The Pennar River flows languidly in this sun-kissed stretch.

You see, her waters are dammed both upstream and downstream. The soaring cliffs of the gorge that she created now cradle her lovingly as she meanders at a sedate pace through the Eramala Hills. Waterbirds flap low over her surface, skimming for fish, and high above, raptors soar on air thermals, frightening off the blue rock pigeons that roost on the cliffs.

The Grand Canyon of India – the Penna River Gorge at Gandikota

High above her waters sits Gandikota Fort, first built in 1123 B.C by Kapa Raja of nearby Bommanapalle, a subordinate of Ahavamalla Someshwara I, the Western Chalukyan king of Kalyana. Later, the small village within the fort expanded under the rule of the Kamma kings.

Gandikota received its name from the Telugu word “gandi,” meaning “gorge.” And indeed, the gorge makes an imposing barricade for invaders of Gandikota. The walls of the fort begin low, just above the Penna’s waters, and rise in tiers until they surround the main buildings of the fort 300 metres above the river. On the opposite bank of the river is dry deciduous and scrub forest. On the near side, Gandikota’s rocky cliff is interspersed by lush forests and greenery. While the surroundings may be dry, the fort has been blessed by moist vegetation. Many species of birds make their home here.

The fort is a tribute to the diverse history of the region. Within its walls are two temples – Ranganathaswamy and Madhava. Beside the Ranganathaswamy temple is an enormous granary (home to many greater mouse-tailed bats), a Jamia Masjid, and a jail. Additional buildings include an ancient palace, watchtowers, and another granary. A graceful pigeon tower and various rock archways welcome visitors to the fort.

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The Pennar rises in the Nandi Hills of Karnataka and runs north and east through Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. She empties into the Bay of Bengal at Nellore, in Andhra Pradesh. This “grand river” (“Penu” means “grand” and “yeru” is derived from “neeru” meaning “water”) is dammed both upstream and downstream of Gandikota. Upstream lies Gandikota Dam, completed in 2013 and measuring a mere 325 m in length compared to its longer cousin downstream. Mylavaram Dam was completed in 1983 and measures 2850 m in length. Both dams are excellent spots for birding, and we spent a quiet morning walking on the Mylavaram Dam and spotting a myriad of winged beauties!

Sitting on the rocks above the languid Pennar, I was content to silently reflect upon the wonders of both nature and man. Nature so effortlessly carved the gorge and its cliffs upon which man then built the walls of this grand fortress. Together, they breathed magic into Gandikota, and it is this magic, this coupling of nature’s power and human innovation that brings tourists back time and time again.

The Pennar River Gorge is known as the Grand Canyon of India, for good reason. While tourism has disrupted the peace and quiet of this landscape, I would still recommend this as a destination for those seeking out a respite from pollution and traffic. The rustic villages and emerald fields surrounding Gandikota will make you want to lose yourself in history – both natural and human.


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