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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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, Gandikota
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Madhavaraya Swamy temple in Gandikota
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.
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.
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
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. 😉
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.
- 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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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including Lonely Planet India and Jetwings.