Hyderabad to Gandikota: Red rocks, blue skies
The sand fort with the Penna flowing at its base is the sole attraction in Gandikota
Waking up to the “ping” of a WhatsApp message in the wee hours can be harrowing, but the sting softens if there’s a compliment at the other end.
“Looking lovely. When did you go to USA?”
Rubbing my eyes, and wondering why my location was the topic of conversation, I quickly opened the application and checked my profile picture.
It was a selfie against the backdrop of Andhra Pradesh’s majestic Gandikota canyon, which bears a striking resemblance to the US’ Grand Canyon. Clarifying that it was indeed India, I snuggled in again as memories of the weekend getaway from Hyderabad flooded back.
A few friends and I had left at 5am so we could give traffic a miss. Seven hours later, we caught the first glimpse of Gandikota village. Its sand fort, the sole highlight, was built by Kapa Raja (a subordinate of the then Chalukyan king of the region) in 1123, and renovated by Raja Pemmasani Kumara Thimma Naidu almost two centuries later. It has a natural barrier on the east—the deep abyss of a rocky canyon with the Penna river flowing at its base.
We took the narrow, steep pathway guarded by burly stone walls on three sides. It led to a clearing with a soaring watchtower. We walked past, glancing at the ruins of a jail, with only its façade intact. There are, in fact, a number of crumbling structures within the fort walls.
Much of Gandikota’s appeal lies in the absence of tourists—we had finally chanced upon a place that was not travel-worn.
So we explored the fort at leisure. Past the jail is a narrow lane flanked by small shacks selling cold drinks and snacks. The owner of one directed us to another structure. A Telugu signboard at the entrance mentioned that it was the Jama Masjid. Still intact, the walls, arches and minarets stood out in a place that otherwise promised wonders that were either natural or in ruins. Like the Ranganatha Swamy temple up ahead.
Finally, we reached the edge of the fort, and took in the surreal landscape: the red rocks of a deep and wide gorge stretching as far as the eye could see. The Penna clutched the base of the rocks. Luckily, it was a clear day and the blue sky made a perfect contrast to the rust-hued topography. It was a spectacular scene, and I couldn’t blame the friend who had mistaken it for the Grand Canyon.
We spent the night at Haritha Hotel, close to the fort.
Usually, a day trip is enough to cover Gandikota, but we had also decided to visit another destination, Mantralayam, on our way back. Located near the Tungabhadra Dam, this is a Hindu pilgrimage site. Devotees come to seek the blessings of Raghavendra Swami, a 17th century saint who is said to have walked into his samadhi.
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We left Gandikota early to make an hour’s stop at Mantralayam.
Over the next few days, all of us changed our WhatsApp display pictures to ones with the canyon in the background. I wondered if their phones too were pinging with the same question.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @hopping_miles.