It took a road trip to Machilipatnam to answer a question we’d been asking for a while: why was one of the the closest beaches to Hyderabad not on the tourist map?
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Just before the monsoons arrived in mid-June, we decided to do a quick weekend road trip to Machilipatnam to see their kalamkari art cluster. We’d also always been curious about why the town never comes up as a tourist destination, despite having arguably the closest beach to Hyderabad. So this seemed like a good opportunity to find out.
The road to Machilipatnam
At just under 400km from Hyderabad via Vijayawada, Machilipatnam seemed like a good day’s drive. So we started off bright and early at around 5:30 am so we could get there by lunchtime. Of course, the first stretch via the fabulous ORR (Outer Ring Road) was a breeze. And though we did encounter a bit of traffic once we got onto the highway, we were pleasantly surprised by how good the road was all the way to Vijayawada. The last time we’d been on this road was during a quick road trip to the beach at Bapatla way back in 2009, and it looked like things had improved tremendously since then.
Also read: An off-the-beaten-path Goa road trip
Getting through Vijayawada
Things changed once we got to Vijayawada, though. In the absence of a bypass or ring road (at least in the direction we were going), we were forced to drive through the city. And because we hadn’t been there in ages, things had changed almost unrecognizably. So we relied on good old Google Maps, which promptly led us astray.
We vaguely remembered Benz Circle being the turn-off point during our last trip, so when the GPS pointed us in that direction, we were pretty confident we knew where we were going. Sadly, Google Maps doesn’t know the difference between flyovers and ground-level roads, so we ended up overshooting Benz Circle entirely! And then spent 20 frustrating minutes at the next traffic signal trying to get back onto the right track.
Things didn’t end there, either. Turns out, trusting in Google Maps wasn’t the best thing to do there, because it led us through all sorts of narrow roads for another half hour until we finally got onto the highway to Machilipatnam. Lesson: When in VIjayawada, stay at ground level unless you’re absolutely sure where you’re going!
The Machilipatnam highway
Once we got out of the city, things looked up considerably. We expected a badly-maintained country road, but found a six-lane highway instead, one that was every bit as good as the one from Hyderabad to Vijayawada. So, with our spirits considerably lifted, we cruised along the great – and surprisingly empty – highway. An hour or so later, we were there. And lunchtime it was!
Settling in at Machilipatnam
Machilipatnam was just what you’d expect from a small Indian town; a single crowded main road ran through town, with a few smaller roads and countless lanes branching off it. It took us a while to find our hotel, again thanks to Google Maps, which led us a merry dance through some tiny bylanes. But we eventually did find our hotel, the gloriously misnamed RK Paradise, in a crowded little lane just off the main road (from where there was a much more straightforward access, we found out later).
An… interesting… check-in
We found that RK Paradise (one of lots of little establishments belonging to the RK Group) was actually a restaurant, with an event hall and a few rooms in the floors stacked on top. The hall was currently hosting a wedding, so we had to fight our way through the crowds of guests in the inadequate lift and narrow staircase to the ‘reception’ on the first floor.
There, we were told our room wasn’t quite ready yet, but we were welcome to rest in another room. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use that other room for our entire stay, they said, because the last guest had lost the key! The room itself had seen (much) better days, and was in desperate need of some deep cleaning and overall maintenance. But the sheets were reasonably clean, so we made do.
On enquiring about lunch, the receptionist informed us that the restaurant below was full. Instead, he said, he would be glad to go and get us something from another of the group’s restaurants, the famous RK Mess. Not wanting to deal with any more horror at the moment, we agreed. The food turned out to be surprisingly good, albeit packed completely in plastic.
After lunch, we hit the hay for a bit, dreaming of the beach visit that was our plan for the afternoon.
An afternoon out
Our eventual room still wasn’t ready when we woke up and wanted to head out. So we hid our luggage in the cupboard and hoped no one would stroll in and take a look. Back in the car, we turned on the GPS and drove off.
Our first thought was to drive towards the Machilipatnam port. Our logic: where there’s a port, there ought to be a beach. Also, the Bandar Fort was on the way, and we love a good fort. So that’s the direction in which we headed. It took us a while to get out of town, but once we did, the drive was quite nice. Rice fields, coconut palms and – closer to the coast, salt farms – lined the road, and the air was fresh and pleasant.
Just before we got to the fort, the road took us through a village of buffalo herders, and the road itself disappeared under a thick layer of hard-packed dry buffalo dung. And while we’ve seen herds of buffaloes – and their inevitable leavings – before, the sheer scale here astonished us!
At the ‘fort’
It took us some doing to get to the fort, courtesy Google Maps decided to lead us through some narrow lanes again (though, to be fair, all the lanes were narrow). When we finally got there we were in for a surprise. And not the good kind.
The ‘fort’ turned out to be little more than a walled compound, enclosing some colonial-era buildings. Even worse, it was closed to the public. So we had to content ourselves with looking through the gate at some local youngsters who’d climbed over the wall and were making merry inside.
A little further down, there were the remnants of an old brick church (also closed), which was little more than a bare hall with a pointy roof. And completing the picture was a stubby watchtower next to an open ground between the church and fort, where the local kids were playing cricket.
The fort, church and watchtower were all in various stages of disintegration, despite being ‘centrally protected monuments’ under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Overall, a somewhat depressing picture. We didn’t really know what we expected to see, but it wasn’t this.
Onwards to the port
Having had our fill, we drove on towards the port. On the way, we drove past a boatyard of sorts, with lots of small trawlers anchored for maintenance in a canal that eventually led to the sea. The rows of colourful (if slightly worn) boats against the green of the canal made for a nice atmosphere.
When we finally got to the port, it was closed. It seems some renovation was going on, and no one was allowed in. As for somehow managing to find a way to the beach from there, that wasn’t to be. There was only one road in and one road out. There were some helpful locals at the entrance, though, who opined that were would be better served heading back to town and then to Manginapudi beach. So that’s what we did.
The Manginapudi beach experience
About half an hour later, we’d navigated our way through town and down a long country road to Manginapudi beach. We were a little surprised to find a sandy parking lot full of cars, and a paved promenade of sorts leading down to the beach. Once we got to the beach itself, we saw one of the most depressing sights we’ve encountered on our travels.
It wasn’t so much that the water was brown and rough; what really shook us was the sheer amount of litter that was piled up in drifts everywhere. Evidently, neither the throngs of raucous visitors, nor the government staff desperately trying to keep them in line, had any interest in keeping the beach clean. And it looked like it’d been that way for years.
So it wasn’t with much regret that we learned that it was past closing time (it was 5:30 pm!), and allowed ourselves to be shooed off the beach none too gently. At least we managed to see a nice sunset on the way back.
Our first night in Machilipatnam
Back at the hotel, our room was finally ready. But, wonder of wonders, the door was missing its handle. Luckily, the key worked, and there was a bolt on the inside. This room was bigger than the last, but just as shabby. The bedsheet and pillow covers were clean, though, so that was something; but there were no sheets to cover ourselves with. It’s just as well that I’d carried some sheets in case of such an eventuality, because we didn’t really feel like asking for any.
Dinner at RK Family Restaurant
For dinner, we used Google Maps to guide us on our stroll through more little bylanes to RK Family Restaurant. Considering the RK Group is known for its restaurants, we thought this would be safe enough bet, and were looking forward to some good Andhra cuisine for dinner.
When we sat down, our rather brusque server informed us that traditional meals and dishes were only served for lunch. “Only in Hyderabad,” he said, “have they started this new practice of serving traditional dishes for dinner, too.” Slightly confused, we reluctantly ordered from the small selection of vegetarian north Indian and Chinese dishes that was available. Maybe our disappointment at not getting Telugu cuisine coloured our assessment, but our dinner was very, very average. They were kind enough to fill our water bottles for us, though, so that was something.
A restless night
Back in our hotel room, we settled in for the night. We were planning to visit the Mr. Srinivas the kalamkari artist the next morning, and that was something we were looking forward to. So we turned up the fan, covered ourselves with our sheets, and dropped off.
Sometime during the night, we realized that the room had gotten stuffy. But because the single window didn’t have mosquito mesh, we had to turn on the AC instead. Thus followed a few hours of trying to find the right combination of fan speed and AC temperature so that the room would neither get too cold nor too stuffy with time. And though we did get to sleep eventually, it wasn’t the most restful night we’ve ever spent.
Getting down to the real reason for our road trip to Machilipatnam
The plan for our second (and final) day in Machilipatnam was to spend the morning at the kalamkari artist’s workshop, and then go and check out Hamsaladeevi beach in the evening.
A decent breakfast
We woke up a bit bleary-eyed, but decided that it wasn’t anything a good breakfast wouldn’t fix. So we headed out to RK Good Times (yes, RK is everywhere here), a basic but popular local eatery with a few modest rooms above. It was still reasonably early, but already uncomfortably hot and muggy, so our 15-minute walk there was a somewhat sweaty one. We did see a few interesting but dilapidated colonial buildings on the way, though (Machilipatnam has lots of these, we found, though most are in a state of disrepair).
When we got to RK Good Times, we discovered that it was already overflowing with enthusiastic breakfasters. Just was we’d resigned ourselves to spending at least 20 minutes waiting for a table, a kindly patron pointed us towards the ‘AC section’ that had just opened. We had no problem paying a little more in exchange for the comfort of some cool air, so we quickly went in and grabbed ourselves a table in the small dining room. It wasn’t fancy, but it was cool and there was table service (as opposed to self-service outside), so we didn’t complain. And to top it off, the food was pretty good. So all in all, a good decision had been made.
Traditional kalamkari art in Pedana
After another sweaty walk back, we hopped into our (thankfully) air-conditioned car, and headed out to the town of Pedana, about 20 minutes’ drive from Machilipatnam.
Though somewhat nondescript, Pedana is the main hub for the kalamkari art that Andhra Pradesh is known for. Kalamkari (literally, ‘pen work’) evolved through trade between Persia and India’s Golconda kingdom under the Qutb Shahi kings. The art form uses bamboo brushes and carved wooden printing blocks to apply natural dyes to cotton cloth, usually depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics or variations of the ‘tree of life’. The artist we were going to visit specialized in block printing, and had even received an award for creating a tree-of-life print using over 200 separate printing blocks!
It took us a while to navigate through Pedana’s narrow lanes to the workshop, but get there we did. The ‘workshop’ actually turned out to be a large compound. In one corner was Mr. Srinivas’s home and office, which also had a small exhibit room on the first floor. The rest of the compound consisted of two or three large sheds for treating and printing the fabric.
We spent a few hours in the sweltering heat admiring the various intricate artworks and learning a bit about the artist’s family history. It turns out, his father was instrumental in reviving kalamkari after a period of decline, and his son had moved back to from the city to help keep the art form – and the family tradition – alive.
If you’d like to visit Mr. Srinivas’s workshop, here’s the location. But you’ll need to call ahead and take an appointment.
Our best meal in Machilipatnam
Afterwards, we headed back to Machilipatnam for lunch, armed with a restaurant recommendation from the artist. Half an hour later, we were at Emerald, a large-ish shop with an eco-chic vibe that sold sweets and provisions, and that had recently added a small outdoor dining area serving traditional local food. That was exactly what we’d been looking for, so we tucked in with gusto. Served on banana leaves, the food was simple but very good, and the setting was basic but charming. And the service staff consisted almost entirely of housewives working part-time to supplement their household income, giving our meal a very homely feel.
The only drawback was that, being outdoor, the place offered no respite from the heat. So even though we loved the food, we didn’t spend as much time there as we would’ve liked. Instead, we quickly finished up and popped into the air-conditioned shop to buy some local sweets, and then headed back to our room for our customary post-lunch snooze.
We try a different beach
That afternoon, determined to see a real beach on our last day, we turned on our GPS and headed for Hamsaladeevi beach, about an hour-and-a-half away. That’s where the Krishna river – one of south India’s biggest rivers – meets the sea, and we’d heard stories of how beautiful it was, so we were looking forward to it.
We soon questioned our decision, though, because the road became increasingly narrow and potholed. And try as we might, we couldn’t find any alternative routes on the GPS. If the road hadn’t been so shattered, we would’ve had great fun driving through the rice fields and along the canal on the way. Unfortunately, it was, so we didn’t. And when we finally got there, we were frustrated and not a little grumpy. We were really looking forward to the beach!
But life had other plans for us. When we got there, we found ourselves at the end of a line of angry would-be beach-goers, because the road to the beach was barred. Incredibly, we found out that the beach closes at 5:00 pm! Google maps had warned us about this, but we’d dismissed it as being too stupid to be true. But it was (both stupid and true), so after fuming impotently for a few minutes, we had no choice but to turn around and head back the way we came. A quick stop at a scenic spot along the river on the way back improved our mood a little, but not much.
A most unlikely Machilipatnam dinner
By the time we’d bumped our way through the countryside and back into town, it was dinnertime, and we were tired and irritable. And because we didn’t have the energy to try and figure out where to go for dinner, we just pulled up at a KFC (!) we’d spotted on Machilipatnam’s one main road. Predictably, just like every other time we’ve eaten at KFC (even before we turned vegetarian), we regretted it later.
By the time we got back to our room, we just wanted get our last night in Machilipatnam over with. But one last trial awaited us, namely this: we wanted to leave early the next morning, so we didn’t want to park in the gated parking lot that was some way away, because what if the guy with the key wasn’t around the next morning? Instead, we wanted to park in front of the restaurant. This seemingly straightforward request resulted in a long argument with the security guard and the restaurant manager. To cut a long story short, we ended up having to park in the gated lot anyway.
The next morning, we discovered that it’d rained during the night, and the road in front was wet and muddy. But luckily, the security guard (the same one we’d had the argument with the previous night) was indeed around to unlock the gate of the parking lot. So we quickly loaded up and headed out. I don’t think we’ve ever looked forward to the end of a trip more.
The rain followed us for most of our journey home (which we were glad for, because we’d had enough of summer). In Vijayawada, the GPS (and the flyovers) led us astray again, but it wasn’t as bad as the previous time. Despite everything, we managed to get home in time for lunch.
Thus ended our road trip to Machilipatnam. I wish I could say it’d been fun, but I can’t. Maybe we were just consistently unlucky.
IQ’s top tips for a road trip to Machilipatnam
Driving between Hyderabad and Machilipatnam
- The highway between Hyderabad and Machilipatnam is great, though you’ll encounter some traffic outside Hyderabad and in Vijayawada.
- Don’t take any of the flyovers while driving through Vijayawada; the one you’ll hit on the way there goes in direction Vizag and not Machilipatnam, and the one you’ll hit on the way back will take you to the other side of the river.
- There are plenty of places to eat on the highway between Hyderabad and Vijayawada, you’ll have to stop at one of the little towns between Vijayawada and Machilipatnam.
Accommodation in Machilipatnam
- We found that there aren’t any good high-end or luxury hotels in Machilipatnam, and even the mid-range options didn’t inspire confidence.
- While we wouldn’t recommend RK Paradise, another option we came across was SS Grand Inn, so you might want to take a look at that.
Eating in Machilipatnam
- Our best meal in Machilipatnam by far was at Emerald, a sweets-and-provision shop with a small outdoor dining area. They served traditional local vegetarian dishes on banana leaves.
- Our packed meal from RK Mess was also quite decent, as was our breakfast in the AC dining hall of RK Good Times.
- Besides these, Machilipatnam has lots of other budget eateries that you can check out, and even a KCF on the main road.
Things to do in Machilipatnam
- A visit to the kalamkari art cluster in nearby Pedana is a nice way to spend a morning.
- Driving out into the countryside would probably be the most consistently pleasant thing to do in Machilipatnam.
- Manginapudi beach is evidently the most popular tourist attraction in Machilipatnam, but it tends to be crowded and dirty. It’s about 20 minutes’ drive out of town, and closes at 5:00 pm.
- We’ve heard a lot about Hamsaladeevi beach, but didn’t manage to see it. It’s about 90 minutes’ drive out of town, and also closes at 5:00 pm.
- The Machilipatnam Fort is little more than a walled compound, with a short watchtower and small church next door. All are badly maintained. The whole thing is about 10 minutes’ drive from town.
- We’ve heard that there are a few other interesting churches and temples around, but didn’t manage to see them.