A travel guide to coastal Andhra Pradesh

A travel guide to coastal Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh’s coastline is the second-longest in the country and holds within its folds ancient Buddhist sites, stunning cave temples, heritage towns and cultural spots

A view of the coastline in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh

Travelling within India, for me, is always an experience quite unlike any other. The key differentiating factor being the fact that I encounter a plethora of diverse landscapes, cultures, traditions and cuisines on my sojourns. I recently visited the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh and came back impressed! The coastline of Andhra Pradesh, which is the second longest in the country, comprises nine districts of which the Krishna district is the most prominent. After some research, I made the bustling city of Vijayawada my base to explore this picturesque landscape. Watered by the delta of the glorious Krishna and Godavari rivers, I was taken in by the utter beauty of this fertile belt that is a haven for paddy cultivation and fishing. I undertook multiple short trips in and around the city that treated me to some unique sights spanning from heritage to religion to indigenous art, craft as well as wildlife.

Beguiling Buddhist sites

Buddhism in the state has historically had a profound influence and bearing testimony to this is the fact that there are a whopping 150+ Buddhist sites in the state. Known to have flourished since the times of Emperor Ashoka, there are several symbols of the religion in the form of stupas, viharas and chaityas spread throughout the state. The newly formed capital city of Amaravati was indeed a revelation and is an ideal place to explore the Buddhism trail in the state. The magnificent Mahachaitya in the city is one of the largest stupas in the country.

Undavalli Caves
Undavalli Caves

This seat of worship is covered with ornate sculptures, panels and friezes. While most of the structure looks plain today, it still remains one of the most prominent relics of Buddhism in Andhra Desam. The city also has two significant museums, Amaravati Museum and Amaravati Heritage Centre and Museum that are a treasure house of artefacts, relics, statues and information on the history and evolution of Buddhism in the state. Apart from this, Ghantasala, Chandavaram and Kesanapalli are the other key Buddhist sites in coastal Andhra.

While in the city of Vijayawada, the cave temples of Undavalli is again a must-visit. These ancient cave temples are a stellar example of rock-cut architecture and date way back to the 4th and 5th century. While the main shrine is that of Anantha Padmanabha that is seen in a reclining position, the resemblance of the idol to Buddha suggests that it was a Buddhist temple earlier that was later converted to a Hindu one. Other theories suggest that it was used earlier by Buddhist monks as rest houses.

Classical weaves

Given my love for legacy handlooms, I decided to visit the town of Mangalagiri and Pedana that are the birthplaces of indigenous Mangalagiri and kalamkari fabrics, respectively. Located about 10 km from Vijayawada, most of the population of Mangalagiri town is into weaving rich cotton fabrics that are the main input for the elegant Mangalagiri saris. Known for their durability and superior quality, the saris have bright-coloured stripes with a thick woven border known as the Nizam border.  

If bright colours and bold prints are your taste, head to Pedana, about 75 km from Vijayawada. As you enter the town, it is a common sight to see colourful fabric strewn around, which is left for drying, or heaps of them atop bicycles and cycle rickshaws ready for retailing. Home to a unique school of kalamkari, which, in fact, refers to the art of drawing on fabric with a pen, the fabrics in Pedana are manufactured using either screen printing or block printing. The entire process is manual; red, green, black and yellow are the primary colours.  

Toy magic in Kondapalli

A small town that is less than 20 km from Vijayawada, Kondapalli is synonymous with the manufacture of wooden toys that are lightweight and colourful. Made from the wood of white sander tree that is found in abundance locally, the wood of this tree has the inherent quality of becoming incredibly light in mass with time. The most commonly made toys are figures of gods and goddesses, including the Dashavatars as well as wildlife. Other popular toys include themes from daily life like farming, cooking and vegetable markets.  The craftsmen, I learnt, are particularly busy during the Mysuru Dasara season as there is high demand for ‘Ambari elephants’ as well as dolls depicting the renowned Dasara procession. Most of the craftsmen take orders online and sell to various private firms.

Avian wonders in Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary

About 35 km from Vijayawada is Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary that is a haven for migratory birds. This, according to me, is the region’s best-kept secret and was a wonderful way to end my trip! On my visit, I realised that the habitat here is home to close to 40 species of migratory birds, including painted storks, herons, pelicans, black ibis, among a host of others.  The birds start coming in from July and stay till March during which they breed.

Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary
Uppalapadu Bird Sanctuary

The water tanks in the village served as a refuge for these birds initially, but now plenty of initiatives including the planting of trees, installation of artificial meshes that mimic trees and maintaining water bodies have been undertaken as a result of which the population of these birds has multiplied manifold. According to the local guide, there are close to 20,000 birds during the season. While the best time to visit the place is between September & February, pelicans start arriving by August and breed during October-November after which painted storks arrive. A delight for birdwatchers, the place is a must-visit.