A seaside town bordered by ancient historical sites, Vizag and its surrounding areas offer varied tourist attractions and are an ideal getaway for an extended weekend.
While the beaches of Vizag are the perfect unwind destination, located 15km from Vizag are the old Buddhist sites of Thotlakonda and Bavikonda on the Vizag-Bhimli highway.
An aerial survey of Vizag port by the Indian navy in the 1970s showed strange structures located atop a hill called Thotlakonda, overlooking the Bay of Bengal. Local people say the hill is shaped like an eagles head (thotla means eagle and konda is hill in Telugu).
An excavation by the archeological department revealed breathtaking structures like stupas, chaityagrihas, pillared congregation halls, viharas with cells, bhandagaras (storerooms), a bhojanshala (refectory), parts of a drainage system, stone pathways and huge water reservoirs. The nearby hill of Bavikonda revealed similar structures.
We took the Coromandel Express from Calcutta and reached Vizag at the crack of dawn. After a hearty breakfast, we hired a car and set off for Thotlakonda and Bavikonda.
Leaving the city behind, we sped along, accompanied by the sea and hills. A short halt at the famous beaches of Rishikonda, 8km from Vizag, refreshed us for the journey to Thotlakonda.
A newly built gate in the ancient Buddhist style welcomed us to Thotlakonda. A winding road past a Buddha statue took us to the hilltop housing the ancient ruins.
Spread over 120 acres, the complex contains remains of an ancient Buddhist monastery and an advance centre of learning. This Hinayana school of Buddhism of the Kalinga empire flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD.
The strategic location on a hilltop gave the site a natural protection against invaders. The presence of the sea, with a natural harbour, allowed access to students and scholars from far-off lands via the ancient maritime routes. Today, the ruins lie scattered on the hill, overlooking the crescent coastline stretching all the way to Bhimli.
From Thotlakonda, we headed for Bavikonda (bavi means reservoir). Bavikonda is among the oldest and most sacred Buddhist sites in Asia.
We marvelled at the huge circular tanks there, which experts say were not only used for storing water but also for dyeing the robes of monks.
An important attraction in Bavikonda is a relic casket at Mahachitya, which contained a huge quantity of ash, charcoal and bone supposedly the remains of Gautama Buddha.
Archaeological evidence confirms that Bavikonda was once a leading learning centre of Hinayana Buddhism, which flourished between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD. The ruins, spread over 40 acres on a hilltop, offer a spectacular view of the surroundings.
Many trains connect Calcutta and Vizag. There are flights too. Hire a car from Vizag for Thotlakonda and Bavikonda. The charge is around Rs 500 for the Thotlakonda-Bavikonda and Rishikonda beach trip. Guides charge Rs 100 for a tour of Thotlakonda. Travel agents and drivers are not much aware of Bavikonda but the guides can help.
Hotels and lodges to suit all budgets are available in Vizag.