Ode to Buddha
Deccan Chronicle.| Bindu Gopal Rao
The twin Buddhist sites of Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda in Sankaram, Anakapalle, are excellent examples of Buddhism's three phases: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana
The road that leads to Anakapalle from Vishakhapatnam is a delight to drive on as it has scenic lush landscapes that set the tone for the visit to the Buddhist site at Sankaram. The landscape awash with rain is all things green with pops of colours from the flowering trees that make the ride as enjoyable as the site itself.
Reaching the site, which has a gated entrance, you are required to show a Government ID proof and share your mobile number before you enter. While there are no fees, you will have to pay Rs. 25 for using professional cameras here.
The first thing that gets your attention here is the landscape that has been developed by the Government that is a favourite with locals — you will notice families enjoying picnics on the lawns. The tree cover here is also good which makes it a great place for seeing birds — we sighted three spotted owlets on a tree apart from species like the Golden Oriole, red whiskered bulbul, jungle babbler and white browed bulbul.
The site itself has two parts with Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda located on different parts of the same hill believed to be dated between the 4th and 9th centuries. A long flight of steps that has been cut out of the rocks leads you to Bojjannakonda on the eastern side home to several large monolithic stupas and six rock-cut caves. Some of the caves have images carved of the seated Buddha and the largest of the caves has sixteen pillars, five of which are broken. Do look out for the monolithic stupa in the middle and the carved umbrella on the ceiling. When you are climbing to reach the caves, make sure to pause and look at the stunning landscape punctuated by paddy fields and beautifully framed by mountains. It is almost surreal and something most people do not expect to see. The seated images of the Buddha are quite stunning when you see them in close quarters.
On your way down keep your eyes peeled for birds and butterflies, you will see them in plenty. Once done, head to the western part of the hill, again a climb to reach the site of Lingalakonda which is very different compared to Bojjannakonda. Here there are only stupas and no images of Buddha. In fact, as you walk to the site you will notice smaller stupa-like structures on the way and as you reach the top, there is a large stupa surrounded by smaller stupas. You can walk around the stupas and look inside as well, but all of them are empty, which makes you wonder what they were used for.
Interestingly it is believed that Buddhism came to this region at least thousand years ago. While history books talk of several rock cut Buddhist temples, there is hardly any reference to these sites which add to their charm and intrigue. While the caves are an immersive experience, this is where you can experience what calmness is amid nature and therein lies its uniqueness. After all, it teaches you a life lesson from Buddha, "There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path."
On your next trip to Vizag, take the time to visit these caves, it is an experience like no other and one that you will cherish for years after you return.