Around 5:40am, the sun emerges behind dense and stagnant clouds between the peaks of two hills. In another 20 or 30 minutes, the clouds begin to melt and move like a course of the river, dividing into three wide streams. This most beautiful scene unfolds at Vanjangi, a place about 3,300 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL) near Paderu in the Eastern Ghats of Visakhapatnam district every day.
Though this may have been the scene here for centuries, the hill station shot to fame only a couple of months ago, thanks to nature lovers sharing pictures on social media. People hold torch lights and trek four to five kilometers through the forest in the dark to reach the vantage point. People fondly call the newly discovered hill station ‘Megha Samudram’ (ocean of clouds).
Thrilled overseeing the stunning beauty of nature, M Meghana, a 19-year-old psychology student, captured pictures and videos from the top of Vanjangi hill and shared them with her friends via social media groups. “Most of my friends were wondering if it was the beach. Nowhere have I seen the clouds being so dense and stagnant. I don’t have any idea on how to compare the beauty of the place,” she adds. This particular peak of Vanjangi was a little known tribal hamlet with just six families of the same surname, Marri, who have been staying here since long. “We don’t know when this became a habitat for our predecessors. But we have been living here for generations,” said Rama Rao, the eldest in the village.
“Earlier, we used to see a handful of people going to the top of the hill. We sometimes go to collect firewood. Some shepherds go till some distance to graze their sheep and cattle. Suddenly, people are flocking to this in thousands,” said Gammelavalasa Satish, a relative of the Marri family from a different village. The entrepreneur in Satish took no time to wake up to the rising demand for minimum needs like tea and snacks. He, along with a couple of his cousins, started selling tea, idli, and noodles. “Noodles is not our food. But many people ask for it. So we learned to make it,” adds his cousin.
Vanjangi is fast emerging as the favored destination for nature lovers. Cars begin to take the diversion towards the left on Paderu – Madugula road from 4am onwards. There is no government intervention yet. People who face difficulty in finding the route wait for some other vehicles to come.
“From 4 to 6 am, we see tens of cars moving towards the hill,” said Raj Kumar, a resident on the Paderu-Vanjangi road and a volunteer with Chaitanya Shravanti, a local NGO working on tribal rights and empowerment. Some people prefer to stay here through the night so that they would not miss the sunrise. “We start serving tea at 4 am to those who sleep in tents here. We wind up by 9 am as people vanish by then,” Satish said.
Situated about 60 km away from Vanjangi, Lambasingi is another cool (with temperatures often dipping to two or one-degree Celsius during the winter) hill station that became popular over the last 15 years. It draws huge crowds during winter every year. The Covid-19 pandemic did not deter tourists from flocking to Lambasingi. Araku valley has been popular for decades, attracting tourists in large numbers.