Araku Valley

Corey writes:

Gina and I traveled to Araku Valley this past weekend for three days of nature exploration and fun. Araku Valley is located about 100 km from Koraput and is famous for it's natural beauty and coffee plantations. It gets most of it's tourism from Visakhapatnam, a booming port city about 120 km away. Valid phone numbers and advance plans were difficult to make, so Gina and I decided to go without any hotel or transportation reservations. This decision had some positive and negative outcomes.

We started our journey at 5am on Saturday by walking to the bus station, where we shortly realized we'd missed our bus. We like traveling by bus because it's cheap and relatively quick, but it's more risky because there's no clear or stable timetable of things. After a few minutes of panicking, we were told that we could take a "local bus" that left at 6:15 and went about 75 km to a village close to the Andhra Pradesh border. After that, we puttered about 10 km to the border in a jeep with no doors and people riding on the roof and hood. The jeep wouldn't cross the border, so we had to get out and travel the remaining 15 km in a rickshaw with 7 other people. Not a great start.

After arriving in Araku, we decided to stretch our legs by walking the 3 km to Padmapuram Gardens. The gardens are a nicely kept area full of greenery and places to relax quietly. They are also famous for having tree-top cottages with running water and electricity that you can rent out for the night. Our plan was to stay in one, but after checking them out, we decided against it. I did, however, use the running water:


In the spirit of adventure, we left the gardens and decided to check out a nearby hotel, just a short walk through a small village. When we walked in the front gates, we weren't sure if we were in the right place or not, because all of buildings in the hotel complex seemed to still be under construction. Luckily for us, however, they did have a finished room for us and good food to boot. We would have stayed another night, except we were woken at 6am by the sound of Hindi pop blaring from an SUV parked outside our door.

This sound pollution was a recurring problem throughout our trip for a couple reasons:

  • Fratboys - We found an alarming number of young college guys invading the valley from Visakhapatnam. And as immature and annoying as fratboys can be in the US, Indian college boys are more so. Imagine a group of 14-year-old American boys, but taller and with dad's credit card.
  • Indian people get up early, around 5 or 6. And because everyone generally gets up around that time, there are no qualms about making a lot of noise at 7.

By the end of the trip we were really looking forward to a quiet night in our own beds

On Sunday we went to the Araku Valley Coffee shop. Here we could sample locally grown, freshly roasted coffee. With lots of milk and sugar. Even in coffee country we couldn't escape the Indian treatment of our caffeinated beverages. Even so, it was darn good. After the coffee we headed across the street to the tribal museum. We wanted to compare notes with our own in Koraput. This one was nicer, better maintained, but it also cost 10 rupees so they could afford to pay for maintenance. It also had some unique things like an archery range and small pond. There were also some fellows making bamboo chicken, apparently a local treat. It was pieces of chicken marinated in sauce, wrapped in leaves, and then cooked inside a hollow bamboo trunk.

On Monday we got up and hit the road in a private vehicle to see some sights. We passed through some amazing viewpoints and stopped first at a coffee plantation. When we heard the word "plantation" we had images of vast flat fields, etc. But this was more like a very hilly forest. All the planting and harvesting has to be done by hand, as no equipment could make it up and down these hills.

After the coffee plantation we drove another 20 km to the Borra caves. We knew we were in the right spot because we had to park about 300 m away and walk through rows of parked cars. After checking out the obligatory monkeys, we descended into the beautiful and gigantic caves.

After the caves, we drove to the destination for our last night's stay: Jungle Bells. We had heard and read about this "nature camp" before. It's situated in the middle of the forest, it's got nature in spades. We had tried many times with many different numbers to book a room here before we left, but with no luck. When we arrived, all their non-AC rooms (to fit in our volunteer budgets) were taken. So we just decided to come home instead. The bus left Araku 2 hours late, so we didn't get home until after 11, but least there were no college boys in our house.

All in all it was a good short break from our lives and a chance to see even more beautiful Indian countryside.