Started at 6.00 am from Rajahmundry to Vizag. The highway was better than yesterday and it was an easy drive. Green fields accompanied us all along the way. After Annavaram, saw a TN registration lorry after a while. It had 'தல டா' written boldly across. You just can't escape.
Reached Vizag by 9.40 am. After checking in, set off to Thotlakonda via Bheemli Road. It was a scenic drive along the ocean. It is difficult for someone from Chennai to be impressed by a beach. But I have to give it to Vizag, their Marine drive is far better than the ECR drive we cherish.
Thotlakonda has an ancient Buddhist monastery atop a hill, overlooking the ocean. It was discovered during an aerial survey by Indian Navy in 1976, the ASI board informed us. It is a well preserved site which was active between 2nd Century BC and 2nd Century AD.
We spent nearly an hour there. The security guard doubled up as guide and explained to us the arrangement of the complex, the dining and kitchen areas, living quarters, Chaitya gruha (living quarters of the senior monk) and so on.
|Thotlakanda Buddhist Monastery complex, dated before 3rd Century AD|
|Viharas, living quarters for monks|
|The main stupa|
By this time the sun had climbed up and it was getting hot and sweaty. Our plan was to have lunch in the world famous Raju ka Dhabba on the way back. It came highly recommended by Vizag friends. Despite its name, it serves only Biriyani and south Indian dishes. No butter naan stuff. Zomato informed us that Raju ka Dhabba was closed today, but we found it open and doing brisk business. Wife was completely bowled over by their mutton biriyani and prawn fry. But there is hardly anything for the vegetarians. You get Rice, gongura pickles, sambhar and curd. That's it.
|A non vegetarian paradise. No frills Biriyani restaurant|
Checked twitter and saw Ravi Sambamurthy's tweet about Bojjana Konda buddhist caves 40 km before Vizag. Initially decided to skip it. Then thought, we have come so far, why miss it. So again drove back to NH 16. The Bojjana Konda caves are near the village Sankaram, off Chennai - Srikakulam Highway. It has two rock cut caves Bojjana Konda and Lingala Konda. Wikipedia says these are dated between 4th Century AD and 9th Century AD. There's a short steep climb up the steps to reach the caves. The Bojjana Konda cave has panels of Buddha statues with attendants. They are really in ruined condition. Lingala Konda hill has small stupas carved in rock.
|Bojjana Konda Buddhist cave|
|Buddha statue, with his attendants|
|Small stupas atop Lingala Konda|
There were a bunch of school boys in Lingala Konda who wanted me to take their pictures. I clicked them and they were all smiles. One boy was shouting 'Kabali ra'. Strange how pop culture pops up in the unlikeliest of places.
We drove back to Vizag and wanted to go to the Dolphin Nose view point. Google maps screwed it up and took us up a narrow uphill road parallel to the Dolphin Nose road. After some anxious moments and highly skillful reversing (I say so myself), we came back down and went up the Dolphin Nose road. It was 4.50 pm by the time we reached the Naval quarters up the hill and the light house was even further up. As it would be closed by 5.00 pm, abandoned the plan and rode back.
Visited the Ramakrishna beach.Typical Madras Marina scene. Their Bhutta (roasted corn on the cob) was good, but I have to say their Molaga bajji (Chilli bajji) doesn't match up to Chennai Molaga bajji. True, the Vizag version has spicy fillings inside, but it wasn't made fresh. The stalls had only pre prepared Molaga bajji. Eating cold bajji is worse than eating no bajji.
|Vizag sky and sea at dusk.|
Another early morning start awaits tomorrow.
Total distance travelled so far : 1205 kms.