So what can be so different about a place which was a part of the state just two years ago? Turns out pretty much! Kurnool is exactly 216 km from the city on the Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway in the picturesque NH 7, but when you stop by for breakfast at Kurnool town and you are asked if you would like to be served the local specialty called ‘Uggani Bhajji,’ any Hyderabadi would be stumped about something he has never heard of. Well, that’s Oravakal for you – unraveling each little mystery in its own low-key way. By the way, their signature breakfast is a light and fluffy one made by wetting puffed rice and spicing it up with fried onions. And it comes with a deseeded green chilly dipped in batter and deep fried in oil to give it some spice and crunch. Price Rs.20.
The landscape: As the arid Telangana gives way to the rocky, yet fertile Rayalaseema, the road outside your car looks at least three shades greener than in Hyderabad. And the weather is at least a couple of degrees hotter, although the breeze seems to make up for it. The first sight of tender jowar and sunflower fields is officially your first selfie spot. A few minutes after you cross Kurnool is when the first of the rocks say hello to you. Before you can decide whether it looks like a camel or an old war horse, the other rocks take over, leaving you in eternal state of questioning what it resembles, how it formed and if there’s a mystery behind the rocks.
The rock formations: For the locals, it doesn’t really matter if Oravakal is blessed with fully weathered rocks rich in silica and quartz, a raw material that is a blessing for the glass industry, but the fact that movie directors continue to spin their movie magic around these rocks is what fascinates them. Local guide Param reeled off the names of the movies and the scenes where the rocks formed a prominent backdrop. Perhaps that’s the reason award-winning director took his 1,200 plus crew to shoot his Magnum Opus Baahubali in this very district. Most well-travelled tourists will tell you this 1,000-acre rock garden is nothing short of the Great Canyon. The Andhra Pradesh Tourism has planned its resort named after the rock garden in such a way that the mighty rocks envelope the resort and each of the 22 cottages have a grand view of the rocks. The bougainvilleas in various colours add a unique touch to the stony look of the fortress-like resort. The best way to enjoy the place is to check in late morning, drive down 5 km for the Ketavaram cave paintings, drive back for lunch and walk through the resort to admire the hundreds of rocks formations there after tea break and before sunset. Every rock has a story to tell. If one looks like a forlorn, jilted lover, another resembles a sinister ghost. Let your imagination go wild.
The cuisine: Ragi Sankati with Natu Kodi Pulusu (Rs.125) is the district’s specialty. The Sankati is a soft ball of ragi flour cooked in hot water, salt and cooked rice to make it as a mound that one should dip in the chicken gravy while relishing the chicken separately (Rs.100 for both). Peanuts grow in abundance here and Palli Chutney is a zingy preparation one must not miss. Before you brand them as spice specialists, you get to see the Khova Bun (Rs.10), where the boring and bland bun gets a few shades sweeter with a slather of sweet khova (thickened milk) smeared in between. “If you ever find Khova Bun in your city, it’s a venture of our men in your city,” resort manager Madhumohan Reddy assures.
Stay and do: The rock garden resort is open to the general public for a nominal entry fee of `10 and hence don’t be surprised if you come to the mushroom-shaped open air restaurant for your lunch and find a family celebrating a cradle ceremony right amidst the rocks and plants. Monkeys abound freely and can turn out to be relentless photo bombers. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and provides room service. Although there is no pool or a gym, a walk around the rocks (on the jogging path) can be an exhausting workout. The best thing is the backlights that deck up the place every evening. In the night, if you can dare, take a walk along the rocky path and we bet you can hear their hoary history in detail. Oh yes, rocks can shock you. (AC cottages for Rs.1,400 a night. Details 9912326085 and aptdc.in)
Other spots: Belum Caves, the underground caves known for their stalactite and stalagmite formations, is 80 km from here and is a good stopover on your way back to Hyderabad. Oravakal itself is bang on the Hyderabad-Tirupati highway and an ideal stopover for a night. Take the Kurnool highway via Jadcherla.
— Manju Latha Kalanidhi