You would certainly have heard of the Araku Valley. And maybe
even viewed its lush hills in person or at least in some song
sequence from a Tollywood film.
But what's beyond Araku?
The Araku Valley is around 115 kms from the coastal splendour
of Visakhapatnam and comprises of the River Gosthani's Valley
ringed by peaks rising upto 1680 metres. The area abounds
in a number of streams, rivulets (known locally as Geddas)
and seasonal waterfalls. Little wonder the valley and its
surrounding peaks are a green rhapsody of thick jungle, terraced
Rice and Maize fields and (surprise, surprise) Coffee plantations.
The Araku Valley is also home to 19 tribes, which are ethnographically
related to the tribes of Orissa, further north.
You can get to Araku by train on arguably the highest Broad
Gauge railway line in India. But the best way of course is
by road, after all there are places you just need to stop
at and fall in love with!
Once you leave Kottavalsa you note a sea change around you.
The Maize in the fields is much thinner and the Rice paddies
smaller in size. The people you see are suddenly flat-nosed,
burnt-coffee brown skinned and clothe in kaleidoscopic hues
of Red, Green and so on. If you have been other tribal areas,
up north in Orissa or Chattisgarh or west in Gujarat, you
realize you are in another. Whatever a tribal area means in
these commercialized, all-and-sundry dress, live and procreate
the same days.
Araku itself is reached after around 35 odd kilometers of
a narrow 6 feet wide Ghat road that's lined for most of the
way by a moss-covered balustrade that's greener than the forest
On the way up, you will pass TYDA, a "must-be-there"
place for its cottages under true forest trees. You also pass
copses of Silver Oak trees with Pepper Vines snaking around
the trunks and Coffee shrubs growing amongst the rows.
Up you go, along on a meandering Ghat road with a peak here
and peak there, a valley here and a ravine there with everything
green, oh-so-green. Your next temptation on this road is (are)
the million year old Borra Caves. Care to stop here and you
will see one of India's finest displays of subterranean beauty.
Stalagmites and Stalactites, natural amphitheaters and almost
As suddenly as you realized you are in a tribal area, you
are out in the Valley proper, with the River Gosthani flowing
through it and white-washed houses with red tiles almost everywhere.
Here you can visit the Tribal museum, get a ringside view
of the Dhimsa dance or just play Anthropologist in studying
the tribal belles.
Around Araku, you have small excursions that take you to places
like Sangda Waterfalls and Matsyagundam (a pool on the river
Machkund that's full of tame fish) which are easily accessible.
But, the fun starts after you are beyond Araku and have left
the small hamlet of Paderu behind you. Now, you are really
far from the madding crowd, really in the interior tribal
areas, really on your own, with not many directions all roads
looking the same. One road would take you to Orissa along
the Jalarapet Reservoir. Get onto another and you will reach
Narsapur in West Godavari. Or come along with me to Bhadrachalam
through Sileru and Mothugudem.
The 50 odd kilometers from Paderu to Chintapalli is along
a meandering road that takes you through pristine tribal hinterland,
small villages of simple huts and innumerable streams flowing
besides the road. All around are cultivated hills green with
a golden tint, terraced in flowing lines and groves of Plantain
here and there. And of course you again see the Coffee estates
you encountered at Anantagiri before Araku.
The Andhra Pradesh Forest Development Corporation brainstormed
these Coffee estates and a funny thing about them is that
each is named after a forest department official. The estates
make a lovely sight with sunlight glinting through boat-mast
straight Silver Oak trees with Black Pepper Vines curling
around them. The Coffee shrubs are planted in rows among the
Silver Oak trees and harvested once in a year around December.
Take a small walk and search for the estate office and if
you are lucky you can buy some Coffee beans that somehow escaped
There are two lovely waterfalls between the small town of
Chintapalli and the smaller village of Darakonda, one of which
flows over the road itself. Hereon you are getting deeper
and deeper into forests as you are approaching the Upper and
Lower Sileru Projects. If you are lucky (I was) you will find
Deer jumping across the road in front of you. Sileru to Mothugudem
is an equally thickly forested stretch where you will come
across trucks laden with timber abandoned in the forest (because
of breakdowns) and small hamlets where there are sheds meant
for de-pulping the Coffee berries. Amazingly hidden in thick
foliage, streams flow almost parallel to the road!
Mothugudem is located in the heart of Kondareddi territory.
The Kondareddis are reclusive hill tribes rarely live in roadside
villages. One of Andhra's Primitive Tribal Groups, the Kondareddi's
are literally the rulers of the hills and live in villages
built on the remote hilltops around Mothugudem and Bhadrachalam.
The only way to reach their small, remote villages is by trekking.
From Mothugudem to Bhadrachalam is again through thick forests
with a reddish lake somewhere afar here and there. The forest
extends almost till Nellipaka, 20 odd kms from Bhadrachalam
itself. If you are lucky you will spot a cowherd who's carrying
bows and arrows and willing to sell them to you.
Enroute to the temple town of Bhadrachalam, you cross the
river Sabari, a river who's namesake was a tribal woman who
was Lord Rama's ardent devotee.
Did Sabari live in Mothugudem?