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Visakhapatnam was ruled by King Visakha Varma during BC's, according to Hindu Puranams. It was a part of the Kalinga Kingdom, under Ashoka's rule in 260 B.C. It passed on later to the Andhra Kings of Vengi and later to Pallavas. Another story of this place is it was named after Subrahmanyeswara, the deity of valour, the second son of Lord Shiva. The beauty of the place was often compared to the beauty of Sakhi Visakha. The legend is that Radha and Visakha were born on the same day and were equally beautiful. Locals believe that an Andhra king, impressed by the beauty, built a temple to pay obeisance to his family deity, Visakha.


The city has been mentioned in the Indian epics Ramayanam and Mahabharatham, as well as the forests of the Eastern Ghats where the two brothers Rama and Lakshmana wandered in search of Sita, wife of Lord Rama. According to the epics, Rama formed his army of monkey men in the region with the help of Hanuman and Jambavant. The monkey army of Rama later defeated the King Ravan to claim back his wife Sita. An episode of Mahabharatam when Bhima killed the demon Bakasura, was believed to have happened in the village Karmanvati, just 40 km from the city.


The religious Hindu texts mention that the region of Visakhapatnam in the 5th century BC was part of the vast Kalinga territory which extended up to the Godavari River. The relics found in the area also prove the existence of a Buddhist empire in the region. Kalinga later lost the territory to King Ashoka in the bloodiest battle of the time which prompted him to embrace Buddhism.


The territory of Visakhapatnam came under the Andhra rulers of Vengi. Then Chalukyas, Pallavas ruled over the placid land. This region was under Eastern Ganga Kings, Surya Vamsi Gajapati kings of Orissa from 10th century to 16th century AD. This region came under Hyderabad rulers in 16th century. The Chola kings and Eastern Ganga Kings of Orissa built the temples in the city in 11-12 century AD as established by archeological findings. The Mughals ruled this area under the Hyderabad Nizam in the late 15th and early 16th century. European merchants from France, Holland and the East India Company used the natural port to export tobacco, paddy,coal,iron ore,ivory, muslin and other textile products.
Local legend states that an Andhra king, while on his way to Benares, rested there and was so enchanted with the sheer beauty of the place. He ordered a temple to be built in honor of his family deity, Visakha. Archaeological sources however reveal that the temple was possibly built between the 11th and 12th centuries by the Cholas. A shipping merchant, Sankarayya Chetty, built one of the mandapams (pillared halls) of the temple. Although it no longer exists (it may have been washed away about a hundred years ago by a cyclonic storm), elderly residents of Visakhapatnam talk of visits to the ancient shrine by their grandparents. Noted author Ganapatiraju Atchuta Rama Raju contradicted this.In the 18th century, Visakhapatnam was part of the Northern Circars, a region comprising Coastal Andhra and southern coastal Orissa that was initially under French control and later the British. Visakhapatnam became a district in the Madras Presidency of British India. In September 1804, British and French squadrons fought the naval Battle of Vizagapatam off the harbour. After India's independence it was the biggest district in the country and was subsequently divided into the three districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam.
The city has the tomb of the Muslim saint Syed Ali Ishak Madina, located atop the dargah-hill near the harbour in old city, which is dated to 18th century, where Hindus make vows at it as often as Muslims. The saint is considered to be all potent over the elements in the Bay of Bengal. Many old residents say that every vessel passing the harbour inwards or outwards used to salute the saint by hoisting and lowering its flag three times, and that many ship-owners offer chadar at the shrine after a successful voyage. It's been said that the name Visakhapatnam is named after him i.e. Syed Ali Ishak Madina, the saint. Initially it was Ishaqapatnam which has been modified into present Visakhapatnam may be because of mispronunciation of an Arabic world by  the local people.


From a small fishing village in the 20th century, Visakhapatnam has grown into an mega-industrial hub. Its saga began when the British needed a suitable port that could serve move the rich mineral wealth from the central India. Unlike the western coast of India, the east coast is devoid of any natural harbours.To their surprise they located Visakhapatnam which was naturally protected from sea by Dolphin's nose hill and also the estuary of Meghadri river ending into sea formed a natural channel which was protected on south by Dolphin's nose which made it very natural and most suited for major port in those days. They started building the harbour in 1927; in 1933 it was opened to traffic.One important milestone is the setting up of the Scindia Steam Navigation Co, later known as Hindustan Shipyard Limited in 1940. With the construction of the Kottavalasa-Kirandul (K.K. )line connecting the iron ore mines of Bailadila in M.P. (present day Chattisgarh), its importance grew. In the 1950s and 1960s the government and the private sector set up large scale basic industries like Bharat Heavy Plates & Vessels Ltd, Hindustan Zinc Ltd., Caltex oil refinery (later acquired by government as H.P.C.L.), Coromandel fertilizers, and Andhra Polymers (now LG Polymers). The 1980s saw a major development with the development of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant and other major industries. Economic liberalization in the 1990s brought a modest growth to the city but not as much as it did to Hyderabad. However, some industries sprang up like Rain Calcining Ltd., expansion of HPCL, setting up of Visakhapatnam Export Processing Zone, and the Simhadri Thermal Power plant of N.T.P.C. Due to the presence of the Eastern Naval Command, Steel Plant and H.P.C.L., the city has been the home to people from different parts of the country and due to this the city has a cosmopolitan nature.


Many battles have been fought in the city during such conflicts as World War II, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and the Bangladesh Liberation War. It was only the second region in South Asia to be attacked by Japanese fighter planes during World War II. Recognising the strategic importance of the city and the role it played during the Bangladesh Liberation War, Pakistan allegedly sent its submarine, PNS Ghazi to destroy India's only aircraft carrier. The submarine sank off the coast (Pakistan claims, accidentally hitting one of the mines it laid; India claims, from a depth-charge dropped by the destroyer INS Rajput). The remnants of the submarine are on display on the beach road and it has become a major tourist attraction.The city was so important during times of war that the Indian government decided to set up the Eastern Naval Command, overlooking the more populous Chennai and Kolkata, and developed Visakhapatnam during that period. The establishment of the E.N.C. soon after the construction of the ship building yard firmly secured Visakhapatnam's place in the annals of the Indian Navy. Some of the defence related establishments are N.S.T.L. (Naval Science and Technology Laboratories), which is responsible for the development and testing of warship technology, equipment and weapons and Bharat Dynamics Ltd is coming up for manufacturing heavy and light weight torpedoes. The navy also has a naval dockyard [started in 1949] in the city where recently India's first Nuclear Submarine was launched. The navy has plans to set up submarine base in the city at the alternate ENC base in Rambilli near Visakhapatnam.

The Navy is also constructing a second base as the current base is overpopulated and not sufficient to meet the needs of theE.N.C. Despite its importance, the Naval establishment has become a hindrance for the development of Visakhapatnam. The  harbour is not open to the general public for reasons of security. Visakhapatnam is surrounded on three sides by the overlapping mountain ranges, and the southeastern city is safeguarded by the Bay of Bengal. Visakhapatnam is far away from any international border, both land and sea, making it the choice for strategic placement of the headquarters of the eastern naval command.Visakhapatnam was declared one of ten fastest growing cities of the world in a recent study conducted by the United Nations.