Krishna-Godavari Delta

The rice-growing delta of the Krishna and Godavari rivers is one of Andhra Pradesh's most prosperous and densely populated regions, and the core region of Andhra culture. The flat coastal plains are fringed with palmyra palms and occasional coconut palms, rice and tobacco. Inland, barely 40 % of the land is cultivated. About 120 km to the west of the road south to Chennai run the Vellikonda Ranges, only visible in very clear weather. To the north the ranges of the Eastern Ghats can often be clearly seen.

Vijayawada

At the head of the Krishna delta, 70 km from the sea, the city of Vijayawada has been in existence for over 2000 years, and derives its name from the goddess Kanakdurga or Vijaya, the presiding deity of the city; there is an important temple to her on a hill beside the river. The city is surrounded by bare granite hills, which radiate heat during the searing summer: temperatures of over 45°C are not uncommon in April and May, though in winter they drop to a positively fresh 20°C. The Qutb Shahi rulers made Vijayawada an important inland port. It is still a major commercial town and has capitalized on its position as the link between the interior and the main north-south route between Chennai and Kolkata. It is also the operational centre of the Krishna delta canal scheme, one of the earliest major irrigation developments in South India (completed in 1855), which irrigates nearly one million hectares of land, banishing famine from the delta and converting it into one of the richest granaries in the country. The
Prakasam Barrage
, over 1 km long, carries the road and railway lines across the water.

There are several sites with caves and temples with inscriptions from the first century AD. The
Kanakdurga Temple
, on a hill to the east of town, is the most atmospheric of the temples.
Mogalarajapuram Temple
has an Ardhanarisvara statue which is thought to be the earliest in South India. There are two 1000-year-old Jain temples and the
Hazratbal Mosque
, which has a relic of the Prophet Mohammed.
Victoria Jubilee Museum
has sculpture and paintings.

Amaravati

Located 30 km west of Vijaywada, Amaravati was the capital of the medieval Reddi kings of Andhra, but some 1500 years before they wielded power Amaravati was a great Mahayana Buddhist centre . Initially built in the third and second centuries BC, the shrine was dedicated to the Hinayana sect, but under Nagarjuna was changed into a Mahayana sanctuary where the Buddha was revered as Amareswara. Very little remains
in situ
, most of
the magnificent sculpted friezes, medallions and railings having been removed to museums
in Chennai, Kolkata and London's British Museum. The onsite
Archaeological Museum
 contains some exquisitely carved sculptures of the Bodhi Tree alongside a collection of broken panels,
chakras
and caskets holding relics.

Guntur

From Vijayawada the NH5 southwest crosses the barrage (giving magnificent views over the Krishna at sunset) to Guntur, a major town dealing in rice, cotton and tobacco where the ancient charnockite rocks of the peninsula meet the alluvium of the coastal plain. In the 18th century it was capital of the region Northern Circars and was under Muslim rule from 1766 under the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Archaeological Museum in Amaravati exhibits local finds including fourth-century Buddhist stone sculptures.

Machilipatnam and around

The once-flourishing sea port of Machilipatnam ('fish town'), 60 km southeast of Vijayawada, derived its name from the old city gateways, one of which still stands, decorated with painted fish eyes. A one-time port of the kingdom of Golconda, it was one of the earliest British settlements in India, existent as early as 1611. It is also well known for its Kalamkari painting widely prevalent in the neighbouring village of Pedana, the art having been fostered by the Qutub Shahis. The beach at Manginapudi, 10 km from Machilipatnam, has black clay sand. This area is battered by frequent cyclones; one in 1864 is said to have taken 30,000 lives.

Rajahmundry and the Konaseema Backwaters

Set on the banks of the Godavari, Rajahmundry was the scene of a bitter 300-year tug-of-war between the Chalukya, Vengi and Orissan kingdoms and the Deccan Muslims, until the French annexed the city in 1753. It is remembered for the poet Nannayya who wrote the first Telugu classic
Andhra Mahabharathamu
, and is also noted for its carpets and sandalwood products. Every 12 years the
Pushkaram
celebration (next in 2015) draws thousands of pilgrims to the river banks.

Rajahmundry makes a convenient base from which to visit both the Eastern Ghats and the coastal districts. Some 80 km northwest of the town, the Godavari cuts through a gorge in the Papi hills, creating a succession of stunningly beautiful lakes, reminiscent of Scottish lochs, where you can take boat trips. Another appealing side trip is to the
Konaseema Delta
, 70 km south of Rajahmundry, a verdant cocktail of coconut groves, mango orchards and paddy fields encircled by the waters of the Godavari and the Bay of Bengal.
AP Tourism
operates
houseboat trips
on the Godavari, and a 24-hour trip from Dindi, sailing up past quaint little villages and islands, offers the kind of peace and solitude that have long been missing from the Kerala backwaters. Houseboats have two well-furnished air-conditioned bedrooms; meals and drinks are served on board.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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