The Old City of Hyderabad is everything you might dream an Indian old city to be – narrow lanes thronged with markets, chai shops, wandering animals, autorickshaws, a whirl of noise, colour, languages and religions dotted with stately old architecture in varying states of repair.
The recently reduced state of Andhra Pradesh stretches 850km along the Bay of Bengal between Tamil Nadu and Odisha, and inland up into the picturesque Eastern Ghats. It's the proud standard-bearer of a long tradition of Telugu language and culture, and is one of India's wealthier states.
Visit Visakhapatnam – also called Vizag (vie-zag) – during the December-to-February holiday season and you’ll see domestic tourism in rare form: balloons, fairy floss (cotton candy) and, of course, weddings! This is where Andhra Pradesh comes to have fun by the sea, and the crowds only enhance the area’s kitschy atmosphere.
Centrally located in the new Andhra Pradesh, the commercial and industrial city of Vijayawada, on the north bank of the Krishna River, is to be Andhra's new capital. The state government has ambitious plans to construct a showpiece capital complex encompassing 17 existing villages on the south side of the river, at a cost of over 1 trillion rupees (US$16 billion).
A road trip of about 180km west from Vijayawada or 170km southeast from Hyderabad, followed by a 45-minute boat trip over Nagarjuna Sagar reservoir, brings you to the unique island of Nagarjunakonda, peppered with ancient Buddhist structures. Until 1960, when the big Nagarjunasagar Dam was built on the Krishna River, the island was the top of a hill in the Krishna valley.
Andhra’s best train ride is through the beautiful, lushly forested Eastern Ghats to the Araku Valley, centred on Araku town, 115km north of Vizag. The area is home to isolated tribal communities and known for its tasty organic coffee and lovely green countryside. The 58501 Visakhapatnam Kirandul Passenger train (₹30, four hours) leaves Vizag at 6.
Most Hyderabad–Warangal buses and trains stop at Bhongir, 60km from Hyderabad. It’s worth stopping to climb the fantastical-looking 12th-century Chalukyan hill fort, sitting on what resembles a gargantuan stone egg right above the bus station. You can leave backpacks at the ticket office.
Forty kilometres southwest of Vizag, this stunning Buddhist complex, also known by the names of its two parts, Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda, occupies a rocky outcrop about 300m long. Used by monks from the 2nd to 9th centuries AD, the outcrop is covered with rock-cut caves, stupas, ruins of monastery structures and reliefs of the Buddha.
Getting here is a very scenic adventure. The former Buddhist monastic compound, high on a hilltop overlooking a vast expanse of forest and paddy fields, is specially noteworthy for its circular rock-cut chaitya-griha shrine. The cave’s domed ceiling is carved with ‘wooden beams’ designed to look like those in a hut.