I had been to Visakhapatnam about 20 years back for an audit assignment for just three days and frankly, I do not have many memories of the place except for a walk on the beach and the scooter ride on the road which runs parallel to the beach. Recently, I had to travel to Hyderabad and a thought came of taking a trip to Vishakhapatnam while on the way back to Delhi. I started googling even though I knew that I will not be able to take this detour while returning. This search however gave me some surprising results. Till then, I was not aware of any connection that Visakhapatnam may be having with Buddhist history but the search led me to the vast treasure of sites around the city which go back to Buddhist empire era.
While I was waiting at the airport and during the journey, I spent most of my time unraveling these monuments. Even though the city was not on my immediate bucket list but now after knowing about such a rich past, it indeed is amongst top-10 in my list.
The coastal city of Visakhapatnam, or Vizag as it is also called, is one of the oldest cities in the Indian subcontinent, having a history going back to 6th Century BC. The city has a rich past which connects dots with the Kalinga Kingdom, Buddhist Empire, Andhra Kings of Vengi, Chalukyas, Pallavas and the Eastern Ganga dynasties in the initial period. The current city was established in 11th century after which it had been part of Chola Dynasty, Gajapati Kingdom, and Vijayanagar Empire, before being controlled by Mughal Empire, French and subsequently moving into the hands of the British Empire till the time of Indian independence.
The present city is home to an oldest shipyard as well as it is one of the natural harbours in India. It is also home of many natural beaches and some of the stunningly beautiful landscapes alongside the eastern coast apart from tourist destinations like Kailasagiri, Borra Caves, Simhachalam Temple, Yarada Beach, Dolphin’s Nose, Rishikonda Beach, Bhimunipatnam (Bheemli) and few more.
The city occupies an important place in the Buddhist history. Buddhist Empire existed at this place around the Kalinga era. King Ashoka fought one of his most famous but bloodiest battles to defeat the Kalinga kings, after which he embraced Buddhism and became one of the biggest proponents of the religion across the world. The four places around Visakhapatnam i.e. Bavikonda, Thotlakonda, Pavurallakonda and Sankaram have many relics including monolithic stupas, rock-cut caves, relic caskets, pottery, coins and numerous other artefacts, that root back to the Buddhist era.
The following four places have tell-tale signs of Buddhist connection apart from few more around the area -
Is located about 15 km from Visakhapatnam. In Telugu, it means a hill of wells and one can find many wells on top of the hill created by cutting the rocks to collect rainwater. It is an important Buddhist heritage site, located on a hill but spread across a vast area. Preserving an urn that stores a piece of bone that is believed to belong to the mortal remains of the Buddha, Bavikonda is considered to be the most significant amongst all Buddhist sites that exist as at today.
Is situated 16 kms from Visakhapatnam on top of a hill. The site is considered culturally important and was actually accidentally discovered during an aerial survey of the government. Apart from other structures, a huge amount of Buddhist treasures have been excavated from here which include Roman silver coins, terracotta tiles, decorative pieces made of plaster, sculptured panels, miniature stupas, etc.
Is a place about 24 km from Visakhapatnam. This was inhabited by a Buddhist settlement and is estimated to date back to a period around first century BC. There are 16 rock-cut cisterns for collecting rainwater on the hillock (which overlooks the coastline). Gopalapatnam is a village surrounded by brick stupas, viharas, pottery and other Buddhist artefacts.
Is one of the most graceful yet powerful Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh and is located 40 km from Visakhapatnam. The complex is known for its monolithic stupas, rock-cut caves, and brick structures. The primary stupa has been initially carved out of rock and covered with bricks. With many rock-cut monolithic stupas spread across the hill, pottery and coins belonging to Kalinga era have also been found during excavations around the city.
If someone is looking forward to explore Buddhist history, then Vizag shall be on the top of the list.
Vizag is connected by many airlines with direct flights to various cities in India as well as outside. International cities include Kuala-Lumpur, Dubai, Singapore and Colombo whereas Indian cities include Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Port Blair and Chennai. This apart, Vizag is connected by many trains with various cities across the country
Staying at Visakhapatnam
Vizag has the presence of many international hotel chains like Sheraton, Accor Hotels, Welcome group, Ginger, Fortune Inn, Clarks Inn, Best Western, Keys and many more.