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A road that weaves through a lush green valley, passing by the prehistoric Borra caves, the spectacular Katiki waterfalls, a museum that preserves the rich heritage of a tribal community and rolling coffee plantations. While you can also take the train from Visakhapatnam to Araku valley and the journey is equally enjoyable, a road trip lets you stop at the many scenic lookout points on the way and enjoy the journey to its fullest. The approximately four-hour journey from Andhra Pradesh’s largest city Visakhapatnam often referred to as the “Jewel of the East Coast” to one of the state’s most scenic hill stations, Araku Valley promises this and much more.
On the road: The road is beautiful, as it weaves through the Eastern Ghats mountain range and quaint tribal villages. There are enough places to stop on the way for mesmerising views and fantastic photo opportunities. At places, the road has sharp curves.
Start: Begin your trip as early as possible to avoid city traffic. As you leave Visakhapatnam, the road to Araku winds through residential areas and markets, which may get crowded, specially the busy NAD Kotha junction in Visakhapatnam. Once you leave the city behind, the road widens. It is well-maintained and the traffic is low. The first glimpse of the rolling Eastern Ghat mountains is visible after 1 hour and 45 minutes of drive from Visakhapatnam.
Touted to be one of the longest and deepest of its kind in the country, these prehistoric caves are believed to be over 1,000 years old. What to do: This elaborate cave system is formed by a series of limestone rocks and exploring this much like rock climbing but in reverse. Instead of hauling oneself up, one has to travel down a path that is surrounded by moisture-laden walls.
What to see: The interiors of the cave are brightly illuminated making for a spectacular sight. Continue to explore the cave and its myriad and breathtaking stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Good to know: Opt for a tour guide, who will narrate the history of the caves that were discovered by William King George of the Geological Survey of India. A guide will also tell you the various mythological stories about the creation of these caves.
You can enjoy a swim in the pond at the base
A little ahead lies the 4,030-ft-high Katiki waterfalls. The name of the falls is derived from the eponymous village nearby. Katiki waterfall is formed by the Gosthani river, cascading down from a height. The pond at the bottom of the waterfall is an excellent place for taking a bath after a challenging trek. This is where the second edition of the World Waterfall Rappelling World Cup was held in January 2020.
What to do: To see the waterfall you will have to trek for 20-30 minute (one way) from the highway through lush forest and upwards to the mountain top. Cooking and camping are also permitted at this place.
What to see: The nearby surroundings of the falls are enchanting and provide a sense of calmness. There are no lodgings near the waterfall but there are small stalls that sell food and refreshments.
Tip: Fresh honey sourced from the jungle is also available near the waterfall. Do stop to buy.
Good to know: Have your lunch at the small makeshift eateries. If you are a non-vegetarian, you should try the chicken cooked in bamboo trunks. The meat is marinated with aromatic spices before being filled inside a bamboo shoot. Once cooked on wood or charcoal fire, the chicken takes on a distinct smoky flavour and texture. Wash the dish down with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee sourced from the local plantations. You can spend about an hour here.
Shop for local coffee
Just before you enter the Araku valley, stop at the Tribal Museum that displays the tribal culture of Andhra Pradesh. From utensils, jewellery, hunting tools to wedding photographs, the museum gives a taste of what traditional tribal lives look like. Spend about an hour here. A stone’s throw away (a mere four-minute drive) from the Tribal Museum lies the Araku Valley Coffee Museum. Established in 2006, it displays the journey of coffee from Ethiopia, where it was first discovered, to how it gained popularity the world over and its local relevance. Interestingly, Araku valley is one of the few places in India where Arabica coffee is grown.
What to do: Experience the audio-visual show that gives a peek into the coffee estates of Araku Valley, and explains why the beans are grown beneath silver oak trees and pepper creepers. Try a cup of the aromatic coffee grown locally. If you are a coffee lover, buy a small amount of Kopi Luwac, said to be one of the most expensive coffees in the world. But any of the coffee varieties available here are of very good quality.
What to see: Keep an eye out for the mural at the entrance that depicts the journey of the humble coffee bean to an aromatic cuppa.
Tip: The chocolate store here sells several varieties of chocolates, coffee beans, and coffee powder.
Good to know: The museum is manned by locals, some of the coffee growers themselves. Every evening at 6, a folk dance show is held for visitors. If you are staying the night at Aralu Valley, visit this museum after sundown.
Ride in the toy train
Drive the last lap of your journey up to Araku Valley. If you reach the overarching gate announcing you have arrived at the valley, by evening, drive for another 5 minutes to the Padmapuram Gardens (also called Botanical Gardens). A vibrant ecological park, it houses varied and rare species of flora and fauna. If you like to experience the beauty of the destination then rather than checking into a hotel, book one of the three cottages inside the garden.
What to do: The toy train ride around the garden is extremely popular.
What to see: One of the main attractions of this green space is the pretty rose garden with a variety of roses sourced from the world.
Good to know: The garden also houses camphor trees.
Tip: If you arrive at the valley after 6 pm, visit the garden the next morning when it opens at 8.30 am. You can also alternatively visit the famous Chaparai waterfalls, which is about a 20-minute drive away. Surrounded by lush, dense forests, it is a much sought-after recreational spot.
If you do not mind the cold, travel between the months of December and February. During monsoon, the valley becomes greener and the road to Araku is stunning.
Pack light warm clothes. Evenings can get a little cold. During monsoon, carry water-proof jacket and shoes. Be respectful of the environment and do not litter. Carry emergency medicines and mosquito repellent cream.