I got up early and boarded Vishakhapatnam – Kirandaul passenger train, leaving Vizag station at 6:50am. Sitting at the window seat, I was enjoying my journey on the East Coast Railway line, savoring a picturesque and breathtaking view of the nature. As my train approached the Shivalingapuram station, after almost 2 hours, I was mesmerized with the blue mountain in the distant and the valley below with its greenery.
An hour further into the journey, the train entered into Borra Guhalu station(Borra means Hole in Oriya, Guhalu means cave ). Get down here to be transported to millions of years back in the time. Or you may also plan for a road trip to Borra Caves once you are in Araku Valley. Borra Caves is one of its kind caves in India with fascinating stalactites and stalagmites. These are naturally formed and believed to be 150 million years old.
Founded in 1807 by the British geologist William King, the main entrance of the caves is at an altitude of 705 meters mean sea level and the inside of the caves goes down to the 625 meters mean sea level. At the entrance of the caves, you would observe that there is a train track laid above the caves. Gosthani river, flowing below the mountains in the valley, originates somewhere near this area. These caves have a trek distance of 350 meters once you are inside. One of the main attractions of the caves is the brain-shaped formation. There are several such interesting formations. Another attraction is a natural Shiva Linga (Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction), which can be reached by a small man-made bridge inside the caves. These caves are thronged by thousands of tourists throughout the year.
After a 3 hour 50 minute journey, covering a distance of 129 km and halting at 13 stations, my train chugs into Araku station. It is one of the famous hill stations of Andhra Pradesh (AP), India. Known for its pristine mountains, stunning waterfalls and coffee plantations and its aroma, it attracts visitors from all over the world. The scenic beauty of Araku Valley has often been set as the background in several Telugu movies. Perched at an elevation of 925m above sea level, valley is rich in its flora and fauna. During rainfall, the numerous waterfalls come alive with tourists. Farmers dot its green paddy fields then. Children enjoy the game of football, flanked by mountain ranges of Eastern Ghats.
Do visit the tribal museum here to know more about the locals. Take a walk along the Padmapuram botanical garden. Valley has many beautiful perennial streams gushing through the natural rocks and the sylvan surroundings of the valley. Here one may hear the whispering serenade of nature and the rustling of leaves on the green expanse. At one such spot, one may spend many hours, sitting and appreciating the beauty of nature in Araku. There is one such serene stream near Chaaparai stream, 15 km from Araku, which you must not miss. Katiki and Thatiguda are other spectacular waterfalls, worth a visit. There are several trekking trails, taking you past forests and waterfalls, to the summit. You would cross by Sangda waterfall on one such adventurous trail.
When in Araku, you cannot simply miss tasting the local delicacy of Araku, known as the Bamboo Chicken or Bongulo Chicken in local language. It is a traditional tribal cuisine of Araku Valley. Chopped chicken pieces mixed with spices are stuffed inside the bamboo trunk and the open end of trunk is closed with big leaves. It is cooked on the flame till the bamboo turns black and the aroma intoxicates you.
If train journeys are your love, do make it to this trip. Araku Valley has something for everyone. And for a traveler like me, this journey was etched in my memory forever, and canvassed in my heart as an yearning for more.
When to Go: Best time is after rainfall, between the months of October and March when nature is in its full bloom. However in monsoon, valley presents another adventure.
How to Reach: By morning train from Vishakhapatnam (4 hours) or by road (3 hours). Another option is AP tourism package
Where to Stay: AP Tourism Accommodations
1. Jungle Hills, Tyada – Alight at Tyada station after 2 hours of train journey from Vizag. At a small distance by road to a hillock, one will find Jungle Bells, resort of AP tourism. It has wooden cottages, igloo type cottages and Loghuts. These are mid-range accommodations, providing good stay, en route to Araku and Borra Caves.
2. Mayuri Resort, Araku – Run by AP tourism, it has high-range to mid-range rooms. They provide a comfortable stay in the valley. Rooms provide a captivating view of the valley.
3. Valley Resort, Araku – This property is also run by AP Tourism and is located in lush greenery all around. It has mid-range priced rooms.
4. Tree huts and hanging cottages in Padmapuram botanical garden – There are all together five rooms here and makes for an adventurous stay. I would recommend it only for backpackers and definitely, not for family with kids.
What to See: Borra Caves, Waterfalls, Tribal Museum, Coffee plantations
What to Do: Trekking trails
What to Eat: Local produce, Coffee and definitely Bamboo Chicken
Have you visited any such place in India or in any other country in train? Tell us about your one such monsoon trip. Share your experiences.
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