Araku Valley - located around 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of Vizag (Visakhapatnam) is not one of the most visited tourist destinations in India. Here, you can really experience the local life among the beautiful rolling hills of the valley. It's like being teleported to a different world and time.
The rich soils abound with coffee and black pepper plantations and the area can boast some magnificent waterfalls, caves, cliffs and forests. Also, don't forget that you are in India and the mentality is quite different, more relaxed, not everything works properly and according to a timetable and as a result of that you are about to enter the land of great adventure and if you keep on reading, you will see for yourself why.
How to get to Borra Caves and Araku Valley
It's easy to get to Araku Valley from the nearby city - Vizag (Visakhapatnam). The best way to do it is to catch an early morning (before 7 am) train from the main station. The journey takes around 2 hours and the train goes through numerous tunnels and bridges providing unforgettable experience. As I mentioned in the previous posts about India, I was very lucky to be able to travel through this vast country with my friend who was born there. Thanks to this, I had a chance to experience the local life first-hand.
So, early morning, we jumped on a rickshaw to the main station, got through the chaotic traffic and then we got a train going to Arakku (the last station). However, we stopped much earlier, at Borraguhalu station where you can visit Borra Caves. The train ride was smooth, but I, as a white person, was observed with curiosity by almost everyone, especially kids. Many of the passengers had their heads shaved (both women and men) for religious reasons. Those who were skinny (especially young teenagers) were also sitting on the baggage racks above the normal seats.
Detailed description of the train line and stops available here.
From the train stop, there's a short walk to Borra Caves ahead of you. We stopped at the restaurant nearby, which was basically a wooden hut with lots of lizard walking up and down the walls catching mosquitoes and other insects. If you like meat, you might be disappointed as they serve only vegan dishes: basically rice, some kind of deep fried bread and some extremely spicy sauce. I like spicy food but with the scorching heat around, it was difficult to handle.
On the way to the cave, we passed by some local people from nearby tribes. Women were carrying bundles on their heads, they also had special jewelry and piercings. It all looked unreal considering the proximity of urban areas.
At the gate to Borra Caves Park, we paid a little entry fee (40 INR - 0.50 EUR, 0.80 USD) and were greeted by curious monkeys expecting to throw some food at them. The signs warning the visitors not to tease the monkeys were everywhere and looked a bit funny with all the animals jumping around.
Inside, there was a huge opening through which the light was able to get into the cave. It brightened up the magnificent rock formations - stalagmites and stalactites. Near the ceiling, flocks of bats were swarming and, literally, we had to be careful not to be hit by their droppings falling from above, almost like rain!
In the corner of the cave, after a climb up the ladder, a spiritual figure was offering blessings to the newcomers. We were blessed with incense, listened to prayers and incantations and our foreheads were marked with red dye for good luck. That was an experience!
When we left Borra Caves, we spotted a few jeep drivers waiting for the tourists and offering a jeep ride up the hill to Katiki Waterfall. The price is changeable, you must bargain but you will get the trip at little cost. The jeep we chose was able to accommodate 7 people, however, we were in India, so twice as many managed to squeeze. The ride was a bit dangerous, along a cliff edge (of course without any barriers), and at times, the jeep couldn't go up because it got stuck in the mud and the weight of the people inside was clearly too heavy. We had to get off and push it.
On the way, we saw some tribal people building their houses using mud. It was really amazing to see how they manage to survive without modern technology or electricity in this day and age. However they might be much happier than Westerners continuously chasing material goods and following the consumerist lifestyle.
Besides from those building the house, others were selling some grilled chicken and other snacks. The chicken is different, smaller and leaner however very tasty. Just be careful if you have a sensitive stomach.
At the waterfall, the scenery changed into lush green dense jungle and it was a bit cooler. We took a quick and refreshing shower in the waterfall and followed down the path to the car park.
From there, we took a taxi (if you can, take it with more people, it will be cheaper) through the hills of Araku Valley till the visitor center and the Tribal Art Museum. The ride was like a roller coaster - I had the impression that we were going to hit an incoming bus, a tree or one of the ubiquitous holy cows. But I just loved it!
Along the way, we stopped at the beautiful coffee and black pepper plantations where both of the plants were growing beside each other. It was the first time in my life when I could see the plants so widely used in Western world in their natural habitat. It was pretty amazing.
We had a few stops at the viewing points and then headed to Padmapuram Gardens. The gardens are beautiful, with many tropical plants and some amazing, huge termite mounds.
Later, we visited the Tribal Museum in Araku, sat down at a local coffee shop and decided to take a bus back to Visakhapatnam instead of the train.
Craziest bus ride ever
We got to the bus station at Araku at the sunset. In India the timetable doesn't work. The bus might or might not come, and you just wait and hope it will. We were lucky and it finally did come. It seemed it was like 60 years old, forget about seat belts and other safety frills of the western world. The seats were made of metal and really hard. We got on and after a few minutes, we departed to Visakhapatnam.
On the way, we passed a few little villages with the food markets. It was very interesting, especially to see the women buying new jewelry like big piercings and earrings. The driver also wanted to buy something as he got hungry. He stopped the bus, went to the market, got something to eat and we were waiting until he finished.
I thought that the previous taxi ride was like a roller coaster. Now, we were in the middle of the jungle so the adventure began! The driver didn't bother to slow down while turning, instead just blew the horn as loudly as possible (to warn the vehicles coming from the opposite direction). Due to the condition of the road, passengers where literally jumping, almost hitting their heads against the ceiling. Suddenly, we started to smell smoke, the bus was making strange noises and it stopped.
It turned out that the bus had broken down completely and everybody had to leave. Half of the passengers, because of the shaky ride were throwing up one after another. Nothing happened to me, as the ride didn't bother me at all, I would say, I even liked it!
But now there was a problem how to get back to Vizag in the middle of the night and in the middle of the jungle. There was no hope that another bus will come and collect us. In this case, we decided to stop passing rickshaws and ask for a ride. There were quite many people willing to get to the city so when a rickshaw stopped, we literally had to jump on it while on the move. Besides us, a few of the guys from the bus jumped also on the roof and we traveled this way to the nearest village.
From that village, after waiting around 1 hour, we got a 'city bus' to Vizag. What it was interesting was that a woman selling tickets on the bus, when someone wanted to get on, banged the bus wall twice to let the driver know that there will be passengers getting on. When everybody was already on the bus, she banged again as a sign for the driver to go. This was the most chaotic and loudest bus trip in my life. Maybe because of tiredness. Finally, after midnight, we got back to Visakhapatnam. That day was one of my the best adventurous in India (maybe only a boat ride to Lakshadweep Islands was more extreme).
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