Open roads, uncharted ways and no itinerary to explore, Kurnool in the Eastern Ghats has a raw, unrefined quality to it, which is unmissable.
Often referred to as the Gateway to Rayalseema, a province with a rich and varied history, a place of hot passions, of violent factionist loyalties, a land that was once the stronghold of Krishna Deva Raya and a cultural pot of the Vijayanagar empire, Kurnool holds many surprises in store for a visitor. Let’s explore a few:
Surrounded by hillocks, desolate roads and fragmented habitation, the caves have impossibly calm and serene surroundings. An imposing Buddha statue stands at the entrance of the caves. Explored some 130 years ago, these underground caves came to notice only in the 1980s. Three and a half km long, with an underground river, they are well-maintained and well-illuminated. The entrance is a circular pit and right away one descends and then moves into a spacious chamber with a circular opening overhead.
The caves are natural formations of stalactites and stalagmites and there are many structures inside them that resemble different things. For example, there is a structure that looks like a Shiv Linga; a freshwater spring called Patalganga is located deep inside where you need to go climbing the iron stairs and then to a narrow gauge; some meditation halls used by Buddhist monks, etc. Here one gets a feeling of walking through an underground river channel. The walk is arduous and the heat troublesome, but the natural formations like the intricately cut limestone walls formed due to the flow of water, the play of light as it falls on different surfaces, the hanging formations and the entire feeling of stepping into an unknown world, light up your soul.
To reach Gandikota, one passes through desolate roads that are flanked by piles of the famous Kurnool black tiles. You might witness a few tractors splashing sand on one side of the road and velvet green paddy fields on the other, on your way, before everything changes to a flat, arid landscape.
Gandi means ‘gorge’ and ‘kota’ is fort, so Gandikota is a fort ruin, which was built around the 11th century by a Chalukya king. It’s said, it was impassable, well protected by the surrounding hills and deep valley and the gorges in the Pennar River. There are two beautiful temples here, one of them built in Vijayanagar style architecture and still somewhat intact.
Walking further from the temple leads to the Grand Canyon of India, which is a couple of hundreds tall tower standing on the banks of the river. It’s a bit challenging to climb through rocks to reach the right edge for a grander look. This canyon on the Indian soil may not be as big as the Grand Canyon, but is majestic. The view of the gorges is difficult to put in words but is an experience to remember.
YAGANTI UMA MAHESHWARA TEMPLE
Yaganti Uma Maheshwara temple has some history and science behind it too. It was constructed by the King of Sangama Dynasty, Harihara Bukka Rayalu, of the Vijayanagara Empire in 15th century. It was built according to Vaishnavite traditions. It’s said that sage Agastya wanted to develop a temple of lord Venkateshwara on this site, but the statue couldn’t be stalled. Hence, he performed a penance for lord Shiva and urged him to settle here with goddess Parvati in a single stone, which the lord obliged. On the other hand, as per science, the Nandi idol (bullock of lord Shiva) is continuously growing. The Archaeological Survey of India put it at a growth rate of one inch every 20 years. The temple staff had to remove one of the pillars as the size of Nandi increased.
Located around 15 kms from the town of Banaganapalle, the temple looks straight out of a scene from some fantasy movie. Surrounded with towering hillocks, deep caves on the hillocks and perched amidst the deep forest, drive to the temple is through paths that wear a rustic hue.
On way to Yaganti, halt at a Summer Palace of the rulers of Kurnool. The structure has withstood the ravages of time and is still in impressive shape.
Text & Photos: Akash Mehrotra