The scenic Godavari as it flows through Papi Hills is nature in all its glory. The proposed Polavaram Project, however, poses a threat to their very existence, reports
Though the mighty Godavari is an integral part of Telugu culture and literature, the lush green Papikondalu (literally Papi Hills), the hill range along the river located on the border of Khammam and East Godavari districts, was not a popular tourist destination. A recent Telugu film Godavari kindled interest among nature lovers in this picturesque location by showcasing the beauty of the river as it flows serenely in the lap of the majestic hills. My own interest was stirred when news reports said that the scenic hills would soon be swallowed by the proposed Polavaram Project, and would be lost forever to the future generations. Polavaram, now named Indira Sagar, is a major project on the Godavari River named after the closest town in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
The central part of the Polavaram project, estimated to cost Rs 20,000 crore, is the barrage to be constructed straight across the Godavari River some 15 km north of Rajahmundry. The barrage will be constructed at a level of 150 feet (47 metres) and raise the water along the river stretch upstream in Godavari and several of its tributaries.
The project is being opposed by environmentalists who maintain that it brings misery to more than 1.5 lakh people, by submerging and displacing 276 villages, predominantly tribal villages in an area of about one lakh acres including forest land. The project, as already mentioned, is also supposed to submerge the Papikondalu and along with it the flora and fauna of the area. It is in this backdrop that the World Wide Fund (WWF)-organised nature camp at Papikondalu has suddenly become popular.
Our own two-day tour started on the eve of Sankranti, and interestingly, the members on the camp included an 11-year girl who came all alone. After an overnight journey from Hyderabad, we refreshed at Bhadrachalam, the temple town on the banks of Godavari. After another 75 km ride through the countryside, we reached Pochavaram, where motorized boats in all shapes and sizes are available to make the adventurous trip into the river waters as they wind through the Papi Hills.
As the boat whirrs on to the waters, one can enjoy the panoramic view of the Godavari valley as the river appears narrowing and the hills emerge. The cloud-laced hill range is breath-taking as the boat negotiates through the serpentine and often treacherous-looking turns the river takes nestled among the hills.
As we cruise along the river, many tiny hamlets, home to Kondareddy and other tribals, appear to be the only signs of outside civilisation. The hour-long ride to the island village of Kolluru is an out of the world experience.
The sandy beach of Kolluru is another picture post card location. An enterprising local, Satyanarayana, a non-tribal living in this village of 200 people, set up tents and cottages on the sandy dunes for those who like to stay overnight and explore the jungle inside. After a sumptuous lunch prepared by his family and a small siesta, we were ready for another boat trip towards Pattiseema near Rajahmundry. The evening cruise is all the more enjoyable as tourists sit on the top of the boat and experience the majesty of the hills.
The boat takes us to small village called Parentalapalli, where the local temple is an attraction. On return, dinner was ready with local delicacies including fish curry. A camp fire on the beach is where people relax before they can retire to the cottages. Early the next day, one is ready for a trek to the steep hills, where one can sight peacocks, wild goats, rabbits and all kinds of birds.
Visitors have fun playing games like volleyball, shuttle badminton, kabaddi, carom and chess. At Kolluru a tributary Pamuleru joins Godavari, and a bath in these clear waters after a trek on the hills feels like heaven. Though there is no power and no communication facilities, tourists can rest assured of food, snacks and bedding, thanks to enterprising locals. The only connection with the outside world is through the boats, which are available all through the day.
Due to increasing interest in the place, the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department is now organising trips to Papi Hills from Vijayawada, Rajahmundry and Visakhapatnam. Tourists are taken in a double-decker boat through the Godavari on a day-long trip, where meals and snacks are served on the boat itself. The charges are reasonable and vary between Rs 1000 and Rs 2000 per head. The winter season between October and February is the best time for the trip into Papi Hills.
Due to an increased tourist interest, day-long trips to Papi hills are being organised by the state Tourist Department