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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 beyond.

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 phosphorescent caverns.

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 getting sold.

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?

By Anand

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