By T S Sudhir
Our introduction to the coastline of Visakhapatnam happened years before we physically arrived there. K.Balachander’s superhit `Maro Charitra‘ (later remade in Hindi as `Ek Duje ke liye‘, that introduced Kamal Hassan to audiences north of the Vindhyas) was shot here.
Both of us have visited Vizag several times in the last 15 years and it is almost as if the song `Tere Mere Beech Mein Kaisa Hai Yeh Bandhan Anjaana” was written for the effect, the land of the golden beaches has on those it beckons to its sun-kissed golden shores.
Locals say Visakhapatnam got its name from Lord Vaisakheswara. It is said that a temple dedicated to the Lord is lying submerged under the sea. Whether or not that’s true, to us it has always seemed that the power and magical draw of Vizag certainly comes from the sea, the Bay of Bengal. After all, it is its strategic location on the coastline that made the port city the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command and also brought industry and development here.
But a boon can sometimes become a bane and that is a battle that concerned citizens are now fighting to arrest the loss of green cover, stop degradation of the environment, so Vizag can retain the natural grandeur it has been blessed with. Where else will you find the hills and the sea reach out to each other, almost as if they were meant to be in each others arms.
Any first-time visitor is bound to be impressed after a drive on the majestic Beach Road, that overlooks the sea waters on one side and the best and most prized properties of Vizag on the other. And over the years, it has only got better, not worse.
Whoever called Visakhapatnam “a sleepy city”, just needs to visit Ramakrishna beach anytime after 5 in the evening. It need not be a weekend. It could be any day and you would find yourself jostling for space on the sands as you munch on a corn-cob or a local, mouth-watering, spicy version of bhelpuri.
The RK beach is quite literally the lifeline of Vizag and still manages to appear one of the cleanest in India. The dolphin’s nose which is a rocky headland 174 metres high provides a protective cover on one side and on the other the lighthouse, that guides ships upto 65 km away in the Bay of Bengal.
Standing majestically on the beach is INS Kurusura, a decommissioned submarine that has been converted into a museum, the first of its kind in Asia. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be inside what was a real submarine, that took part in real warfare, reconnoitering and the like. Guided tours in both Hindi and Telugu are a big draw.
The insides have been retained almost like the original, with torpedo on standby to fire, multiple engines, machinery, all intact.
Getting a peep into what life must have been like for the 75 people who would live inside the 7-chamber submarine for three months at a stretch was quite an eye-opener. Imagine living for days on end on those tinned rations after finishing the perishables in the first few days, living in cramped quarters where there is neither sunlight nor fresh air, with virtually no communication with the world (mobiles and the internet anyways did not exist in the 70s).
The guide tells us even fresh water has to be rationed for absolutely essential activities and that does not include a bath for three months, he adds ! We conclude there certainly were many, many more unsung heroes than we would ever know, fighting for the country, to protect us.
Across the road from the Kurusura is the `Victory at sea’ memorial, a tribute to the conquest of the Indian Navy over Pakistani ships in the 1971 war. And this time as we silently salute here, we can feel our reverence has grown manifold and so has our sense of pride and admiration for the men in uniform.
On our trips on work, we usually stay in one of the beachside hotels that offers a beautiful view of the sea. But this time we are on a holiday, so we head about 8 km away from the city to Rushikonda, to AP Tourism’s cottages, the Beach Resorts, by the seaside that offer a panoramic view of the waters of the Bay of Bengal teasing and kissing the shores and beckoning the green hills beyond.
The rooms with full-length windows literally are rooms with a view. So you can physically be reclining on your bed as you admire the cosy feeling of being nestled in the hills and watch the rise and fall of the waves, the fishermen heading into the waters and ships beyond.
We discover that even in mid-October, the afternoon sun can beat down quite harsh, even if you are well-armed with sunscreens, caps and other sun-protection gear. So early mornings and evenings are a great time to walk down to the beach and spend some quiet time introspecting or just soaking in the atmosphere, forgetting the world beyond.
If you prefer more boisterous ways to unwind, you are free to do that as well. There are not too many people around, so you don’t have to worry about becoming a nuisance or attracting unnecessary attention. You can have your cake and eat it too.
If you can wake up early to catch the sunrise, hoping the sky will be clear, the sight of the first rays over these blue waters can prove a true slice of serenity. If you prefer to be cosy in the luxury of your room, through your glass window to nirvana, you could catch the sun’s first rays on the glistening waters.
A shower later, we drive down to Simhachalam, the temple of Lord Sri Varaha Lakshminarasimha Swamy, one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. An architectural masterpiece, the temple is located about 16 km from Vizag and has a beautifully carved 16-pillar Natya mandapa and a 96-pillar Kalyana mantapa.
The presiding deity is covered in a thick layer of sandalwood paste all the year round except on Akshaya Triti, that is considered auspicious by Hindus, when devotees can see the Lord in his nijaswaroopa. It is said that on that day, it pours all over Visakhapatnam.
What we found interesting here was that the presiding deity here, an avatar of Vishnu, a Vaishnative God, appears in what appears strikingly similar to the Shaivite representation of Lord Shiva, in the phallus form. Except that the phallus-shaped sandalwood form of the Lord bears the tri-fanged Vaishnative symbol in traditional colours decorated on it.
From Simhachalam to Kailasgiri. Facing the Bay of Bengal, this hill at a height of 130 metres, offers a spectacular view of the coastline. After marvelling at huge idols of Shiva and Parvati and photo-ops with the presiding deities, you could take the ropeway that in five minutes brings you down to earth, literally, but not before giving you a breathtaking, overarching view of Vizag, overlooking the sea coast.
You could head next to Bheemunipatnam, 25 km from Vizag. Driving along the coast-hugging stretch is an experience you would love. Locally known as Bhimli, this is the second oldest municipality in the country. You would find the remains of a Dutch settlement with a fort in ruins and a cemetery here.
Vizag is Andhra Pradesh’s second largest city and access to the sea port is a huge plus factor for its economy. For long, it has been home to several public sector units and business opportunities are booming in this `city of destiny’, also because this is seen as a prospective capital, if Hyderabad is claimed by a separate Telangana in future.
For many reasons, Vizag has seemed always the most hip of the cities in Andhra Pradesh, even more than Hyderabad. It has style and chutzpah and yet seems at peace with itself.
True to the city-lovers calling it the jewel on the east coast.
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