A pleasant 3-hour drive away from Hyderabad is the world’s largest masonry dam, Nagarjuna Sagar. The reservoir and its surrounding areas are a preferred destination for a weekend getaway from the city.

The marvellous Krishna river – upon which the dam is built – is seen in one of its most beautiful forms here. It’s hard to tell where the Krishna river ends and the vast sky begins for they seamlessly merge into each other.

The reservoir of Nagarjuna Sagar provides water for irrigation to Nalgonda and Khammam districts in Telangana and Prakasam, Guntur, Krishna and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh. A boat ride away from Nagarjuna Sagar is Nagarjunakonda, a relocated ancient Buddhist site. The are several other Buddhist structures and temples around the dam. The Amrabad Tiger Reserve, a part of the Nagarjuna-Srisailam Reserve, is also located nearby.

Orientation

The route from Hyderabad to Nagarjuna Sagar doesn’t have too many facilities or places to stop over for a meal. Be prepared for eating at small joints and the lack of proper restrooms during the journey. About 5km before the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam, there are several sites of interest that one can visit. The first stop is the Amradbad Tiger Reserve, located on a hilly terrain. There is a Crocodile Zone on your right side, on the banks of the Krishna. This area is where you will first see the river. Further ahead, on your right, there is the Buddhavanam Project, an initiative of the tourism department.

Just before the main dam, a road on the left takes you to the small village of Yelkani. The main road continues to TSGENCO building, which is a good vantage point for the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam. Yelkani is located on on a hill and the road that leads to the village offers gorgeous views of the Krishna.

Things to See & Do

Nagarjuna Sagar has someting to offer to all kinds of tourists. Most people make a day trip from Hyderbad, but if you want to thoroughly explore the area, you could stay here for a day or two.

Nagarjuna Sagar Dam

The Nagarjuna Sagar Dam forms the central part of this area – a hollow around which the surrounding attractions are scattered. For this reason, although the main entrance to the dam is not open, one can get a clear view of the structure from anywhere around it. Due to the size of the dam, its construction took 11 years. Completed in 1967, the reservoir here has a storage capacity of 11,472,000,000 cubic meters. This multipurpose dam, which is used for hydro-electricity generation and irrigation, is 150m high from its deepest point and has 26 floodgates. However, don’t expect the floodgates to be open whenever you get there; the gates are opened only on occasion or when required.

The road around the dam has a Mutyalamma Kalika Devi temple, Yelliswara Swamy temple and a Katyayani Devi temple.

Bridge Across River Krishna

The bridge, which comes after a brief ghat section on the road adjacent to the dam, separates Nalgonda District of Telangana and Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh, enabling you to be at two places at once. This bridge also provides a spectacular view of the Nagarjuna Sagar reservoir built upon the Krishna river.

Nagarjunakonda

You stand on the deck of a speeding boat, shielding your eyes against the sun, eager for that first glimpse of another place, another era. And Nagarjunakonda doesn’t disappoint. It offers a journey to an ancient civilisation replete with monasteries, Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas.

The rare sight of open floodgates at Nagarjuna Sagar Dam
The rare sight of open floodgates at Nagarjuna Sagar Dam

This was Buddha country whose heart lay in nearby Amravathi (in Andhra Pradesh). It was unearthed by a school teacher who stumbled across it in 1926. The archaeologist’s spade soon laid bare the world of Asvamedha ceremonies, mighty rulers and dice games by the river.

The story goes that most of Nagarjunakonda, then Vijayapuri, was built in the 100 years that the Ikshvaku dynasty ruled the Krishna basin. Vijayapuri then was hemmed in from three sides by the Nallamala Range; the valley opened onto the Krishna River, then navigable right up to the sea. It was from here that Ikshvaku fame, and with it Buddhism, spread to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Indonesian archipelago, Thailand and China. It is commonly thought to be the site of the great Iron Stupa of legend and very important for transmission of Buddhist Tantric Teachings. The original Potala or Potaloka, the mountainous abode of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara, was supposed to be here.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Bahmani, Vijayanagara and Gajapati chiefs of Orissa tried to rule over the region. Eventually it was retained by the Golconda rulers who gifted it in charity to the Pushpagiri Math, some time in the late 16th century.

Under the math, Nagarjunakonda was a secluded valley with a small hamlet called Pullareddigudem, when the ancient structures were discovered here. In 1954, the area, its population and structures came under threat while the Nagarjunasagar Dam was being built. As people were forced to seek new homes, a large-scale ‘dig and remove’ operation was launched. Innumerable relics, from early Stone Age to the late medieval period, were unearthed and removed to the hill of Nagarjuna, which became an island in the newly created lake.

The island has some original remains (unmarked), a few relocated monuments from the flooded valley, an amphitheatre and a museum containing sculptures and inscriptions ranging from 200 millennia to 200 years in age. To reach the island, head for the launch station on the right bank of the lake, from where TSTDC provides motorised boat services to the island. It takes 45 minutes to get to the island and an hour to explore the museum. TSTDC also provides boating and cruising facilities in the area.

As you approach the island, you can see the ruins of a wall embracing the entire hill. The fort wall of Nagarjunakonda is 6 metres high, with bastions at regular intervals and six gateways.

Dilip Banerjee
A broad expanse of the Krishna river
A broad expanse of the Krishna river

The oldest reconstructed monument here are the megaliths, dating to 2 BCE, now a dug-up pit encircled by stones. The stone megaliths mark burial pits. The 21 megaliths found in Nagarjunakonda yielded 19 skeletons and some bones.

The Maha Chaitya is the earliest monument at the site with a dated inscription. It came up before the advent of the Ikshvaku dynasty, but was re-embellished by an Ikshvaku king in 2 CE, with financial aid from his subjects. Interestingly, 90 per cent of the donors were women. The Maha Chaitya, it is said, houses the corporeal remains of the Buddha. The relic, a bone fragment, was discovered in a golden reliquary, placed amidst flowers of gold in a small silver stupa. It was enclosed in pottery and adorned with pearls, garnets and crystals.

A replica of a larger-than-life Buddha image stands at Nagarjunakonda; the original is in the museum. Look for the Swastika Chaitya, with bricks arranged in the shape of a swastika. The Buddha’s presence is all-pervading at this site. Chiselled in green limestone are scenes that show the compassion and agony of Siddhartha, his enlightenment and sermons. Every feature and grimace has been captured so well that many call this the atelier of Indian art.

The palaces of the Ikshvakus were never found, though some remains of a citadel, barracks, stables and cisterns were recovered. Two of these structures have been reconstructed. The first is a plastered brick tank, and the other is a tortoise-shaped tank found 30ft from here.

Lasya Nadimpally
A tree-lined path leading to the Sriparvatam Buddhavanam stupa
A tree-lined path leading to the Sriparvatam Buddhavanam stupa

A magnificent structure outside the citadel is the brick and limestone bathing ghat. Some of the slabs of the ghat have game boards etched on them and were used for dice games.

There are three 15th century temples here. The Nageshvaralinga Temple, near the museum, was built by a Gajapati chief. The temple near the ghat and the one near the Maha Chaitya were Jain temples converted to Vaishnavite shrines by Krishnadevaraya, an emperor of the Vijayanagara dynasty.

Cruise Timings Starting from 9.30am onwards, every hour; last one leaves at 1.30pm. The cruise takes about three hours – one hour each for the to and fro journey and one hour at the point Museum Fee Indians 10; foreigners 100 Closed Friday

Sriparvatam Buddhavanam

Telangana Tourism Department’s pet project, Sriparvatam Buddha-vanam, is located a little before the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam. It’s easily spotted and recognisable white stupa works as a signboard to reach this place. This newly constructed tourism park based on Buddhist architecture has a giant stupa in the centre. The walls of the complex have inscriptions from the Jataka tales. There are several gardens within the boundary wall of the complex. Buddhavanam also has the Vipasana Meditation Centre in its premises. Telangana Tourism’s Haritha Siddhartha hotel is adjacent to Buddhavanam.

Marsh crocodiles at Amradbad Tiger Reserve
Marsh crocodiles at Amradbad Tiger Reserve

Amradbad Tiger Reserve

With a diverse variety of flora and fauna and an intimidating yet interesting crocodile zone, Amradbad Tiger Reserve is a popular destination for nature enthusiasts. The tiger reserve is an administrative division of the Nagarjuna-Srisailam Reserve.

The wildlife here consists of tiger, leopard, wolf, wild dog, spotted deer, sambar and striped hynea. The area is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 200 species of birds such as the grey hornbill, brown fish owl, temminick’s stint and wood sand piper among others. This southern dry mixed deciduous forest has many rare species of medicinal plants such as Tectona grandis and Terminalia alata.

However, do not expect to spot much wildlife here, and certainly not tigers. Despite the rich biodiversity, sightings are quite rare. The main attraction of these forests is the atmosphere and the clean, crisp air.

There are a couple of cottages and guesthouses around Nagarjuna Sagar, if you wish to stay within the limits of the tiger reserve. The forest guesthouses are usually reserved for government officials, but you could try contacting the Divisional Forest Office (Tel: 08680-276877; Cell: 9440810062) to inquire regarding their availability.

Where to Stay & Eat

Telengana Tourism’s Vijay Vihar Complex (Tel: 08680-277362-63, Cell: 09705188336; Tariff: 1,400–3,700) near NATCO, has 28 rooms and seven suites. Located by the banks of the Krishna, it offers great views of the river and dam. The rooms are spacious and amenities include a swimming pool, gym and bar. Their restaurant serves vegetarian and non-vegetarian south Indian meals.

Lasya Nadimpally
Vijay Vihar Complex
Vijay Vihar Complex

There is also Greenland Project House (Tel: 276540; Tariff: 500–1,500) opposite the Bus Stand with 32 rooms and a restaurant that serves basic meals.

Hotel Siddhartha (Cell: 094906-43900/ 09640883535; Tariff: 2,000–3,000) in Budhavanam has six rooms and a restaurant. Internet services are also available. You could also try your luck at the TSGENCO Guest House (Tel: 276643), though it is mostly reserved for government officials on duty.

There are limited food options in Nagarjuna Sagar, so it’s best to have a meal in your hotel’s restaurant.

AROUND NAGARJUNA SAGAR

Mattepalli Laxmi Narasimha Swamy Temple (83km)

Atop a small hill on the Sagar Road is the Mattepalli Laxmi Narasimha Swamy Temple. This temple, like many other temples in Telangana, is dedicated to the lion god Narasimha, the fourth incarnation (dashavataras) of Lord Vishnu. The temple is one of the Pancha Narasimha Kshetras in the state and is said to have been built by a king named Thangeda. The main deities in this temple are Sri Yogananda Laxmi Narasimha Swamy, Sri Rajyalaxmi Thaayar and Sri Chenchu Laxmi Thaayar. The temple witnesses a high footfall during the festivals of Vaikunta Ekadasi in the month of January and Laxmi Narasimha Kalyana Mahotsavam in the month of May.

District Nalgonda

Location Southern tip of Telangana, close to Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh

Distance 150km SE of Hyderabad

Route From Hyderabad SH 19

FAST FACTS

When to go October to March is the most comfortable time for travel

Tourist Office

District Tourism Office

Telangana Tourism

Nagarjuna Sagar

Tel: 08680-277364/ 61

Fax: 276633

STD code 08680

 

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Hyderabad (146km/ 3hrs) is served by both domestic and international flights. State transport department taxi charges 1,800/ 80km, plus Rs. 15 per extra km for outstation hire

Rail Nearest railhead: Mriyalaguda railway station (60km/ 1hr) is served by trains from Delhi and Chennai. A few important trains passing through this station include Falaknuma Express, Sabari Express, Hyderabad Express, Narasapur-Hyderabad Express, Palnadu Express, Kacheguda Repalle Fast Passenger and Secunderabad Repalle Passenger, and many more. Both buses and taxis are available for the onward journey to Nagurjuna Sagar

Road It’s a smooth ride from Hyderabad via the LB Nagar Ring Road to Nagurjuna Sagar. Continue to Mallepalle (95km) via Sagar Complex, Gurramguda Reserve Forest, Sururnagar, Ibrahimpatan and Kululpalli. Carry on straight at the Mallepalle crossroad for Nagarjuna Sagar and, about 32km ahead you reach a V Junction at Peddavooru, from where you turn right for the district road to Nagarjuna Sagar, just 16km away

Bus Frequent TSRTC buses from Hyderabad are available for Nagarjuna Sagar