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Monday, Jun 10, 2002

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Sun, sea, sand... & You

N. Shiva Kumar

Vishakapatnam is rarely featured as a recommended holiday destination. N. Shiva Kumar tours the city's many beaches and varied attractions and wonders why he never made it to Vizag earlier.

Endless waves lap the shores of Visakhapatnam

Views of the many hues from dawn to dusk on the golden beaches of the Andhra coast are a feast to the eyes. Miles and miles of golden sand, soothing and serene, invite swimmers and sun worshippers. Endless waves lap the shores and the refreshing sunshine lures the tourist to come and soak in the sun. The blue waters beckon to bathe as the swirling surf gently seduces the senses. Enjoy the dynamic seascapes created in the beautiful Bay of Bengal where the sun, sea and sand mingle.

That is what we did when the entire family of three generations came together and decided to make a trip to the East Coast for the summer holidays. The chosen place was Visakhapatnam, the beach paradise on the Coromandel Coast. A fast train to Hyderabad from Delhi and then on to Visakhapatnam by a direct flight and a short drive by taxi took us right next to a beachside hotel, constructed by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. The Yatri Nivas hotel on the beach road was not much to speak about, but was cozy and comfortable with basic amenities and offered a fabulous view of the swirling sea and the homochromatic horizon. Legend has it that Visakhapatnam derives its name from a temple deity, Visakha, the God of valour. A Hindu king, enamoured by the lavish locale, built a shore-temple devoted to the God in the 11th century on his way to Benaras. Over the years, the mighty sea eroded the standing edifice, but the name and the town have remained. Visakhapatnam became popularly known as Vizag and Waltair as well. Maharajas and rich rulers, seafarers and maritime warriors, priests, philosophers and even pirates have all left their mark on the lush hills and valleys of this undulating landscape. Visakhapatnam, at one time, formed a part of the magnificent Kalinga Empire, under the domain of Emperor Ashoka in 260 B.C. Subsequently, the region fell into the hands of the Andhra kings of Vengi and then to the Pallavas and the Cholas.

It was in the 15th century that Visakhapatnam became a part of the powerful Vijayanagar Empire. Using the seaport to their advantage, the kingdom exported valuable art, artefacts and artisans to far-off regions such as Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma and Indonesia. With the advent of the Europeans, particularly the British, Visakhapatnam was slowly transformed into a port town. After Independence, the town emerged as an industrial centre with a steel plant, an oil refinery, a fertiliser factory and the much-coveted Andhra University. It also has the country's largest ship building yard. One can visit any of these thriving industries with prior permission to get an overview of how large enterprises operate.

Seventeen km away, on the outskirts of the city, is the famous Simhachalam temple, perched on a hill, 224 metres above sea-level. The drive was stimulating as the tourist bus took us on winding tree-lined roads. The higher we reached, the more wonderful were the vistas. This imposing temple is dedicated to Vishnu in his Narasimha or half-lion-half-human incarnation. The exterior structure of the temple with fresh coat of paint appears fairly new, but the inner temple is definitely very ancient, as it has been dated from the 11th century. The temple has numerous exquisite carvings with images of Narasimha. Unfortunately, much of the temple has been whitewashed over and over again and one suspects that some of the intricate carvings are hidden under the layers of paint.

Not so long ago, Visakhapatnarn and Waltair were twin towns, but, over the years, the two have merged to become one large city. Today, the city not only boasts of many new industries, but also miles of pristine seashore and beautiful beaches.

Unlike the other sandy stretches and beaches in the country, the golden beaches of Visakhapatnam are clean, devoid of the crowds and absolutely safe for swimmers. The most seductive of the beaches is the Rishikonda Beach, very placid with panoramic views, almost waiting to be encountered. The Ramakrishna Mission beach and Lawson's Bay are equally enticing and allows for enthusiastic participation not only for swimmers but sunbathers and surfing enthusiasts as well. The most conspicuous landmark of Visakhapatnam is a single massive 358-metre rock jutting into the sea near the beach area. Called the Dolphin's Nose, it derives its name on account of its shape resembling the nose of a dolphin. The gigantic rock, more of a hillock, has a lighthouse capable of signalling nearly 70 km out to the sea. The ranges of hills that skirt Visakhapatnam are lush and green and provide shelter from cyclones and tempests.

Authentic traditional Andhra food and pleasant weather also make Visakhapatnam the place to be for a peaceful and unhurried holiday. On the fourth and final day, while at the beach road we stopped at the Victory Memorial erected after the 1971 War with Pakistan. We also peeped into the submarine that has been permanently anchored to the ground for visitors to see. Near the memorial is the Visakha Museum, appropriately dwelling within an antiquated Dutch bungalow. The museum has a rich and varied collection of ancient armoury, displaying swords and cutlasses. Jewellery, silk costumes, stuffed animals; statuettes, manuscripts, coins and currency notes are juxtaposed. The pieces displayed are all from the region and give a fascinating insight into the history of Visakhapatnam.

A little ahead, bang on the beach, was another massive vessel, which was being positioned to be converted into a maritime museum. Once completed, the INS ship will be the second of its kind in the country to exhibit the history and valiant deeds of the Indian Navy in all its glory.

Other attractions in and around Visakhapatnam are the VUDA children's park, Kailasa Hill with panoramic sea views, Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Fishing Harbour etc. The lush Arraku valley, fascinating Borra caves, the ancient Dutch port of Bheemunipatnam and the curious Panchadharala with five springs and numerous shivlingas are some out-of-town tourist destinations.

As the glorious sun was setting on the west like a big orb, a brilliant moon coyly rose up the opposite horizon lighting up the rippling waters of the sea with silver streaks. We enjoyed the sound of the lashing waves as the untiring tides come in again and again lapping the seashore. While the cool evening sea breeze wafted earthy aromas, we walked barefooted on the wet sandy beach. It was perfect way to end our stay in Visakhapatnam.

Picture by the author

Fact file

How to get there

By air: Visakhapatnam is well connected by air with all major metros such as Hyderabad, Chennai, Calcutta and Mumbai.

By rail: Daily train services from all major towns — Mumbai, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar and Calcutta.

By road: Numerous buses ply from Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar and Hyderabad to Visakhapatnam.

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