Papi Hills cruise: sailing down Godavari river

Papi Hills cruise: sailing down Godavari river

The picture-perfect Papi Hills Cruise follows the Godavari River through the Eastern Ghats and into the Bay of Bengal

Renuka Kelkar
February 03 , 2015
09 Min Read

Godavari. How does one capture in a visual or describe in prose the gentle balmy breeze that ruffles your hair and caresses your cheek, as you recline on a sand dune on the shores of the Godavari? On sand that is not grainy and rough like on the seashore but like the silky cotton of a soft quilt.

Fishing in the tranquil waters against the backdrop of the Papi hills
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

Godavari Amma defies description and denies vicarious pleasure through a virtual tour. The only way to experience her mystery, abundant generosity and immensity is through your own personal journey. A mystery that she reveals in the many-layered splendour of a 1,345-kilometre journey, bursting forth with an abundant generosity as the soil nourished in the flow of her sweet water is transformed into a rich golden red hue. She revels in her immensity as she spreads her arms out, like a lotus blossom unfolding its petals to the sun in open abandon, swiftly gliding past the East and West Godavari districts and in its widest avatar spanning over five kilometres.

The second largest river in India, second only to the Ganga in vastness and sanctity, the Godavari is nevertheless much more mystic in her source of origin and her course of journey. Sometimes she is frugal, at other times frighteningly large; in some places she flows in plain sight, at others in secrecy underground; sometimes she is serene, at other times in furious spate. From the hills of the Western Ghats through the plains of the Deccan plateau, again entering the stretch of hills of the Eastern Ghats, it meanders in graceful twists and turns, between the Papi hills, from whence she flows past Rajahmundry at her sweeping widest and bifurcates into the Gautami and Vasistha rivers — almost apologetic for her copious spread.

If you wish to experience her beauty, serenity, grace and abundance, glide down with her in a ballet through the Papi hills, which stretch all the way from Bhadrachalam to Polavaram.

Twilight sets over the Papi hills
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

I got into the launch as the boats are called at an exceptionally scenic spot at Shingannapalli, having missed the boat at Polavaram where the cruise starts. Sprawled on the sand on a high sandy hillock, waiting for the boat to arrive, I experienced a feeling of utter peace and tranquillity. Two rowboats bobbed gently in the still waters below, surrounded by hills lush with greenery, and the thwack-thwack of women washing clothes on flat stones played a tune I had long forgotten in the dreary existence of too many years spent living in a city.

Once I was on the boat, it cruised through the breathtakingly beautiful Papi hills, with golden sandy beaches and the hills carpeted with rainforests, bountiful with nature’s treasures: wildlife, villages reachable only by boat, sandy shores on the islands where the fishermen pitch their shanties and cook on firewood. Take a break, spend a night at one of the many hilly islands, pitch a tent, go trekking in the forests, visit the tribal villages, eat smoked chicken stuffed into a bamboo and cooked over firewood. Leave your footprints in the soft sand and look up at a star-studded sky that seems to drip diamonds unencumbered by the glow of electric lights. For there is no electricity in these hills and the only habitation is of the tribal villages dotted here and there. There is a sense of undisturbed repose and harmony when you choose to spend a night or two or three in the lap of the Maredumilli forests or in a bamboo hut on one of the night halt islands.

An idyllic setting to spend the night
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

The cruise is along a 65-kilometre stretch, one-way, till the gorge of the three Papi hills forms a seemingly dead-end wall. Then you get up close and see the narrow strip of the river through the hills that allows you to change boats and sail onwards till Bhadrachalam. Or you could choose to sail back to be dropped off at a night-stay resort, or travel back to the origin of the cruise.

A perfect, picture-postcard moment
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

I chose to explore the Godavari’s onward journey past Rajahmundry, gleamy-eyed, mouth wide open, muttering words of amazement at the verdant greenery of Konaseema. With three crops a year, canals of water along any route you choose to travel, the unabashed fertility of the soil bursts forth with paddy fields, coconut plantations, mango trees and cashew groves. Wide stretches of the two branches that the Godavari bifurcates into play host to an amazing variety of fish, prawns and crabs. The vegetables that grow in the Konaseema delta are legendary for their taste. So if you are a card-carrying, diehard foodie like me, head to Konaseema and prepare to tickle your tastebuds, and grow a couple of inches around the waist.

Paddy and coconut trees thrive in the fertile soils of the delta
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

Driving past Rajahmundry on the highway I passed by Kadiyapu Lanka with its myriad nurseries that have been supplying plants of every kind to nurseries across the country for over 60 years. As also loose flowers in their brilliant hues and elaborately strung garlands and decorations of intricately woven blossoms to adorn the long plaits of South Indian brides. It is a renowned centre for horticulture and floriculture and holds a brilliant flower show every year in January.

Weighing flowers the old-fashioned way in the Kadiyapu Lanka flower market
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

The name Konaseema is descriptive of the triangular shape of the region (kona meaning corner in Telugu), and encompasses the villages of Ravulapalem, Razole, Gannavaram and many more. There are resorts that have developed only recently on the riverbanks with spectacular views of the blue waters and green fields. With the option to sail in small boats along long expanses of the Gautami and Vasistha, delicious food and tranquil, laidback villages to visit, it is an undiscovered paradise for a nature lover and foodie.

As I drove past tiny villages, watching the paddy being harvested, coconuts by the thousands being shorn of their fibre by hand, cycles, motorcycles, bullock carts, tractors and vehicles of all manner overflowing, carrying nature’s bounty to wholesale markets, I felt blessed just to have had the chance to witness this panorama of colours and textures.

A typical Konaseema house
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

As I travelled further down from Konaseema and took a route towards the coast, Antarvedi offered backwaters to cruise through, fringed by mangrove forests, where the Godavari in its Vasistha tributary form finally merges into the Bay of Bengal in a clearly visible union point, called the “anna/chellula sangamam” and which can be reached by boat. It is fascinating to watch the relatively calm waters of the Vasistha as it merges with the frothy waves of the Bay of Bengal.

The cruiseboat
Photo credit: Renuka Kelkar

And it was already time to come back. I had barely scratched the surface of the undiscovered beauty of the shores of the Godavari. The wildlife sanctuaries, the backwaters cruises, the simplicity of the villages, the historic spots, archaeological evidence of Pali inscriptions, architectural wonders of hundred-year old barrages, the bridges and the rivulets… I could go on. My favourite line of all time is, “There are no coincidences in life. Only serendipity in action.” Oh, I forgot to mention, a long time ago, I was born on the banks of this great river, in Rajahmundry, and I visited every summer till childhood slipped into adolescence and left me with the cherished memories of idyllic holidays.

The information

Getting there: Rajahmundry is connected by air to Hyderabad and is also a major train station. Direct train routes are from Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, with connections available from Vijayawada, which is a major rail junction. The Dakshin Express connects New Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin station to Rajahmundry (Rs 1,922/3A).

The river:  The Godavari starts its 1,465km journey in Maharashtra in the Brahmagiri mountain near Trimbakeshwar, close to Nashik. It passes through Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. It flows first eastwards across the Deccan plateau, then turns southeast, entering the West Godavari district, the Eastern Ghats and then the East Godavari district, until it splits into two water courses that widen into a large river delta, before merging with the Bay of Bengal.

The cruise: The Papi Kondalu/Papi Hills cruise begins in Polavaram, which is 40km from Rajahmundry.

Polavaram can be reached by road from Rajahmundry. There is a boat owners’ association that runs about twelve boats between them. These range from larger ones with a capacity to carry 150 passengers to smaller ones carrying up to ten. All of them have websites listing their packages and tariffs. Some websites to look at: punnami tourism.com, papikondalu.org.in (Pinnami Tours and Travels), papikondalutours.com (Sai Krishna Godavari Boat Tours and Travels), aptourismrajahmundry.com.

Where to stay:

KONASEEMA: Set in a large coconut plantation, the Palavelli Boutique Resort offers a range of accommodation, from rooms to artily designed thatched cottages to sprawling villas (from Rs 2,500; palavelliresorts.com). If you so fancy, you can also stay overnight in a houseboat at Dindi Village, Konaseema Islands, 85km south of Rajahmundry (Rs 6,500; konaseematourism.com). Day trips also on offer. For boating needs in Antarvedi, 30km from Konaseema, contact Ponnala Vijaya Venkata Narasimharaju (09949411191, antarvedivijay@gmail.com).


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