Often called ‘The Jewel of the East Coast’ this city has a lot to offer for a packed cultural weekend or a relaxed holiday exploring ancient Buddhist caves and excavation sites. Beyond the beautiful beaches and spicy Andhra cuisine, take a peek into the country’s maritime history and a vibrant festival season that runs from November to February. This is also the best time to enjoy the pleasant weather in Vishakhapatnam.
There is no dearth of places to visit in Vishakhapatnam. Get a feel of ‘Vizag’ by spending your first evening strolling along the famous Ramakrishna Beach, or RK Beach, as it is popularly called. Complete with funky statues, from large fish and a gorilla eating an ice cream, to memorials of freedom fighters from the state, the beach promenade is the city’s favourite hangout, and a good place to people-watch. Walk to the southern end to check out the colourful fishing boats and imposing Navy ships anchored in the Bay of Bengal. A Vishakhapatnam map is recommended for those who like to tick off places as they complete seeing them. Spend time inside the INS Kurusura, now converted into a Submarine Museum and learn about the life of an Indian submarine crew. If you are tired of the crowds, head north to Rushikonda Beach, which is clean enough for a swim (but only for experts. Be warned, the currents can be strong). You can also sign up with Melville, a local surf pioneer, who can take you kayaking and surfing.
Elsewhere, the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, set amidst the Eastern Ghats, is the perfect getaway to spot many different species of animals and plants including mandrills, pumas and the majestic white tiger and is worth a visit.
Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, cable car it up to one of the best tourist places in Vishakhapatnam, i.e. Kailasagiri Hill.This hill is a must visit for amazing sunset views, some of the best things to see in Visakhapatnam. The park up on the hill has a play area for kids, a toy train, sculpture park and walking paths. The famous Simhachalam Temple, located on the outskirts of the city, is dedicated to Lord Narasimha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The central shrine was built in Kalinga architectural style and bears influence from the Odishan style of temples. Large but orderly, the temple is worth a visit, especially for the carvings and stone panels. Don’t miss the carving of Lord Narasimha disembowelling a demon on the rear wall.
Full of history, the coast of Andhra Pradesh has an interesting mix of Buddhist, Dutch and Hindu monuments and heritage sites. The oldest is the Buddhist Complex of Bavikonda and Thotlakonda, north of the city, which was inhabited by monks from 3BC to around 3AD, and is a well laid out excavation site. Head further north to explore the old Dutch settlement at Bheemli Beach, of which the old Dutch cemetery remains intact, with interesting looking tombstones and a lighthouse from 1861. The beach itself is fascinating with statues of mermaids and goddesses and an oversized head of the Buddha strewn across the sand.
The other set of stunning ancient Buddhist sites lies 40km south of the city. Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda were used by monks from the 2nd to the 9th century AD and they are made up of rock-cut caves, stupas, ruins of monastery structures and remains of statues of the Buddha. Climb to the top of the caves to get some amazing views of the surrounding countryside and checkered rice fields.
Shop like the locals and head to the area around Kurupam Market with its narrow lanes and tiny shops to buy gold and silver. In many of the older shops you might find goldsmiths stoking their furnaces by blowing into them, melting ornaments in their crucibles. Head to Lepakshi Handicraft Emporium or the Eastern Art Museum for handicrafts, ethnic clothes, tribal jewellery, the famous kondapalli toys and other souvenirs. Tribes India on RK Beach, showcases exquisite tribal art and handcrafted items. The products are all sourced directly from tribal craftsmen and it’s a one-stop-shop to acquire a slice of the indigenous culture of the state.
One of the best things to do in Vizag, if you are in the mood for tranquility, is to head down to Araku Valley as a guest of the India Railways, taking Andhra’s best train ride through beautiful lush forests of the Eastern Ghat. The area is home to tribal communities and is known for its organic coffee. Hop into the excellent Museum of Habitat to understand a little more about the tribal population of Andhra Pradesh. If you are there on a Friday, don't miss the weekly market, where locals and tribals come to buy and sell. And if adventure is what you are in the mood for then head to the famous Borra Caves, 40km before Araku Valley. The million-year-old limestone caves are some of the biggest in India, complete with spectacular views, waterfalls and includes a crawl through an 80ft tunnel. Stay at the Jungle Bells Eco Camp run by the APTDC and get back into nature.
The best time to visit Visakhpatnam is during the festival season to truly experience the vigour of the city and all that it has to offer. The Visaka Utsav in January (3rd Friday of the month) organised by the AP Tourism Department and the Rishikonda Festival in December (22-25) both showcase the vibrant culture and lifestyle of the region. There are a variety of exhibits, stalls, book fairs, food and craft bazaars, traditional programmes and other activities. If kite flying is fascinates you then head to RK Beach during Makar Sankranti, to see the sky above the Bay of Bengal explode with colourful kites of all shapes and sizes.
|Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh 530009||VTZ|