent pricing. With no second thoughts, we headed to the legendary Sankara Vilas for lunch ! What a delicious meal it was, a proper, full course, Andhra Meal, the satisfaction of having such a meal is indescribable !
A scrumptious meal should always be followed by Paan and our search for Paan in the bye-lanes of Guntur lead us to this !
Mr.B.S.Rayudu is the most interesting Paan seller we ever met ! Hailing from Guntur, he told us he lived in Madras for several decades, he claimed to have acted as a junior actor in a few movies and also told us, Rajnikanth was his regular customer and would only have Paan made by him ! This writer hit off with him as both had the common ground of Madras. He made Meenakshi Paan for us and insisted on us admitting that it was the best Meenakshi Paan we had ! His love for cinema was evident in the manner he did everything – dramatic ! The name board above is evidence. We loved talking to him, it felt like watching a live 1960s movie. If you ever visit Guntur, meet this celebrity Paan wala. His location is also plotted on Google Maps as B.S.Rayudu !
“Amaravati Nagara Apurupa silpalu”
The March heat was already draining us and with a heavy meal to add to the effect, we decided to take some rest. Around 4 PM we set out towards Amaravati. Our first stop was the Amaravati Archaeological Museum.
Photography is prohibited inside the museum, so this is the only picture we can get of the museum.
The Amaravati Museum houses the collection of the sculpture found at the 2000 year old Amaravati Stupa. The Amaravati Stupa was built at the peak of the Satavahana Era in the 1st Century A.D, at that time Amaravati was a flourishing capital and an important Buddhist centre. The sculpture style developed under the Satavahanas has come to be known as the Amaravati School of sculpture. Some of the best examples of the Amaravati sculpture can be found at this museum and at the Chennai Museum. Of course, a major chunk of it was shipped to London during the British rule. The sculptural perfection that was achieved 2000 years ago is unbelievable ! Check out the life-size sculpture of a bull at this museum, you will be stunned ! This writer remembers a visit to the museum way back in 2004, when we saw the Bull sculpture for the first time, we almost staggered back in surprise, it was as if a real bull was standing before us.
The State Song of Andhra Pradesh, Ma Telugu Talliki has the line “Amaravati Nagara Apurupa Silpalu” (The outstanding sculptures of Amaravati), one should visit this museum to understand what that means.
There is nothing left of the once massive Amaravati Stupa except the base, in its heyday it was supposed to be around 100 feet high ! The Stupa had been neglected for several centuries until the British found it, by then, people had been taking away the bricks to build their houses, even the British caused damage to it through their excavations. Read the story of Amaravati Stupa to understand how little we value our heritage. Even today, there are very few people who even know about this Stupa, which, at one point of time in India’s history was probably the largest Buddhist stupa ever built ! This time, we simply drove by the Stupa as the road did not seem to have proper access and it was also closing time.
Instead, we went to see the Dhyana Buddha Statue on the banks of the Krishna river. When we visited Amaravati in 2009 for a wedding, the statue was still under construction. Now, it has become the icon of modern Amaravati. When we tried clicking a picture of the statue against the sunlight, we caught this by pure chance:
Light of wisdom emanating from Lord Buddha? Buddha tried his best but we don’t seem to have learnt anything from his wise teachings !
The Krishna River flows near this statue and as we stood looking at the river, we tried to imagine the scenes 2000 years ago, the 100 feet Stupa visible from far to boats sailing on the river, what a magnificent sight it would have been?
As we were leaving, we spotted a statue of the greatest of the Satavahana emperors – Gautamiputra Satakarni !
A dynasty that ruled a major part of the country and should be counted on par with the Mauryan Empire, that had thriving trade links with Europe 2000 years ago and made their kingdom one of the most prosperous of its times, hardly gets a paragraph mention in our history books ! It was heartening to see atleast a statue in honour of this Emperor at the very place from where he ruled.
From Lord Buddha, we went to the abode of Lord Shiva, Amaravati is also home to Amareswara Temple, one of the Pancharama Kshetras, the five important temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in Andhra Pradesh.
The Shiva Linga in the temple is so tall that one has to climb one storey to see the top part of the Shiva Linga !
There was hardly anybody at the temple and in our three trips to Amaravati, this was the first time, we got a chance to see the temple in detail including a proper darshan. The temple is located on the banks of the Krishna River and one can get some pleasant views of the river from the temple.
After our visit to the temple, we drove towards the Amaravati Capital area. Enroute, we stopped at a village for some tender coconut water. We chatted up with the locals asking them what they thought about giving up their lands for building capital. Some were happy their lands were getting more value, some weren’t too sure and were wondering if they did the right thing because until they got their plot allotted in the new capital city, they cannot even continue their farming. Not everybody was keen on giving up their agricultural lands, the agricultural labourers have lost their livelihood as land given up for the capital is no longer cultivated and they told us the government was paying them Rs.2,500/- per month per family. We asked them how they managed to run a household with just that money, they simply shrugged and joked about it.
Amaravati is being built as a world class capital city of the State of Andhra Pradesh but it comes at the cost of 33,000 acres of agricultural land in one of the most fertile regions of the country. Whatever reasons one might give, nothing seems to justify building a city on the flood plains of a mighty river, by displacing fertile agricultural land. All this, in the name of development, why do we associate development with urbanisation? When will we realise that development is not just about swanky buildings, IT industry or fancy malls ! The lure for many people is that they would get plots/housing with more value in the capital city but do they understand how quickly the dynamics of real estate change and it could take years to even get the promised plots allotted?
As we drove towards the Secretariat, the sun was setting and we could see bare fields, all given away for the capital city.
Given our agricultural background, it pained us to see the bare lands. Politics !
About 11 kms from Vijayawada, we finally arrived at the AP Secretariat. One look and you understand why people are so excited about the capital city. Solar lighting, well maintained roads, state of art buildings, the cool factor is evident. We only clicked some very random pictures because we were not sure about the security rules but here is a glimpse of the dazzling lights of the road leading to the Secretariat.
Amaravati as the capital city is still a long, long way to go. This very place was the seat of power 2000 years ago, time will only tell what the future holds for this ancient land, one thing remains unchanged though, the quietly flowing Krishna river !
Weaving our heritage
From the Secretariat, our last stop for the day was Mangalagiri, a name synonym with Handloom cottons. Mangalagiri is also famous for the two temples dedicated to Lord Narasimha. Our fellow traveller, recovering from a bout of viral fever was exhausted after the tiring drive and visit to Amaravati, so while he rested in the car, the remaining two of us went to visit the Mangalagiri temple.
The first thing that you will notice in Mangalagiri is the 153 feet gopuram of the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple, this is one of the tallest gopurams in South India and north of the Krishna River, the size of the gopurams becomes smaller. The architecture of the temple is typical of the Vijayanagar style around which time the temple seems to have been built. The gopuram was built during the early 1800s. Since it was past 7 PM, we could hardly click any pictures, anyway, photography is not allowed near the main shrine.
The temple premises was peaceful, we had an easy darshan because it was not crowded and walked around taking in the serenity. We were allowed to take a picture from the outside, not that our mobile phone could capture much !
There is a base of a ruined or probably an incomplete gopuram, the base looks huge and imposing, reminds you of the incomplete gopuram at the Tadipatri temple in Rayalaseema, again built during the Vijayanagar times, wonder what is the story behind these incomplete gopurams?
Since we had left our friend in the car, we kept our visit to the temple short. We decided to visit the other famous temple at Mangalagiri, Panakala Narasimha Swamy temple the following day and went handloom shopping.
Mangalagiri, we all know, is renowned for the cotton handlooms, the elegant, handwoven sarees of Mangalagiri are must have in every Indian wardrobe. We come across the Mangalagiri cottons being sold in most places of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana but it is only when you see them at Mangalagiri, do you realise how an authentic hand woven textile looks. The smooth feel of the cotton fabric, will almost make you want to sleep on it ! We were told the cottons that one finds in places like Hyderabad are actually power loom textiles which account for the lower price. We promptly bought sarees and dress materials for family, raving at the beauty and grace of each piece.
There are several shops in a lane right opposite the temple, we could not see the actual weaving, most of the shops own handlooms and employ weavers. Unlike the Pochampally handlooms that are being heavily promoted by the Telangana government, we were told, Mangalagiri is yet to receive that kind of patronisation. Something the government of AP needs to focus on, promoting local livelihood, especially something that is such an integral part of our heritage. It is worth all the effort to travel and buy handlooms at the source. Textile weaving is a talent that needs to be promoted and held in high esteem ! You will realise that when you see the simple, traditional yet beautiful designs and wonder how it was all done on a handloom.
With our trunk half filled with sarees and salwar suits, we drove back to Guntur. Sankara Vilas was our obvious choice for dinner. We had Idly and Dosa, one bite into the Dosa and Sambhar and we said “this is how a hotel Dosa should be !” There is something to the taste of traditional hotels that newer restaurants cannot match. We had coffee at the end of our dinner and what a coffee it was ! The perfect Andhra Coffee !
We do not know if it was the Amaravati sculpture, the Krishna River, the serenity of Narasimha Swamy temple, the delicate, soft weaves of Mangalagiri or the coffee at Sankara Vilas, we went to bed in a state of blissful happiness !
- Amaravati Museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM and closed on Fridays.
- Amaralingeswara Swamy temple is open from 6 AM to 12 noon and from 4 PM to about 8 PM.
- Mangalagiri Temple timings are 5 AM to 12 Noon and 4 PM to 8.30 PM. The Panakala Narasimha Swamy Temple closes by 3 PM everyday.
- Amaravati is about 32 kms from Guntur and 40 kms from Vijayawada, one can plan to stay in Vijayawada or Guntur.
- Mangalagiri is only 11 kms from Vijayawada, from Guntur the distance is about 25 kms.
- Mangalagiri handlooms textiles range from Rs.1200/- to Rs.3,000/- depending on the fabric. You may bargain a bit. Most of the shops are located opposite the temple and most seem authentic.
- Vijayawada Kanaka Durga Temple, Mangalagiri, Undavalli Caves, Amaravati can be covered over a weekend trip from Hyderabad.
- These places are best visited in the months of October to February, during the rest of the year this region is super hot !
- Finding transport to go around is not difficult as all the places are popular centres and one can find autos, buses or cabs. You can also hire self-drive cars from Vijayawada.
- Food is never a problem here, this is one of the best hubs for authentic Andhra food. Do not miss Sankara Vilas in Guntur.
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