Throwback to a different time

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Phanigiri
The remnants of Buddhist Mahastupa. —Photos: Saurabh Chatterjee

Whenever I travel, it’s always interesting to see places where religions flourished and disappeared over time. Telangana and Andhra are home to many places which became centres of Buddhism at one time. Sometime ago, the excavation by Archaeological Department at Phanigiri unearthed a Mahastupa with an adjoining prayer hall. Subsequently, two to three Chaitya gruhas and three viharas were also unearthed. Like other stupas, their side panels had sculptures depicting stories from the Jataka tales. Inscriptions in Brahmi script belonging to the Satavahana and Ikshavaku dynasties were also recovered from the site.  There are two large footprints here, believed to be of Gautama Buddha.

Phanigiri derives its name from the words — phani which means snake hood and giri means mountain. The name is because of the snake-like hood shape of the mountain. This stupa is located on the ancient trade route connecting the East and the West coast. There are several sites such as Vardhamanukota, Gajulabanda and Tirumalagiri nearby where Buddhism flourished.

Phanigiri
Idol of Lord Vishnu in a nearby temple at Phanigiri Photos: Saurabh Chatterjee

It’s not very difficult to find the hill where these stupas are located as it sticks out

amid green fields in the village. A left turn to a narrow path took us to a whitewashed Shiva temple of Kakatiya era, where an annual three-day festival had just concluded. In the villages, festivals are a big affair as they not only give devotees an opportunity to come and pay obeisance to the Gods, but also shop. Many women were buying things like household utilities and beauty products from makeshift shops that were set up there. Children crowded around stalls selling snacks and sweets. We first went to the temple which was quite cool inside. The stone walls and the ceiling are designed to provide great air movement which makes it comfortable. We then went towards the stupas.

We drove on our Royal Enfields through the dirt tracks and parked them a little far from the site. The place was full of dense vegetation which made us invisible. It was a small climb and the priest of the Shiva temple advised us to follow the white marks on the hill. After trekking for about 15 minutes, we could see the majestic remains of the stupa. From their size, I could imagine how grand it must have been during its glorious days.

From the top of the hillock, we saw amazing vistas with green fields. On watching closely, one part was filled with white birds. As I zoomed in with my camera, I was surprised to see a lot of migratory birds. We saw Black headed ibis, pelicans, painted storks apart from the more common egrets and herons.

It was interesting as the place seemed a bit inaccessible. We also spied a narrow path leading to the lake and made a visual map to go there. After taking pictures, we left the place and started for our next destination.

How to reach: Phanigiri is located at a distance of 127 km from Hyderabad. It takes about three-and-half hours to get there. Take the Warangal highway to Bhuvangiri and then a right turn to Phanigiri. It is 52 km away from Nalgonda.

Tips: The best time to visit is between September and March. If you plan on staying to visit nearby areas, it’s better to stay in Suryapet.

Nearby places: The 1000-year-old Shivalayam in Pillalamarri village near Suryapet, Kusumanchi, another site of a 1000-year-old Ganapeshwaralayam.