Friday, January 21, 2011

Araku Valley/Vizag "Vacation"

Day 1 - The Journey Begins...

So my journey out to Araku Valley with Gopal, a friend I made here in Hyderabad, started on Friday morning around 4:30 when we hopped in his car with his driver and headed out for our long trek to Vizag. We anticipated it taking about 12 hours and planned to arrive late afternoon so that we could check into a hotel, grab dinner, and make our schedule for traveling to Araku Valley on Saturday before driving back to Hyderabad on Sunday. The drive was beautiful, we had good tunes playing on my iPod, the company was easy and enjoyable, and everything was smooth sailing... all until about 1 PM...
We were making great timing until about 100 km outside Vizag we heard the car making a funny sound. Trying to ride it out, we kept driving until the noise became louder and louder and then the engine light finally turned out. Pretty confident it wasn't safe to drive the car any longer, the driver pulled over, put on the hazards, and popped the hood.
Fast forward 1 hour... we've now been sitting on the side of the highway, we're waiting for the Ford guy to show up, and my occasional head rest on his shoulder led to discourse amongst the locals who sent a guy by on his bike to address how we were being "public nuisances." Really?? Wow, okay. So... we're waiting waiting waiting, finally we see 2 sedans pull up, both of which are Ford cars, and this guy hops out of one of them - apparently this is the Ford guy there to fix the car. Long story short, he takes a look at it and lets us know it can't be fixed until Tuesday and ready to be returned by Friday. There was a festival over the weekend, Sankaranthi (sp?), so there wasn't anyone working and we had no other options. Awesome. Now we're car-less AND we're stranded in Vizag for a week. Really??
So it turns out the other 2 sedans who were there were being driven by other people who were having car issues as well and had Ford come out to fix their vehicles. One of the cars left and kept driving and the other car then squeezed me, Gops, oh wait AND the Ford car guy in the back of their car with one another person and the two up front. They graciously drove us the next hour to Vizag where even though we were without our stuff or Gops car at least we were each in one piece.
We left his driver back with the car who found a local auto that was willing to tow his car to the Ford dealership in Vizag. Man oh man... this was just Day 1.
So now we find ourselves in this city, without our stuff, without a car, without a hotel reservation or transportation to a hotel, without his driver, without food or water in our systems, and the sun is starting to slowly set. We hopped an auto to the beach, walked around, saw some creepy monkey wearing a dress, and then found a nice hotel and decided to splurge for the evening. The room was worth about a third of what it cost but there was a beautiful restaurant at the hotel right on the beach where we were able to grab some dinner by the water and enjoy some curried fish (shout out to me... I was even adventurous with my food and ate prawns! I'm really venturing out there ;) ). Post dinner we grabbed some coffee, ordered a few drinks, and crashed for the night.

Day 2 - Araku, Where Are You?

So the trek out to Vizag was purely because we wanted to spend time out in Araku Valley. We'd both heard from several friends that it's one of the most beautiful places in Andhra Pradesh and that there are beautiful caves, water falls, and hiking paths for trekking out there. We woke up too late in the morning to catch the AP Tourism bus out to Araku (about 3 hours away) so we needed to a) look into a plan B for getting out there for the day, and b) we needed to make sure that before we left to go anywhere we figured out how we were going to travel back home to Hyderabad to get back to work by Monday.
So, once we were up, grabbed some breakfast, and we were ready to start the day, we checked out of the hotel and walked across the street to a few travel agencies where we were able to hire a car for the day to take us to/from Araku and then get bus tickets for the next day to take us back home. By about noon (maybe a little earlier) we were finally settled, in the car, and aside from the giant holes burnt through my wallet by this point, we were content, excited, and ready make the most of our day.
The drive out to Araku was beautiful! The rolling hills (mountains?), the green, the occasional rural villages and wandering villagers, the clean air, the peaceful energy, and the luxury of seeing it all from a car were just spectacular.

About 3 hours after leaving Vizag we found ourselves at the famous Borra Caves. This is the point where I get stuck and I'm not really sure how to describe what I saw... I'd like to say that they were mystical, batman-like, enigmatic holes in the Earth, but really... whomp whomp. I seriously can't believe Lonely Planet would even consider making mention of this site. The caves honestly just felt like an overcrowded, claustraphobic-inducing attraction at a local amusement park. Within probably about 30 minutes we saw the whole thing and were doing our absolute best to laugh it off and write it off as just another misadventure of the weekend. After all, we still had the waterfall to see and hikes to take around the valley. Or so we thought...We hopped back in the car and the driver continued on his way toward Araku which he said was about 30 minutes away. We continued to be mesmerized by the beautiful scenery and though slightly disappointed by the passing of time and lack of productivity we kept our heads high and fingers crossed that we'd make it to Araku soon enough and with enough time to venture around that it would all be worth it.

From inside the cave looking out

Our half hour passes, we're slowly cruising down what appears to be a main road of Araku Valley and our driver says, "okay, we're done with the tour now." Just like that. That's all. Um, what?! We're done? Hm? Come again? Not possible. "But what about the waterfall?" we asked, to which he speedily replied "oh no, they're all way back by the caves and if we went now it would be too late and dark for you to be there anyway. Ha, uhhhh, okay... "well what else can we see out here?" "There's a garden I can take you to close by." Okay fine, so we went to the garden, which turned out not to be exactly a garden but more like a cemetery for shrubbery and all plants that were once living. Not only were all the plants dead but there was garbage everywhere and even a giant fire of burning trash in the middle of the whole garden area. Really?? Okay...
Dead tree at the "garden" with garbage stuck in the branches

Burning garbage at the "garden"

Hands down the creepiest statue I've ever seen - also at the garden

So we hop back in the car and tried our absolute best to laugh everything off and keep our fingers crossed that maybe we can have just one success of the day - all we wanted was to get to the AP-renown Jungle Bells resort (yeah, that's right... Jungle Bells...), get a room for the night, wake up in the morning for some hiking, see the waterfalls, and be done. The driver swiftly takes us to Jungle Bells and we hadn't even gotten out of the car before the person standing at the reception yelled to us that they were booked for the night. Ahhhhhhhh!!! So at this point we're tired, a little stressed, and super hungry so we decide to hop out of the car, eat at their restaurant and come up with a plan for getting a place in Vizag and spending the night there.
Lucky for our frozen bodies the restaurant was 100% outside. In typical Indian fashion, we decided we'd just do whatever we want until someone told us not to so we walked right into the kitchen and opted to stand by the stove for some heat. No joke...
Warming up in the kitchen!

Now I'm not sure what ended up being my favorite part of standing in the kitchen. A) that we were standing in the kitchen and no one said anything, or, B) wait for it... the cook who was making the pasta actually strained it by throwing it on the sewage covering on the ground where he threw the rest of the garbage. Yep, that's right. Then he just picked it back up, threw it in a bowl, and set it up to be served. (That's when we changed our order... no pasta for us).
Starving... believe it or not we ate our food anyway... (hey, we took what we could get), jumped back in the car, trekked back to Vizag, and stayed at the AP Tourism resort across from the beach.

Day 3 - Rushikonda Beach: The Weekend's Saving Grace

The sun rose, it was a new day, we didn't want to have to work, all we wanted was to play. (I couldn't help myself, the rhyme just came to me...) We grabbed some breakfast, hopped in an auto, and made our way about 10 km to Rushikonda Beach (where I went with my roommates when we traveled to Vizag a few months ago). It was the most beautiful day maybe I've had in India just yet, we found a fabulous restaurant (the same one I went to last time) where we sat and spent several hours just basking in the sun, eating good seafood, and having great conversation. After a few hours we went for a walk down on the beach and by the rocks and when it got hot enough we decided to just jump in and go swimming with all our clothes on. As a woman in India I'm typically pretty aware of my behavior in public because things we wouldn't even think twice about in the States could be considered really inappropriate and offensive here - swimming in the ocean certainly felt like one of those things even though I was fully covered so our spontaneous clothed wave jumping adventure was short lived but certainly enough fun that we can't actually deem the entire weekend a complete failure.

Slowly but surely we headed back up to that same restaurant to sit just one last time for some seafood, dry off under the sinking sun, and then head out around 6 to make our way to the bus. Time flew, 6 PM snuck up on us, and we didn't make it to the main road to catch an auto until about 10/15 after. Well, the final adventure began... few autos were out driving around but finally one stopped for us the only problem was that there were already two people sitting up front with the driver, three people in back, and yes there were 2 people in the trunk. So, he stopped why? Well to see if we needed a ride of course! Such is the Indian way! So without any other options we squeeze the luggage between the 2 men in the trunk and we hop in the back with the three other men. Given all the weight in the auto, and simply just the fact that we were in an auto, the thing could not have possible driven any slower. In fact we might've been able to run the 10K faster. On the way the driver mentioned that he'll do his best to get us to our 6:45 bus on time but it usually takes 45 minutes to get there anyway. Really!? Wow... all I could think is this is not happening... 
Time passed about as slowly as possible and we finally arrived at the bus. We literally got on the bus as it was moving and taking off from the station... no kidding. The good news was that it was a Volvo A/C bus and hands down the most comfortable bus ride I've had yet. They didn't even play a Bollywood movie!!!  Whaaatt?!?! That never happens! It was amazing!

Day 4 - There's No Place Like Home

So the bus arrived back around 6:30 AM and to Hyderabad we returned... ahhhh... I slept for the next few hours that morning and then opted to take the day off work to recover my vacation. You know how those first days back can be...  
All in all this was quite the adventure and series of unfortunate events. Luckily I was in fabulous company and I've learned the invaluable quality of patience while living here in India. It took me a looooong way this trip, I'll say that much.  I hope reading this was more enjoyable than my weekend was... then at least I can say that even though everything else failed I came out with some good stories :)


  1. I've been waiting for this update for weeks! And what a wonderful read it was. I'm so proud of your adventures abby! Love you.


  2. Abby:

    It was great talking to you the other day, and thanks again for remembering. This last update gave me a few laughs and I am glad you survived it as well as you did. The whole time I was reading it I kept on saying, (sorry about this) better you than me.

    Thinking about you every day and continue to enjoy.