Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Daida Cave Temple and Guttikonda Bilam

We planned to visit Daida Cave Temple on 14-4-2008, which is in Guntur District. In the early morning, 3 of us Gopi, Ramdas and I on two bikes hit the road toward Guntur. One of my friends, along with his family went here some time ago. He told it was barely around 80 km. So we ventured it on bikes. I was told to reach Gurajala first and then some driving directions.
We passed Guntur and Perecharla on Guntur-Hyderabad State Highway and so on. Our trip meter already passed 90km, but there was no sign of our destination, even Piduguralla Village where we have to take a diversion from State Highway. At last we reached Piduguralla, packed puris to break our fast after visiting Daida Temple. Diverted on to Piduguralla-Karampudi road to reach Gurajala. Just before entering Gurajala Village there was an arch on the right side of the road. It was Daida village's welcome arch. From Gurajala it was a single BT road. That road was still going somewhere after crossing Daida village. We took a diversion on to a gravel road toward River Krishna to reach the Temple.

We first went in to the river. The way was a sloppy one. Asked some body there about the Temple history. This was the story.

Herdsmen from Daida Village leave their cattle in the forest beside their village. Among them, one lost his cattle. He searched all day and at dusk he put his efforts aside and took rest on the bank of River Krishna. At night he listened some people performing bhajans. He searched for the place where those sounds were coming from. At last he found the cave.

In the morning he went into the village and told villagers about the thing he saw. Villagers decided to pay a visit to the cave at night. He showed them to the cave. There were Sages performing puja to Shivalingam and some were chanting. Upon seeing this populace they stopped all and decided to leave the place and never came back. All this happened centuries ago. Thenceforth people from many places visiting this temple.

There was small hole to the bank of the river. That is the opening of the cave. We entered in.Due to power cut there was no electricity. In that dark we just were passing through the way by sensing it with the help of our hands. We raised one hand to know the height. So that where ever necessary we can bend our selves to avoid collision with the top. At one point we bent so much, literally we were sitting and moving forward for 2 to 3 meters. After that path was not that much low. Right from the beginning path was mud filled, some times we stepped in puddles. After a short advancement we saw light from a short distance. Deepams around Shivalingam were emitting that light. We preformed puja. We came out of the cave from the other end. So,that is a continuous one, no need to go back to come out. Up on coming up we noticed Pujari came from Daida Village. He invited us another time into the cave. This time we were having electricity and pujari performed puja for us. But we felt, after coming out, our first darshan without electricity gave more spiritual joy. Because of lights this time we noticed the cave is branched at some places. We ventured into one of them.

We were now having a torch light (Thanks to Mr.Ramdas). It went deep inside and became narrow. There were rock formations and bats also. Floor was sandy and water current marks were there. Can't go through those narrow passages, so we ended up our mission.
Had our breakfast in one of the mandapams. Time was just 10.30 a.m. We thought initially this trip as a glittering one. But it was not. Then Mr.Ramdas came up with an idea. "If you guys agree we will visit Guttikonda Bilam. We had lot of time.We can continue our journey to Vijayawada right from that place via Narasaraopet. No need to come back." We instantly assented.
We reached Gurajala. We now took right from here to continue our journey toward Karampudi. As soon as we entered on the road some people stopped us to have Panakam. That day was Srirama Navami. Usually every village in the state performs Sitarama kalyanam on that day.I also should be in my native village Ravivaripalem. The Sun was angry upon us today. So we had a lot of Paanakam (this is made of water, jaggery, black pepper and cardamom) there. Reached Guttikonda Village after crossing NSP Canal, and turned our vehicles toward hills. We came to a halt when NSP (Nagarjuna Sagar Project) Canal prevented us to go further. We parked our vehicles on its bank, crossed the canal on a bridge and hiked up to the hill on a well laid road. Even buses also come there up to the hill, if they take NSP Canal right bank road from the State Highway just after Guttikonda village toward Gurajala. The place was surrounded by hills with good greenery. At one point road diverted to right at the base of the hill.
There was a temple after a brief ascend.We inquired about Bilam there. Pujaris here were very helpful. One of the Pujaris agreed to accompany us. They inquired about our lunch. As we told we didn't, they told they will prepare for us also. We walked past the temple and entered a small opening of the hill, descending few steps. We didn't even believe what we saw there. There was a very huge hall inside, carved out of that hill. 500-600 people can easily sit on the floor. An elevated area at right hand corner was bearing a Shivalingam. So many bats were hanging from the ceiling. Air was filled with the smell of their excreta. Electric bulbs were glowing, so that we were able see the place without much effort. There were tunnels going inside. At the end of each tunnel there was a pool. The first one is directly in front of the hall opening. A pond was visible from the middle of the hall on right hand side. Second tunnel's path starts beside Shivalingam, down slope toward the pond. These two tunnels branched into so many while they go in and each one ends with a pool. You can swim in any of these ponds. It is believed there are 108 ponds like that in this marvelous, unimaginable piece of land, Pujari told.
One can easily recognise first tunnel. If you go along electric bulbs hanging from the ceiling, you will reach a tiny pond. Just before the pond tunnel branches(Electric bulbs also) left and takes you to a big pool. We had a nice time there. Water was very cool. It refreshed us a lot. A farmer from nearby field came to cool off his senses. Time was running out. But our bodies were not giving assent to go out of water. At last refusing our body's intentions to be in the water for some more time we moved out. Had a dip in tiny pond also. Came into hall and had a dip in the pool which was beside the hall. Brahma Naidu after Palnadu Battle came here and went into this pond and vanished in, Pujari said. We proceeded to second tunnel. We decided to put our cloths somewhere in the hall. We were feeling some discomfort in keeping our clothes along with us while venturing into water. During my revisit we changed into bathers as soon as we reached temple area.
Second tunnel was a very narrow one. One has to incline forward, keep a hand up to know the tunnel's top surface, and move forward. Right from the beginning of this tunnel we bent forward and moved on. Unlike first tunnel its width also was very narrow. Only one can go at a time. If we moved our body a little bit side ways we sensed the walls rubbing our shoulders. We already had some experience in Daida, so we were moving cautiously. Pujari brought a torch. So we were moving comfortably. We reached the pond. Pujari turned off light. Then we experienced absolute darkness. Usually we have to close our eyes to feel darkness. Here you can do that with our wide opened eyes. Pitch black, because no light was peeping in. Pujari said so many people come here for meditation. Atmosphere here takes them into deep meditative mood immediately. This tunnel branched somewhere and we took bath in that pond also.
So we had dipped in five ponds. What about the rest 103? Pujari told they are believed to be there. No one saw all those. But all those ponds are interconnected and some paths were believed to be under water. Brahma Naidu went inside through one of them. So many enthusiasts lost their way who ventured in, to discover new ponds. So Pujaris, ages ago, closed the routes by putting boulders to their openings. Normally same water levels were noticed in all the ponds you saw, he added. In summer level may recede a bit. Excess water oozes out somewhere and it is used for cultivation purposes.
We came out of Bilam, dried our selves, and had darshan of Lord Shiva.
Pujari invited us into the kitchen for lunch. It was one of the delicious meal I ever had in my entire life. Usually they can arrange food for 3 to 4 people depending on groceries they are having. If visiting people provide them with necessary groceries, they cook for them. They didn't charge for our meal, even asked any thing. We inquired about this with Pujari. He told they won't ask. But if we offer anything for food, they accept. Had a wonderful time there, at the place which is considered as one of the geographical wonders in the state, and with generous people. Here there are two dormitories serving devotees, who want to spend more time there.
Moved our bodies and vehicles this time to Gundlapalli, Nakarikallu (Not Nakirekal on N.H9) Narasaraopet, Guntur and Vijayawada. Trip meter read 340 km.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary

Uppalapadu near Guntur is one of the only three places in India where Spot-Billed Pelicans nest, while they reside at other places too.Karnataka, Kerala-TN Border are the other two places where these large winged creatures nest. Some nesting grounds of Burma, Malaysia and Vietnam got destroyed or were deserted for various reasons leading to increase in numbers at Uppalapadu.
And also this sanctuary is home to 60 species of migratory birds like Painted Stork, White Ibis, Heron and Cormorant. Birds like Rosy Pastor travel hundreds of kilometers to come to this place. The number of birds touches 20,000 during the peak season between September and February. The unique aspect of this place is that the birds can be spotted throughout the year. The number of birds inhabiting this small stretch of land also makes it one of the densest areas occupied by birds at any given time, any where in India.
I revisited this place on February 10, 2009 and found these Pelicans and Painted Storks have found a new tank at Garapadu for nesting. For the past several months this panchayat tank is being inhabited by about 700 pelicans and 50 painted storks due to shortage of space at Uppalapadu. To reach Garapadu, take a left turn at Sibar Dental College, if you are coming from Uppalapadu towards Guntur, and the road straight away takes you to Garapadu Tank.
In Uppalapadu a Zilla Parishad School is housed in a small island inside the tank on a 2.5 acre site and there is sufficient water around the school, but due to regular visit of human beings, these birds have not nested on some of the trees that are most suitable for their purpose. If the Gram Panchayat agrees and gets an alternative land with the help of Zilla Parishad and District Administration for the School Building, this could become country’s largest nesting ground for Pelicans. At Uppalapadu first half of February is the best time for visitors see young chicks making efforts to fly out and by June-July a new species of birds -- Open Bill Storks and White Ibis will take over the space and fly out sometime in October.
Route: From Guntur City this place is 10 km and is nearer to N.T.R Manasa Sarovaram on N.H-5.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Kondapalli Trek

This is the summary of all my Kondapalli visits. This wasn't done in 3 or 4 visits, but I visited this place many times.
The Beginning:
After my Har Ki Doon trek, I was trek thirsty. Traveling places now and then to take part in a trek at far away locations is so tedious. If we have a place nearby our place makes it worth visiting more often. So decided to go Kondapalli Khilla (Fort), which is on top of a hill near Vijayawada. It has two routes to reach. One is by hiking from Kondapalli village which is on NH 218, another one starts from Jupudi village on NH 9. Kondapalli village route was the traditional one, boulder studded, made long ago when it was in the rule of The Reddy Kings dynasty of Kondaveedu. The latter one was a BT road made exclusively for Doordarshan relay trans meter stationed on a separate hill well above the Khilla. I decided to ascend from Jupudi and descend into Kondapalli Village. On the D day along with my friend Mahendra alighted the bus at Ibrahimpatnam, took an auto up to Khilla road on NH 9. We started walking along the road to reach a big fly ash pond. So many big pipes were bringing fly ash along with water from NTTPS (Narla Tatarao Thermal Power Station). The pipes were laid so long in to the pond. We walked on those pipes up to their openings. Came back and started walking towards our destination. I felt the hike was really worthy. Surroundings were giving me a feeling that I was in a thick forest. Green every where green. Had we not been walking on the road we would have thought it as we were hiking in a big forest. Trees were not so high. May be because of rocky terrain. At the second bend we heard a noise of flowing water. Beside the road there was a stream. Wahh....a stream in Vijayawada, I thought. Ascended the winding road with so many bends. Vehicles were passing now and then. We came up to a fork. One road was leading to the Fort area and another one was still going further up to TV relay station. We decided to see relay station first. So went up. A man was guarding the gate and didn't allow was in. Came back in the same way and sat at a viewing point. From that point we saw entire fort area and splendid view of hills. We were sitting on the edge of the hill. It was sloppy towards fort area. After a few feet the slope came to an end. From that point floor was at 30 feet steep vertical drop. If we clear that we will reach fort area. We didn't even think of that. We were chit chatting, suddenly a guy came in front of us from nowhere having his slippers in his hand! He ascended the steep hill from fort area to the place we sat. Started walking another time, decided not to see the fort, boulder hopped up to Kondapalli village.
Second time I came along with my friend Sridhar and my kids on the same route. But in the middle Sridhar lead us into a foot path going inside the jungle beside the road. Another wahhh. We were beside a stream that the current was more than the one i saw before. Trees were thick, surroundings were great, atmosphere was lively. Kids were over joyed. We brought some eatables. Sat on a big rock in the middle of the stream and ate them. Explored the area for some time and moved away.
Mean while state YHAI officials came in to contact with me. In 2006 I did Seshachalam Trek. YHAI,Vijayawada unit was established in the same year. In those meetings I proposed to do Kondapalli Trek. First we did numerous exploratory treks. Marked a route on to the top of Kondapalli fort from Dargah. Thanks to Siva, an enthusiastic guy, who showed us that path. Thenceforth momentum picked up. Treks were done in full swing.
Route #1
One day we saw a waterfall (in 2008) while going for a trek.That was the first time we noticed such a thing. Stopped vehicles at the first bend and followed an existing path. Soon we crossed a stream (after several explorations we came to know that the stream was the one we saw at the second bend when I came here for the first time along with Mahendra). Reached the water fall with delight. Attempted to go upon it was unsuccessful. But the next time water receded a bit, so that we successfully made it. After few more visits we were able to find a way beside the water fall to the top it. On top of the fall there was a big rocky sloppy area which gives a panoramic view. A further walk along the stream takes us to the area Sridhar brought us on our second visit. Here the stream bifurcates. We are going along with one branch and the other one joins the same at the rocky area we just passed. Just after this place we will be at Ishwarya Rai. It is a tree standing tall beside the stream with pride. Mr.Krupakar Rao named it like that because it is the most clicked tree in the area. From here if you go right the road is just 150m and you will be emerged 2 km after the first bend where you left the road. If we continue further along the stream, we will be on the road again just a kilometer before the fort. If you take left at Ishwarya Rai, crossing the stream, you will come on to a hillock. This is a vast flat rocky hill. Beside this there is another high hill. Between these two another stream is flowing. If we go along this stream towards the ash pond, there are two more beautiful water falls. First fall descends fifty feet, and second fall was named as Niagara of Vijayawada. The prettiness of the surroundings from the first fall leaves us enraptured. Here stream is completely covered with trees. Going along the stream for a while, we will come out of the multitude of the trees. Here we take a left and proceeding further takes us to the first fall making a full round or it. This can be done vice versa.
This starts from Khilla it self. The trail starts behind Dargah. This ascending trail goes along a scenic path, over covered with wild shrubs netting up on, studded with small boulders which you will never forget. At the end you will descend into a pond with no water. It will have water only in monsoon. Our target is to ascend a smooth rocky dual hill tops from the western face, assumed to be the highest point in the area, having relatively great elevation, extending far upward, which can be seen right from the Dargah area. Take a right toward the hills from the trail after the pond. It looks difficult but it will be a great experience. Take rest and roam on the top for a while and start descending on another way which was well marked by YHAI, Vijayawada Unit. This also can be done vice versa.

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