For once, a portion of the famed Rocky Mountains along the Colorado Plateau in North America would appear to have been translocated to the tropical climes of an equally tough south Indian terrain. The grand scene of tall red-hued stones that line up to form huge canyons giving way to an expansive clear-water river down west-central United States find near-replica in a village by the placid-flowing Pennar bang in the middle of Andhra Pradesh. Gandikota in Kadapa district has been an oft-seen locale in several Tamil and Hindi movies, much like what Colorado has been for Hollywood with its century-old history.
Gandikota, too, has its slice of a rich past to boast about even as the place, just 15 km from Jammalamadugu town on the National Highway 67, is finding a surge in visitors of late. Malayalis contribute to 40 per cent of the tourist influx to the spot that has become suddenly vibrant with visitors since the start of this year, according to local estimates.
The cynosure, besides the water-hewn gorge that are part of the elegant Erramala Hills, is a fort built by the Chalukya kings who ruled a chunk of the Deccan and belts a little beyond it for 600 years till the 12th century AD. The millennium-old fort has its ramparts built very strong that it has weathered all the vagaries of nature till date. Equally robust is the entry door, a five feet tall. So huge is the metal hoop for the horizontal bolt that one can let a wooden log of ten-foot circumference through it. Obviously, the Chalukya rulers, who are believed to be originally natives of what is now Andhra Pradesh's neighbouring state of Karnataka, did undergo times they anticipated sneak entries or sudden invasions by enemies.
'Kota' evidently means 'fort' for those from Kerala, but what is Gandi? It's 'canyon' in Telugu, something that pertinent literature has pointed out and aged Rangamma has now confirmed. She is an old woman who sells peanuts at the entry of the fort and lives in a colony close by with her children. In a way, it's ironical that the fort with its royal airs has Rangamma-like people living just outside of it in tiny huts, symbolising the extent of their poverty.
You reach the fort by walking up a path adjacent to a tank that is walled by granite blocks. Once inside, the first structure to catch the eye is a double-arched masjid raised in Mughal architecture by the Qutb Shahi king, who established himself in the 16th century after the fall of the Vijayanagara and Kakatiya dynasties. A two-storey building close to the religious structure is a granary. Such were the times that agriculture can go kaput any time and droughts may set it; so there was a great need to store foodgrains.
A broader view from the granary will give sight to a vintage temple. It's the gateway (gopuram) to the Raghunathaswamy shrine. The precincts have no deity left today. The guardroom is the lone structure inside the four walls of this one-time religious place. Scale up the ramparts and one can see the orange-stone canyon with the river Pennar flowing between it.
The water, contrastingly, is greenish in colour. Snaps from anywhere down four kilometres of the Gandikota stretch of Pennar can gift the tourist with beautiful photos that can remind one of the Grand Canyon of Colorado. Such is the natural carving that quite a few of the images can even mislead to be that from the famed American location. This place, though, is just 350 km away from Bangalore and 225 km from Tirupati - both cities that have an airport. Jammalamadugu has a railway station as well.
You leave the fort, and find that a certain Madhavaraya temple is the next local destination. It's a bit south of the fort, occupying a quiet plot. The walls and even quite a few sculptures, including deities, lie as rubble. They pop up a disturbingly distorted image, but that is also part of the place's history.