Tirupati Balaji: The most visited temple in the world

Tirupati Balaji: The most visited temple in the world
Tirupati Balaji- some temple in south India where people visit for hair tonsuring and the laddu prasad of the temple are quite delectable. This was all I knew about this place. I didn’t have much information about the temple nor was there any temple dedicated to Lord Venkatesh in my town. Yet very often people traveled to visit Tirupati. So I always had an urge to visit this place someday. After I shifted to Bangalore, I had an opportunity to fulfill that urge.

How to reach Tirupati? Tirupati is well connected through road and rail network. It is around 250 km from Bangalore and 130 km from Chennai.
Major attractions: Venkateswara Balaji Temple, Srikalahasti Temple, Padmavati Temple, ISKCON Tirupati Temple, Kapila Teertham.

Best time to visit? Whenever you want. People visit Tirupati throughout the year. There are even yearly passes for the Balaji temple available for devotees visiting regularly.

Venkateswara Balaji Temple
Located in the Tirumala Hills at Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh, Venkateswara Temple is the most visited holy place in the world with about 1 lakh daily visitors and even reaching 5 lakh on festive occasions. This temple, also known as the Kaliyuga Vaikuntham, is dedicated to Lord Venkateswara (a form of the supreme Lord Vishnu) and was consecrated around 300 AD. Lord Venkateswara is also popularly known by names like Srinivasa, Govinda and Balaji. The Tirumala hills is actually a sierra of seven hills- Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrushabhadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri. The holy abode of Lord Venkateswara is on the Venkatgiri.

I went to Tirupati with 8 of my friends. We booked a 12 seater tempo traveler. We started in the night at around 1 AM. We reached Tirupati at 7 AM. We had already pre booked our accommodation in a hotel near the Tirupati bus stop. If you are going only to visit the Venkateswara temple then it is advisable to book your accommodation at Tirumala. However, if you wish to explore other places at Tirupati then it is better to stay in the Tirupati town. After checking in we rested for some time, freshened up and started our exploration of Tirupati.

Our itinerary was not a copybook spiritual trip of Tirupati. Ideally, devotees visit the Venkateswara temple first followed by the Padmavati temple and finally the Srikalahasti temple. But we started with the Srikalahasti temple. The Srikalahasti temple, also known as the Dakhsin Kashi, is 40 km from Tirupati. Here Lord Shiva is worshiped as Kalahasteeswara in the form of Vayulinga. The Srikalahasti temple is believed to have been carved out of the side of a single stone hill in the 5th century. It took us around 1 hour 15 mins to reach the temple. You enter the temple through a gopuram and then there are large steps which leads to the main temple located over the hill. The temple, as expected was crowded and we had to wait in long queues to get the darshan. It took us about 2 hours in the temple and another 1.5 hours to return to Tirupati.

After returning to Tirupati we had lunch and then visited the ISKCON temple and the Kapila Teertham. The ISKCON temple at Tirupati is one of the most beautiful ISKCON temples that you will find in the country. The Radha Krishna deities along with the gopis imitate the rashleela of the lord at the holy Vrindavan. The Kapila Tirtha is a Shiva temple which also has a pond and a small waterfall. After a complete day of travel, we were very exhausted and our plan was to start early for the Venkateswara temple the next day, so we had dinner and returned back early to sleep.

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ISKCON temple at Tirupati
Next morning we woke up very early and started for the Tirumala Divyadarshan at 4 AM. There are two trek ways to reach the temple- Alipiri Mettu and the Sri Vari Mettu. The 8 km Alipiri Mettu route is more exhausting with 3750 steps, yet it is the more popular route. It takes about 4-5 hrs through this route and about 2 hours through the Sri Vari Mettu route. You can also reach the temple by public buses or private vehicles through anfractuous roads which directly takes you to the temple. We took the more arduous yet adventurous Alipiri Mettu route. In this way, there are steps and roads. Initially, there are steps and then there are roads followed by steps and roads again. Actually, we cross the six hills to reach to Venkatgiri on which the Venkateswara temple is located.
In the beginning, there is a baggage deposit counter. Here you can deposit your luggage which you can recollect on reaching the top by producing the receipt provided to you. Its advisable to undertake the journey only with mobile, purse, camera and water bottle so that you don’t enervate yourself with extra weight. There is shade almost throughout the path baring a few places. So you may not worry about the sun and heat. However, it is still best to climb under the night sky with a cool breeze. The early morning view from the hilltop is an added incentive. The initial 1000 steps are the real challenge. However, there is enough motivation around as you will find old people and people with kalash on their head also ascending the steps with you. There are people with utmost devotion who even crawl their way through these steps. Some devotees light diyas and anoint the steps with vermilion. There are railings to take support and sitting kerb all through the path. Food stalls and drinking water facilitates are present everywhere. So take your time, rest and move slowly.
Biometric darshan ticket

On reaching a place called ‘Namala Konda’ or Gali Gopuram, there is a separate darshan registration facility by the TTD. They took our biometrics and gave us darshan tickets. Don’t forget to collect the tickets as this facility is set up specifically for pedestrian pilgrims so that you don’t have to wait in the compartments too long. It’s more of an acknowledgment of the extreme efforts you have put to reach the lord. ‘Namala Konda’ is visible with brightly illuminated lights in the night from most places in Tirupati. Here you must spend some time and enjoy the amazing view of the entire city with its twinkling lights amidst the dark night sky. There are hawkers who sell refreshments including snacks and soft drinks. We had dosa, puri, idli, chowmin etc; few in our group wanted to undertake the entire journey without food. If you are too tired, take a break, have some food here and then proceed.

Then comes the Anjanadri and the statue of Lord Hanuman. On the right, there is a large grey statue of Lord Hanuman. You will find people worshiping here and lighting diyas. On the way, you will find people pile up stones one atop the other, tie bangles, coins and sacred threads on trees. Lovers scribbling their names on the walls in hope of epitomizing their love is common as in case of almost all tourist places in India. Then comes the deer park. On the left, you will find an enclosure with deer. People often feed them biscuits, bananas etc as devotees regard everything in Tirumala, including these deer as sacred. You can take some good pictures here. After walking ahead from the Hanuman statue, there is another ticket checkpoint. There you need to produce your earlier obtained darshan tickets and get it stamped by officials. If you don’t have this stamping, you will not be entertained for the special darshan being offered for pedestrians. These are basically to ensure that only those devotees who have undertaken the entire journey on foot are entitled to the special privileges.

The statue of Lord Hanuman
From this point onwards, the pedestrian path merges with the roadway for returning vehicles. The view of the Tirumala hills in this section is thrilling. There are many windmills rotating over the lush green hilltops. The green forests on both sides of the road with the early morning freshness makes the walk an enchanting experience. After this stretch of road comes the final 1000 steps of the journey. The initial steps are large and it takes some real energy to ascend them. On completion of these steps, you would have covered about 80% of the journey. From here on its a casual walk to the temple.
The entrance of the final 1000 steps

You may opt for hair tonsuring and then bathe. There may be a long queue but the people engaged in the act of hair tonsuring are real pros and you will soon get your turn. There is free bus service from this place to the temple. Finally, you will have to deposit your mobile, camera and other electronic gadgets at a counter. We deposited our belongings and headed for the queue. Apart from the free darshan, there are special darshan tickets which have to be pre booked from the temple website. These tickets considerably reduce the time for darshan. There are two types of special darshan tickets – Rs. 50 and Rs. 300. While booking these tickets you need to select a time slot as per availability and you are expected to reach by that time. Carrying a valid photo ID is a must. We had the Rs.300 tickets which come with four free laddus. But there is a strict dress code for this category which we were unaware of. For gents it is mandatory to wear a proper dhoti; no you cant wrap it over your trousers and for ladies only traditional Indian attire is allowed; no sleeveless. We had to buy dhotis and for most of us including me, it was the first time. I really struggled before I convinced myself to move ahead with a flimsy cloth covering me.

On reaching the temple, irrespective of which route one took or the type of ticket one has bought, all are put into compartments. I had heard people waiting in these compartments for 2-3 hours even with Rs.300 tickets. The wait can even extend more than 10 hours. However, our compartment opened after only 10 minutes of reaching. We were extremely lucky in that case.

Inside the temple, there is an atmosphere of spirituality and divinity with the chant of “GOVINDA” making rounds. Devotees pass through the Mahadwaram, a 50 feet tall outer gopuram entering an open courtyard marked by an ornate flagstaff called the Dhwajastambam. To the left is the Ranganayaka Mandapam and the right is the Aina Mahal (hall of mirrors). All the queues finally culminate in a platform leading to the Bangaru Valiki (normally devotees are allowed only till this point). From here, one can see the main deity in the sanctum sanctorum. Inside a dark room lit by earthen lamps is the divine deity of Lord Venkateswara in standing posture with four hands; one in varada posture, one placed over the thigh and other two holding Sankha (Panchaganya) and Sudarshana Chakra. Normally devotees get just a few seconds for the darshan but we had been lucky throughout, we got a proper view of more than 30 secs which gave us a feeling of divine elation and made our trip successful. On coming out we circumambulated the temple. On the northeastern corner on the middle tier of the 3 tiered golden vimana of the temple is Vimana Venkateswara Swamy. There is an arrow board pointing towards this and a silver Makarathorana around the Vimana Venkateswara Swamy on the vimana. It is believed that the darshan of Lord Venkateswara is incomplete without the darshan of Vimana Venkateswara Swamy. Then there is the donation hundi, where people jostle to reach and drop their donations. On the left, there are glass chambers where you can see people counting the money deposited in the hundi. The annual hundi earnings are over 900 crore INR.

At last, we went to the laddu prasad counter. The laddu of Tirupati temple has been accredited GI status and are an integral part of the temple customs. There are about 60 laddu counters from where you can collect free laddus on producing your ticket or the free darshan ticket you were given at Namala Konda. You can also buy extra laddus for an additional cost. We bought many laddus for distributing in the office. After that, we came out of the temple and collected our belongings from the counter. Then we went for lunch and started our trip back to Bangalore.

 Important points for readers:
1. Avail special darshan tickets to avoid the long queues.
2. Pre book your accommodation before reaching Tirupati.
3. There is a separate queue for kids less than 1 year old where you have to just pay Rs. 20. Only parent and the kid are allowed.
4. If you decide to take the trek route, try to do the climbing part in the night.
5. The dress codes are strictly followed at Tirupati, so adhere to the rules.
Thanks for reading. Tirupati being one of the most visited places in the world invariably features in the list of most travelers. If you are one of them, please visit, seek the blessing of Lord Venkateswara and enjoy the mystic chant GOVINDA GOVINDA ……..GOOOOVINDAAA…..!!!!
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