Thotlakonda

Thotlakonda, Andhra Pradesh – An old Buddhist site 15km from Vizag

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A seaside town bordered by ancient historical sites, Vizag and its surrounding areas offer varied tourist attractions and are an ideal getaway for an extended weekend. While the beaches of Vizag are the perfect unwind destination, located 15km from Vizag are the old Buddhist sites of Thotlakonda and Bavikonda on the Vizag-Bhimli highway.

An aerial survey of Vizag port by the Indian navy in the 1970s showed strange structures located atop a hill called Thotlakonda, overlooking the Bay of Bengal. Local people say the hill is shaped like an eagle’s head (thotla means eagle and konda is hill in Telugu).

An excavation by the archaeological department revealed breathtaking structures like stupaschaityagrihas, pillared congregation halls, viharas with cells, bhandagaras(storerooms), a bhojanshala (refectory), parts of a drainage system, stone pathways and huge water reservoirs. The nearby hill of Bavikonda revealed similar structures.

Coromandel Express leaves from Kolkata and reaches Vizag at the crack of dawn. From Vizag hire a car to reach Thotlakonda and Bavikonda. After leaving the city you will be accompanied by sea and hills on your way. A short halt at the famous beaches of Rishikonda, 8km from Vizag, will refresh you for the journey to Thotlakonda.

A newly built gate in the ancient Buddhist style welcomes you to Thotlakonda. A winding road past a Buddha statue will take you to the hilltop housing the ancient ruins. Spread over 120 acres, the complex contains remains of an ancient Buddhist monastery and an advance centre of learning. This Hinayana school of Buddhism of the Kalinga empire flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD.

The strategic location on a hilltop gave the site a natural protection against invaders. The presence of the sea, with a natural harbour, allowed access to students and scholars from far-off lands via the ancient maritime routes. Today, the ruins lie scattered on the hill, overlooking the crescent coastline stretching all the way to Bhimli.

The next spot is Bavikonda (bavi means reservoir). Bavikonda is among the oldest and most sacred Buddhist sites in Asia. There you will find huge circular tanks, which experts say were not only used for storing water but also for dyeing the robes of monks. An important attraction in Bavikonda is a relic casket at Mahachitya, which contained a huge quantity of ash, charcoal and bone — supposedly the remains of Gautama Buddha.

Archaeological evidence confirms that Bavikonda was once a leading learning centre of Hinayana Buddhism, which flourished between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD. The ruins, spread over 40 acres on a hilltop, offer a spectacular view of the surroundings.

How to go ?

Many trains connect Kolkata and Vizag. There are flights too. Hire a car from Vizag for Thotlakonda and Bavikonda.  Guides are available for a tour of Thotlakonda. Travel agents and drivers are not much aware of Bavikonda but the guides can help.

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Where to stay ?

Hotels and lodges to suit all budgets are available in Vizag. Some are Hotel Supreme: 0891 278 2472, Hotel Dolphin:0891 662 2444, Hotel Akshaya:091 77 892359. There are also some Government Guest Houses like Circuit House (891-2563364), Vizag Steel House (891-2373668), Steel Authority Of India (Sail) Guest House (891-2567415) etc.

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