At the Cochi airport, our boarding passes had an Andhra Pradesh tourism ad on the backside—a train passing through a verdant valley accompanied by the slogan, “Let’s Vizag.” I had been to Vizag, a coastal city on the Bay of Bengal, over a decade prior and was already interested in revisiting to see my cousins. The ad felt like a sign that I should go: the very next day, I booked my tickets to Vishakapatnam. Because Vizag is halfway between Hyderabad and Kolkata, I was able to visit as I made my way back home to Santiniketan after a month-long summer break. Tata, who hadn’t been to the city since the mid-1950s, accompanied me on the trip; we took an overnight train from Hyderabad and arrived before schedule at the train station—a rare and near-miraculous occurrence.
My cousin Vinay picked us up at the station and drove us back to his home. During the five-minute car ride, I was struck by how clean and well-maintained Vizag was, almost rivaling the standards set by Chandigarh or Gangtok. After freshening up and having tiffin, we visited Simhachalam, a famous Narasimha Swami temple located in the Eastern Ghats, the mountain range that provides Vizag with a dramatic and lush backdrop. The temple dates back to the 9th century and has been heavily patronized by different dynasties. The idol itself is not visible: because Narasimha Swami is known for having a rash temper, the deity is covered in sandalwood paste to keep him cool and calm.
After a leisurely lunch of catching up with relatives, Vinay, Samhita, Dedeepyaa, Tata, and I headed out on a speed tour of Vizag. The city has a lot of offer and we tried to make the most of the afternoon, visiting Kailashgiri, a beautiful park with stunning views of the ocean, Andhra University, one of the oldest colleges in the country, Central Park, Vizag’s natural harbor, and several other scenic viewpoints. We also included stops for street food—ice cold gola and tikki chola chaat.
The entirety of the next day was spent at Araku Valley, a hill station about 100 kilometers from Vizag. Araku Valley is accessible by both rail and car so we decided to take a tour through AP Tourism that combined both transit options—in the early morning, we boarded a train and winded through tunnels in the Eastern Ghats till about noon, when we disembarked and boarded a bus for sightseeing and the journey back. The mountains and valleys were beautiful but the best part was the company—Dedeepyaa, Samhita, and I talked all day and really got to know each other better. Growing up abroad can be culturally isolating and one of my favorite parts of living in India this year has been the opportunity to become closer to my cousins.
Araku is home to a number of tribes and we had the opportunity to visit the Tribal Museum as well as see some tribal dance performances. I found the museum essentializing and was disappointed in how our tour guide handled talking about tribes in the area as well. He managed to disguise his opinion as facts and presented us with statements like “80% of families here are women-led households because the husbands are all alcoholics.” India’s tribal peoples have a similar plight to the Native Americans back home—few opportunities, minimal community infrastructure—many have also lost their homes to multinational companies. If anything, they deserve our attention and support, not callous judgment.
On our bus back, we had several stops, the most notable being Borra Caves, one of the largest caves in India. I have been to multiple caves in the US before, but this was the first time I’ve seen cave temples that are in use. After visiting the caves, we had a long journey back to Vizag and reached the city right around 9 PM.
The next day, I flew out in the early afternoon, which meant that we had just enough time to check out Thotlakonda, an ancient 2,000-year old Buddhist monastery complex that now lies in ruins. I love visiting stupas in general and this one also provided a particularly beautiful view. I made it to the airport right in time—the final boarding call was announced as I made my way to the gate.
On the brief flight back to Kolkata, I realized that Vizag was one of the most livable cities that I’ve visited in India—over the past 10 months, I’ve visited over 30 cities in all parts of the country, from Punjab to Tamil Nadu. I have been trying to identify what factors make a city a great place to live—the most important ones being an good air quality, less traffic, walkability and transit options, reasonable real estate, options for entertainment, an easily accessible airport, and greenery. Vizag fits all my criteria and even has a good “cultural fit”—with my Telugu, I felt right at home.