A very few people know that Andhra Pradesh has India's second-largest stretch of mangrove forests (after Sundarbans) at Coringa near Kakinada. Coringa is about 15 km from Kakinada town in coastal Andhra Pradesh and accessible from the Kakinada-Yanam road.
Coringa, which also has a wildlife sanctuary and the nearby Uppada beach was our destination. Not only is the Uppada beach relatively clean and unspoiled, the eponymous village also offers a great shopping experience – Uppada sarees, dress materials, stoles and dupattas are among the most beautiful of the State's handloom heritage.
Actually, all these are located in the Konaseema region, a large coastal area of Andhra Pradesh noted for its picturesque vistas with lush-green paddy fields, mango-tree orchards, and coconut plantations. The Godavari river and its tributaries flowing alongside are dotted with quaint coracles and fishermen boats.
Besides its scenic beauty, there was much more one can explore here – delectable cuisine, river cruises, and famous temples. Of course, I had been here countless times but for my friends, it was a first-time visit and they were fascinated. We stayed at the homes of relatives but in recent years, plenty of accommodation options have come up – resorts, guest-houses, hotels, and boathouses. Most offer riverside views and cruise-packages.
We made our way to Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, stopping every now and then for the photo-ops this area provides is plenty. Coringa Sanctuary and the mangroves are spread over 235 sq km approximately. Coringa was declared a sanctuary in 1978, to protect the natural mangrove vegetation.
The sanctuary is part of the mangroves which you can visit on a boat. It is formed in the delta and estuary region of Godavari river which merges into the Bay of Bengal here. It is located in the backwaters of the sea. Another interesting fact we were told –Coringa sanctuary has an 18-km-long sandspit in the north-eastern side where, seasonally, the endangered Olive Ridley turtles come to rest.
Of course, there are hardly any wild animals to be seen in Coringa sanctuary. However, you can walk through a serene forest area over walkways made of wooden planks spotting birds and listening to birdsongs – we found the experience exhilarating.
The other big draw is the cruise through these mangroves. The best time is early morning or evening; mangroves provide timber, protect against erosion of the land and their unique ecology allows certain wildlife, birds and plant-life to thrive here. According to the forest officials here, about 35 plant species from 24 families are found here. Coringa also houses 120 bird species.
Take a boat and you can glide through the tranquil waters spotting birds on the banks and enjoying the scenic views. Many of the birds here are migratory ones. The entire list includes seagulls, flamingoes, pond heron, grey heron, sandpiper, little egrets, red-wattled lapwing, blue kingfisher, pied kingfisher, Brahmini kites, little cormorant, reef heron, crow pheasant, black-capped kingfisher, etc.
The critically endangered white-back vulture and long-billed vulture also find a home here. The animals you can see if lucky are fishing cats, estuarine crocodiles, jackal monkeys, otters, etc. Returning to the land we headed back for dinner and sleep. Next morning, we visited Uppada beach.
The sunrise over the beach is perfect for great photo-ops or just to gaze at the beauty. We next headed to the village, saw the weavers at work and shopped a little. The vibrantly-hued cotton and silk products of Uppada are worth every rupee and buying here means you get them at better rates than in city showrooms.
We drove to next-door Kakinada where we visited its renowned Sri Balatripura Sundari temple. We then picked up loads of local sweets and savouries – the delectable putharekulu, minapasunnundalu, kajaalu, kajjikayalu, ariselu, etc.
We made a quick dash to Annavaram’s Sathyanarayana temple, which is one of India’s biggest and busiest to this deity and located on a hilltop which is a longish drive from Kakinada before returning to Hyderabad.