My ‘earthly’ experience. By Brinda Ganesan It was more like an urge – to take the open road, the uncharted ways, to no itinerary and make head off to somewhere, halt at the first stop and explore, either ride into the sunset or melt with it. These were my first thoughts when I started my journey in the Eastern Ghats – starting with Kurnool, 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 was once a cultural pot of the Vijayanagar empire.
I started my day with the Belum caves. I have to say I liked the place almost instantly. Surrounded by hillocks (which I mistakenly took for caves), impossibly calm and serene surroundings, the desolate roads, fragmented habitation, an unusual chill in the morning breeze and an imposing Buddha statue before the caves, my brain kept registering the unusual charms of the place. The caves were explored some 130 years back and came to AP Tourism’s notice in the 1980s. This is an underground cave, some 3.5 km long with an underground river. Well, the caves are well maintained and illuminated, timings are maintained, no food item is allowed inside and guide service is mandatory to look after the naughty types. The entrance is a circular pit and right away, one descends and then moves into a spacious chamber with a circular opening overhead. I craned my neck to see a deep blue sky at the rim of the crater! That was our last glimpse of the sky for a while.
And, in case you are still wondering about what’s down there in the cave, there is history, some mythology and of course, nature’s old and long processes which have given birth to typical cave formations stalactites and stalagmites (hope it reminds you of physical geography classes in school). These are limestone formations – stalactites are ‘roof hanging’ downward growing formations and stalagmites grow from the base towards the roof. I remember, in school I remembered them as ‘stalactite hold tight to the roof and stalagmite might reach the roof’.
These formations resemble so many things, some get close to a Shivlinga and there is a freshwater spring called Patalganga deep inside where you need to go climbing the iron stairs and then to a narrow gauge, some meditation halls used by Buddhist monks and a feeling of walking through an underground river channel. The walk is arduous and the heat literally takes every ounce of water from the body but the natural formations, the intricately-cut limestone walls as water took its turns, the play of lights as they fell on different surfaces, the hanging formations giving it some Disney touch and then the entire feeling of stepping into such an unknown world – lights up your soul and you instantly feel a connection between yourself and this other world.
One look back at what I had been to and a shot of the imposing Buddha statue and then back on the road to Yaganti temple, passing through the desolate roads with the famous Kurnool black tiles and a few tractors splashing sand on one side and velvet green paddy fields on the other, before everything changed to an untouched, unmeddled-with landscape – flat, arid and sad.
History and science
The Yaganti Uma Maheshwara temple has some history and dusts off some science too. This temple was constructed by King Harihara Bukka Rayalu of the Sangama Dynasty of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century. It was built according to Vaishnaviate traditions. It is said that Sage Agastya wanted to develop a temple of Lord Venketeshwara at this site, but the statue couldn’t be installed. 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. Now the science part – it is believed that the Nandi idol (bullock of Lord Shiva) is continuously growing. Scientific estimates by 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 Nandi size increased. Something is in the stone material, but it does invite much religious interest.
Well, the temple itself looks like a scene taken from a fantasy movie, surrounded by towering hillocks, deep caves on the hillocks, amidst a deep forest. There are cave temples which require some hard seasoned climbing, but a view from the top justifies all the pains taken. The place is desolate with no habitation around to speak of and being in such an off-the- road place calls for some enthusiasm and then the look of the lofty cliffs, the hanging trees, arid landscape for miles and, in the middle of it, this devasthan, with history, mythology and science all co-existing, sends some adrenaline rush down the spine.
Though only around 15 kms from the town of Banaganapalle, the drive is through desolate lands wearing a rustic hue. On your way to Yaganti, do halt at a summer palace of the rulers of Kurnool. Though it may be crumbling from inside, the exteriors of this imposing structure, constructed with the locally-available stone, has withstood the ravages of time and is still in impressive shape.
We drove again to Nandyal, and then a turn to the Mahanandi temple, where we were scheduled to have our night stay at APTDC, just opposite the temple. At night the temple looked grand and mesmerising. Its charm was greeted well with the silence of the night.
The next morning, we were on our way to darshan. Being a thirtha centre, the temple isn’t devoid of stories. There are enough stories of it to keep you engaged. One such story is of the Lord Prameshwara, coming in the dreams of the erstwhile ruler and summoning him to build a temple. The Lord assured of Ganga emerging from that spot and the king built a pond there opposite the inner sanctum, the garbha griha, and within a short time it became an endless flow of with clear water. He named it Rudra Gunda. The temple displays a quintessential Hindu architecture, its open, symmetry-driven structure on a square grid of padas, deploying perfect geometric shapes such as circles and squares, is a fine imprint of the Hindu style of temple architecture. The richly carved entrance and the shrines convey its South Indian descent.
Fast facts: Kurnool is about 200 kms from Hyderabad and has good connectivity with Hyderabad. It is connected to all major cities via rail network. The APTDC hotel chain of Haritha hotels is a good place to stay. Apart from Kurnool, they have a dormitory in Belum caves and a hotel in Gandikota too stay.