Try and twist your tongue around that name? Nayagar was a Buddhist monk who lived here in the 3rd century AD in a monastery now surrounded by holy sites and one original stupa, the inner sanctuary of a holy site of worship. My travel book says the excavated ruins of the monastery and the Buddha statue are among the earliest remains of buddhist artefacts in India. No wonder that Dalai Lama himself came to pay his respects to Nagarjunakonda – Nagar Hills – and planted a tree near the stupa in 2006.
First time I ventured into taking the publicly run APTDC bus from Hyderabad to Vijayapuri, the village from which boat tours run to the island. If you can somehow manage to make it out of the huge Mahatma Gandhi bus terminal alive and in the right bus, the travel through the myriad of small villages on a market day Saturday is an eye opener. The “real” India is in the villages, not in the mega cities like Hyderabad that have mushroomed into traffic congested permanent construction zones of dust and fumes and people in a hurry.
The 45 min boat ride to Nagarjunakonda took us from near the massive Nagarjuna Sagar Dam, built by Indira Gandhi’s government with local, more or less slave labour, in the late 1950’s, to the quiet and beautiful island. The contrasts in India are ever present whatever the destination: the dam I heard was necessary to build to provide electricity for the entire region as well as irrigation to the Krishna Valley that stretches over 800 km below. It also created the sagar, the lake that modern Indians from the cities escape to in the weekends to smell fresh air and to rest their eyes over the mighty river Krishna.
The maha-chaitya, or stupa, was constructed near the statue of Buddha by the royalty of the day in the early Middle Ages. It was a queen who allowed buddhist monks and other religious brotherhoods their places of worship in the region. As I only had an hour to do a walk about, I missed visiting the renowned museum near the dock that houses the many artefacts, some of which date back to the Neolithic age, the third millennium BC.