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Visakhapatnam (nicknamed Vizag) is the largest city, both in terms of area and population in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Visakhapatnam is located 363 kilometers (226 mi) north east of the proposed state capital of Amravati and 587 Kilometers (365 mi) of Hyderabad, the common capital of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It is the administrative headquarters of Visakhapatnam district and also the Financial Capital of Andhra Pradesh. As of 2011, the population of the city was recorded as 1,897,823, making it 15th largest city in India.

Visakhapatnam's economy ranks as the tenth-largest among Indian cities, with a GDP of $26 Billion (USD). Visakhapatnam is the principal commercial hub of the state, and contributes to its economy in many sectors such as heavy industries, tourism, industrial minerals, fishing, and information technology. Visakhapatnam Port is the fifth busiest port in India in terms of cargo handled. The city serves as the headquarters for Eastern Naval Command of the Indian Navy and is home to the oldest shipyard and the only natural harbour on the east coast of India.

Visakhapatnam's history stretches back to the 6th century BCE. Historically, it was considered part of the Kalinga region, and later ruled by the Vengi kingdom, the Pallava and Eastern Gangadynasties. Archaeological records suggest that the present city was built around the 11th and 12th centuries CE with control over the city fluctuating between the Chola Dynasty and the Gajapati Kingdom until its conquest by the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century. Conquered by the Mughals in the 16th century, European powers eventually set up trading interests in the city, and by the end of the 18th century it had come under French rule. Control passed to the British in 1804 and it remained under British colonial rule until India's independence in 1947. After independence, Visakhapatnam developed into one of the country's chief ports and became the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command of the Indian Navy.

The city is nestled between the Eastern Ghats mountain range and the Bay of Bengal, and is often known as The Jewel of the East Coast, The City of Destiny and the Goa of the East Coast. Visakhapatnam's beaches (such as Ramakrishna Mission Beach and Rushikonda), parks (such as Kailasagiri and VUDA Park), museums (such as theKursura Submarine Museum and Visakha Museum), and proximity to areas of natural beauty (such as the Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary, Araku Valley, and Borra Caves) have helped the city become a significant tourist destination.

History

Visakhapatnam's history stretches back to the 6th century B.C.E., and the city finds mention in ancient texts, such as the 4th century B.C.E. writings of Pa?ini and Katyayana. Historically considered part of the Kalinga region, it was ruled by the Vengi kingdom and the Pallava and Eastern Ganga dynasties during medieval times. Archaeological records suggest that the present city was built around the 11th and 12th centuries C.E. by the Chola Dynasty king Kulothunga I. Control over the city fluctuated between the Chola Dynasty of Tamil Nadu and the Gajapati Kingdom of Odisha until its conquest by the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century.  In the 16th century, it was conquered by the Mughals. European powers eventually set up trading interests in the city, and Visakhapatnam came under French rule at the end of the 18th century.

The city was ruled by Andhra Kings of Vengi and Pallavas. The city is named after Sri Vishaka Varma, Legend has it that Radha and Visakha were born on the same day, and were equally beautiful. Sri Vishaka Sakhi, is the second most important gopi of the eight main gopis. She carries messages between Radha and Krishna, and is the most expert gopi messenger. Local residents believe that an Andhra king, built a temple to pay homage to his family deity Visakha. This is now inundated under sea water near R K Beach. Another theory is that it is named after a women disciple of Buddha named Visakha. Later it was ruled by Qutb Shahis, Mughal Empire (between 1689 and 1724), Nizam (1724–1757) and France (1757–1765) before being captured by the British in 1765. European powers eventually set up trading interests in the city, and Visakhapatnam came under French rule at the end of the 18th century.

The British captured Visakhapatnam after the 1804 Battle of Vizagapatam, and it remained under British colonial rule until India's independence in 1947 which was a part of the Northern Circars.

Buddhist influence

Hindu texts state that during the fifth century BC, the Visakhapatnam region was part of Kaliga territory, which extended to the Godavari River. Relics found in the area also prove the existence of a Buddhist empire in the region. Kalinga later lost the territory to King Ashoka in the bloodiest battle of its time, which prompted Ashoka to embrace Buddhism. Visakhapatnam is surrounded by ancient Buddhist sites, most of which have been excavated recently and illustrate the legacy of Buddhism in the region.

Pavurallakonda

Pavurallakonda ("pigeon hill") is a hillock west of Bhimli, about 24 km (15 mi) from Visakhapatnam. The Buddhist settlement found here is estimated to date back from the first century BC to the second century AD. On the hillock (which overlooks the coastline) are 16 rock-cut cisterns for collecting rainwater. Gopalapatnam, on the Tandava River, is a village surrounded by brick stupas, viharas, pottery and other Buddhist artefacts.

Sankaram

In 1907 British archaeologist Alexander Rea unearthed Sankaram, a 2,000-year-old Buddhist site. The name "Sankaram" derives from the Sangharama (temple or monastery). Located 40 km (25 mi) south of Visakhapatnam, it is known locally asBojjannakonda and is a significant Buddhist site in Andhra Pradesh. The three major schools of Buddhism (Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana) flourished here. The complex is known for its monolithic stupas, rock-cut caves and brick structures. The primary stupa was initially carved out of rock and covered with bricks. Excavations yielded historic pottery and Satavahana coins from the first century AD. At Lingalakonda, there are also rock-cut monolithic stupas in rows spread over the hill. The vihara was active for about 1,000 years.

Nearby is another Buddhist site, Bojjannakonda, with a number of images of the Buddha carved on the rock face of the caves. At Ligalametta there are hundreds of rock-cut monolithic stupas in rows, spread across the hill. Among other Buddhist attractions are a relic casket, three chaitya halls, votive platforms, stupas andVajrayana sculptures.

Bavikonda

Bavikonda is an important Buddhist heritage site located on a hill about 15 km, northeast from Visakhapatnam city. Here the Buddhist habitation is noticed on a 16 ha flat terraced area. The Hinayana school of Buddhism was practised at the monastery between the 3rd century B.C. and the 3rd century A.D. Bavikonda has remains of an entire Buddhist complex, comprising 26 structures belonging to three phases. A piece of bone stored in an urn recovered here is believed to belong to the mortal remains of the Budda. The word Bavikonda in Telugu means "a hill of wells". Fitting its name, Bavikonda is a hill with wells for the collection of rainwater. It is located 15 km (9.3 mi) from Visakhapatnam and is a significant Buddhist site. Excavation carried out from 1982 to 1987 revealed a Buddhist establishment including a mahachaitya embedded with relic caskets, a large vihara complex, numerous votive stupas, a stone-pillared congregation and rectangular halls and a refectory. Artifacts recovered from the site include Roman and Satavahana coins and pottery dating from the third century BC to the second century AD. A significant finding was a piece of bone (with a large quantity of ash) in an urn, which is believed to be the remains of the Buddha. The Bavikonda site is considered one of the oldest Buddhist sites in Asia. It is a reminder of the Buddhist civilisation which once existed in southern India, and also reminiscent of Borobudur in Indonesia.

Thotlakonda

About 16 km (9.9 mi) from Visakhapatnam is Thotlakonda, a Buddhist complex situated on top of a hill. The Buddhist Complex on the Mangamaripeta hilltop, locally known as Totlakonda, lies about 16 km from Visakhapatnam on Visakhapatnam-Bheemili Beach Road. After its discovery (during an aerial survey), the Government of A.P. declared the 48 ha site as a protected monument in 1978. Excavations in 1988 to 1992 exposed structural remains and artefacts, classified as Religious, Secular and Civil. These structures include the Stupa, Chaityagrihas, pillared congregation halls, bhandagaras, refectory (bhojanasala), drainage and stone pathways. The site covers an area of 120 acres (49 hectares), and has been declared a protected area by the government of Andhra Pradesh. Excavations have revealed three kinds of structural remains: religious, secular and civil. Structures include a mahastupa, sixteen votivestupas, a stone-pillared congregation hall, eleven rock-cut cisterns, well-paved stone pathways, an apsidal chaitya-griha, three round chaitgya-grihas, two votive platforms, ten viharas and a kitchen complex with three halls and a refectory (dining hall). Apart from the structures, Buddhist treasures excavated include nine Satavahana and five Roman silver coins,terracotta tiles, stucco decorative pieces, sculptured panels, miniature stupa models in stone, Buddha padas depicted withashtamangala symbols (i.e. the eight auspicious symbols of Swastika, Shrivasta, Nandhyavarta, Vardhamanaka, Bhadrasana, Kalasha, Minyugala and Darpan) and early pottery.

Later history

The territory of Visakhapatnam then came under the Andhra rulers of Vengi, andChalukyas and Pallavas ruled the land. The region was ruled by the Eastern Ganga king- SuryaVamsa Kshatriyas and the Gajapati kings of Odisha from the 10th century to the 16th centuries AD (when the region came under the Visakhapatnam rulers). Based on archaeological evidence, the Prabhakar and the Eastern Ganga Kings of Odisha built temples in the city in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Mughals ruled the area under the Visakhapatnam Nizam during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. European merchants from France, Holland and the East India Companyused the natural port to export tobacco, paddy, coal, iron ore, ivory, muslin and other textile products.

Local legend tells that an Andhra king, on his way to Benares, rested at Visakhapatnam and was so enchanted by its beauty that he ordered a temple to be built in honour of his family deity, Visakha. Archaeological sources, however, reveal that the temple was probably built between the 11th and 12th centuries by the Cholas. A shipping merchant, Shankarayya Chetty, built one of the mandapams (pillared halls) of the temple. Although it no longer exists (possibly washed away about 100 years ago by a cyclonic storm), elderly residents of Visakhapatnam remember visits to the ancient shrine by their grandparents (although author Ganapatiraju Atchuta Rama Raju denies this).

During the 18th century Visakhapatnam was part of the Northern Circars, a region comprising coastal Andhra and southern coastal Odisha which was first under French control and later British. Visakhapatnam became a district in the Madras Presidency of British India. In September 1804, British and French squadrons fought the naval Battle of Vizagapatam near the harbour. After India's independence it was the largest district in the country, and was subsequently divided into the districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam.

Part of the city is known by its colonial British name, Waltair; during the colonial era, the city's hub was the Waltair railway station and the surrounding part of the city is still called Waltair.

Places to visit

Ramakrishna Beach, Visakhapatnam is a must inclusion in the list of Visakhapatnam tourist attractions. Also known as the RK Beach, it lies at a distance of 5 Kilometers from the main city. Developed and maintained by the Visakhapatnam Urban Development Authority and Municipal Corporation of Visakhapatnam, the Ramakrishna Beach pleases visitors of all preferences.

The RK Beach satisfies all classes of people with tastes ranging from water sports enthusiast to a person seeking a lazy holiday. Ramakrishna Beach, Visakhapatnam, is also a popular picnic site in Vizag. Several fine tourist spots surround the Ramakrishna Beach, like:

  • The Aquarium
  • The Kali Temple
  • Visakha Museum
  • Submarine Museum
  • The Water Memorial

Yarada beach

Behind Dolphin Nose, lies the Yarada Village. Yarada is a private beach maintained by the Agrigold group which is why they charge a nominal fee for visiting it. The Dolphin Nose provides a spectacular view of the beach and the Vizag city. A bus or cab facility can be taken to reach it.

Kailasagiri

Kailasagiri Hill Top Park, Visakhapatnam, is one of the renowned tourist sites in Andhra Pradesh. It is a park situated on the hilltop, at a height of 360 feet. Kailasagiri Hill Top Park in Visakhapatnam is one of the most popular tourist destinations of the city. Every year, the park witnesses considerable tourist traffic it is also one of the most popular spots for picnicking. Besides, a number of tourist locations are near the park. Some important attractions located at a vicinity to the Kailasagiri Hill Top Park at Vizag are Floral Clock, Jungle Trails, Shanti Ashram, Art Gallery, Children Play Park, Conference Hall, Shiva Parvathi Statue, 7 Wonders of Vizag, Titanic View Point, Gliding Base Point, Telescopic Point and Shanku Chakra Naama. 

War Memorial

Category : History & Culture

In remembrance of the victory at sea achieved in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, a war memorial had been constructed in Vizag. It exhibits a fighter plane, a tank and other copies of a missile. It does not charge any entry.

Matsyadarshini Aquarium

Category : Fun & Entertainment

It is an aquarium that has an interesting exit in the form of a huge white tipped shark's open mouth. It charges an entry fee of Rs. 20 per person and contains a good collection of marine and freshwater fish.

Ross Hill

Category : Nature

It is an interesting site as it consists of three hills that are dedicated to three different faiths. It has a church, a mosque and a temple. Ross Hill has a chapel known as Mother Mary's church, Durga Pahad has the tomb of Muslim saint Sayed Ali Medina and the third hill Sri Venkateswara Konda has a temple.

Submarine- 'Kursura'

Category : History & Culture

It was the first one of its kind submarine to be created in eastern Asia. This museum was created in a real submarine of the Indian navy and today is manned by retired officials of the navy itself.

It charges Rs. 25 per person as entry fee.

Naval Museum

Category : History & Culture

Also known as Swarna Jyoti Museum, it showcases the maritime history of India through pictures, models and written content.

Tenneti Beach Park

Category : Nature

It is a beautiful park that has played as a background setting for a number of Indian movies. It gives out spectacular views of sunrise and sun set along with beaches and clear sea.

Kambalakonda Sanctuary

Category : Wild Life

This natural sanctuary is half hour's drive from the city. It charges an entry fee of Rs 10/- person and provides fantastic views from the viewing tower along with providing people a chance to hike and flex their muscles.

Port of Visakhapatnam

Category : History & Culture

It is listed amongst the country's leading ports. It is dissected into three harbors, namely outer harbor, inner harbor and fishing harbor with their respective capacities of vessel accommodation.

Sankaram

It lies 41 km from Visakhapatnam. It is amongst the most significant Buddhist site in Andhra Pradesh consisting of antiquity dated stupas, rock-cut caves, early historic pottery and finally Satavahana coins that are believed to exist since the 1st century AD.

Bavikonda

It lies at a distance of 15 km from Vizag. Literally, it means 'Hill of Wells' and as its name suggests it is indeed a hill that contains wells for collecting rainwater. It is counted amongst Asia's oldest and most sacred Buddhist sites as it consists of ruins of the great Buddhist civilization.

Thotlakonda

It is situated at a distance of 16 km from Visakhapatnam. It falls under Andhra Government's list of 'protected monuments'. It contains historically significant Buddhist structures such as a Mahastupa, rock-cut cisterns, votive platforms, roman silver coins, terracotta tiles and much more.

Gangavaram

It is a beautiful beach that lies at a distance of 10km to 12 km away from city, and attracts a lot of people.

Bhimili

It is a village lying about 25 km from the city known for its beach and remains of a Portuguese church and Dutch cemeteries.

Araku Valley

This is a scenic valley that requires a 6 hour long enjoyable train journey from the city. Amongst others, Padmavathi botanical gardens are a treat to look at, when present here. Further trip to the Borra caves is also a must. An entry to these caves costs Rs. 30 per person, with separate charges for carrying a camera.

Simhachalam

This temple is located 15 km away from the city. It acts as a dedication to Lord Vishnu's 'half man half lion' avatar. It has an impressive architectural design along with a serene environment.

Bojjana Konda

It constitutes of important Buddhist monuments that date back to a period between 200 BC and 700 AD. It lies at a distance of 40 km from Visakhapatnam.