Araku valley can be accessed by the road from Vishakhapatnam, which takes you past thick forests, lovely gorges and coffee plantations. This valley is one of Andhra Pradesh’s famous hill station in the undulating ranges of the Eastern Ghats, that’s blessed with stunning waterfalls, rolling grasslands and lush orchards.
Nature at it’s best
“Have you heard of Araku,” he asked with a trace of excitement in his voice. “Araku? Is that a fruit?” I laughingly asked. “Here,” he said, jabbing at a spot on the map. Home to about 19 diverse ethnic tribes spilling across hump-hills, Araku valley is located in the northern part of Andhra Pradesh. Araku is home to 19 diverse ethnic tribes; tourists at the Borra Caves; the train journey to Araku takes you past some beautiful emerald landscapes
How to reach Araku – the Scenic way
The drive from Vishakhapatnam (Vizag) took us through a 112-km journey of a never-ending saga of foliage. The lunch at a wayside shack somewhere midway was typical southern fare, served on a banana leaf. The Ananthagiri Hills enroute are famed for coffee plantations. We made to Araku in four hours — from the mechanical cacophony of the city to the tranquil silence of the valley perched at an altitude of 3,215 ft above sea level.
Vishakhapatnam (Vizag) is the nearest airport. By road, Vizag is 112 km away. Araku is well connected by rail and road. The Kirandule-bound (in Chhattisgarh) passenger train starts at 7.45 am from Vizag and halts briefly at Araku. APSRTC runs a good number of buses to Araku. For a more comfortable journey, use your own vehicle or hire one from Vizag.
We were told that the bus from Vizag makes for an equally fascinating journey. The rail service, on one of the highest single-traction broad gauge track labouring through more than 40 tunnels, is seen as the lifeline of the tribal people of this belt, transporting vegetables, groceries and other essential goods.
We arrived early in the season (sesame cultivation period ensues from November upto January). The effervescent fragrance of golden sunflowers was a few months at bay, but the monsoon was soaking the brown earth, crouching to sprout into green paddy. Araku, certainly turned out to be vegetation at its most prolific.
Where to stay in Araku
Happy to be far from the madding crowds, the heat and humidity of Delhi, we took a quick stroll. I hugged my warm wrap around me. The earthy smell of rain-soaked soil was invigorating. Our first stopover was about 200 m away at the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) hotel at Mayuri Complex which was packed with tourists. There were also the Yatri Nivas (also run by the APTDC) and the Punnami chain of cottages. But these were all taken. It is important here to note that APTDC conducts guided tours and hosts tribal dances. We zeroed in on a modest yet clean and bright accommodation.
While enroute to Araku:
Jungle Bells at TYDA is the best place to stay if you’re looking for solitude:
Tariff: INR 600-1300 per day
The Punnami Valley Resort, Araku is posher but largely amiss of the tribal character
Tariff: INR 800 to 1600
For other accommodations, check with APTDC tourist information & reservation counter
Mesmerizing Dhimsa! The Tribal dance
Araku’s beauty is enhanced by the diversity of its tribals who are ethnographically related to the tribes of Odisha. The Valmiki, Bagata, Khond and Rotia tribes inhabit this valley and other areas of the district. The tribals spend their leisure time singing and dancing. We participated in one such, the famous Dhimsa dance, hosted at the APTDC Hotel.
The throbbing of percussions and the plaintive notes from the trumpets made the air quiver. The guileless smiles and vibrant colours of the women’s sarees blended with the warm smell of flowers wafting from their oiled-gloss-hair, springing back the fragrance into the cool moist air. The women slowly swayed like wind-swept stalks of ripening grain. I joined in with other enthusiastic tourists. The end of the dance saw the tribal women exchange pleasantries with the tourists and happily pose for pictures.
History buff’s delight- the Araku Tribal Museum
The tribal museum, the Museum of Habitat, is a must-see. The museum came up in February, 1996. It is housed at one corner of the village in a circular, two-tier cottage. It depicts the social, cultural and economic conditions of the tribals, along with the travails of life they go through. There are lifelike figures that startle visitors. You can carry home several mementos — a piece of tribal jewellery or artefacts sold at the tribal shop housed inside the museum.
Dumbriguda waterfall experience- Sublime!
The Dumbriguda waterfall was surrounded by towering silverwood trees. Gathering courage from the other tourists, I rolled up my pants and moved across the smooth surface of the stream, stopping every few minutes to steady myself. I gingerly stepped down into a frightening whirlpool of water and surveyed the marvels of nature from my watery perch.
We followed this up with a walk to a village named Similiguda. The inhabitants spoke Telugu. A question about the health infrastructure drew a positive response from a young man, who
told us that a health worker visited their village every Friday.
Majestic Borra Caves and its history
About 90 km from Araku, off the main road, we stopped at the Borra Caves, natural edifices situated in Anantagiri mandal with the Gosthani river flowing alongside. The name Gosthani was bestowed upon it since it resembled the udder of a cow while flowing out of the million-year-old caves. It is believed that the tribals who went in search of their lost cattle, accidentally discovered this cave.
Inside Borra caves, it was mystical and dark with incandescent glowing points aided with strategically-placed artificial lighting. The stalactites and stalagmites assume amazing shapes and forms and are named after the form they acquire, from revered Hindu gods and goddesses to Mother Mary. There is also an incredible formation that replicates the brain. But it’s the naturally-formed Shiva Lingam that draws most visitors.
The pièce de résistance was the little ‘Shiva’ temple situated inside the cave and accessible through a steep climb up a cast iron ladder. The cave-temple priest placed petals of multi-hued flowers on our palms, chanted religious hymns and blessed us with holy water. Buoyed by this spiritual experience, we made our way out of the caves into the welcoming sunlight.
It was with a very heavy heart that we said goodbye to the panoramic vision of monochromatic greens, fresh blue skies, undulating hills, adventurous pathways, natural streams and rivulets and cascading seasonal waterfalls of the Araku valley.
By- vartika kaushal