We drove through Arcot and Ranipet and touched the Old Madras Road to Bangalore. Driving through Palamaner, a roadside vendor gave us directions to the turnoff to Madanapalle. Palamaner is a small town that is famous for its terracotta works. The artisans line the highway on the outskirts of town, displaying their creations – bells, wind chimes, urns and pots, of all sizes and shapes – all of them intricately designed – natural sienna, dull black, shimmering gold and copper. The craftsmen offer their wares at ridiculously low prices. And one can bargain too! At Madanapalle, the eyes and nose were assailed with the overflowing carts of mangoes – Benishaam, otherwise called Banganapalle. We promised to turn this visual feast into a gastronomic delight on our homeward journey!
With helpful directions from passers-by, we found ourselves on the road to Horsley Hills, a distance of another 30 kms. We drove along huge fields of luscious tomatoes and vibrant golden marigold and sunflowers. This is also the road to the Rishi Valley School run by the Jiddu Krishnamoorthy Foundation. The actual climb up to Horsley Hills is a distance of some 10 kms, with a few u-pin bends. It’s a narrow road with two way traffic but is surfaced and banked perfectly. There was practically no one else going up or down this incredibly scenic drive! We brought down the windows to breathe in the fresh air, in spite of the intense heat. Suddenly, about halfway up the hill, there was a marked drop in the temperature from sizzling to warm and by the time we got to the top, 1265 m above sea level, it was decidedly pleasant. Verdant forest covered the hill completely – eucalyptus, gulmohar, jacaranda, bamboo … the colours were exotic, the perfume heady.
The Punnami Horsley Hills Resort is run by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. Horsley Hills was the summer retreat for the then collector of Cuddapah district, William D.Horsley. Whispering Winds, Wind Whistle, Wild Winds, Wind Fall, Governor’s Bungalow, Governor’s Suite … the names of the cottages and guest houses are certainly romantic! We found ourselves driving round the perimeter of the resort to Wind Fall, our allotted suite. This had 2 bedrooms with attached baths and a third room with a single bed as well as a small entrance lounge. Fully furnished the rooms boasted granite flooring, shining bathrooms and sparkling, starched bed linen. What more can one ask for? And all this for a little less than Rs.1600/-, breakfast for 4 included. The buffet lunches are astonishing – fulkas and rice, urazhle poriyal, fried kattarikai yennegaiu (really spicy this!), daal, poond rasam, curd, paapad, pickle, a sweet and rich ghee to quench the fire in the food! A spread with unlimited quantity and all at Rs.45/- per head. The small incline to the rooms barely makes a dent in the calories.
There are plenty of monkeys around with their little ones clinging on. They seem more disciplined than the humans and wait for us to finish before coming forward for the leftovers – no aggression whatsoever.
Lovely trails lead up the hills. As usual many of the rocks are desecrated by graffiti. But the view from the top is like a coffee table book – hills rolling out as far as the eye can see, blue sky meeting the distant purple mountains, tiny lakes dotting the landscape, fields that look like a crazy-patch quilt. Closer, at your feet, the dense forest. The peace is truly tangible, the silence only broken by the chattering birds. And of course, the occasional click of our cameras!
En route home, we walked through a weekly tomato market at a village. It was definitely colourful and we managed to resist buying any of the 20 kg baskets though at Madanapalle we bought some Banganapalle mangoes.
We filled our weekend with lots of physical activity. The drive was pleasant. It was an enjoyable and affordable break from daily routine – short and sweet.
How to get there :-
By road :- About 5 hours driving from Chennai and 3 and 1/2 hours from Bangalore. There are several Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation buses that ply daily from Tirupati and Madanapalle.
Nearest Airports – Bangalore – 165 kms, Tirupati – 160 kms
Nearest Railhead – Madanapalle Road – 43 kms
Accomodation :- Punnami Horsley Hills Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation Horsley Hills, Madanapalle, Chittoor District 517325 Tel. 91 – 8571 – 279325