BANGALORE: With the scorching sun making its presence felt acutely, everyone seems to be scrambling towards cooler climes. This year forget about the commonplace holidays at Kodaikannal and Shimla and head to as-yet-undiscovered, pristine Araku Valley in the Andhra Pradesh. Located at a distance of 112 kilometres from Visakhapatnam, it is accessible by both rail and road. The former is a four-hour journey with the train meandering in and out of a mind-boggling forty-eight tunnels while the picturesque countryside unfolds. Straddled by the Ananthagiri Hills of the Eastern Ghats, at a height of 3,200 feet above sea level, this place would soothe and delight the weariest of travellers.
On the way to Araku, look out for Tyda, 75 kilometres from Vizag. An eco-tourism spot, it is host to a nature camp, Jungle Bells, which has facilities for trekking, hiking and bird watching. Accommodation in log huts adds to the feeling of living in a forest. The Ananthagiri hills are famous for their coffee plantations and estates dot the landscape. Be sure to grab a cup while you are there! An excursion to Matsyagundam, which literally means ‘fish pool’, will allow you to chill out in the waters of river Machkund. There is also a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called the Shri Matsyalingeshwara Swamy Temple. Chaparai is a popular picnic spot, about fifteen kilometres from Araku. This is an ideal place to relax, while watching the stream crisscross rocks and wind its way through boulders. The Sangda Waterfalls is another such point.
The valley is home to more than seventeen tribal groups. The Tribal Museum exhibits articles from their culture and heritage. The Dhimsa dance with its colourful costumes and complex formations rendered to the accompaniment of indigenous music is very popular.
Exquisitely crafted handicrafts made of bamboo, cane and others are available as souvenirs. But the biggest and best attraction near Araku Valley is the Borra Caves. The million-year-old caves, extending to 263 feet, exhibit some of the finest examples of stalactites and stalagmites in the country.
The Gosthani River, which originates here, is the cause for the development of odd shapes of the calcite formations. These shapes can be variously interpreted and it makes for great fun to spot a mushroom or skull or dentures.
The sodium vapour lamps placed at strategic positions bathe the structures in an eerie glow. Others places of tourist interest in the Araku Valley include the Padmapuram Botanical Gardens, Tyda Tunnel, Damuku View Point, Kothalasa Agriculture farm, Government Silk Farm and the Mulberry Gardens.