THE SECOND BUSIEST port in India after Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, also known as Vizag, is rapidly becoming the largest shipyard in the country. It is an important industrial town and naval base as well. The town makes a convenient point from which to visit some of the beautiful beaches along the Bay of Bengal and the many picturesque temple towns of the northern coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh. Named after Visakha, the Hindu God of Valour, Visakhapatnam was once part of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka’s vast empire . Later, it was ruled by the Andhra kings of Vengi, and other South Indian dynasties, including the Pallavas, Cholas and Gangas. In the 15th century, it became part of the Vijayanagar Empire . It finally came into British hands in the 17th century, after which it was developed into a major port. Looming above the port is a hilly ridge with three crests, each with a religious shrine. On the southernmost one, Venkateshvara Konda, is a temple dedicated to Balaji (Krishna); in the middle is Ross Hill, with a mid-19th- century church; the third, Dargali Konda, has a shrine dedicated to a Muslim saint, Ishaque Madina.

Along the southern coastline is Dolphin’s Nose, a 358-rn (1,175-ft) long rocky outcrop that rises 175 m (574 ft) above the sea. On it stands a lighthouse with a beam that can be seen 64 km (40 miles) out at sea. Vestiges of the city’s colonial past are visible here in an old Protestant church, a fort, barracks and an arsenal, all dating to the 18th century. Idyllic beaches, set on the fringes of the Eastern Ghats and hounded by forested hills and rocky cliffs, include the Ramakrishna Mission Beach, now being developed as a tourist resort by Andhra Pradesh Tourism, Rishikonda Beach and Lawson’s Bay.

Towards the north of the town, beyond Lawson’s Bay, is Kailasagiri, a forested hill which has several lookout points for a panoramic view of the city and harbour. The twin town of Wallahs ., once a health resort for British officers, is north of the bay. Andhra University, one of the largest campuses in the state, is also situated here, along with a number of pretty 19thcentury churches.

ENVIRONS: Simhachalam, the “Lion’s Hill” Temple, dedicated to Lord Varaha Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu , stands at the summit of the thickly forested Ratnagiri I lilt, 16 km (10 miles) northwest of Visakhapatnam. A flight of steps leads to the northern gateway, an elaborately decorated Ropura that is the main entrance to the temple. Inside the compound is a tall deafasthambha (flagpole). Similar in style to Konark’s Sun Temple , the temple was constructed in the 9th or 10th century, and was extensively rebuilt in the 13th century. It is believed that the presiding deity was originally Shiva, but he was replaced by this incarnation of Vishnu after the reformer-saint, Rarnanuja , visited the site in the 11th century.

Bheemunipatnani is a 24- km (15-mile) drive north from Visakhapatnam, along one of the longest stretches of beach road in the country. This quiet fishing village, situated at the mouth of the Gosthani river, was a Dutch settlement -in the early 17th century. Bimlipatam, as it was then known (locally referred to as Bhimli), was the site of Maratha attacks and Anglo- Dutch wars in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its Dutch legacy can be seen in some of the old colonnaded houses, the ruined fort, and the Dutch cemetery, which has unusual, obelisk-shaped tombstones.

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