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Gandikota – The Grand Canyon Of India

Gandikota is a remote village in  the  Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.  Among  those  bitten  with  the  travel bug  it   is  known  as  the “Grand  Canyon of India”. Though much smaller in size, the same geological  processes created both. Unfortunately while Grand Canyon is well known this Gandikota still remains as a hidden gem. It is   definitely not on the popular  tourist map, and takes a little planning to get to.  There is a little bit of history, architecture and adventure waiting here. Definitely worth the 5 and half  hours  drive  from Bangalore (or 7 hours from Hydrabad).

Where : In the  State of  Andhra Pradesh, India (See Map)
How To Reach : 5 to 7 hours  drive from the nearest  major cities – Tirupathi, Bangalore, or  Hydrabad
When to Visit :  Sept  to  Feb   when  the climate is temperate.
Things to Do : Visit the  fort  and  temples ,  rock climbing , camping.
Why Should You  Go

  • Remote and Un-spoilt  It is still largely unexplored and there are hidden gems along the way.
  • The Rocks And The Gorge there are ample opportunities for rock climbing and rafting. The walk along the gorge is breathtakingly beautiful and serene. Most of the climb is not difficult climb and something that even the little kids will enjoy.
  • Views Views Views   The view of the gorge from the top is absolutely breathtaking.
  • Architecture and History The temples are adorned with breathtaking sculptures and a delight to explore. The ruins provide a glimpse into the past and the influence of different dynasties.

If you go :
Pack essentials  and  be  ready to rough it  out  even  with  hotel  reservations.
There are  no contacts  for  coordinating out door  adventure  activities  on site. Do plan ahead and don’t forget the First Aid Kit.
Take plenty of water and snacks if you plan to hike as there are no stores inside the fort.

Gandikota   derives   its name from  two Telugu  words Gandi  for  gorge  and kota for fort. Here  the river Pennar  had to carve its way through the hill terrain.   Over the  years the might of the  river  has  created a deep gorge splitting the Erramala  hills and revealing breathtaking  rock formations. Combined -the gorge , the river  and  the hills- created  an  incredible  natural fortress. Realizing its potential, the rulers in the 12th century built  a city and a fort  here. For a long time this fort helped the Telugu people fight and ward off invaders. The  current  fort, most of   which still stands,  dates  back to 13th  century.

Gandikota Map
Map of the Fort

The fort is in ruins now, but it still offers glimpses of the former grandeur. The village, as I mentioned, is remote and the closest accommodation is the Tourism Department run hotel. The lodgings were roomy and the property has an idyllic village feel, but the best word to describe our experience there is “adventurous” ! I would recommend that you go with a camp out expectation, and have basic necessities along – hand sanitizer / soap, towels , snacks, bed sheets/ sleeping bags etc.. On a good day a stay here will be perfect, if not luxurious. It is also the perfect opportunity to watch the sunset and sunrise, when you are not camping on the river banks.

The Fort from the hotel.

The entrance to the fort is not a straight line. You pass the outermost entrance and stare at the wall straight ahead :-). Multiple gates separated by switchbacks was a standard procedure to guard the the fort. This forces the attackers to protect  themselves  from all sides as they gain  access into the  fort.   In  the  recent  times  there  may be  obstacles  of  other  nature  that  prevent  you from  getting in though. Cattle, stray dogs, and the local youth trying to raise money for festivals are some of the obstacles that one may (hopefully not) have to navigate through to get in. The fort has an entrance fee – very nominal, which I believe does little towards the upkeep or the economy of the village.

Past the First Gate

You can drive in, but the entrance is not very wide. When it was built the largest thing to pass through the gates would have been an elephant or a horse chariot. After you negotiate the winding entrance, one of the first buildings to catch your eye will be the jail. There is a small settlement right across the jail. If you are driving in, do stay on the path. The road from here on is not paved. There is an abundance of thorny plants and rocks, and the nearest mechanic will be ways off. To me the experience here was more like an adventure form children’s stories. The signs are not well maintained, and at times you might have a Tom Sawyer moment and wonder if you are trespassing into someone’s property.

We drove to the Jamia Masjid and parked there. This masjid is still used for Friday prayers. May be that was the reason why it is in good shape. You can climb to the top here and get a bird’s eye view of the fort.

Next to the Masjid was a large granary. M, my son, was keen on exploring the granary while the rest of us were fascinated by the scores of green parrots resting on the walls. Babu, our driver rushed to AJ and asked to stop M, from going inside the granary. He pointed out that places like these are the favorite haunts of “Jinn” and they especially target the first born sons. Well lucky for us, we did not have to test this theory as M decided that the granary did not hold anything worth exploring. and after a cursory peek lost interest.

It is not just the masjid that is worth seeing here, there are two temples bearing testament to the architecture of the day. I am not sure if daily rituals are conducted here, but we did find some lit lamps. The temples sport impressive columns with carvings depicting scenes from Indian mythology. As you explore the area you will become aware of the quite village life all around – farmers tending to the fields, cattle lazing around, village ladies gathering firewood. This is a living fort, though it is not officially classified as one.

The temples and the Masjid offer interesting architectural contrasts. Masjid is also a good place to to get a bird’s eye view of the whole fort. Unfortunately history, and architecture are not something that the kids are excited about. Understandably they were happy to see the signs to the river and the rocks!  I am   going  to let the  pictures  do the   talking  here:-).  The the climb up and down the rocks are not very hard.  The  little  ones  did  with some  help  and  thoroughly enjoyed  it.

A trek along the fort walls offers beautiful views. Unfortunately for us the  sky was  over  cast  and  the photographer  was  a little disappointed. There is  another  trip to this  place  in the  future ,  and  may be  next time we will be able to explore the nearby Belum caves .

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