Coconuts, Cotton and Crabs

As one drives along the narrow but smooth roads with lush green fields bordered by tall coconut palm trees and water canals, one could be forgiven for thinking that they are in Kerala. Welcome to Konaseema, the Kerala of Andhra Pradesh.  It is the triangular patch of land where the river Godavari, the second holiest river in India, breaks up into many  distributaries and merges itself in the Bay of Bengal.

Lush green paddy fields and row upon row of tall coconut palm trees make the drive through Konaseema a visual delight

If Egypt is called the gift of the Nile, then Konaseema has got to be the gift of the Godavari. For millions of years, the Godavari has been depositing alluvial silt at its mouth, thereby creating a land which is extremely fertile. However, during monsoons, the rampant waters of the untamed river flooded the entire delta, destroying crops and homes and making it impossible to reap the benefits of nature’s bounty.

A painting of Sir Arthur Cotton

The people of Konaseema found their saviour in General Sir Arthur Cotton, a British engineer, who, after a thorough study, built a 3.5 kilometre long barrage across the river at Dowleshwaram, a few kilometres downstream of Rajahmundry, in 1852. He also built a network of irrigation and navigation canals and linked the Krishna and Godavari rivers. In fact, he had to fight tooth and nail to get the requisite imperial sanction. As a direct result of his efforts, the flood stricken area metamorphosed into the rice bowl of India and ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity to millions of people. To this day, he is honoured by the grateful natives who have accorded him a demigod like status and have erected hundreds of statues in his honour and his birthdays are celebrated to this day. The visionary engineer had also proposed the interlinking of Indian rivers and the creation of a riverine network to improve irrigation and transportation and facilitate development of commerce in the country. Unfortunately, his proposals were rejected by the imperial authorities.

The entry to the Konaseema region is from a bustling town called Ravulapalem, located on the Golden Quadrilateral (NH5 connecting Kolkata and Chennai), some 250 kilometres south of Vizag. There is a huge ornamental gateway proclaiming its status as the Konaseema Mukhadwaram or the main gateway to the Konaseema region. In the centre is an niche shaped like a temple; the presiding deity is a man in a blue suit riding on a white horse. That man is none other than Arthur Cotton!

The Gateway to Konaseema at Ravulapalem

Driving across Konaseema is a sheer feast for the eyes. Mile after mile of lush green paddy fields flank the route and occasionally, one comes across boats sailing in the rivers and water canals. It feels great to see neatly uniformed children commuting to English medium schools on bicycles, autorickshaws or mini-vans. Then there are literally hundreds of wheeled vehicles from pushcarts and bicycles to tractor driven trailers laden with bananas, custard apples and other agricultural produce suggestive of a buoyant agro-economy. The people are friendly and helpful, even the autorickshaw drivers, who are normally a surly lot. When they are asked for directions, they gladly oblige, even offering to drive ahead and show us the way.

A view of the Godavari as seem from a road bridge

We are headed to Dindi, a village on the Vashishta river, the distributary which delineates the southern border of Konaseema. At Dindi, the Andhra Pradesh Travel Development Corporation (APTDC) runs an establishment called the Coconut Country Resort. One falls in love at first glance. A spacious parking lot, an attractive building roofed with red tiles set in the middle of a coconut farm create a favourable impression. However, when we interact with the staff, the positive impression gives way to disappointment. The staff is not very helpful, the POS terminal (Credit/Debit card machine) does not work and I have to drive to an ATM machine in Razole, about 10 km away.

The Coconut Country Resort at Dindi

Rear view of the resort

At Rs.3,500 a night, it looks like a good bargain. The rooms are huge, the bathrooms have Jaquar fittings and the views of the river and a blue tiled swimming pool are spectacular. However, the property is badly designed and poorly maintained. The platform of the washbasin, for example is at a height of over 4 feet from the floor, the floor of the bathroom is wet, the sheets are not exactly clean and the room service is extremely tardy. I am of the firm opinion that sarkari establishments should be given to private parties to run them. Professionalism is missing and when that happens, the customers get short-changed in the bargain.

These houseboats are available for hire

There were a couple of houseboats moored beside the resort’s jetty. Staying on them was an option for us as but we had a lot of sightseeing to do. For those who prefer to soak in the ambience and are not interested in visting temples, etc., it could be a great way to chill out.

After a short rest, we drove to Antarvedi, the point where the Vashishta merges with the Bay of Bengal. This is considered to be a very holy place due its location at the confluence of the Godavari and the sea. It is said that it was the venue (vedika) for a maharudrayagam performed by the saptarishis and thus came to be called Antarvedi.

The entrance Gopuram of the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Antarvedi

We first visited the Lakshmi Narasimha temple, a 15th century shrine built over an anthill which concealed a self-manifested (swayambhu) idol of Lord Narasimha. The temple has some gorgeous sculptures but the colours seemed a bit too bright to me.

Lord Narasimha with Goddess Lakshmi on his lap and flanked by Garuda and  Hanuman

An image of the Sun God adorns the main gopuram over the sanctum sanctorum

Beside this temple is a recently constructed circular temple shaped like a Shri yantra and is said to have been built on the site where the sage Vashishta had an ashram. Not far away is an ancient Shiva temple where the idol of Neelakanteshwara is said to have been installed by Lord Rama himself.

The Arundhati Vashishta temple is shaped like Mount Meru and is said to be built over a Shri Yantra.

We then went for a boat ride down the river to the point where it merges in the sea. Nothing special about it but we saw the ruins of an old abandoned lighthouse and a modern one on the shore. The beaches here are infested with literally thousands of red crabs.

The new lighthouse at Antarvedi

The beach at Antarvedi is infested with thousands of red crabs

After return back to land, we proceeded to the new lighthouse but it was closed and we had to content ourselves with snapping a few pictures of the lighthouse and trying to photograph the elusive red crabs which quickly scurried down holes in the sand whenever I tried to get close to them. I took a couple of snaps using a telephoto lens but the pix were not satisfactory as I did not use a tripod. I also saw a heron standing still stalking a prey and it was a photo-op too good to miss.

A close-up of some red crabs on the beach

A heron I spotted on the drive back from Antarvedi

We returned to the resort before sundown and enjoyed the sunset there. We than had dinner at the restaurant there. When I asked him to put the tab on my account, he insisted on payment in cash. When I scrutinised the bill, I found that I was being ripped off and being charged for stuff we did not even order. When I started quizzing them about the bill, they immediately gave me a bill for less than half the amount. It was a less than pleasant end to what had been a lovely day.

A glorious sunset on the Godavari

28 Comments

  • Praveen Wadhwa says:

    Wow! Another Jewel by D L Saab
    After I read your this post I am very tempted to visit there.

    Some time ago I read your post about Araku Valley, that a green valley exists in AP. Now here is another green and happy place exists on the AP coast.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks Praveen saab for your kindness. You are absolutely right about the place being happy. Happiness is what you see on the faces of people here, happiness that comes from being in constant touch with nature.

      I am sure you will enjoy these places as well as the forests a little bit upstream where the Godavari cuts through the Eastern ghats before entering the coastal plains. I shall be writing about it soon.

  • Dear DL

    A treat to watch on the start of the last month of this calender year . Wonderful pictures and as usual beautiful descritpion. Godavari near delta looks massive compared to what I have seen in its origin , just drops.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks Vishal for going through my post. It is great that you have just written about the place where the Godavari originates and I have had the privilege of writing about the place where its lenghty journey ends.

      Yes, the Godavari is massive, accounting for approximately 10 % of India’s riverine flows. At Rajahmundry, the width of the Godavari is nearly 5 kms and in Konaseema, the distributaries are between 1 and 2 kms wide.

      Sir Arthur Cotton faced impeachment proceedings in the British parliament about a quarter of a century later for building the barrage. In his reply, he observed :One day’s flow through the Godavari is the equivalent of a year’s flow across the Thames”, (on whose banks the Parliament house stands).

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    D.L.
    I took a dip in Godavari at Nanded Sahib in 1980 and now nice to know about its delta. Photos are so beautiful. Little feel bad when Hotel staff tried to cheat. Money is not big deal but cheating really spoiled mood. Thanks a lot share wonderful journey.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thank you, Surinder. The Godavari is India’s seconed holiest river and its banks are dotted with many holy places, including Nanded Saheb, the southernmost pilgrimage centre of Sikhism.

      Yes, invariably, one experiences one form of cheating or another during travels, especially in third world countries where there is so much of poverty. I had to mention it to make others aware. In future, I have decided to settle restaurant bills in cash instead of asking them to charge it to my hotel account.

  • Vipin says:

    Brilliantly presented DL Ji! It was pretty informative and the colourful photos were a treat to eyes…it had everything for everyone…the river, the greenery, the wildlife, the temples etc…a beautiful blend of everything…I really liked the crab photos…it is exciting to see creatures of such size creeping this way…it reminded me of the numerous toads that we used to encounter near the village river streams in our childhood…but i am sure these crabs would be much bigger than those tiny toads…:)…it was great to know about Sir Arthur Cotton & the way he is depicted on the gateway shows how much he is revered by the locals. Thanks for sharing!

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Vipin ji, glad that you liked this post. Yes, it was quite an experience to chase crabs on the Antarvedi beach. However, they are extremely shy and scurry away to safety if one gets closer than 10-15 feet.

  • Wow !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    South Indian’s temples are very colourful.

    Nice description equally supported by colouful pictures.

  • Nirdesh says:

    Hi DL,

    Beautiful post and beautiful photos!

    I have been in that area recently and spent about 20 days. It indeed is beautiful out there. I did not know about the Cotton story. Coastal AP is the richest part of the state. For instance, here farmers change their tractors every year. Compared to this, farmers in MP own tractors for average 10 years. Because of all this water, they grow three paddy crops an year and hence the prosperity.

    I took the train from Vijaywada to Samalkota and crossed the river in Rajahmundry. The barrage is unending and the water is so inviting.

    I was wondering if you went to Kakinada? It is another gem beaches, Coriganga Sanctuary with miles of mangrove trees and Hope Island about 20 kms into the sea. Also, another surprise in the neighbourhood is Yanam a part of Pondicherry right here in AP!

    From a distance, I thought the beach was covered with red petals and when I approached this army of red crabs would scurry into their sandy holes.

    Amazing area just waiting to be discovered.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Hi Nirdesh,

      Great to know that you have been there. You are absolutely right, there are so many places in India waiting to be discovered. Yes, I have been to Kakinada and Yanam too. Coringa is a great place to visit and I shall be writing about it soon. Regarding crabs, they are elusive creatures, but I have also noticed that the local fishermen catch them on a regular basis and Konaseema is famed for its”Peetala Koora” or crab curry.

  • I have frequently heard that students desirous to learn cricket should watch Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar while they are playing. They are like textbooks. Same can be said for our D.L. His classy writing and super-classy pictures dekh ke man dola re, dola re, dola re ! I can’t say much to DL except thank you for being there for all of us.

    Some people make this world special just by being in it. Your presence on ghumakkar does the same.

    Sushant

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi DL,

    Great post on (hitherto unknown, at least to me) gems of South India. Your coverage of these places would certainly be helpful from tourism perspective.

    Sir Arthur Cotton -I instantly like him because I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, thus would take in strides rearrangements of some some ‘t’ and ‘n’ :-). Interlinking of Indian rivers, well, that is another interesting aspect since it was thought of in 1852, or thereabout.

    The article once again brings to the fore the issue of preserving/ displaying our heritage. A 15th century stuff is so easily and unflatteringly composed in our being – do we lack the the attitude of creating a touristic memento out of it and such other stuff ?

    Thanks for very informative, elaborate post,

    Auro.

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      @Sushant: Thanks for the effusive praise. When it comes from an accomplished writer like you, it makes one really proud, in spite of knowing that one is not really deserving of it. Waiting eagerly for your next post and hoping that you will not make us wait for a long time.

      @ Auro: Glad that you liked this post. Arthur Cotton transformed a famine stricken and flood prone area into a very prosperous one. Since he was too much in love with India, he did not get the recognition he deserved from the British establishment of the day. I am a great fan of Conan Doyle too. Did you know that he used to have the suffix of DL to his name? In his case, DL meant Deputy Lieutenant; it was a ceremonial post bestowed on him in recognition of his literary achievements. Regarding our heritage, we suffer from an embarrassment of riches and a paucity of funds. To top it all, a lack of awareness. Hopefully, things will improve in the future.

  • ashok sharma says:

    quite interesting travelogue on a totally new place especially for north people.great pics

  • Gita AM says:

    Very interesting account of a relatively unknown place. Indeed AP has much to offer for the traveller and is an under rated overall destination apart from Tirupati.

    Very nice photos as well.

  • JATDEVTA says:

    ???? ?? ?? ?????? ??? ?? ???? ??? ?? ?? ???? ??? ?? ???? ???

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    @ Ashok Sharma, Gita AM and Jatdevta: Thank you very much for taking the time to go through my piece and for leaving favourable feedback. I cannot but agree that our country has many beautiful but unexplored places and there is an opportunity for ghumakkars to write about such places. I shall try to do the same.

  • Ritesh Gupta says:

    Hii D.L.

    Excellent writeup, Informative post. Great & amazing pictures taken by you (Which Camera?). Crabs & Godawari River, Colorful Temple’s picture are too good & colorful.

    Thank you very much for introduce this place, which is new one for us or we don’t know about anything.

    Rs.3,500 a night for room, I think it was costly that type room. after read your post I knew that this place is very beautiful….

    Thanks a Lot….

    Ritesh ….Agra

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks, Ritesh for your kind words.

      I normally carry 2 cameras with me: a Nikon D3100 DSLR and a Sony HX-10V compact camera.
      However, sometimes I also use my iphone too. The last shot (of the sunset) was shot with it since my cameras were in my room when I spotted the sunset while having coffee in the restaurant.

      Rs. 3,500 is normal for such resorts. My initial reaction was that it was fair value but after seeing the quality of service, I have to admit that it was over priced. After reading what I wrote, I realise that I had not corrected the inital draft. What I meant was “It seemed initially like a good bargain at Rs.3,500 a night.” Thanks for pointing out this mistake.

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Beautifully narrated and a great post, DL.

    I was travelling and when I read your post – the first picture reminds me about my home in Bengal. I have almost similar photos of my place and I am sure you will be surprised to see the similarities.

    While reading this post, I was remembering my trip to the delta of Ganges…those houseboats, red crabs…I tried to capture them in Bakkhali, but my Nikon Coolpix didn’t help me that time. Hope the new Nikon D5100 will not disappoint me.

    It is nice to know about Sir Arthur Cotton and also about this unknown (to me) place.
    Look forward for the next post.

    Regards,

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Thanks Amitava for your kind words of appreciation.

      There is one more similarity with the Ganges delta…..you will be surprised, too. It is Ilees maach (Hilsa Fish). Locally known as Pulasa, it is available only during the monsoons when the nutrients washed along by the raging waters attract this fish which swims upstream and it is caught by fishermen. Pulasa sells for anything between Rs,2,000 to 5,000 a kilo. Earlier, the fish was known only to locals but now people come to buy it from as far away as Hyderabad.

      Finally, congratulations on your acquisition of a Nikon D5100. It is an amazing yet simple to use DSLR and I hope you will soon be sharing your pix on ghumakkar. Happy shooting.

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Ohho….tempting informaton and ‘m loving it.

    Ilish or Hilsa, is the king of Fish and my all time favourite. I didn’t even want to wash my hand, as I want to smell the aroma for a much longer time. I didn’t aware that Hilsa is found in the delta of Godavari as well.

    I only knew that Ilish or Hilsa is available in Bengal and Bangladesh. Ilish are available in plenty in Kolaghat (the Rupnarayan river) as well as the Ganges. However, it is a common belief that those from the Padma are considered to be the best in taste. The place, where I did my schooling (my childhood place), Ilish are available in plenty. I had the opportunity to see fishermen catching Ilish many times at Kulpi and Diamond Harbour. I promised to my son to go there one day to show him that someday.

    The only day Ilish is untouchable at home, when Mohan Bagan lost the Derby (i.e. to East Bengal). Since you had spent sometime in Kolkata, you must know the rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, which is much bigger than FC Barcelona (Catalans) vs Real Madrid (the Castilians). They (Bangal – the term used to refer to the people of East Bengal who migrated to West Bengal during the Partition of India in 1947) used to celebrate their victory over Ghati i.e. we, the supporter of Mohun Bagan with Ilish (over our ‘Chingri’ or ‘Prawn’) and I used to cry the entire evening.

    So many recipies e.g. Ilish Bhaja (fry), Bhapa (steamed Ilish), Illish Paturi, Ilish Biryani, Ilish with mustard….and a lot…Thank you for bringing this up. If I happen to be in that belt in future, I will definitely try the local cuisines of Pulasa.

    Tx – actually, I did post some snaps in Nationla Railway Museum and that museum at home through D5100. It is a good camera indeed, still learning the features..

    • D.L.Narayan says:

      Yes, way back in the 60’s nothing in the world could match the rivalry between Mohun Bagan led by the charismatic Chuni Goswami and East Bengal led by the speedy right winger Sukumar Samajpati. We schoolkids to talk of nothing else. Thanks for invoking the nostalgia of those days.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    DL,

    Reading your log and then reading the comments and then finally coming to write a ‘comment’ is in itself a privilege. So thank you. Without you the privilege goes away.

    It is heartening to find that Sir Cotton is still respected (revered) and we have not forgotten his exemplary work, even though in today’s new found nationalism we start doubting anything about a non-mixed-color-skin. So kudos to Konaseema. This is probably similar to Stokes’ in Kinnaur region, who pioneered Apple farming there, though the Stokes family (or some lineage of them) still lives there.

    The shots have come out brilliantly, from all the cameras. And after all it is the not the camera which counts. :-). The shots about crabs talks about the hard work. Based on my limited exposure to beaches, here is a quick tip to shoot a crab. Just catch one and then hold it and take a macro shot. he he. You can catch one by running behind and then putting a handful of beach sand on it and then hold it from the torso. I am putting a link but I am not sure whether you can access. The hand is mine. :-)

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4236460825409&set=t.562500616&type=3&theater

    Last weekend I was at Bharatpur and we could see all Herons (Purple, Gray and so on), this one is pure white.

    And finally the fish which is a staple diet back home and Mohun Bagan (remember Cheema Okerie ?) and you make me so nostalgic. Thank you DL.

    Warmly,
    Nandan

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Hi DL & Nandan,

      I couldn’t resist myself from yet another comment in your post.
      For a very long period, when we were in school, we prayed & literally begged to GOD, give us one player like ‘Cheema’.
      He was playing for Mohammedan Sporting Club / East Bengal and breaking our hearts on a regular basis.
      We had Babluda (Subrata Bhattacharya, Shishir, Satyajeet) but we also wanted a ‘Cheema Okerie’.
      But, Mohun Bagan doesn’t recruit foreigners as a rule. Finally, our club signed him and the ‘Black Cheetah’ became the first foreigner to have played for Mohun Bagan in 1991, after 103 years. It’s just like a dream come true to be there in the Mohun Bagan gallery and shout ‘Cheema’, Cheema’, ‘Cheema’. I can still hear the echo.

      Nandan seems to be a follower of football as well. Tx Nandan, for giving me the opportunity to remember those days.

      • D.L.Narayan says:

        Thanks Nandan and Amitava for your comments. It feels great to have the appreciation of one’s peers.

        About Cheema Okorie, there is a strong connection with Vizag. Though he played football at the junior level for Nigeria, his father wanted him to concentrate on studies and sent him to study architecture at Andhra University, Vizag. While passing by a soccer field, he saw the university team practicising and when the ball came across his path and he neatly trapped it and kicked it back into the field. The coach spotted his amazing talent and straightaway asked him to play for the University team. Then he represented Vizag/AP in the Rivers cup and caught the eye of Mohammedan Sporting and the rest, as they say is history. He was destined to play football and give pleasure to millions of Indians.

        I am sorry, Nandan, but the link is not working. Anyway, I don’t think I can chase crabs and hold them even though they are so harmless; their pincers look so frightening :-)

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