In the presence of the lord
By Jyothi Menon
All photos by the author/Copyright: RIM Inc.
India has been world’s laboratory in spiritualism and continues to be one. Perhaps, no other country is as rich in sources of spiritual inspiration and in diverse religious places as is India. Tirupati is one of the major pilgrimage centers for the Hindus in India and especially for the Vaishnavaites or the followers of Vishnu.
Millions of pilgrims throng this revered shrine, located in the Tirumala Hills of Chittoor town in Andhra Pradesh. Tirupati is dedicated to the Lord Venkateswara or Lord Balaji or Srinivasa as he is also known, an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. Tirumala is at a height of 3,200 meters above sea level and is surrounded by seven peaks which comprise the hills of the Seshachalam mountain range of the Eastern Ghats. These peaks are known as Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrushabadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri.
The term “Tirumala” means holy-mountain. The seven peaks are supposed to represent the seven heads of the divine snake, Adisesha on whom the lord rests in the ocean of milk in the Hindu mythology. Tirupathi is associated with the Varaha Avatar of Maha Vishnu well, Tirumala according to the story, is the abode of Lord Venkateswara with Lakshmi Devi. His other better half, Padmavathi resides in the Padmavathi temple in Tirupathi. Both temples are marvels of architecture as well as spirituality. If you are spiritual minded or simply interested in knowing more about Hinduism’s greatest temples, this is one place which ought to be on your bucketlist.
Reaching Tirupathi and Tirumala:
Tirumala is located 26 km from Tirupati and can be reached by buses/cars/motorcycles from the temple town. Tirupati can be reached from most major cities via train, bus and airplane. It has its own airport and railway station, decorated in a beautiful style. It takes five hours by car from Bangalore, which is at a distance of 258 km and is reached via Kolar and Chittoor. There are APSRTC buses which ply on this route as well as package tours provided by various tour agencies, if you don’t want to take the trouble to sightsee on your own.
The journey is comfortable with very good, well maintained roads leading out from Bangalore outwards in the direction of Chittoor and there are eateries and rest stops with toilet facilities at intervals including those serving local south Indian cuisine, Uphar, Cafe Coffee Day and Adiga’s to provide nutrients for the hungry cells of your body. But watch out, temperatures in Andhra Pradesh can get pretty hot (reaching 45 degrees ) so if you are not travelling in an air conditioned vehicle, you need to keep yourself hydrated and take proper precautions.
You will know the signs when you are reaching Tirupathi that proclaim the approach of Lord’s town. Tirupathi is a typical bustling town with basic amenities easily available. One can get to try out good Andhra cuisine at some of the good local restaurents. We had good Andhra meals (pure vegetarian) at a restaurant called HariPriya Inn. The service was efficient and food was good and at affordable price.
From Tirupathi one travels up a long and winding road along the peaks of the Tirumala hill to the very top. It takes around 45 mins to one hour. The total distance is around 26 km. The roads are well maintained and you can enjoy the delightful scenery of the hill forests, with beautiful glimpses of sunset and sunrise. You can catch occasional glimpses of wildlife such as golden langurs on the way. If you have time, you can visit the deer park which is located nearby. There are routes also for those who want to walk up to the hill.
Accommodation at Tirupathi and Tirumala:
There are hotel accommodations available at Tirupathi suited to your budget and the kind of comfort you want to stay in. If you want superior five star acommodation, with all the frills and luxuries, then make your way to Fortune Select Grand Ridge, run by the ITC group. An outstanding 5 star accommodation, located on Tiruchanoor road and a little out of the way from the city centre and hence it would give you the time and space to enjoy the scenic splendour of the far away Tirumala hills while at the same time, being near enough to the nearby railway station and Tirumala. The staff is courteous and cheerful and eager to serve.
There are a number of restaurants to whet your appetite and also an exclusive vegetarian restaurant for those who are in town for spiritual purposes and want to follow this custom. The room tariff (single) averages around 3000 Rs per night. There are other good places to lodge like Fortune Kences, located near the Tirupathi railway station. There are also hotels which are easier on the budget, in the city centre and provide decent rooms in the city centre and nearabout, which may suit those who are budget conscious. In addition, TTD (Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams), the administrative body running the temple, also offers accommodation including cottages, guesthouses and choultries as well as public dormitories at both Tirupathi and Tirumala, which needs to be booked in advance. They even offer free accommodation for those pilgrims who cannot afford it.
While at Tirumala:
The temple complex is huge and depending on the season and without advance queue ticket, it may take hours to have a glimpse of the lord in the sanctum sanctorum. It represents an oasis of humanity - all involved in seeking blessings of the world and is a moving experience. The crowds and the devotional atmosphere can be overwhelming. Other than the main temple at Tirumala, there are many important temples in and around Tirupathi such as Padmavati Temple and the old temple of Kalahasti. You can also visit the Srivaari Paadamulu (the lord’s footsteps) at the top of the hill.
Visiting Tirumala and Tirupathi is an immense spiritual experience and visitors will feel like coming back again and again. Such is the charm and spiritual feeling prevalent at this place.