Wondering how I managed to travel to the “Grand Canyon” during Covid times? Well, I did, but to it’s the Grand Canyon of India in the beautiful city of Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh. This trip over the long weekend was very exciting after months of lockdown and work-from-home due to Covid19 that had brought my traveling to a standstill. Gandikota turned out to be the perfect weekend getaway from Bangalore. In March, when Covid happened, I thought it would be a matter of a couple of months before we return to normalcy and my travels begin, again. Many long weekends later I was still sitting at home, hoping the next long weekend will bring some travel. Suddenly, it was August/September, my favorite months for travel in South India as the entire region comes alive with lush greenery, thanks to the monsoon. Unfortunately, the possibilities of travel were bleak except a couple of one-day trips from Bangalore. I had almost resigned to the idea of not being able to travel in the year 2020.
Then came another long weekend of 2nd October and by then the Covid situation was starting to stabilize. I started looking for out-of-the-box weekend getaway from Bangalore instead of a tourist hotspot. Anyway, that has always been my travel mantra. A friend and his family joined us and we started planningsomething I was craving for the entire year.
Large boulders at Namalagundu Temple on the way from Bangalore to Gandikota
We zeroed in on the state of Andhra Pradesh for it not being a popular destination for Bangaloreans. Travel restrictions were eased but we still anticipated lesser crowd. People were not ready to travel for 1,000-kilometer over 4-5 days. Covid had scared people to that extent.
Camping in Gandikota at the mesmerizing gorge of Gandikota was on top of my bucket list for a long time. Gandikota being 300 kms away makes it to the list of long weekend getaways from Bangalore. A major part of the drive passes through remote and interior parts of Andhra Pradesh that are full of barren, dry lands. A trip during the summer months is ruled out as the Sun beats down harshly the entire day. Luckily, this year due to heavy rains, the lush green landscape was inviting the daredevil tourists as if saying "you won't find me like this for years".
An unusually lush green surrounding with rocky mountains on the lonely roads of Andhra Pradesh
The drive from Bangalore to Gandikota is beautiful especially after crossing the Karnataka border. We drove through lush green fields surrounded by Rocky Mountains and Marigold flower plantations. The cloudy weather with intermittent drizzling made the drive even more enjoyable. We were tempted to stop frequently and soak in the serenity of the landscape while high altitude rocks play hide and seek with the passing clouds. It is a fantastic sight for a photographer, which I am. There is no doubt this is one of the best places to visit in South India during monsoon.
My daughter was excited seeing large fields of Marigold flowers on the way from Bangalore to Gandikota
There is one stop you just cannot miss after crossing Kadiri town while going towards Pullivendula. You can spot a huge boulder from a distance and might wonder what that place is. As you approach closer, the sight of the bridge bisecting two huge boulders on either side will mesmerize you. There is a beautiful temple inside one of the boulders. The temple is known as "Namalagundu Temple of Kanampalli," or "Sri Siddalingeshwara Swamy Temple". This is a picturesque site with breathtaking views from either end of the bridge. We were fortunate because the rain had stopped by the time we reached and the sun was playing hide and seek. One can also enter the temple where there are steps to climb all the way to top of the boulder. You may see a small but beautiful waterfall that springs into action mostly during the rainy season.
Lush green surrounding with huge boulders on the way to Gandikota.
Upon inquiring with Gandikota camping operators we discovered that they did not get the permission from government due to the Covid situation. Haritha Resorts Gandikota, a government property with limited facilities was the only option for accommodation. The Andhra Pradesh government does not allow private establishments to build and operate hotels and resorts in Gandikota to preserve the biodiversity of the region. It is good for the environment as well as for travelers like me who prefer staying away from the maddening crowd. Haritha Resorts Gandikota having only 10 rooms was an added advantage as that ensured there wouldn't be many people around and that's exactly how it turned out.
Haritha Resorts at Gandikota has independent cottages with an amazing view from the terrace
After multiple stops en route and a roller-coaster ride on the hilly roads, we eventually reached Haritha Resorts. It turned out to be a rather good place to stay at, considering some of the terrible reviews posted by other travelers. The sprawling property with wide spread cottages each having a private terrace made it a stunning place in the middle of nowhere. The view from the terrace with the backdrop of hundreds of windmills was splendid creating an ambience of tranquility. There are small gardens in the center of the property but they were all submerged in water due to heavy rain over the past few weeks. There were few food options but delicious nonetheless. Anyway, one cannot expect a multi cuisine menu when the nearest town from where the groceries are sourced is 30 kilometers away. The peace & calm inside the property was the biggest differentiating factor and a treasure for nature lovers. The nights were absolutely amazing with chirping of crickets acknowledge that you are their guests. The rather hospitable wild lizards may want to barge into your room to check if everything is ok.
A panoramic view of Gandikota Fort and Gandikota Temple from the terrace of Haritha Resorts in the backdrop of vastly spread windmills
History of Gandikota says that it acquired its name from two words, Gandi (means gorge/canyon) and Kota (means fort) in Telugu. The beautiful Gandikota canyon with impassable hills and massive boulders of red stone is formed by Penna River. It flows 100 meters below the Gandikota Fort and cuts through the Erramalai Hills (Gandikota hills). The entire view was reminiscent to the famous "Grand Canyon" of the United States. This is the reason Gandikota has become a synonym to "The Grand Canyon of India" among tourists.
The stunning view of Gandikota canyon and Penna River, where my wife and I just want to "do nothing" and enjoy nature
This is also a site for Gandikota camping where you can spend a night in tents under the clear velvety night sky amidst calming stillness of nature with Gandikota gorge beneath you. It is an exhilarating experience indeed! You wake up to a stunning sunrise with sunrays kissing the canyon and the river changing their colors to shining gold. Camping is one of the many things to do in Gandikota.
The site for Gandikota Canyon and Fort View Camping by Haritha Resorts Gandikota
Since camping at Gandikota was not allowed during our travel, I woke up early the next morning and drove up to Gandikota canyon viewpoint for the sunrise. I was super lucky because the clouds had already started making way for the bright sun to emerge from within. It was indeed a spectacular sight especially since there were few spectators to share the view. Those solemn 10 minutes when the sun made its way through the clouds, rising up and showered its rays on the canyon energized both mind and body. I just wanted to be here everyday
Gandikota sunrise with its colors sprayed all around the canyon
We briefly visited the ruins of Gandikota Fort on the day of arrival, but one visit does not do justice to the heritage, architecture and history Gandikota fort embodies. The fort has different characters when you visit it in the evening and the morning with the sun shining from opposite directions. There is a tiny village of Gandikota inside the ruins where about 100 families live. The roads are quite narrow, hence suggest you park your vehicle near Charminar and then explore the entire complex on foot.
The Charminar of Gandikota was built to house pigeons
It was the year 1123 A.D. when Kakatiya King made a sand fort in Gandikota and subsequently was ruled by the same dynasty until 1304 A.D. Then during 1350 A.D., it was ruled by the Mikkilineni dynasty King Rama Naidu followed by his son-in-law Pemmasani Kumara Thimma Naidu. Pemmasani dynasty continued to rule Gandikota for 300 years until the battle was lost to Qutb Shahi dynasty in 1652 A.D. Subsequently, powers then shifted to Golconda Sultanate and few centuries later the fort was conquered by Hyder Ali of Mysore before the British occupied it. The change of dynasty and the heritage of few centuries are clearly visible in the architecture of the fort that houses two temples and a mosque. The architecture of Madhavraya Swami temple resembles with the temples of Hampi.
The ancient Madhavraya Swamy temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu inside Gandikota Fort
The entire Gandikota fort complex is a heritage site. It houses several temples, mosques and other historical monuments that narrate the history of Gandikota. There are a few signboards to help you navigate inside the narrow lanes. Unfortunately, there is no guide to Gandikota who can deep dive into these historical buildings as they have many stories to tell. I have recorded a video to give you a virtual tour of the entire Gandikota fort complex.
A tour inside Gandikota Fort to witness its beautiful architecture, heritage and history
Behind the fort is Gandikota's Penna River Valley viewpoint. You can have a breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view of Gandikota canyon surrounded by the forest. Penna River has carved a huge gorge (also known as "Canyon") with its flow that has exposed internal layers of huge boulders on either side. This is a unique phenomenon that takes millions of years to develop offering a spectacular sight to the nature lovers.
A climb on top of the boulder creates a sense of being imbibed within the Gandikota canyon
We were lucky enough to be visiting on a full moon day, wonder why? Moonrise from the viewpoint is a surreal experience, which visitors are probably not very aware of. Usually, people watch the famous Gandikota sunset from here and turn back as it is a 15-20 minutes' walk back. We got so engrossed in photography that we didn't realize we were the only ones left at the site and it was almost dark. But here comes the surprise! We saw the moon rising right in front of us, something spectacular that none of us had ever seen before from this height and overlooking Gandikota Grand Canyon.
The spectacular moonrise at Gandikota, a picture is worth a thousand words!
Do not miss driving past Gandikota fort and taking the road that goes to the Wind Power Station. The drive uphill is stunning with windmills everywhere and from here you can enjoy a landscape view of the entire Gandikota fort. Majority of the visitors are unaware of this drive and they miss the beautiful landscape.
A stunning landscape of the ruins of Gandikota Fort from an uphill drive to the Wind Power Station
The visit to Gandikota was refreshing and the kind I had been looking forward to for a while. The serenity of nature and stunning canyon will remain etched in our memory for a long time. This is the kind of place you want to keep frequenting and I am sure this is only the first time for me. We missed out on Gandikota camping this time but then that's the perfect reason for me to return, hopefully soon.
It was now time to drive to our next destination, Ahobilam. The adventure packed days were awaiting us.
What is the best time to visit Gandikota?
Non-summer months from October to February are the best time, as the river is gushing and it is lush green everywhere. Summer is depressingly hot and humid with very little water in Penna River. It rains heavily from June to September.
Is Gandikota worth visiting?
The beauty of Gandikota canyon is compared with that of Grand Canyon and hence, they call it the grand canyon of India. Penna River cutting through Gandikota hills and those eroding boulders over thousands of years present a mesmerizing view. It is a nature lover's paradise. The distance of Gandikota from major cities in south India is not much and hence, makes this place even more important to visit.
What is the secret of Gandikota?
Gandikota canyon itself is a secret for tourists. The history of Gandikota is an untold story that goes beyond its natural beauty. Gandikota fort is a splendor of heritage and architecture of multiple dynasties. Gandikota is a package of nature and heritage combined.