The tale of a gorge & a fort – Gandikota

posted in: Andhra Pradesh, Asia, Heritage, India, Nature | 56

People refer to it as the Grand Canyon of India. They said that the topography and scenic beauty is what makes this gorge a unique place. The good part of it – it is just 5 and a half hours from Bengaluru. And even better – not quite touristy. This evoked enough curiosity for me to research Gandikota –– one of the tourist places in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. It has been quite a few years since I have been planning a trip here and finally, it was Eureka moment last week! What I found there was a tale of not just a gorgeous gorge, but one of an ancient fort too!

Finally made it ! Gandikota!
Finally made it ! Gandikota!

Gandikota turned out to my favorite combination of travel – nature and heritage. It had me spellbound with its visual beauty and engaged with the tales whispered by its ancient rocks. It also, promised me a dose of adrenaline which unfortunately I could not indulge in this time. In short, it had everything that one might need to add it to their list of “weekend getaways from Bangalore“. In fact, it might turn out that you earmark Gandikota as a destination of its own and come to Bangalore just for that.

History of Gandikota

Gandi” means a gorge in Telugu while “Kota” refers to a fort. The picturesque gorge came to the forefront when a subordinate of the Chalukya king – Kapa Raja build a sand fort here in the early 1120s. The fort was annexed by the Muslim invaders of Khilji dynasty. Later, in 1336 – the famous Vijayanagara kingdom headquartered in Hampi, drove the Khilji clan out and took over the region. Gandikota was given to its commanders who came to be known as the Kamma Kings. The Kamma Kings ruled for over 200 years and expanded the small Gandikota fort.

Map of present day Gandikota FortMap of present day Gandikota Fort
Map of present day Gandikota For

The strategic position of the Fort by the gorge made it a perfect station for defense. Gandikota was covered with dense forests and water springs. The flowing Pennar river through the gorge allowed the whole region to flourish not just in trade but in agriculture too. When you visit Gandikota fort today, you can see remains of the various aqueducts, channels and water tanks used to stream the water effectively to farms and various areas of the village.

Water Tank and aqueducts in Gandikota Fort.
Water Tank and aqueducts in Gandikota Fort.

Today, the man-made structures in Gandikota are in ruins. However, its natural beauty around the canyon still remains. A combination of these – the crumbling walls in natural surroundings – is a prime reason for you to visit this place.

Through the gates of Gandikota Fort

A few kms before Gandikota
A few km before Gandikota

The dry, arid terrain of Gandikota started off before we hit the bridge across River Pennar. It was almost as if we were breezing on roads cut out within the canyon. I expected this to continue until we reached the fort but was quite surprised to see the flat red lands. I suppose I did not take into account that we were traveling on the ground while the canyon was a cut into the ground.

Gandikota Fort Walls
Gandikota Fort Walls

Nevertheless, as we reached civilization, we saw them. The looming walls of Gandikota fort left no doubt of how formidable this historic structure must have been in its heydays. Adding further proof were the large gates of the fort, laid out in a zigzag manner – like how every top-notch defense structure should be.

Single laned and narrow, we drove past the huge doors with sharp spikes. The doors stood erect only ‘coz they were held up by a log.  A huge tower – the Charminar, greeted us into the once-grand citadel of Gandikota.

The Charminar & Jail of Gandikota Fort

Charminar in Gandikota Fort
Charminar in Gandikota Fort

Quite unlike its namesake in Hyderabad, this Charminar was a single structure with 4 minor minarets atop its roof. My first guess was that this was some kind of a watchtower. I could not have been more wrong for this was actually a pigeon tower. The tiny holes along its windows were doorways for the pigeons, which these flying creatures still used. Right at the entrance, this was the only well-maintained structure in Gandikota fort.

Gandikota Fort Jail
Gandikota Fort Jail

Right next to it, is an old jail of the fort. I could not go and explore it from the inside. In fact, there inside for the jail is actually underground. From the windowless façade and meager air vents, it was evident to see how dreary the place might have been.

Jamia Masjid at Gandikota

Jamia Masjid in Gandikota fort
Jamia Masjid in Gandikota fort
The boundary wall with the entrance of Jamia Masjid
The boundary wall with the entrance of Jamia Masjid

Right next to the unofficial parking of the fort, is the gorgeous Jamia Masjid. The classic Islamic architecture with its intricate domes and large arched gateways will definitely mesmerize you as soon as you set your eyes on it.

Can you spot the intricate carvings around the gateway? Jamia Masjid, Gandikota
Can you spot the intricate carvings around the gateway? Jamia Masjid, Gandikota
Jamia Masjid from the entrance
Jamia Masjid from the entrance

The main gate of the Jama Masjid forms a very pretty frame for the main structure in the center.  If you look carefully around the entrance, you will see remnants of delicate carvings which might have had some color in it.

I spend a while checking out the artistic entrance, only to be distracted later by the minarets of the mosque. The domed towers rose elegantly and beckoned me to have a closer look at them. The arched windows enhanced by the pretty floral patterns created a lure that made me look for a staircase to the top. Somehow, I could not manage to find it. 🙁The main mosque within Jama Masjid, GandikotaThe main mosque within Jama Masjid, Gandikota

Closeup of the Minaret of Jamia Masjid
Closeup of the Minaret of Jamia Masjid

The prayer courtyard surrounds a raised platform with the Mihrab on it. Mihrab is basically a curved alcove in a mosque that indicates the direction in which the prayers have to be held. You can walk right up to it to see the delicate carvings present within. As you do that, remember to glance up to the ceiling.  It might seem like a simple dome design now but the central floral patterns suggest that their original designs might have been even more elaborate.

Mihra of Jamia Masjid, Gandikota
Mihrab of Jamia Masjid, Gandikota
Fountain of the Masjid
Fountain of the Masjid

Right in front of the Mihrab, you will see a sunken pool. This used to be a fountain, the water for which came in through the ancient aqueducts connecting the River Pennar and the fort.

Kattula Koneru, a Tomb & a Granary

Kattula Koneru
Kattula Koneru

Right opposite to the Jamia Masjid, is an ancient water tank called Kattula Koneru. Technically, you are likely to pass it before you enter the mosque but this frenzied friend of yours (aka me) chose to capture it after I exited the mosque. Kattula means sword and as I gathered, this was a water tank used to clean weapons, especially after a battle. The water tank, as I understood, was one of the largest ones in Gandikota fort.

Unknown Tomb of Gandikota Fort
Unknown Tomb of Gandikota Fort

On the other side of the Tank, across the Masjid, you will see another Islamic structure. No one seemed to know what that was. A little asking around told me that it was a tomb or a Mausoleum of an unknown person. The structure was falling apart but despite that, one could not deny the beauty of it all.

The Granary of Gandikota Fort
The Granary of Gandikota Fort

Another large structure beside the Jama Masjid was the storehouse of the fort. The granary held provisions for the entire citadel. It did seem quite huge from the outside and also, appeared to have multiple entrances and floors. All I could see it various openings and an external staircase. How I wish the way in was not locked! Sigh!

Ranganatha Swamy temple of Gandikota

Ranganathaswamy Temple, Gandikota
Ranganathaswamy Temple, Gandikota

The systematic arrangement of the stone pillars against a backdrop of boulders is what distinguished this structure from its background. A signboard outside it told me that this was the Ranganatha Swamy temple – a place whose simple exteriors belied the beauty within.  An exquisite mantapa with carved pillars is awaited as I walked through the unassuming doorways of this temple.

Main shrine of Ranganatha Swamy temple
Main shrine of Ranganatha Swamy temple

A lot of the carvings have succumbed to the mindless plundering of the invaders. However, they have survived enough to tell you a tale of its grandeur. Take for example the elephants that outlined its short staircase. While on one side, I could spot only the elephant, the inner side of it hid a hunter or a soldier.

The inner part of the staircase where you can see a hunter with the elephant
The inner part of the staircase where you can see a hunter with the elephant
Garbha Griha or the Sanctum Sanctorum of Ranganatha Swamy temple
Garbha Griha or the Sanctum Sanctorum of Ranganatha Swamy temple

The guardian Yellis (lion-faced creatures) peeked out of every pillar in the outer shrine while the ones leading to the sanctum sanctorum were simple cylindrical ones. At the base of each of the exterior pillars were carvings from the Indian mythology.

The inner shrine was devoid of the idol of Ranganathaswamy, Most likely, the idol within must have been destroyed or stolen. I am glad that I did not resist the urge to peek into the empty shrine – else how could I have spotted the lovely ceiling.

Krishna on pillars of Ranganathaswamy temple
Krishna on pillars of Ranganathaswamy temple
Ceiling of Ranganatha Swamy Temple
The ceiling of Ranganatha Swamy Temple

As I walked around the deserted Ranganathaswamy temple, I observed a few lone carvings along its exterior walls.  The surrounding temple buildings were missing a roof and seemed to be quite dilapidated. However, that turned out to be advantageous for you could capture the secular nature of the fort at one go – with the Jama Masjid in the foreground and the Madhavaraya Swamy temple rising in the backdrop

Carvings on outer wall
Carvings on the outer wall
View of Jama Masjid and Madhavaraya Temple from Ranganathaswamy temple
View of Jama Masjid and Madhavaraya Temple from Ranganathaswamy temple

The temple had a lot of elements similar to the Hampi temples like Virupaksha Temple. The basic layout of the temple, the similarity in the carved pillars – it all seemed intriguing. Later when I did some digging around the facts, I realized that it was built around the reign of the famous Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara. Possibly that maybe the reason for its resemblance.

Do check out the exquisite architecture of the Virupaksha Temple in Hampi

Pennar River View Point

Penna River View Point, Gandikota
Penna River View Point, Gandikota

Remember the whole backdrop of boulders that I described earlier. Well, that is where the hero of this entire tale lies. The very reason for Gandikota to get its name and for the place to host a fort. Those boulders were the edge of the cliff that sloped down to form the famous Gandikota canyon. This is where you get the view of the lovely Pennar River flowing through the gorge.

Enjoying the colors of Gandikota at the Penna River View Point
Enjoying the colors of Gandikota at the Penna River View Point with my minx

Frankly, this viewpoint is the highlight of this entire trail. The serene beauty of the river amid the rugged rocks of the Erramala hills creates a mystical aura. All you ever want to do is climb over the rocks and settle down to stare at the landscape. We spent quite a bit of time here watching the rocks change color with the movement of the sun behind us.

Sunset over Gandikota

Sunset over Ranganathaswamy temple, Gandikota
Sunset over Ranganathaswamy temple, Gandikota

The sunset did not take place over the Gandikota Penna River View Point. It was actually over the Jama Masjid and Ranganathaswamy temple. It created those perfect silhouettes of these monuments. The orange ball of fire struck poses between those mantapa pillars of the temple and over the flat boulders that lay along its path. It was hard deciding whether I turned towards the sunset or away from it – the west showcasing a play of shadows while the east with Penna river displaying a fascinating array of color tones.

Sunset over the Gandikota Rocks
Sunset over the Gandikota Rocks

Madhavaraya Swamy temple in Gandikota

The Gopuram of Madhavaraya Temple
The Gopuram of Madhavaraya Temple

The majestic gateway of Madhavaraya temple kept luring me from various points and I knew that this visit to Gandikota would not be complete if I did not explore this monument. The path leading to this grand Gopuram is beside the Jail. It turned out to be quite an interesting trail for on it I found abandoned water tanks, aqueducts and ruins of some of the other palatial buildings, which I wish I could have paused to check out. However, with the evening growing darker. I did not want to miss the seemingly pretty Madhavaraya temple. I am glad that I did for from the moment I reached the gate, I was dumbstruck.

Carvings around the gate of MadhavarayaTemple in Gandikota
Carvings around the gate of MadhavarayaTemple in Gandikota

Every inch of this temple’s gate had beautiful carvings. From pretty damsels to the tales from the Indian Mythology, there were myriad stories in pictures. Upon entering the temple, it was the elaborately carved pillars of the shrines that had me in a frenzy. As expected, the shrines were empty and the corridors quite deserted. Despite that, the place seemed alive. Each of those sculptures looked as if they were breathing.

Madhavaraya Swamy Temple
Madhavaraya Swamy Temple
Within the shrine of Madhavaraya Temple
Within the shrine of Madhavaraya Temple

Even with the dark shadows that came with the time of the evening, I found enough of the craftsmanship. Even here, there was no missing the similarity of the Hampi temples. I turned out to be right again for this was also, built during the reign of Krishnadevaraya.

Things to do in Gandikota

Part of the fort near Rayalacheruvu lake
Part of the fort near Rayalacheruvu lake

With the sun down, I had to miss out on Rayalacheruvu Lake.  Located at the far end of the Gandikota fort, this lake was the source of drinking water. In fact, it said to have been established by Krishnadevaraya himself. I was keen to head here for two reasons – one to spot the birds that I had seen flying around and two – do some kayaking. Guess maybe this time it was not to be. However, there is no reason for you to not include it in your things to do in Gandikota.

  • Tour the Gandikota Fort
  • Catch the Sunrise and Sunset over Penna River
  • Try some rock-climbing
  • Camp under the stars by the banks of Rayalacheruvu lake.
  • Go hiking along the canyon
  • Attempt kayaking in the Rayalacheruvu lake.
  • Spot some migratory birds around the Lake
  • Visit Belum Caves. 

The last point about the caves is not a mistake. I know that I did not mention these earlier. Two reasons for that – one is that these are actually one and a half hours drive from Gandikota & so technically, they are not in Gandikota. The distance from Gandikota to Belum Caves is just 62 km. The second reason being- I wanted to keep it as a cliffhanger for you. The 2nd longest caves in India deserve a post of its own and I am giving you a reason to come back to my blog to discover those next week. Here is a teaser in the form of a picture. 😉

A glimpse of Belum caves
A glimpse of Belum caves

While you wait for my next post, pin this up on your board. I am pretty sure you are all geared to make this trip to Gandikota – one of the best places to visit in Andhra Pradesh.

How to reach Gandikota?

  • Gandikota is located in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. The closest town to this is Jammalamadugu (15 km away).
  • The road is the best way to get here. The distance from Bangalore to Gandikota is 282 km and it takes 5 and half hours to drive. On the other hand, it takes 6 and half hours from Hyderabad to Gandikota.
  • The closest railway station is 26 km away in Muddanuru. Jammalamadugu also, has a railway station but does not have a direct line to Bangalore.
  • The closest airport to Gandikota is Tirupati at 220 km. Bangalore is the next best options at 290 km.

Which are the places to stay in Gandikota?

  • There is only one hotel in Gandikota. Hotel Harita belongs to APTDC and has limited rooms. Make sure you book the same early on.
  • The other hotels are a distance away from Gandikota. The one that I stayed in was about 45 mins away in a place called Prodattur. Royal country resorts was a decent place to stay with comfortable rooms, a swimming pool and an in-house restaurant.
  • Camping is also, a great option if you like sleeping under the stars. There are various adventure companies that help you with the same. Alternately, you can pitch your own tent by the Rayalacheruvu lake.

Travel Tips

  • The best time to visit Gandikota is between September and February. The winter here is not very harsh and sleeping outdoors will not be an issue. However, summers can be quite hot.
  • There is no entrance fee to Gandikota fort and canyon.
  • Wear trekking shoes if possible. Else flat shoes will do. There is plenty of boulder climbing and walking to be done here.
  • If you are camping, keep a mosquito repellent handy.
  • Carry a cap and sunscreen when heading to Gandikota.
  • While you can do Gandikota as a day trip from Bangalore, I recommend an overnight stay so that you can see both Sunrise in Gandikota as well as Sunset. . Also, this gives you an opportunity to visit Belum Caves.
  • There are very few places to eat on the roads to Gandikota. The few places are just small road-side dhabas where you will get only basic food. Having said that, you can stop for some dry snacks along the way as there are plenty of grocery shops.
  • The only decent restaurant that we found for lunch was Sannidhi Multicuisine Restaurant in a place called Kadiri.
  • Gandikota too, has no restaurants. Hotel Harita is your best place for grabbing a meal.
  • There are public restrooms near the fort. However, they are not as well maintained.

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56 Responses

  1. Guru

    This is a lovely place till now I didn’t hear this place in my life that too it is very near to my place. Should visit this before summer. Amazing pictures thanks for giving a brief info about Gandikota.

  2. Dorene

    Wow! you found a hidden gem – at least for me, I never knew it existed – and I wish I did when I visited Bangalore two years ago. I love the scenic canyons the best AND you can get temples, historic ruins of citadels and religious sites. Beautiful spot, bookmarked for future trip to South India

    • Ami

      I am sure a lot of us in Bangalore have missed this. Glad though that I found it. And fingers crossed that the next time you get to see it too. Thanks for stopping by, Dorene.

  3. Raj patil

    Ye it’s a great place with equal level of narration. I add this to must see the places this year
    Tnx

  4. Christopher Rudder

    I will be very happy to do three things here based on your recommendations: go hiking along the canyon, visit the caves and watch sunset over Penna river. And oh, good to know that entrance is free! However, I wonder how they maintain the cleanliness and preservation when they do not charge an amount to visit here?

    • Ami

      Actually, this is quite an offbeat destination and does not really have proper tourist facilities either. Lesser people means lesser garbage I guess and that is why it is what it is. Hoping my readers too keep it that way.

  5. Fiona Maclean

    Gandikota looks stunning. I love that sunset photo. The Ragathata Swamy temple looks amazing too. There sounds to be so many things to do here I’d be happy to visit and see how many I could do.

    • Ami

      I am pretty sure that you will both the heritage and nature here. Hope you can get up here soon

  6. Jacky Bhagat

    Thanks for the wonderful pictures and the detailed post. I really needed this. Your post is very inspiring and I am looking forward to read more of your travel stories.

  7. Kerstin from Travel with Mei and Kerstin

    Wow! Gandikota really looks stunning! And yes, it looks like the Gran Canyon! We’ve never been to India but will probably go there someday. And when we do, we’ll definitely try to visit Gandikota as well. Both the Ranganatha and the Madhavaraya temples are interesting – especially for history lovers like us! And Mei, who’s an archaeologist, would certainly love to explore the ruins and buildings in depth. However, we can only travel to faraway places during summer when I have two months vacations. So how hot does it really get in July or August?

    • Ami

      July and August might be a little wet given they are monsoon months. Otherwise, it should be alright. I am sure that Gandikota will thrill both of you with what you each like. Fingers crossed that you get here.

  8. Adonis Villanueva

    Very charming and interesting place. I love places like this with history and culture. It kind of reminds me of Istanbul were you see traces of ancient civilization’s culture and the newer structures being built on top of it. Here you can see how far Islam influence has stretched its arms. The Canyon/Gorge looks interesting too, it does remind me of the Grand Canyon 🙂

    • Ami

      India has a fair share of Islamic wonders, especially since we had some dynasties from Central Asia making it a home. Am sure you will find a lot more similarities as you visit their tombs. I hope you can visit here and see all for yourself.

  9. Jean

    What an amazing place to visit. I’m like you, I love combining natural beauty with historical wonders. Seeing the Gandikota Fort in your photos really does make me want to pack my bags and come on a trip to India

  10. Vimal Bhatia

    Gorgeous pictures and a detailed account made for joyful reading Ami. It’s a news for me that such a place exists. Superb presentation.
    However, one thing I missed in the whole post was your suggestion about the ideal duration of visit to Gandikota fort. Please include that too.

    • Ami

      Thanks Vimal. That is an encouraging comment. I did mention that I recommend at least one overnight stay rather than a day trip :D. However, I guess with your suggestion, I will include in the tips section. Cheers

  11. Eric Gamble

    Wow, when Darcee & I return to India, we are definitely going to have to explore the Grand Canyon of India. What an amazing landscape it all is. Also, to see the Masjid temples and the Gandikota fort and jails are truly beautiful and bucket list worthy!
    I love thinking how long it must have taken the people of the region to create not only the amazing temples but all of the ornate sculptures and carvings!

    • Ami

      Trust me Eric, everytime I visit these heritage places I always think of the artistry back then. It just seems so amazing. And the nature here – well, that is another thing altogether. Hope you can visit soon.

  12. Elaine Masters

    What a cool and beautiful place to explore. I loved the crumbling fort, the pigeon tower and the intricate carving. Would love to check it all out one day.

  13. Jane Dempster-Smith

    The sunset was amazing. What a beautiful place to visit. The carvings on the Minaret are exquisite. Thank you so much for including the travel tips.

  14. Anda

    What a fabulous place and what gorgeous photos, Ami! Gandikota looks indeed like the Grand Canyon and you managed to capture its beauty. I’ve never heard of this gorge, but that’s not surprising since I’ve never been in India. I love those beautiful carvings on the temple.

    • Ami

      Not just you, a lot of us here have not heard of the place. In a way it is cool coz it is not touristy. Am sure you will love it too when you visit it.

  15. Daniel

    I discovered Gandikota Fort during my trip to Andhra Pradesh two years ago and loved the place. It’s an impressive historic site surrounded by beautiful nature. I can definitely understand why a lot of people call it the Grand Canyon of India.

  16. Medha Verma

    I did not know that India has its own version of Grand Canyon, not too far from Bangalore! I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Hampi or any area nearby to it yet but Gandikota Fort looks quite amazing. I love the architecture of the fort, the carvings at the temples, the Pennar River viewpoint and the ruins of the mosque. Gandikota has so much history and is home to 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which says a lot about it!

    • Ami

      The Canyon has not yet got a UNESCO status but am sure given its importance, a matter of time. This is quite a unique spot given heritage and nature in one.

  17. Cecilia

    Wow this really does remind me of the Grand Canyon! I can see why it is called that now. This was a very helpful article, thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Ami

      Glad you liked it. Have never seen the Grand Canyon but I will take your word on the resemblance 😀

  18. Lisa

    Gandikota looks like a beautiful part of the country to visit. That river view is absolutely stunning, and maybe camping under the stars could be a good option. The detail on the mosque and temple is incredible, a place to take plenty of photos for sure!

    • Ami

      Thanks Lisa for the lovely comment. Am sure you will find plenty to photograph here – the combination of nature and heritage is just so fascinating.

  19. kamree

    What a lovely place to visit! the river and canyon do have a similar look to the grand canyon the buildings are also so beautiful and intricate. I am so impressed by the hand carved details in the architecture!
    -Kam

    • Ami

      Am pretty sure that as you walk along these structures, you will a lot that will impress you. Hope you can make it here soon.

  20. Martha

    At the beginning of this post, I didn’t think I was going to be intrigued by the fort, but I was blown away with all the architectural details that it had. I also enjoyed that you explained what many of the buildings were used for and their history. You created a cohesive narrative that made it enjoyable to read. The view from India’s “Grand Canyon” is immensely impressive. Definitely adding this on to my bucket list.

    • Ami

      Thank you Martha. Glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, be ready to be impressed as you get here….which I hope is soon!

  21. blair villanueva

    I am intrigue seeing your photos of this gorgeous fort. I can imagine a battle scene from a movie featuring this place. Just on observing those sculptures and architecture, I can imagine how luscious the life here in the past. You are very lucky to visit this place.

    • Ami

      Thanks Blair. I am lucky indeed for having this right in my backyard. Glad that I could get here.

  22. Vinod G Nadurmath

    Hi there,
    This post has made me plan a trip to Gandikota quickly.
    This place looks so beautiful. With options for all type of travellers.
    Adding it in my bucket list.
    Thank you very much for this post. This is truly a gem.

  23. yogesh Pathak

    We are making a master tourism plan for this region. I have visited Gandikota recently. saw a lot of development there. Regional tourism development department is very active there and there is a lot of opportunities for investors.
    I drove from Nagpur to Gandikota around 1100 Km in one day, roads are amazing.
    All the photographs are so good that one can actually see the beauty of the place. Looking forward to see more of your posts
    Thank you

    • Ami

      There have been a few steps towards developing the place and I sure am glad to see that. It is one that definitely needs a little boost.

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