Exploring South East of Andra Pradesh - A pilgrims travelogue.
It had been on my mind to visit Srisaialm for a long time. This place is not well connected by public transport from Chennai, though AP Tourism conducts organized tours, it may be hectic with couple of nights traveling by bus as the round trip is about 1200 Km. Though the season is best between Sep- Feb, relaying on car A/C and to enjoy the off peak seasons serenity, we geared up for the trip. Mind you, it is definitely not for the faint hearted.
Having decided to make it, it is worth the while to add some more places of interest en-route. Further, it would be practically crisscrossing the Eastern Ghats all the way from Chennai to Srisailam. Best course was to make it direct to Srisailam by NH 5 and after Ongole take a left to Podile- Markapur- Dornala - Srisaialm. And return by Atmakur - Mahanandi - Ahobilam - Thirupathi - Chennai. The roads all along is motor able and a choice of halts on return trip.
The first 500 Km to Srisailam has to be in one go, so we decided to start early
With Rudra Veena
with sufficient food packed, don’t expect any good food joints or toilet facility before hitting Dornala AP Guest House. Further, the road from Dornala to Srisaialm (54 Km) is Ghat road with no habitats to stop by and the check post closes by 7 PM. Above all, one would miss the Ghat section drive by day light.
We packed off by 5:30AM from Chennai, along the national highway and reached Ongole by 10 AM, diverted off to Podile - Markapur - Dornala in next 4 Hrs, grabbed a quick bite at Dornala served in Mandara leaves, we entered the final leg through the Ghat roads.
The Eastern Ghats are barn and dry during this season and wild life non existent, at least along the road. Scarce group of monkey
s scampering along the forest edge and un controlled forest fires marked some patches. The sound of Sikadas is dinning in the stark but strange terrain. On approaching Srisaialm, the road twists and turns and moves through the hills and valleys. On climbing down, one can sight a vast expense of water that marks the Srisailam dam and the temple site. The view is panaromic and takes away
all the tiredness of the trip. At 3:30 PM we dwelled on the site for a while and descended to the township.
The place is predominant for the temple complex and dam site. The history of Srisailam is vast in Hindu religious context. The presiding deity is Sri Malligarjuna Swamy and Devi Bramramba. It is one of the twelve Jothir Lingas and self manifested. The goddess Devi Bramaramba is also self manifested with a Peedam (Sri Chakra) making this a rare place for Shivites and Shkta cult. The evening was Pradosham, and a magnificent bull (Nandhi) was decorated and led to the sanctum for the occasion’s pooja.
Of course, one has to make a bee line for Dharshan as the ever present crowd was there. The queue leads to Devi’s shrine also. We spent a relaxed evening at the temple and retired for the day. AP Tourism has made a museum at the temple complex on local tribal. It is an eye opener for any one interested in the local affairs. This being a tribal district and the majority is Chencu. Their culture is deep routed in religion, superstitions and occult, the exposition depicts their life style &
culture in a amazing life size manner with statues and artifacts. Yes, you can buy the mountain honey, tribal sourced in its purest form from their souvenirs shop. We dipped a juicy mango slice in it and Ommps! You have to taste it.
The next morning, we performed our pooja with Abhishakam in person on Lord Malligarjuna as they allow touch and feel of the Linga. You can book the pooja online and get your ticked printed out, it is easier that way.
Next comes our adventure. We hear of
Padala Ganga, the Krishna river
, which flows through the gorges and a long winding steps leads to it. If, descending and climbing up is disheartening, you can take the ropeway down to the river. It has a primitive bathing Ghat and a jetty to ferry you to the dam site. There are many cave sites along the river course, where Sadus have done their penance and meditation from time immemorial. In fact Adhi Sankara has composed “Sivananda Lahari” in one of the caves and it is preserved as a monument. Some of the caves are still occupied and different cult practices like Kapalika’s; Birava’s are prevalent.
dam has two hydro electric power plants and the abdunce of water ensures continous power supply. This dam construction has submerged valleys upstream for kilometers up to Sangameshwaram, where river Tunga joins Krishna forming a huge reservoir. The forest deptt. controls the fishing rights and breeding crocodiles in nature.
The most famous is
Akkamaha Devi Caves
16 Km from Srisailam, reachable by ferry and it takes about an hour of ride through up-stream of river Krishna. It is very scenic all along the way. You can sight few fishing camps by the locals dotted along the river side. The sparse growth and denuded hills loom from both banks, very steep and discouraging for any one to venture out. We sight the caves and the floating dock, the dock is in a bad state of repire. A forest department boat had already docked and our ferry was tied to its side. It is a sight to watch the crossing by scaling over the railings landing on the boat and to the dock. Ladies were the worst at it with both the boats rocking. The dock is slanted and the bank is steep and muddy with loose rocks. Here, nobody minds
it as the slope above is more daunting. A rough foot path leads you to the cave and it is awesome with a portal and gaping mouth. A black statue with a saffron flag at the apex glares at you for what is in store. A self appointed guide rattles away with a story of Akka mahadevi, who hails from Karnataka and made it to Srisaialm and mediated in the caves for hundreds of years to attain unity with Lord Malligarjuna. Her statue adorns the Linga in one hand at the sanctum of Swami.
The cave is 200 ft deep and a hand wound generator gives some feeble light through the passage. It gets very narrow towards the end that only one can get to slip in side. The bats hovering all around and the ammoniac odor of bat guano is strong in your breath, we crawl half bent through its recesses. The end was dramatic, one has to move forward and take a right angle turn, turn sideways and lo behold, you are at the shrine. The light suddenly go out and my daughter Sruthi (10 Yrs old ) screams. With the cell phone light on, I look
ahead. In the darkness, it is a comforting feeling almost human envelops me. I talk soothingly to Sruthi and tell her it is the mother of all. The lights are restored, and I gape at a small Shiva Linga. I am encouraged to touch it and it has a feel to it. It is Akka Mahadevi. Sruthi is relieved to be back on the passage and scurries to the enterance. I am drenched in sweat but very refreshed.
Here, my son Vyas tries some antics at taking some pictures, he slips and there goes my camera. Our rest of the trip is pure text only.
The return trip was gloomy as we are starved out at the caves, no drinking water, the guide fetches some bottles of river water and we brave it. This part of the year the water looks green and murky. The whole trip takes about 4 to 5 hrs. One 80 year old lady had set her mind for the visit and she did make it to the end and added extra hours to the trip.
The next day, we are on course to the return trip and the next leg is
Nandi. One cannot leave Srisaialm without a stop at “Shakshi Ganapathy”. Here Lord Ganesa has a note book in hand to make record of each devotee.
After a hearty breakfast we leave Srisailam back on the Ghat road to Dornala - Atmakur and we are driving through a scrub jungle on road to Mahanandi. Not a human in sight for the next 70 Kms. The road is single and had to get off the road for every on coming vehicles mostly three wheelers stuffed with villagers and occasional trucks. The road is washed off at causeways and we rambled through.
The winding roads are now entering a new territory with it the vegetations. Bamboo clumps are lining up the sides with its green foliage. There are signs of civilization with plantain groves. Wow! We have now entered the oasis of Karnool dist. Nandiyal is the first town, Banana plantations every where with water canals feeding them. We come near a cross section and follow the circular lake bund towards the Mahanandi temple in the backdrop of lush green forest.
A huge White Nandhi statue bacons you to the temple. The temple has two ponds out side and
one inside. The source of water is a perennial spring that feeds the entire area. The Pushkarni is so clear, one could see the bottom. The presiding deity is Lord Nandhikeshwarar and Devi is Kameshwari. The temple is of 7th century AD period.
After lunch, we leave for
, 80 Kms away. The road is narrow enough and at times crossing through small villages turns into lanes and you start getting doubts. The locals would guide you any way and it is ones skill to negotiate the narrow ledges. It was a relief to hit a state highway. Ahobilam is a diversion and the eastern Ghats are looming ahead. The lower Ahobilam is at the foot hills and a 7Km stretch would take you to the temple on the hill.
The motorable road ends here. From here on the adventure begines. There are nine Sri Narashimha temples in a 3 Km stretch, which makes a circuit around the mountain. The wooden bridges cross over mountain streams, where one can bath and cool the heat off. It is a refreshing walk in the mountains preferably in the early hours of the day.
This is the holy place where, Lord
Narashimha killed the demon Hiranya Kashyabu and blessed Prahladha. Because of his disposition, the lord is in the state of exaltation with fierceness, one treads very carefully all along the way.
To view the Ahobilam pictures visit http://www.ahobilamutt.org/temples/ahobil/apics-1.html
The stay is good at lower Ahobilam at AP tourism guest house. Since, we did not have time we cut our trip short after the first kilometer of trekking in the hills for onward journey to
From Ahobilam - Alagadda - Cuddapa - Mamandur- Thirupathy - Renigunta - Chennai. The Cuddapa - Thirupathy stretch is a national highway and we could make good time of it and reached Thirupathy by 3 PM covering 170 Kms.
Evening we make it to Tiruchnur for Padmavathi Temple and Govindaraja Swamy temple keeping the next day for Balaji Dharshan.
Early morning 3 AM we line up at Sriniwasa Complex for the ticket. The counter opens at 5AM and by 8 AM we have our tickets for 10PM Dharshan. We catch up with some sleep and start for the seven hills by 3 PM and the one hour drive up the hill and the place is chill with light
drizzle. It is just heavenly.
tirupathi also has a very good Museum dipicting artifacts, temple history and Vijayanagara dynasty with a yoga & meditation hall.
After dinner, we queue up for Dharsahan, by 10PM we are out with a great Dharshan, hand full of Luddus in the moon lighted courtyard of the temple. What next? Go home and to bed. That is what we did by 2:30 AM at Chennai after a chancy drive through the night but safe & sound. Thirupathy trip was stretching it a bit but we are all glad the trip would not have been complete with out it. After all the planning, we did not study in depth on Ahobilam and unprepared for the sight and beauty of the place. It made us resolve that, it is on our must visit list in the near future.
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