Bongulo chicken, a special attraction for tourists

Bongulo chicken, a special attraction for tourists

The aroma of marinated chicken stuffed in bamboo shoots and roasted on coal will entice any meat lover travelling through parts of the 112-km long ghat road from Visakhapatnam to Araku Valley. The route in the Eastern Ghats leading to neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is most scenic and lush green.

Bongulo chicken (chicken in bamboo), a traditional form of cooking with almost no oil and little spice, has finally become a popular dish which can be cooked in 15 minutes that too with  simple bamboo and coal.

On way to Araku Valley, tourists will invariably stop at several attractions such as Ananthagiri Hills, Chaparai Falls,  Borra Caves, Dumbriguda Waterfalls and the scenic Tyda Valley.

Bamboo chicken stalls could be found at all these spots with their owners, mostly tribal women, setting up their shops as the tourist rush picks up. Though the morning  passenger train from Visakhapatnam takes tourists through some of the most-stunning scenic valleys, many prefer to travel by car so that they can stop at these exclusive spots where bamboo chicken is sold.

“The chicken that we serve are mostly forest fed and natural. We get  fresh chicken, marinate with masala but not much of onion as it turns to gravy. The bamboo chicken should be dry as tourists must be able to savour it on the spot,” Sugunamma, a prominent bongulo chicken maker in the vicinity of Araku Valley.

She says that bongulo  chicken is healthy as there is no oil used in its preparation. The trick is to use the bamboo as a pressure cooker which retains the aroma locked inside the chicken pieces letting the meat cook in its own natural fats.

What the 100-odd bamboo chicken makers on the ghat road do is simply magic. They stuff the marinated chicken into the 2 inch wide bamboo shoot cut into one and a half feet lengths and then close it from both sides with lotus leaves. The bamboo is then placed on fire to cook. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete the cooking.

The chicken is then dumped onto a leaf plate served with a dash of lemon. One can also carry it with them as the tribal women can pack the whole piping hot bamboo.

“Now bongulo chicken is a must in all restaurants from Rajahmundry, Visakhapatnam, Maredumilli and Rampachodavaram on the way to Bhadrachalam,” says Raghu, an official of the AP Tourism Development Corporation.

 He says that government is proposing to apply for GI tag as the simple tribal cuisine is very specific to this region and is becoming very popular.

The business of bongulo chicken, evolved over years, has flourished. A kg of bongulo chicken costs Rs 500, which is sufficient for a family.

Small shops selling chicken kebabs, coffee beans, spices from valley also survive because of bongulo chicken as tourist who stop at these roadside stalls also make other purchases.

“The foggy weather of the valley and the piping hot bongulo chicken are perfect match. The tourists will have no problem eating the chicken with their bare hands as there will be no oil left on their fingers. It’s a magic that the meat is so clean and soft without any after taste,” Raghu adds.

“The taste of bongulo chicken brings me to Araku Valley regularly. We love stopping on the way at the waterfalls. We order the chicken when we arrive and after taking bath at the waterfalls, the chicken will be ready to eat, it’s so quick and hygienic,” Parmesh Pawar, a software engineer from Vizag, who loves to travel the ghat road on his Bullet bike, says.

However, one has to be careful when bongulo chicken is available on plain lands.
“Many non-tribals are offering the preparation. The chicken must be wild fowl or at least not broiler type, the spices must be fresh and authentic, the bamboo must have moisture in it so that it works as cooker,” Sugunamma cautioned.

Some of the sightseeing options in Araku Valley include a rolling range of hills--Ananthagiri, Galikonda, Raktakonda, Sunkarimetta and Chitamogondi with Galikonda rising to a height of 5,000 ft. Ananthagiri Hills has a beautiful resort wrapped in the verdant ranges of the Eastern Ghats.

 The road to Ananthagiri through picturesque coffee plantations on the ghat route is literally swathed in mango groves, waterfalls that surge and flow into the ravines. Ananthagiri is at an altitude where the panorama unfurls with stunning viewpoints. It is considered to be the perfect getaway from the blistering summer months.

The other sites or attractions not to be missed to Araku Valley are Damuku View Point, Padmapuram Botanical Gardens, Tida Tunnel, Government Silk Farm and Mulberry Gardens.

The immense and incomparable beauty of the valley comes alive in its waterfalls, gardens and forests. It is also known for its tribal settlements and tourists can check out the Araku Tribal Museum, to have a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage of the tribal people.

The Tribal Museum sells local bamboo-ware, jungle honey and preserves, and such articles. The museum itself is standard government representation of tribal lives.

However, Borra Caves, a 40-km ride away, are the jewel in the valley’s crown. The caves, discovered in 1807 by British geologist William King, are deep, dark and mysterious, with narrow sulphur streams, and stalagmites and stalactites, more sturdy rock formations than sharp arrowheads.

However, the caves are not a place for the claustrophobic as the reverberating sounds of the tourists and the bats could be a cause for irritation.

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