Gandikota is a secluded village located in the southern part of Andhra Pradesh, which is well known for its tourist attractions like the Gandikota Fort, Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Gandikota Mosque, and the breathtaking canyons on the Penna River. Gandikota is a perfect weekend getaway if you are located in Chennai, Bangalore, or Hyderabad. Jammalamadugu is the nearest town located approximately 15 kilometers away. Traveling to Gandikota definitely requires planning in terms of timing, weather, transportation mode, etc. I traveled to Gandikota in mid-January, which falls in the right travel window to the location – December to March. But still, the journey was filled with wavering and extreme conditions. So if you are planning on traveling to Gandikota anytime soon, do gain some perception about the place from my experience!
Gandikota was on my travel bucket list for years after seeing the impressive photos posted online. With three of my regular travel partners, I planned a road trip from my hometown – Chennai. Because of time constraints, our plan was quite knotty but essential – reach the Fort by late afternoon, explore the place in the evening, camp at night, a bit of astrophotography, sleep a couple of hours, enjoy the sunrise through the canyons, and return to Chennai by Sunday night. We started at around 4 am from Chennai. With Gandikota being around 350 kilometers away, we had 8 hours of an arduous drive ahead of ourselves. I mentioned the drive as arduous because the route is infamous for its heat waves. There are three routes to reach Gandikota from Chennai, of which all three would be equally tricky. While going, we chose the route that passes through Pulicut, Gudur, and Kadappa. We reached Pulicut at around 7 am, stopped for breakfast, and then resumed the journey. The time was around 8 when crossed borders into Andhra.
The drive that came thereafter was punishing as the temperature outside was on the higher side. Even with the car AC at full speed, we could feel the tepidity, and it made us a bit restless as the surroundings were just mostly barren. The roads were well laid but dusty. Another disadvantage of this route is the lack of eateries and shops, which is one of our main preferences in choosing a route. Enduringly, we reached Jammalamadugu in the afternoon. Jammalamadugu is a modest town with an area of just 25 square kilometers. We decided to break for lunch, but we crossed the town’s main junction and traveled towards Gandikota, believing we would find a restaurant on the way. After a couple of kilometers, it was just barren again with no sign of civilization around. We turned back to the town’s junction in search of food. The junction was cramped and, after quite a struggle, found a small restaurant with a parking space. In the scorching heat, I went for curd rice, but my daring mates went for Briyani, even after knowing about the heat in the infamous Andhra cuisine. Of course, they deplored it later. After having lunch, we bought some eatables like fruits, water, and juice for the night. Then we set off to Gandikota, which takes approximately half an hour to reach from the Jammalamadugu Junction.
Entering Gandikota: We reached Gandikota after a 15-kilometer drive. The first thing you would notice before reaching the location is the Fort’s huge walls with a decorative entrance gate. Few small eateries and shops are situated right outside the Fort entrance. There are two options now – You either can enter the Fort or take a right muddy road that leads to the right bank of the Gandikota Gorge.
A Quick Recce: The time was around evening four, and since we did not have enough time to spend at all the spots, we decided to swing by the locations quickly and plan accordingly for the next day. Before entering the Fort, we were eager to have a look at the monumental Gorge. Hence we drove on the muddy trail for 5 minutes to reach the location. The place was a bit more crowded with tourists than expected. With ample space for parking, more than a dozen cars were parked on either side of the road. There was also a newly constructed resort at the end of the road which commercialized the location, and in a sense, defeats the whole purpose of visiting this natural phenomenon. After spending a few minutes clicking pictures of the location, we drove back towards the Fort entrance.
The entrance had huge gates that were designed to hold back an army. As we drove through the entrance, we found the path to be narrow and mazy. Moreover, it was chaotic as people were going in and out of the Fort. Such a brilliant construction, I would reckon, as this path would have been challenging for the armies of the past that tried to siege the Fort. After traveling further, we realized that there is a dynamic village located inside the Fort with hundreds of people living. This was a pleasant surprise for me to see a whole village inside a fort. After passing through the narrow village roads with small huts on either side, we reached the parking spot for the attractions inside the Fort. After a brief five minute walk, we arrived at a temple, a Mosque, a Granary, a Pond, and a Jail. All these structures were huge and are a testament to the craftsmanship of the generations that lived there. Later we returned to the Gorge’s viewpoint to prepare the campsite.
The Night Camp: With darkness lurking around the corner, we had to find a proper spot for us to set our tents. The whole right bank is an open space with huge boulders scattered around. We parked our car as close and safe as possible and went on to find the right spot that is devoid of any debris. After a few minutes of seeking, we settled for a huge rock that housed all of us. We took a moment to relax and grasp some sense of the place. The place was deserted as the tourists left once the dusk set in. Before setting up the tents, we decided to have our dinner. Despite having enough fruits and biscuits, we wanted to check out the eateries located outside the Fort entrance. We reached the spot to find that most of the outlets have closed already. Luckily, we found one spot that served Omelets. After devouring half a dozen egg omelets each, we returned to our campsite. In the camp spot, we set our tents and started photographing the radiant full moon that illuminated the whole place. With the 600mm telephoto lens, it was fun capturing the moon. Adding to that, we got few good shots of the Orion Nebula as well. Overall, we spent photographing till 1 am and wrapped up for napping.
A Photogenic Spot: Having endured the freezing night, we woke up early at around 4 am. We planned to reach the viewpoint that is located inside the Fort. Driving through the Fort in the dark hours differed from earlier as it gave a unique, calming experience. After parking the car, we had to hike for a kilometer to reach the viewpoint. The viewpoint is filled with huge rocks and boulders. There is no trail in the last stretch as you can just choose the best spot and start ascending the pile of rocks. We chose the spot that had the best view of the sunrise and climbed towards it. We reached the northern corner of the viewpoint and set our tripod to capture the sunrise through the serene Gorge. You need to be careful here for both yourself and your valuable goods, as there are several records of accidents at this viewpoint.
The sunrise was astounding as the rays glistened the otherwise dark waters of the Penna River. After spending up to an hour in the viewpoint, we were more than satisfied with the shots we took. Moreover, once the sun rose above the horizon, we were introduced to a bustling wildlife presence in the place. In between the extended viewpoint and the right bank of the Gorge, lies a small yet dense thicket along the slope. We had a seasoned wildlife photographer among us, and the situation made us stay there for another hour. The energetic wildlife presence was a bonus for us. My friend captured a few rare species of birds and was thrilled about the whole episode.
Diversity Redefined: After the morning photo session, we planned on visiting the locations we noted the day before – Temple, Mosque, Granary, Pond, and Jail. All these venues are nearby and can be covered within a couple of hours. The first venue in our mind was Madhavaraya Swamy Temple. It is an old Hindu temple known for its intricate carvings in the entrance tower.
Also, it houses an exquisite mandapam along its edges with symmetrical pillars. This Temple would be a treat for architecture enthusiasts and history buffs alike. After the Temple, we visited the Jamia Masjid, which, compared to the other structures, looks new. Opposite to this, Masjid is the pond, which in Telugu is called Kattula Koneru.
Kattula literally translates to Sword, and it is said that the soldiers stationed in the Fort washed their bloody swords after a war in this pond. Then we visited the huge Granary, which was the food reserve during the times of drought and war. The Granary was enormous and well-designed. Besides, the Granary was the Ranganathaswamy Temple Ruins. The Temple had sophisticated sculptures along its walls and pillars. All these venues were built under various regimes in different timeframes. People of different cultures and belief systems have lived there for centuries within one enclosure. Though few structures are under-maintained, they still stand tall to tell the tales of the distant past.
How to Travel: If you are located within 500 kilometers of Gandikota, traveling in your car or perhaps renting a car is the best way. Although there are other public transportation facilities available, it sure would be exhausting because of the harsh environmental conditions. There is a railway station at Muddanuru in Kadappa, which is approximately 26 kilometers away from Gandikota. And there are state buses available at Jammalamadugu connecting Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Chennai.
When to Travel: Southern Andhra is known for its dry and arid weather conditions, which during summer can raise the temperatures as high as 45-degree Celcius. Daytime temperatures still might be uncomfortable during October to February, but it gets way worse during summer. Hence, the ideal time to visit Gandikota would be during winter. With proper planning, you can carry the required clothing and cover to shield you from the freezing nights.
What to Carry: As for as your luggage is concerned, you need to consider the conditions and pack accordingly. Despite the season being summer or winter, pick a cap, sunscreen, and sunglasses as these are essentials. This will be a lifesaver in the shelterless barren land. A good pair of hiking shoes are advised because it involves a bit of climbing. In case of camping, buy your own tents or sleeping bags, as you cannot rent it anywhere nearby Gandikota. Adding to that, get the required amount of water from Jammalamadugu to keep yourself hydrated.
What to Do: Gandikota village has numerous attractions for both mainstream tourists and backpackers. Of course, the main attraction would be the Gorge itself. In addition to that, the Gandikota Fort, along with the diverse structures that it holds within its walls, takes you on time travel. Apart from the regular spot visits, if you feel a bit adventurous, you can trek down the Gorge to reach the Penna riverbed. If you have around half a day to spare before returning, do visit the Belum Caves, which is located about 60 kilometers away.
Within a short span of just two days, we were ecstatic with the experience that Gandikota offered. The breathtaking views of the Gandikota Gorge offer a unique feeling that you would not get anywhere else in India. As said earlier, the Fort and its sites are added perks one gets for visiting the place. With the memory card full of pictures and our memories filled with joy, we started our journey back to Chennai. And this time, we took a different route through Tirupati. The route was way better compared to the earlier route that we took towards Gandikota, as this highway dissects through the Eastern Ghats. We could see trees all around, and with the road crossing forest ranges in between, the drive back home was redeeming. As always, it is a learning experience for us, and in case if you are traveling anytime soon to Gandikota from Chennai, you know which route to choose!
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