Our trip to Tirupati was made possible by reducing one day at Port Blair.
Tirupati-Balaji is the temple of Lord Krishna or 'Govindaa'. One of the busiest and richest temples in India.
After returning from Port Blair, we took a taxi to Tirupati from Chennai. Chennai to Tirupati and back is possible in one day (~ 20 hours) but it is better to be on a safer side and keep two days (at least one and half days).
Distance from Chennai (airport) to Tirupati is 180 km and from Internet we had learned that it will take about 3.5 hours. It took us almost six hours! Road from Chennai to this famous temple is practically non-existent. It is under construction (God Balaji only knows since when...) and will take another couple of years to complete. Such delays can totally disrupt your tour planning. We had expected to reach by 3 pm and we reached after 5 pm.
Main temple is on the top of the hill. At the base is the town of Tirupati. The climb takes 30 min through excellent road (16 km). Roads for going up and coming down are different that makes them safe.
Darshan at Tirumala are in three categories:
(2) Queue for Rs. 50/-
(3) Queue for Rs. 300/-. On different days of the week the queue for Rs. 300/- opens for different hours. In this queue, Lord Balaji gives you appointment at a fixed hour and you don't have to wait in the queue for more than 3 hours. You can rest in your hotel room and come at the appointed hour.
Free Darshan are open round the clock.
Reaching Tirumala (top of the hill) at 5 pm made all the difference. Tickets for Rs. 50/- were closed and so also the Rs. 300/- quota. Rs. 300/- quota would open at 9.00 am next day.
Lord Balaji wanted us to meet through the common man's route. And we didn't have a choice.
We joined the Free Darshan system (yes it should be called a 'system') at around 6.15 in the Vaikuntham Queue Complex
. After half an hour of terrible jostling and pushing, we passed through the security gate and we were directed in to a big CAGE. They call it HALL. It is a stepped room with metal grill walls on all four sides (hence I prefer to call it cage). It was cage (hall) no. 9. There are more than such 30 cages. Each cage can accommodate nearly 400 devotees. To our surprise, as soon as we entered the cage, every one (who was experienced) spread out their sheets of clothes and prepared to sleep. Before we could understand anything, the cage was full and it was locked from outside!
There was a huge TV screen showing the activities in the Sanctum sanctorum live. Some privileged neta
was performing pooja
and priests were chanting shlokas
in local language.
On the notice board was written: Time of sitting: 14th November, 6.40 pm. Expected time for Darshan, 15th November, 9.00 pm! We were explained that sometimes it takes more than 24 hours of waiting in free darshan.
We felt trapped!
However, there is a mechanism to temporarily leave the cage by registering at the photometric registration system. We missed it because the announcement was made in local language.
Around 9 pm, devotees woke up and rushed to the back of the cage to collect their portion of daal-rice served free by the temple. The cage filled with the aroma of daal-rice. We prayed to be saved from some daal-rice dropping on us! Everything became quiet after some time.
By 10 pm it became very cold and we didn't have extra clothes to protect us. We were without dinner and had very little water. We were looking for the volunteers to unlock the cage and take us out. We had almost decided to quit - without Darshan.
At 10.30 whistles started blowing and suddenly it became clear that our lot will be taken for Darshan. Devotees ran pushing each other and chanting 'Govidaa
'. We passed through a maze of queue system for next hour. On the way, there was another queue system for collecting coupons for 'laddus
Finally we reached the main temple around 11.30. There we didn't have to make any effort to move forward. We simply floated through the main temple with the help of pushes from the more devoted devotees. Our Darshan part was over in less than a second, after waiting in the queue for 5 hours.
Queues didn't end there. We were to go to another building where 'laddus' were handed over in return for coupons. Can you imagine who were doing this job? More than 20 India's top leading Banks!! I am at loss to understand what they were doing and why? Why banks were involved in laddu distribution?
The entire Darshan ritual ended at 12.30 past midnight.
The TTD (Tirupati-Tirumala-Devasthanam) must be given full credit for making all possible efforts to maintain order and provide as much facilities to the visitors as possible. In the cages, huge ventilation systems were working efficiently. It never felt congested or smelly. Toilets were clean and dry (a big surprise!). RO drinking water was available. Volunteers were poilte and courteous. The problem is with the devotees: their number and their behaviour. Inspite of having 33 crore devatas (Gods)
as per Hindu mythology, Lord Balaji has to take such a load! HE is available 24x7. Number cannot be restricted - we were also a part of those thousands. But the behaviour! Every devotee wanted to go ahead of the other! There is no shame in fighting to go ahead of others in the temple.
Next on the agenda was to search for room to stay at night. None were available. All the accommodations are managed by the Temple authority and are booked in advance.
We decided to climb down the hill and stay in some hotel at Tirupati (there are many there). But no! It would not be possible before 3 am. Road to go down remains closed from 12 midnight to 3 am. After spending few hours in the car, we proceeded to find a hotel at 4.30 am to rest for a few hours before proceeding to Chennai to catch return flight to Ahmedabad.
You have to be a true devotee to visit Tirupati again.
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