A weekend getaway is a break from the fast paced life and cut throat competitive environment of today. It is time away from the mundane to rejuvenate yourself among your exquisite and exotic interests.
Gandikota rightly called the ‘Grand Canyon of India’ is a great destination for the adventure junkies and the travel buffs. The gorge ( known as ‘gandi’ in Telugu) right next to the fort (kota) gives the place its name Gandikota. The tranquil river Penna flowing through the gorge makes it a great destination for adventure tourism.
For a travel organisation that wants to make sure that travel is just not a trip or vacation but a story that can be shared; the story it gave us a tragedy of errors. Now I am sharing the story with the world.
With a chance to unwind and coming in with an open mind to make new memories and create new experiences while trying our hands at some adventurous stuff like rappelling and rock climbing it seemed quite an exciting offer to take up.
On the evening of 8th February a group of eighteen people including me embarked on a trip to Gandikota sponsored by the travel organisation DiscovrIt. The trip started off on the wrong note, with bus being delayed by hour to reach the pick up point. We hoped it would be an aberration rather than the norm.
Arriving at Gandikota a couple of hours late than the estimated time did put a spoke in our wheels. Being a trip organised by a travel organisation we expected them to smooth things over and get the trip back on track. But from then on the trip went downhill.
It seemed that DiscovrIt resting on the laurels of success of its previous trip to Gandikota a fortnight ago took the organisation of the trip and the group of travelers for granted. From any professional company, its customers expect it to have the pulse of what’s happening on the ground.
I do not know whether DiscovrIt knew that Gandikota Festival a local fete was being organised by the Andhra Pradesh government on the days of the trip. It was brought to their notice in the Whatsapp group for the trip by a co-traveler Chinna in the hopes they would consider the constraints the situation may pose. There was no response to this and our concerns were brushed off.
The consequences were there for everyone to see. The only accommodation in the vicinity was the Haritha Resort Hotel run by the tourism department of the Andhra Pradesh government. With the Gandikota Festival going on it was completely booked by the government.
Paying a hefty ₹ 5800 for a two day and one night stay we expected to have a stay at the hotel to freshen up and have a meal there before moving on to the campsite. All we were provided with was just a restroom at Haritha to freshen up leaving our luggage by the way side. Breakfast too was not provided there.
For breakfast, we were provided with dosas at a local joint unable to seat the entire group. The dosas were made with what was left at the end of morning service. It was so bad people either skipped breakfast or bought fruits before going on the trek.
The rock formations of the canyon were a gorgeous sight to see. The trek from the top of the canyon down to the river bed of the Penna was a joy. Climbing down the path, jumping over the rocks, wading through the wildness, navigating the narrow nooks and slithering down the steep slope on the way down was quite a thrilling challenge.
Kayaking was awaiting us down there. With underwhelming being the theme of the trip so far it did not fail to disappoint. Adventure sports demand safety of the people taking part in it. On a tour, it is the job of the tour guide to ensure people getting on to the kayak are fitted with safety equipment.
With just one solitary kayak available for a group of eighteen and just one proper oar and without life jackets being provided to a majority of the group where the depth of the river was over 15 feet amounts to negligence. While this was going on the tour guide was busy having a smoke on the river bed. If that was not enough when he got onto the kayak he ensured there was a proper life jacket and a good second oar.
The callous nature of arrangements made show a certain disregard by the organisers towards the travelers. Lunch then beckoned. A few of us who were done with their kayaking a bit were feeling the pangs of hunger. Reaching campsite where tents were laid out under the searing sun with hundreds of people milling around was not an ideal setting for lunch.
The person responsible for arranging lunch turned to be the person in charge of the food joint where we were offered breakfast. Uncomfortable with the area of seating, we went to eat at his food joint. It went bad to worse there. We were seated right in front of the restroom to have our meal.
A feeling of being cheated was beginning to set in among the group by this time. While we disgusted after being seated in front of the toilet left to eat at Haritha the rest who came back a while after us still had to wait for an hour to get the food which was prepared.
The amount of ₹5800 was proving to be overpriced for such an underwhelming experience. Lack of toilets near the campsite and unhygienic food being served were beginning to get on the nerves. Another thing which took us by surprise was that if we wanted to go rappelling we had to shell out around ₹400 from our pockets even though it was advertised in their itinerary.
This blatant misadvertising was compounded by the fact that the visit to the Gandikota Fort which was scheduled for the morning of the second day of stay was pushed ahead of schedule. We visited the fort after a late lunch about half past four.
The sprawling Gandikota fort is a majestic sight to see. The ramparts of the fort along the river flowing down between the gorge built of sandstone is a pleasure to watch. Inside the fort there are a few residences which might belong to descendants of people who used to live inside the fort walls during the reign of the kings.
An amusing sight one comes across once they cross the residential zone is a replica of the famous Charminar. Spread across the length and breadth of the fort are the places of worship, the granary, a jail and a water body and the mesmerising area named the ‘gorge view’ which provides a beautiful vision of the gorge from the fort.
After a long day of trekking in the hot sun and physically taxing activity of a mini trek near the gorge view and a temple inside to catch a glimpse of the setting sun everyone wanted to use the restrooms to pee, poop and freshen up a bit. Alas, there were none near the campsite and apart from that we were informed we could not use the restrooms at Haritha hotel.
We were directed by the tour guide to use the toilets almost half a kilometer away at an area with air conditioned tents. The group was denied permission to use the toilets there on the grounds it was on private property organising sport activities called ‘Freak Outs’ and the accommodation was booked for the VIPs attending the Gandikota Festival.
This was the last straw which broke our backs. Basic amenities of toilets were not made available to us near the campsite. It was a greater challenge for the women on the trip as the risk of safety needs to be taken care of. Listening to excuses since the morning for not able being able to be on time, not being able to provide decent food, not being able deliver on the promises made in their advertisement and itinerary and last but not the least not providing basic amenities; an air of resentment was brewing among the group.
The belief in the group was that the chasm between the amount paid for the trip and the facilities being provided on the trip was quite huge. Until we made our displeasure felt and informed the organisers that if they could not get things done it would be better to start back to Hyderabad the same evening, our concerns were continually brushed off. After that we managed to get in a few concessions for the next day with regards to washrooms and food.
In a way it was we ourselves who were organising the trip after paying the amount to the organisers. With our dissatisfaction registered with the organisers we saw a little improvement in the facilities provided. We had a little more choice in deciding our food and where we wanted to have it. We got a little more freedom to explore the places on our own. Otherwise it felt like we were on a school trip with the tour guide deciding everything for us.
The second day in comparison with the first day was remarkably better. For most of the time we were on schedule to visit both the Mylavaram Dam and Belum Caves.
The surroundings near the dam are a source of natural beauty. Lush green fields with the agricultural produce dancing to the tunes of the wind and a blue water body offering a scope for fishing, a place of leisure for our water borne avian friends and a nice boating experience.
From the top of the dam we next down below the Earth to explore the Belum caves. To people with a sense of mystery and seeking a bit of thrill this a place you must visit. Walking through criss-crossed paths, passing through low ceiling tunnels and climbing into hidden rock paths and playing hide and seek with the light in this naturally formed structure is quite a delight.
We headed off to dinner playing games, charades and singing songs. Quite a fun filled atmosphere prevailed in the bus and people were getting to know more about each other. After a good dinner on the way home, we were asked to give our opinion what an ideal drop off time could be; we opined any time after half past four early in the morning would be good as it would address security issues for everyone concerned.
Little did we know we would left with a parting gift to sum up the whole trip. We reached back home to Hyderabad at two in the morning. It is such a weird time to be dropped off. Lot many things could have gone wrong any person of the group. People making their way home could have been mugged, robbed, encountered drunk drivers or heaven forbid have met with untoward incidents. Touch wood, every reached home safely nothing to the credit of the organisers.
But our real issues with the organisers cropped up after the trip. Let down on the trip on both fronts of events promised and facilities provided after paying a huge sum of ₹5800 for two days, we raised the problems we faced during the trip with the organisers.
To have a better understanding of how our money was spent on the trip we asked the organisers for an invoice of the trip. The organisers apart from putting out the word ‘sorry’ and giving platitudes about carpe diem and how they would implement the points raised by us in their next trip did not address our concerns.
Continually being brushed off we decided to take things to the next level. We started post our reviews on their Facebook and Instagram pages so that they would be forced to respond to address the issues raised by us, provide an invoice so that we could know how our money was spent and if the money spent was less than what we paid we asked for a refund of the margin.
In response the team of DiscovrIt blocked members of our group who were publishing their reviews of the trip on their Facebook and Instagram pages. So this blog post today is a form registering our protest against DiscovrIt for running away from their obligations after delivering an underwhelming trip.
Despite that the trip on a personal level was a success I made a few new friends and I can safely say for the rest of the group that they too made friends and had a great time. The credit for this goes to the easy going nature of the people in the group. It is thanks to these people that the trip was a memorable one despite the multiple failures on part of the organisers.