Nelakondapalli, Bhadrachalam & more

Sometime between February-March, this writer had a very vivid dream of Lord Rama’s idol in Bhadrachalam. The idol was so clear and the vision so strong that even for someone who is not very inclined to believe such dreams, it wouldn’t leave the mind for several days. It triggered a feeling to go visit some holy place, which became stronger when just a week later, the sibling called up to say he was travelling to Bhadrachalam on work ! Now, that was a complete co-incidence or was it? And, almost a week later, we were required to travel to Rajamundry on some work and that is when we decided, Bhadrachalam was calling us.

Our work in Rajamundry was scheduled for a Monday, so the plan was to use the weekend for a trip to Bhadrachalam.

Nelakondapalli 

One of the signs of our entry into middle ages is planning the start of a trip after 6 AM ! Unless absolutely necessary, the days of waking up at 3 AM and heading out at 4 AM seem to be gone. We started at 7 AM on the Hyderabad – Vijayawada highway, before driving to Bhadrachalam, we wanted to take a detour to Nelakondapalli.

Breakfast was at our default pitstop, Hotel Vivera at Narketpally. Following Google Maps, we arrived at Nelakondapalli, about 15 kms from Kodad on the Vijayawada highway. If you grew up listening to Carnatic Music, Ramadasu Keerthanas would have been your staple music diet. Visiting Nelakondapalli is like a musical pilgrimage because it is the birthplace of Kancharla Gopanna, the 17th Century Vaggeyakara (composer) of those Keerthanas and the builder of the temple at Bhadrachalam, an act that resulted in 12 years of imprisonment at the Golconda Fort. His unconditional devotion to Lord Rama earned him the name Bhakta Ramadasu.

The village of Nelakondapalli houses the Ramadasu Dhyana Mandiram, a memorial built in the honour of the great composer.

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The environs of the memorial are very peaceful.

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There was nobody else there and all was quiet, a perfect setting to sit down and meditate on Lord Rama or sing Keerthanas in His praise. There is a meditation hall with idols of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, which was locked when we visited.

A well which is believed to have been used by Ramadasu is located in the courtyard of the memorial.

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We also spotted a plaque for the laying of the foundation stone for the memorial in 1955 and another one commemorating the renovation and re-opening by Dr.Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, the music legend, whose renditions of Ramadasu Keerthanas brought the rich legacy into every Telugu household. It was almost a goosebump moment for us to see his name at Nelakondapalli because of our reverence for Dr.Balamuralikrishna. For us, Ramadasu Keerthanas and Tyagaraja Swamy Krithis in anybody else’s voice just doesn’t sound right !

As we walked back, we found ourselves humming “Paahi Rama Prabho” and feeling overwhelmed, such is the beauty of our cultural heritage.

While at Nelakondapalli, one must also visit the ancient Buddhist Stupa, which dates back to atleast 1st Century A.D.

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The Stupa is just 2 kms from Ramadasu Mandiram. The Stupa is well maintained and the entire area is quiet and scenic with a huge lake called Bala Samudram near by.

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2000 years ago, Buddhist monks must have sat here in meditation, very fascinating to imagine the scene. If you are wondering how a Buddhist Stupa came to be in a remote place like Nelakondapalli, then, the entire region between Nagarjuna Sagar and Guntur was once the Buddhist hub under the Sathavahana, Ikshvaku and Vishnukundin dynasties, Amaravathi, the Sathavahana capital is about 145 kms from here.

Naganna Hotel, Kusumanchi 

After a quick visit to the Stupa, we were back on the road, this time headed towards Kusumanchi to have lunch at Naganna Hotel. This tiny eatery is quite famous in Kusumanchi and has come to be known as a must visit highway food joint because of their Andhra meal which includes 22 varieties of dishes.

Naganna Hotel is only 19 kms from Nelakondapalli and we reached the place at a good time for lunch, we were hungry and ready for an elaborate meal.

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Do not be put off by the look of the hotel, go in, have a seat and fill your heart with a delicious Andhra meal !

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The warmth with which you are served makes all the difference, even if it is a small, stuffy eatery, we relished every bit of the food and stepped out wondering if we could find a shady tree and just sleep !

Here is Bhadradri, there is Gautami, behold !

It took us more than 3 hours to reach Bhadrachalam from Kusumanchi, the road was bad for most part, mostly due to the road widening works. We could not shake off the impact of our visit to Nelakondapalli and we listened to Dr.BMK’s renditions of Ramadasu’s Keerthanas all the way to Bhadrachalam.

“Idigo Bhadradri Gautami Adigo chudandi” sang Ramadasu glorifying Bhadrachalam and the Godavari River. When we reached Bhadrachalam and got the first glimpse of the river and the temple from the highway, that Keerthana the first thought that came to our minds.

This was our third trip to Bhadrachalam, here is an account of our first trip in 2011.

Reaching Bhadrachalam, we first tried to find accommodation at the Temple managed cottages but most rooms were full, so we settled for Telangana Tourism’s Haritha Hotel, always a dependable option. We relaxed in our room till about 5 PM and went for a walk around the town, having a cup of tea on the way.

There is a nice walkway bordering the Godavari River, a scenic, ideal place for your regular walking regime.

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There were people going on their evening walks, we got a glorious view of the sunset over the Godavari river, for once, we did not try and click a picture, we just stood savouring every moment of that beautiful sunset.

From the walkway, one can also get a view of the Bhadrachalam temple.

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This is the only picture we have of the temple, as we all know by now, photography is not allowed inside temples.

We walked down to the Godavari River and spent some time watching people splash in the river to beat the summer heat, some were taking boat rides in the river, some praying and setting lamps afloat.

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Overall, it was a joyful atmosphere and it filled our hearts with happiness to stand there, feel the breeze and see people have a good time.

We then walked around the bye-lanes of Bhadrachalam, stopped by at a small, family run eatery for a cup of coffee, we were pleasantly surprised to know that the head of the family was from Tamil Nadu, his wife was from Karnataka and they had settled down in Telangana – true national integration. It was interesting to talk to them and know how someone all the way from Tamil Nadu had settled in Bhadrachalam. The man of the house told us, his grandfather had worked at ITC Bhadrachalam and they moved there permanently. It was fun interacting in Tamil at a place where one would least expect to hear the language.

Then, it was time for our darshan of Lord Rama. While preparing for our darshan, we happened to remember a family anecdote. This writer’s Great-grandmother, a staunch Vaishnavite, had wanted to visit Bhadrachalam atleast once in her life but she never got chance to do so, we were told that remained an unfulfilled wish for her. In her memory, we decided to donate towards Annadanam, where every year on a particular day of our choice, the temple serves food in her name to devotees. As we walked to the temple, we wondered if she was behind this writer’s dream of Lord Rama !

We went to the temple around 7.30 PM for the darshan, thankfully, the temple was not very crowded and had a long, peaceful darshan of the Lord Rama sitting regally with Goddess Sita and Lakshmana beside him. We think, the idol at Bhadrachalam is probably the most beautiful idol of Lord Rama in the entire country !

After our darshan, we sat down in the corridors, talking about India’s cultural ethos, spirituality and soaking the feeling of positive energy that one gets when you visit pilgrim places like Bhadrachalam.

As the temple closing time was approaching, we left the temple and headed for dinner. Instead of the regular restaurants or eateries, we tried the Brahmana Karivena Annadana Satram, a charitable organisation providing food and shelter to pilgrims. We were served a very humble dinner of Wheat Upma, which we relished not just for the taste but the entire feeling of partaking food as part of the general community.

We retired for the night with our hearts happy to the brim.

Bhadrachalam to Rajamundry via Maredumilli

We were up early as we usually do while on trips, the roads of Bhadrachalam were deserted when we went out for a walk and some coffee. We found a stall which was run by someone again from Tamil Nadu, in fact, all the way from Tirunelveli, his grandparents had settled in Bhadrachalam, having worked in the Singareni Collieries. Just visiting a place is one thing but the most interesting part of travelling is the people you meet and the cultural experience, minus that, travel is just going from place to place.

Back to continuing our journey towards Rajamundry, we had complimentary breakfast at Haritha Hotel and then hit the highway via Maredumilli. The route brought back memories of our family trip to Maredumilli in 2016. We could still remember the spots where we had stopped to click pictures ! You can read about our trip in 2016 here.

It was mid-March and summer was fast approaching, at places the forests were dry.

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Here and there, on the hills, we could see smoke rising from forest fires.

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Closer to Maredumilli, the forest green was lush as ever.

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We also spotted a villager selling freshly collected honey from the nearby forest.

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We stopped by to buy some honey. The honeycombs were still intact along with the honeybees that had worked hard to make the honey. We had to double filter it back at home.

We reached Maredumilli around lunch time, not much had changed there since our visit in 2016. We couldn’t find a proper place to have our lunch, so we just drove through Maredumilli recounting our previous trip and carried on with our journey. With a tea break at one of the towns enroute, we were in Gokavaram, 32 kms from Rajamundry way past lunch time. It was a hot day and severe hunger pangs had set it and before it blew up into a migrane, we stopped for lunch at 2.30 PM at a restaurant in Gokavaram. The restaurant was you typical 1980s style, dimly lit place with ’80s hit Telugu songs playing in backgound. The biriyani was good though. Never in our travel plans would we have imagined that we would stop to have lunch at Gokavaram !

It was a relief when we finally reached Rajamundry and checked into Akshaya Residency, simple place to stay if you are on a short visit to Rajamundry.

An all time favourite !

We are talking about Rajamundry of course, one of our hometowns and our love for this place grows every time we visit it. We waited the afternoon heat in our hotel room and then went for a drive around the city. Our first stop was ‘Gangaraju Dairy’, sellers of the famous and absolutely lip smacking Gangaraju Palakova, a milk based sweet that people from Rajamundry swear by !

The Dairy was set up in 1953 and since then has been renowned for their quality milk based sweets and curd.

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The Dairy outlet has been located at the same place since its inception and the taste has remained the same, we can vouch for it atleast for the last 30 years ! Their Palakova is freshly made every morning and afternoon and is sold off the shelves in less than 2 hours. Many a time we had to return without the Palakova because we were late. This time, we went around 4 PM and the Palakova had freshly arrived from the kitchen. Here is a click of the celebrated Ganagaraju Palakova:

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One bite into the warm Palakova and we melted ! We bought about 2 kilos of it, sure to add as many kilos to your weight ! We bought so much for distribution to friends back in Hyderabad.

From Ganagaraju Dairy, our next stop was Jagan Juice Shop at Danavaipeta. Our friend who hails from Rajamundry had been a regular at Jagan Juice Shop since his college days, close to 2 decades ago. The juice shop is still there, serving a wide variety of juices and milk shakes. We had a big glass of Sharjah Shake, a milkshake heavily laden with ice cream and dry fruits ! No picture of the Shake, we were too busy relishing it to take pictures.

With a lot of time on hand, we drove around with our friend sharing his memories of growing up in Rajamundry. When we spotted a Titan showroom, we stopped over to get a watch strap replaced but ended up buying a watch for Rs.3000/- ! Buying a watch was a long pending task for this writer and we found it amusing that leaving behind all the watch showrooms in Hyderabad, this writer was destined to buy one in Rajamundry !

Continuing our gluttony, as we normally do in Rajamundry, our next stop was the legendary Vegan Buds Bajji cart. Run by Mr.Satish, who is nothing short of a celebrity, this roadside Bajji cart is a rage in the city, it has a Facebook and Instagram page for daily updates on special varities of Bajjis. Mr.Satish experiments and tries to make Bajjis with a variety of vegetables, fruits, sweets, he even makes them with Upma and cake ! His USP is all the Bajjis are served with a dollop of ghee which simply makes them melt in your mouth.

We usually don’t try the specials, we are happy with our regular Tomato, Brinjal and Chilli Bajjis. This time, it looked like the cart was open after 3 days and people were so desperate for the Bajjis that they would have been ready to go to war if they didn’t get the one of their choice ! It is an experience to stand by and hear the famous Godavari witty banter as people wait their Bajjis, for people of Rajamundry, Bajjis are not just foodie indulgence, it is an emotion !

After stuffing ourselves with Bajjis, it was only natural to wash them down with a glass of Rajamundry Rose Milk. In recent times, a lot of Rose Milk shops have come up in Hyderabad, cashing in on the fame of the one at Rajamundry. Whenever we find one in Hyderabad, we simply turn our noses up and walk away, the original is always the best !

Having exhausted ourselves from all eating, we wanted to catch Godavari Harathi but for some reason it was not performed that day. With nothing else to do, we sat on the river ghat watching the Godavari shimmer under the evening lights and people chilling and enjoying the evening breeze.

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The bridge in the picture is the now defunct 119 year old Havelock Bridge, the first rail bridge to be built on the Godavari. We were standing close to the first pillar when we spotted this plaque, commemorating the opening of the Havelock Bridge for traffic on 30th August 1900.

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Our friend told us, after all these years in Rajamundry, he had never noticed that. Wonder how many people actually notice it and understand the place in heritage that this bridge holds. A few years ago, there were plans to dismantle the bridge but better sense prevailed and the bridge remains to tell a century old story.

We also spotted a stone with some engravings.

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Wonder what it meant !

Then, we made a quick visit to the ancient Sri Uma Markandeyeswara Swamy temple, located on the banks of the Godavari. The temple Nadaswaram group was playing delightful Carnatic music and we sat there for sometime, falling in love all over again with the cultural beauty of Rajamundry.

The next morning, we were up for a walk along the river. We caught a glimpse of some train passing through the Rail-cum-Road bridge, a sight that excites us no matter how many times we have seen it !

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We passed by the early morning Banana market, where hundreds of farmers/vendors from nearby villages arrive at Rajamundry to sell their yield.

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Don’t even bother asking for the rate, they won’t give you as much as a glance unless you are buying them on a large scale !

Back in our hotel, we were ready for our day’s work, which dragged on till lunch time. We were famished and were badly looking for a proper Andhra meal, when Sai Manikanta Mess, near Kumari Talkies came to our rescue with this unforgettable meal !

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That is just round one before we began feasting. This writer still regrets not having tasted their Mukkala Pulusu (a tangy-sweet lentil dish with lot of vegetables) !

It was 3 PM by the time we started back to Hyderabad, we were tempted to stay back for one more day but decided to carry on with our journey back home. It turned out to be long drive through heavy traffic on the Vijayawada-Hyderabad highway. It left us exhausted but craving for another trip to Rajamundry.

Info tidbits

  • Nelakondapalli is about 57 kms from Suryapet, a slight deviation from NH65. If you happen to be travelling to Vijayawada and have a lot of time on hand, make a quick detour to see the ancient Stupa. Ramadasu memorial is for those who appreciate Carnatic music and Ramadasu Keerthanas.
  • Naganna Hotel is located on the highway at Kusumanchi, Google Maps can help you find it. If you are travelling to Khammam or Bhadrachalam, check it out. The ambience is not great because it is a village eatery but try the food if you want to taste some rustic Andhra food.
  • For more information on Bhadrachalam, check the temple website http://www.bhadrachalarama.org

 

 

 

 

 

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