Tuesday, July 25, 2017

#NanoDiaries - Bengaluru - Gandikota - Belum - Bengaluru

Trip from Bengaluru to Gandikota and Belum

This one was long pending. Pending since one of our friends shared an article about Belum Caves on FB and it was love at first sight. 

Now, some very close friends were coming down from Kerala for a visit and they too agreed that instead of the usual pub-hopping, we had to do something different this time!

And that's how, we visited two of the most beautiful places that we have ever been to.

Day 0 - Planning the Trip:
  • We planned to spend the night at Gandikota so as to catch the sunrise from the Canyon the next day morning + the little one needed to rest for the night before we drove back to Bengaluru
  • No other hotels in the area except one maintained by the AP Government - Haritha Hotel, Gandikota
  • Book a room by registering/logging in to APTDC (no other hotel booking site listed this hotel)
  • Click on Enquiry / Reservation
  • Select the second Tab called Hotels
  • From the first dropdown, select Gandikota
  • The second dropdown has only one option as of today - Gandikota [Kadapa Dist.]
  • Choose your preferred Check-In Date/Time and Check-Out Date/Time
  • There are only A/C Rooms available here. Enter the number of Rooms required and number of Adults/Child in each room
  • The Tariff (inclusive of all taxes) is auto populated in a few seconds. We booked 2 rooms and paid Rs.1,254 per room
  • It has 24-hours check-in/check-out - which is amazing. We booked for Check-In at 10:00AM on Saturday and Check-Out at 10:00AM on Sunday
  • Click on Continue to fill in the Guest Information of the primary traveler and then make the payment online. I did not find a "Pay at Hotel" option
  • Received both an email and a SMS confirmation for the booking. 5 out of 5 Stars for the booking experience
Tip: The Google Map link to this Hotel is here. Use this for directions. Keep enough fuel in tank at all times, very few fuel outlets along the way.

Day 1 - Saturday, 22 July 2017:

The Drive:
  • Started from home (near Indira Nagar) at 04:45AM
  • Roads are amazing - Bengaluru-Hyderabad highway
  • About 114 kms later, at Kodikonda, we stopped for coffee
  • A detour of about 16 kms from here, will take you to Lepakshi. We skipped this
  • A short distance from here, a right turn takes you towards Kadiri
  • Remainder of the journey was through decent but narrower roads littered with speed bumps
  • Very few shops/restaurants along the way. Had breakfast from a (very!) small hotel in a small town next to some temple near Kadiri. Very nice (and spicy) Groundnut Chutney with Dosas and Pooris. Bought a couple of Mineral Water bottles as well.
  • At some places, road widening was in progress and we had to go off road for a short distance. Nothing our Nano could not handle
  • Some breathtaking mountains and scenery along the way
  • Reached Hotel at about 11:00AM (one hour behind planned schedule)
  • Total travel time (including stops) was about 6 hours
  • I am not sure about how we can reach here through Public Transportation. I am guessing that the closest town is Jammalamadugu and there are buses till there. From there, you might have to take an Autorickshaw to Gandikota and a separate bus to Belum.
Tip: Carry a lot of water bottles and some snacks. No decent restaurants/shops along the way. Have a lot of cash in hand. Almost nobody accepts card payments - not even fuel outlets.

The Hotel:
  • Please carry a print-out of the booking confirmation. It makes checking-in smoother
  • The people at the hotel know only Telugu. So, we had to communicate through a mixture of Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, and Hand Gestures. Finally things were sorted out when we showed a soft copy of the email confirmation from APTDC. But they were very friendly throughout and never rude 
  • We had to pay Rs.1,000 as a refundable security deposit before we got the keys. This was a complete shocker for us as it was not mentioned anywhere. But thankfully we had the cash in hand
  • Spotty connection for Vodafone, Idea, Airtel, and Jio. Data connectivity is very rare. The locals told us that BSNL is the only one with decent range
  • No WiFi at the hotel
  • Huge Parking space, but no shade. Has to be parked under the sun
  • A small children's play area with not very well maintained equipments
  • Each 2 rooms are a separate building with its own porch and terraces - more like cottages. The location and the overall environment there was very refreshing and was the highlight of the place - 5 out of 5 Stars again to APTDC
  • Clean rooms, decent bed, A/C, TV with a Tata Sky connection, almost-decent toilet with Geyser for Hot Water. 2 Bath Towels, Soaps and Shampoos were provided
  • There is also a bigger dormitory accommodation available there for larger groups travelling together
  • If you end up here without an online booking (please do not do that!), then they even set up tents on the grounds for you to sleep in. Very accommodating
  • A very 'family' place - lot of women and children were among the guests
Tip: Carry a print of the booking confirmation. Be patient with the locals - they are nice if you are. Be prepared for no mobile/data connectivity.

The Food:

  • There are no other shops or restaurants nearby. The closest town is about 17 kms from the hotel. So you end up completely dependent on the hotel restaurant for food
  • Food itself was tasty - although, it is a little too pricey and a lot more spicy. If you cannot handle spicy food, please tell them upfront to prepare it accordingly
  • Vegetarian and Chicken dishes were available. Must try the evening snacks (Baby Corn Chilli and Mushroom Manchurian) - it was yummy! Restaurant is open to not just the guests, so drop in if you are hungry before you head back to Bengaluru the same day
  • Although it looks decently clean, a lot of flies in the restaurant area. Best to order room service and eat in
  • Kingfisher Beer is available, but limited numbers. If you need it, you will have to reserve them beforehand. You will have to shell out Rs. 200 per beer though.
Tip: The total food bill has to be paid when you Check-Out. Have cash in hand for payments. Food is really spicy!

Belum Caves:
  • After lunch, we went to Belum Caves. It is a 1.5 hours, 60 kms drive from the Hotel. Entrance closes at 05:00PM
  • There was Rs.10 parking fees. Annoying number of people begging for alms there, they surround you like flies
  • Entrance ticket costs Rs. 65 per head. Children below 5 years can visit for free
  • We hired a guide. Paid him a total of Rs. 200. I think this is the best way to go about Belum Caves. Although the whole cave system is properly marked, with the guide it was easier to cover all the important and easy-to-miss places. Totally worth the Rs. 200 we paid him
  • The trek is a total of 3 kms and will take about 2 hours
  • It is going to be really difficult for older folks, people with breathing problems, if you are obese (some places are really tight and you have to squeeze through) and for kids. I had to carry our 3 year old most of the way and doing that in a cramped cave is quite difficult (but worth it - she enjoyed it!)
  • It gets very hot and stuffy in there and there are very few points were fresh air is being pumped in. Be prepared to sweat a lot
  • There is a snack bar just outside for you to refresh once you finish the trek

Tip: Google Maps link for directions hereCarry a minimum of 1 litre water per person. Carry a decent camera, as mobile camera might not do justice to how beautiful the caves are.

Day 2 - Sunday, 23 July 2017:

  • The place that you really need to see is the Penna River View. Google Maps location here. It is a 15 minutes trek (1.5 kms) from the hotel
  • On the way to this location, you pass through the impressive Fort walls, the Jail, a Charminar, a couple of temples, Jumma Masjid, the Fort itself, a big water tank and the Granary. All of these are beautiful structures open for you to explore. We climbed all the way up to the top of the Fort walls and the view was spectacular
  • Walking to all these places does not require a lot of physical effort. Cars can be driven through these areas all the way up to the Fort (although it is best to walk through here)
  • The real trek is to climb (a lot of) rocks to reach the edge of the grand Canyon. This is not advisable if you are weak, for children, or if you are scared of heights
  • Climb through all the rocks (carefully!) to reach the very tip of the Gorge and the sight is breath-taking. No camera can capture the complete beauty of this view and it is futile to even attempt. Rather, simply enjoy it. We spent almost an hour simply laying on our back in the morning Sun enjoying the spectacular view. No words can describe how beautiful it actually is
  • A friend mentioned that a lot of people camp here overnight in tents and also abseil down the Canyon
  • Carry some cash in hand for buying some water on the way back - a couple of small shops around here
  • There are no entrance fees here although a couple of children were asking for donations for the upcoming Ganapati Chathurthi festival
Tip: Climb the rocks towards the tip of the Canyon - the view is spectacular. Be patient and careful when you are climbing the rocks. Drink enough water. Try to catch the sunrise from the Gorge

Back to Bengaluru:
  • After a decent breakfast, we settled the bills at the restaurant (adjusted with the Rs.1,000 deposit that we had paid) and started on our way back at 11:30AM. Was not haggled for not checking out at 10:00AM as per the booking
  • No decent places to have lunch along the way. Had to wait until we connected back to Bengaluru-Hyderabad highway to find a half-decent Dhaba. It was already 02:30PM by then and we were all famished
  • Stopped once again in the evening for some tea
  • Reach home by 05:30PM. Total travel time (including stops) was about 6 hours
Tip: Cannot stress this enough. Carry enough Water, Snacks, and Cash in hand throughout the journey

Both Belum and Gandikota are must-see places. Especially if you are in Bengaluru, barely 300 kms away. I can guarantee that they are very different from anything else you have seen before and you will not be disappointed at how amazing nature can be!

Do let me know in the comments below if you have any queries about this trip or if you have any suggestions for our next trip!

Have Fun!

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