It's time to pack your bags and head to the Araku Valley. After a spell of rains, the valley is a verdant green. There's a chill in the air and on misty mornings the fields can be seen slowly creeping into a yellow blanket.

Araku Valley is a hill station in Andhra Pradesh, located about 120 km from Visakhapatnam. From August or rather after the monsoon is when the tourist season begins. The best time however is between November and February although by December/January the temperature often drops to four degrees.

Since the days of the Raj, the lush green landscape and the salubrious climate of Araku Valley have been a major draw. Nestled in the Eastern Ghats, the valley has numerous cascading waterfalls and gushing streams. And as one drives through the winding ghat roads, the mild aroma of coffee from the numerous plantations sprinkled across the valley, greets the visitors.

The journey to Araku valley is most enjoyable when you travel by both rail and road, according to the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department. from Visakhapatnam. While the road, covered by thick jungle on both sides, snakes through the Anantagiri range, the rail takes you through 58 tunnels and over 84 bridges. The engineering marvel of the Kottavalasa-Kirandul line on the Waltair Division of the East Coast Railway will leave you awestruck. On the way to Araku is Shimliguda, a station perched at 997 m above sea level, which was the first highest broad-gauge railway station in the country till the construction of Qazigund in Jammu and Kashmir. While cabs are aplenty, there is only one train that leaves Visakhapatnam early in the morning and returns late at night.

Though civilisation has made deep inroads, the valley is still steeped in the culture of its ancient tribes. In the interior parts of the valley, the PTG (primitive tribal groups) have still not changed their lifestyle, and are hospitable to outsiders. They even perform the traditional Dhimsa dance in the evenings to entertain tourists.

About 75 km from Visakhapatnam and on the way to Araku is Tyda engulfed by lush green forests, Where A.P. Tourism has set up a resort on a hillock by the road.

The next stop would be the million-year-old Borra Caves, further on from Tyda. Located deep in the Earth, the cave is at a height of 800-1300 m from mean sea level and was discovered by British geologist William King in 1807. The beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites inside the caves, that have stood the test of millennia, have now been enhanced with a thematic lighting scheme. The Palaeolithic cave is revered by the natives and is a tourist's delight. The natives believe that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana lived in the caves for a while during their 14-year- exile and that the forest was a part of the mythological Kishkinda forests.

Then there is Galikondalu viewpoint. Located at a height of about 3,800 ft above sea level, the highest point in the Anantagiri range offers a fascinating view of the entire valley. Thatiguda, Katiki and Chaaparai are some of the many stunning cascading waterfalls in this region. Padmapuram Gardens, a botanical garden, and the Tribal Museum at Araku are also a must-see. Apart from showcasing the lifestyles of the primitive tribal groups, the museum also features tribal art.

With gushing rivulets, surging waterfalls, plantations and swathes of green fields sprinkled with small villages, Araku Valley is balm for the soul.

Getting there: Araku Valley is 120 km from Visakhapatnam. It can be reached either by road (three hours) or rail (five hours).

What to see: The million-year-old Borra Caves. The beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites inside the caves has now been enhanced with a thematic lighting scheme.

Where to stay: There are a number of hotels in Araku Valley with the APTDC having two resorts.

Keywords: Araku Valley