This is a brief account of my first trip to Tirupati. I was accompanied by my colleague and one of my best friends, Rajesh. At the offset let me say, it was a riveting experience.
Tirupati temple is on the top of a hill called Tirumala while Tirupati is the town at the foot of the hill. We started our journey on 31st of August. There was a fleet of bus heading to Tirupati at the ever buzzing Majestic bus station of Bangalore. Rajesh was late on the day which was quite unusual, because its always the other way round; he waits for me. At last he came, to my surprise he looked more like on a trek than a pilgrimage; with his puma tracks, backpack and all. He wanted to board an APSRTC bus (a loyal Andhraite.. LOL), but I pulled him onto a KSRTC bus. The bus was decently furnished with plush seats. 31st of August was a working day and both of us were tired, in no time we were fast asleep. Next day, i.e. September 1st around 5:30 am we reached Tirupati bus station. I had a very good sleep, for I am more accustomed to travelling than Rajesh. For a long time he complained of not getting proper sleep, bad quality of buses and comparison of Indian roads to that of West, of course with lot of statistics (give a topic and its rare that Rajesh can't give you some numbers on that, and to be honest 99.99% of the time he is dead accurate)
There are three ways of getting the darshanam. One is to get to the temple via steps (around 4000 steps, which according to Rajesh comes up to some 10km) and is free of cost. Second way is to get the ticket of Rs50 and get to the temple premises by bus. Third is ofcourse for the able, take a Rs300 ticket to get darshanam early (I don't understand the funda, money rules I guess).
Our plan was to go by steps. The steps start at Alipiri. So we took the Tirumala bus from Tirupati bus station and alighted at Alipiri. Once we were done with the morning chores we started climbing the long fleet of steps. At Alipiri there is a provision to get the luggage carried to the top free of cost. I was adamant on not giving my bag to anyone I don't know for what reason. Rajesh gave his backpack there. At the beginning the steps were quite steep and some of them were numbered.
Though we were sweating heavily, Rajesh told me that the weather was too good and it won't get better than this. After every 100 steps or so we paused for a minute or two. There were lot of pilgrims, from all age groups. Kids running along the steps (much to my envy), middle aged and old men and women. All of them were quite supple in their movements as compared to us. Some of them were applying turmeric paste on the steps while some were lighting camphor on each step. I kept wondering how they managed to climb the steps and light camphor at the same time. Their agility was really commendable (I guess they might have done that a lot many times). There were street hawkers and vendors along the steps. Half way through we had our breakfast, idli-vada with sambhar and chutney.
As I mentioned earlier there are around 4000 steps in total. We can think of the difficulty in climbing the steps as an analogy to life. At some parts its very easy and at some parts its very difficult, so is life some times it goes on smoothly and sometimes its full of hardships.
We reached the top of the hill around 10 am. We then roamed around to find some accommodation, but in vain. Some of them had counters for VIP recommendation, i.e. come with some recommendation letter from a MP or an MLA and you will get a room quite easily. After an hour long search we had to settle for a free locker facility. We bought a locker and then kept all our belongings there. After bath we left to the temple.
By the time we reached temple it was 12 and it was closed. We were told that it would reopen at 2pm. We then had lunch roamed around. The sun was overhead and the heat unbearable. Around 10 minutes to 2pm we reached the free darshanam gate and it was flooded with people. With that started the second phase, the wait for the darshanam. We had to wait for around 3 hours for the darshanam. Amidst pulling and pushing we somehow got inside the temple premises. As we get the darshanam for less than a minute, I had my little prayer and then came out of the temple.
With that started the third phase, getting the prasadam. This was the most toughest part. People though within the temple premises, soon became barbaric. Shouting and pushing trying to get ahead of the queue. They tested my patience for around 30 minutes and I finally gave up. I declared I don't want the prasadam. I was furious and disappointed, such was behaviour of the other devotees. I barely escaped from getting my shirt torn in the queue. Then Rajesh suggested to go to first floor for collecting the laddoos. Thankfully there was no crowd and we got the prasadam in less than five minutes.
With that the fourth phase started, journey back to Bangalore. We collected our belongings at the locker room and set our return journey. Rajesh suggested to go back by train. I was a lot skeptical about his idea, but had to give in. He goes on by some intuition and most of the times it works. This time he claimed that the half the train would become empty once it reaches Tirupati. But when the train finally arrived hardly some people got down. Again to his luck, there was one compartment with empty seats. We got onto that compartment. His next claim was that at that hour ticket examiner wouldn't bother to come and check the tickets. But the Ticket Examiner came and asked for tickets. I was so fast asleep that I didn't witness all that happened next. Rajesh's part of the story says, the TTE came and asked him the tickets. He searched the pockets and couldn't find the tickets. He then told him that the tickets are with me. He asked him whether he should wake me up or not. But when TTE saw me in deep sleep he felt pity and left (neither exaggerated nor abridged.. LOL). Next day morning we reached Bangalore.
It was really a riveting experience. Hope will get more chances to visit the temple... :)