Updated: Feb 10, 2019
Far away from the madding crowd, nature has affectionately preserved this place in the lap of Nallamala forest hills. Saying goes "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" and there can be hardly any better example than Srisailam. The beautiful holy town should score 100 out of 100 in terms of orderliness it provides to millions of pilgrims and tourists across the nation.
Srisailam- The land of Lord
As I stood stranded at N.S.R. Srisailam Project view watching the dusk giving way to evening in the mysterious Nallamalai forest range, the paintings of Leopards, Tigers and beers looked more prominent and lively all around me. The View point of the dam which is 12 Km downhill from Srisailam is on the Hyderabad route. Unfortunately it does not have an official bus stand. The crowd being thinner during this time of the year, not many shuttles are plying. I managed to slip in to this place on a Hyderabad bus for just Rs 56/- denying the greedy autowala Rs 700/-. Now even if I am willing to double or triple the amount, none of the vehicles are ready to allow me in.
At 4 KM per hour it should take roughly 3 hours for me if I try to reach the Srisailam by foot. I have no other option. So before I start, I decided to stretch my legs for a cup of tea in the local tea shop.
"Miru Peru Emiche ?" (What is your name, My Telugu version). I asked the chaiwala.
Bhagawan!! Was the reply..
Quite confused I repeated the question, this time in Hindi.
"Apka naam kya hai??"
Mera naam Bhagawan hai. Hum Vizag se hai- He replied in pure hindi. A sense of relief ran down through my nerves.
"Aap aagar Bhagawan ho to hum ko bachao yaar, ghar laut ne ka pravand karo. Idhar faas gaya hai".
It took little effort from my side to explain him the situation but thanks to him he agreed and extended his helping hand.
Initially he tried to communicate with a couple of bus drivers but they did not oblige. Finally came a Boy, ‘Krishna’, on his super bike almost like Akshay Kumar in "Oh My God". He seemed to be from the same village. Krishna will go upto Sunnipet, a nearby village to Srisailam. So he will drop me till there. From Sunnipet Mahindra jeeps are plying frequently to Srisailam, so I should reach easily.
For all these six days I have been travelling alone in interior parts of Andhra. One thing that is common across the length and breadth of this state is the hospitality of the Adhraites, Telegus to be precise. I have realised “If you know how to smile, you can enjoy in Andhra”. Language might be a challenge but it is not a barrier by any means.
Preferred time and month to visit
In Andhra there are mainly two seasons, Summer and Extreme summer. So November to January are the best months to visit. In December afternoon I witnessed temperature rising up to 31 degree Celcius. So early morning and evenings are the most preferred timings for the visit.
Location and how to reach
The picturesque town of Srisailam sits on top of Nallamalai hills/forest. Ex CM of undivided Andhra Sri. YSR Reddy lost his life in a helicopter accident in this forest only. Never the less, this place is in the compulsory list of Pilgrimage for millions nationwide. It is home of one of the shakti peeths and Jyotir Lingam simultaneously which is unique in India.
All the major cities in Andhra (Vijayawada, Tirupati, Hyderabad) are connected to Srisailam by Bus. The nearest railway station is Markapur road (84 km). Please don’t go by the Google timings, it takes longer time of around 4 to 5 hrs since you travel through the hilly terrains and forest. However Markarpur Road is not a popular railway stop. So the alternate is Nandyal or Kurnool. From both this places buses do ply upto Markapur, where you have to change the bus. Download the latest version of APSRTC Live track app for schedules of buses plying between these centres. If one has to book a car Nandyal and Kurnool are the right places to go for it.
Point of Interests
Mallirkarjuna Swamy (Shiva) temple
Srisailam and its surroundings are popular for divine presence of the Lord. The tidiness and the discipline of the town adds to the purity. The Mallirkarjuna Swamy (Shiva) temple is the star attraction of this place. The existing main temple is a huge complex consisting of separate temples of Mallikarjuna and Bhramaramba ,several sub shrines, pillared halls, mandapas, springs etc., This entire complex is fortified by the most impressive Prakaram wall of massive stones. The Prakaram wall contains four Dwaras ( principal gates) at four cardinals surmounted by the Gopuras. The eastern entrance is the Mahadwaram.
The center of the temple complex consists of an enclosure below the level of the principal gates of the cardinals. This enclosure has Salamandapas at the northern and southern sides. The space between the inner enclosure and outer Prakaram walls was maintained gardens in olden days.
In the inner court yard there are Nandimandapa, Veerasiromandapa , the temple of Mallikarjuna, the temple of Bhramaramba and all are in a row from east to west. Some of the minor shrines such as the temple of Vriddha Mallikarjuna, Sahasra Lingeswara, Arthanariswara, Veerabhadra, Uma Maheswara and a group of five temples named as Pandava Prathista temples and a row of nine temples called as Navabrahma temples etc., are also located in the inner courtyard. (Sources: http://www.srisailamonline.com/about-main-temple.html )
The Prakaram walls are full of inscriptions that tell you several mythological stories. The one that I could remember is of Samudra manthan.
Akka Mahadevi Caves
It is Located at 16 Km river way from Srisailam. It takes almost 70 mins to reach the place by boat. APTDC takes Rs 330 for the complete package of rope-way, boat and guide. The timings are 9 AM to 11 AM. So when I reached there on 10AM I was a bit disappointed to learn that I can't make it today. However I patiently waited in the queue and was provided with couple of phone numbers (9010264800 and 9133533961). The counter clerk advised me to call these fellows next morning between 6AM to 7AM. It is first come first serve basis. So when you are back at the booking counter your seat for AKKA Mahadevi is pre-booked. Usually the demands are high on holidays.
In case you can't find a booking from APTDC buy a ticket for ropeway and climb down the hill. Private boats are available in plenty for the caves as well.
The boat journey offers a candid view of the river banks full of greenery. Innumerable species of birds will accompany you all the way and ensure you are never alone.
As we floated along the river few dwellings appeared on one of the relatively flat river banks. Just for a second it appeared to be ordinary fisherman village. But hold on... Quickly I remembered from text of Srisailam that those are Villages are of Chenchu tribes. The "Children of the forest" as they are called. One of the primitive tribals found in Andhra, Odhisha, Telengana and Karnataka. They survive on hunting and fishing and speaks "Chenchu", a Dravidian language.
Where to stay and where to eat
An interesting fact about Srisailam is that there are no hotels around here except the Haritha resort of APTDC. Only seva ashrams or seva sadans. However almost all are having facility to book online but there is a catch. For single person they will not give you a room. Exception are the Sanyasis. So when I landed early in the morning after whole night bus journey, certainly I was not thrilled to hear that. The alternate way is I had to visit the police station show ID card. The Sub Inspector actually took the phone number of my wife and spoke to her to confirm that they are aware that I am here. Finally a permission was issued. Even with that I got a treatment of second class citizen. Eventually I was able to get a room on the back side of the Mallikarjuna temple. Many sadans are being constructed there. Peaceful but it is around 1.5 km away from the heart of the city. Never mind, I loved walking up and down few times as the roads were beautiful.
Later when I enquired about the reason of such a bizarre rule I was informed that there are two reasons for not allocating rooms to single person:
1. People often come here to commit suicide.
2. Nallamala forest comes under Red corridor. So Maoist intrusion cannot be ruled out.
Some of the sadans in convenient location are Mallikarjuna sadan, Gouri Sadan and Ganga Sadan. For bachelors and single person there are dormitories with locker facilities. The one that I can remember is Srisaileswara Dormitory (08524-288444, 9985858580) next to Mallikarjuna Sadan. All the facilities are neat and tidy and matches well with the overall ambiance of the place.
Sculptures, wildlife, portrait, landscape whatever you can think of is found here.
The temple and its surroundings are best to shoot in the evening or even at night with low shutter speed or HD mode.
The best view of the Dam or the river is from the window of the waiting lounge of the Ropeway while returning. If you are planning to capture few clicks from the ropeway don't try it in the morning time. Dusk is the best time for that. The morning Sun is too harsh, it will spoil your image. The setting sun will give you the ideal golden glow that you are looking for.
The boat journey to Akka Mahadevi Caves is another treat for shooters. However you need Zoom in lenses atleast (70-200). The landscape on your left and right will keep changing throughout the travel. The flying birds, sailing boats will always keep you interested for another click. Its better with high shutter speed of around 1000 and low ISO of 100. With the sun in its full glow everything is just too shinny. So need to lower the tempo a bit.
For mobile shooters
If you are shooting in day choose higher kelvin like shade, cloud as white balance in professional/manual mode. The temple is best captured in the evening. So try HD mode as well. Apart from holding your hands still, take a deep breath while focusing and framing. Hold your breathe for a moment at the time of clicking. This will eliminate the possibility of shaking your hands.
While traveling in rope-way or boat try to make videos instead of taking pictures. As you cannot adjust shutter speed it is likely you end up with blurred picture or pics which lacks sharpness. Making videos is just a way around to encounter challenges when you cannot control the movement of your body by any means.