Araku Valley has been a well known and popular hill resort located among the Eatsern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh. Yet still it holds the rustic charm of “do nothing” escapade on a weekend. Ii is located close to a bustling city yet secluded by verdant hills and valleys. Araku is still protected from vagaries of mass tourism,commercialization due to the fact it has no real monument or extraordinary human creation to see. It doesn’t have any premium train service or luxury resort/spa, so only true nature lovers who believe in immersing themselves to beauty of nature not selfie ridden picnic can enjoy the essence of such places.
We started from Visakhapatnam on early morning by famous Kirandul Passenger. It has a new vistadome coach attached to the rear which provides big windows and immersive experience during the journey through picture perfect landscapes albeit with a hefty price tag.
The train leaves Visakhapatnam town and slowly runs into the hills that encircle the city. This route connects town of Kirandul in Chattisgarh with port of Visakhapatnam and only two passenger trains run everyday in both directions. It climbs the Eastern Ghat hills and makes way through numerous tunnels. The hills are not too tall but large enough to create dramatic landscapes of cliffs and valleys and little tribal hamlets tucked at some points.
Araku Valley station is a picture postcard little station right out of old world era. The station comes into life as the train chugs in. It has only one platform and British era small building. The little settlement has few resorts/hotels and tiny local population. The best resort is APTDC owned and governed Haritha Mayuri Resort. It is a great property to see the rolling hills into the horizon. Travelers can enjoy the hills and Sunset right from the room. Araku has few sight seeing options like Tribal Museum, Coffee Museum, Padmapuram Garden but those are pretty ordinary to garner interest of an intrepid traveler.
Next day, our plan was to see Galikonda View Point, Tatiguda Falls and Borra Caves. The main attraction were not the destinations but the journey through the scenic ghat roads. There are numerous coffee plantations en route where one can taste fresh coffee and buy coffee beans. Galikonda view point offers stunning shot of the hilly landscape overlooking a gorge. Tatiguda falls was not in its health in dry April to generate much interest. There are few other waterfalls as well, but they come to life once the monsoon arrive.
Borra Caves is the best attraction in Araku. It is located in the Ananthagiri Hills and is a stunning natural wonder.It is a limestone cave which has a rat’s hole and a railway track over it. The subterranean passage of the cave ecosystem goes deep but tourists are allowed to a certain distance due to safety concerns. APTDC has created good amenities both outside and inside the cave. The entire foot trail is made of concrete, has railings and smart lighting to ensure safety as well keep the cave as natural as possible. The rat’s hole on top provides stunning photo ops opportunity as the rays of Sun directly falls through the opening in the dark cave. Stalactites and stalagmites forms natural sculptures and it is a memorable experience.
We took the same train from Borra Guhalu station back to Visakhapatnam. Borra Guhalu station is itself an experience as the remote station is encircled by hills and I have never seen so sleepy railway station. There are only two 3 staffs managing the services and the platform is empty throughout the day. Passengers arrive once in morning and once in evening and while the rest of the day, one can play cricket on the platform. The evening train was late but the mountain vistas offered from a sleeper coach is even more stunning and immersive at less than 10% cost. I have enjoyed the sleeper journey more than the vistadome.
Araku Valley is a must visit for a nature lover, couple of times once in dry season( summer/winter) and once in monsoon.
Nearest Airport:Visakhapatnam Nearest Major Railway Station: Araku
Stay: Haritha Mayuri(APTDC) at Araku
Tickets of Vistadome coach can be booked online and only upto Araku. It gets split at Araku while the rest of the train goes towards Kirandul. It is a no frill service, hence passengers need to buy food/drinks on board.