WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS: ANJUMAN DEODHAR
Its proximity to Tirupati hasn’t done Chittoor any favours. If you ask cab operators why people come to Chittoor, they tend to look nonplussed. Tourists don’t come to Chittoor, they’ll say. Everyone goes to Tirumala. And that is exactly why you should go to Chittoor. Peppered with huge igneous rocks that look like playthings giants left behind, it’s a quiet, tranquil world. The temples, too, are what temples should be: serene, welcoming, surrounded by an air of calm. The Mogileswara Shiva Temple, for example, gets crowded only on festival days, and the Rama Temple at Venkatagiri seems almost forgotten. The crepe jasmine tree in the courtyard blooms throughout the year, and the entire setting encourages you to spend some time here, with just yourself for company.
The Shiva Temple at Kalavagunta, which dates back to the 7th century, is quite similar. Situated at the end of a little back street in a sleepy village, its inner sanctum is a dimly-lit, peaceful place. Venture in, and the priest in attendance will say an elaborate prayer for you and your loved ones, all without expecting anything in return. The distinct departure from the snaking queues and mandatory donations at Tirumala is very evident and very desirable.
But it’s not just about the countryside and quaint temples here. There are also a couple of forts that are well worth a visit. Gurramkonda, believed to be built in 1714 AD, overlooks an eponymous village. Although the extensive fortifications have fallen prey to the elements, some of the battlements still stand, framing the village and the hill behind it quite beautifully. Compared to the rest of the fort, the Rangini Mahal at the base of the hill is well preserved. The Laxmi Narasimha Swamy Temple, too, is in a good state and there is a paved path leading right to it, unlike the broken and, at times, non-existent steps that you have to traverse on an hour-long hike to the top of the fort.
Chandrigiri Fort traces its history back much further; it is said to have been built in 1000 AD during the times of Immadi Narasimha Yadava Rayalu. The road passes through well-restored lower fortifications and accords this place a mysterious other-worldly charm. The upper fort hasn’t seen the same amount of upkeep, and, save for the hangman’s gallows, a few dilapidated bastions are all that remain. The two palaces on the premises, the Raja Mahal and the Rani Mahal, though, were built much later during the times of the Vijayanagara kings of the 16th and 17th century. The Raja Mahal also has an archaeology museum, housing artefacts from all over the state, including some bronze figurines unearthed during recent excavations around the fort. The Rajarajeshwari Temple, just across the road, was one of the places where these excavations took place, and is a photographer’s delight, especially under the early morning sun.
So, if you’re in the neighbourhood, choose Chittoor over the popular Tirupati and spend a leisurely two days tracing the historical relics of the region, or better still, make plans to go just there.