Tirupathi – other attractions nearby

We had booked a couple of days at Tirumala, thinking we might be able to “see” the Lord Venkateshwara the next day, if we were turned away on the first, due to the presence of a large number of devotees. Fortunately, we had the Darshan right away, which opened up a lot of time for us to spend in and around Tirupathi.

We visited the Sri Vari Museum, which is at a walking distance from Sri Venkateshwara temple. I’ve visited Tirumala many times, but had never set foot in this museum or even heard of it before. We just happened to notice it as we walked out of the temple, and decided to take a look. There was no entrance fee. We walked through rooms lined with sculptures of Gods made centuries ago.I got an idea of how the art of sculpting has evolved over the ages from idols that look a bit knobbly to the latest, more shapelier ones.

There were paintings and pictures of temples hung on walls along with the other artifacts. Even though it was free, not many seemed to be visiting it, which, thankfully meant, we could walk around and gaze at the life-like idols for however long we wished to, and in peace.

We booked a cab for the next day, to cover as many places worth visiting as we could, before we had to board our train at night.

We went to see one of the very few Natural Arches in Asia, whose picture we had seen at the museum and decided we HAD to pay a visit. This Natural Arch (also called Silathoranam), caused by erosion, isn’t as awe-inspiring as the ones we saw at the Arches National Park, Utah, but it is beautiful in its own right, especially because it is said to have been a doorway through which the Lord himself entered, to take his residence at the temple.

20150112_094818There was a mini zoo within the premises, which the kids enjoyed.

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A small hike led us through a waterfall and a tiny temple.

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We went down to Tirupathi to visit the beautiful Iskcon temple. The realistic idols clad in rich, colorful clothes inspired me. But the downer was the way in which the people who worked there were trying to get us to make donations or buy a product, like salesmen. That felt jarring within a temple.

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Our next stop was Kapilatheertham, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, at the foothills of Tirumala. Right beside the temple is a waterfall that supposedly swells during the rainy season, but when we were there, it was nothing more than a trickle or two. We sprinkled a few droplets on our heads as it is said to wash away all our sins.

20150112_121637The temple looked very old and left me humbled to be walking on the very stones where the Kings and Queens once graced their feet upon.

Sadly, it didn’t look well-maintained.

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20150112_121327Our last stop was the SriKalahasthi temple, located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, which is a 40 min drive from Tirupathi. From the outside, the temple looked pretty small, and dirty too; The river, Swarna Mukhi, looked like she had been transformed into a sewer; The surrounding area was crowded with shops, speeding vehicles and people, making it hard to reach the entrance of the temple; A snake charmer scared the little ones with his poor snake, which itself looked really scared. It felt like a Circus and not a place of immense religious and historical value.

Sadly, I couldn’t capture the grandeur I saw and experienced, once I set foot inside the temple premises. We had to leave our cameras/ cellphones behind in the car, as they were not allowed inside.

Built centuries ago, in an architectural style that kind of shows Man his place in the grand scheme of things, it truly made me feel small and of no consequence, whatsoever. The ceiling was high, the pillars supporting it, tall and imposing, the chambers dark and a bit claustrophobic. It stirred both, an eerie feeling and reverence, at the same time in me. The whole experience was other-worldly. And our walk within the temple felt never-ending, so huge is the temple.

But one thing I will always remember about this temple is our descent, 20 feet below, to see the Pathala Ganapathi. The entrance was small and we had to crawl through it to reach a narrow staircase, which plunged down into a dark chamber. There lay the Pathala Ganapathi, who seemed mysterious, due to the inconvenience he imposed on the devotees who longed to pay him a visit.

Descending seemed easier compared to climbing 20 huge steps up a staircase with no wiggle-room. It truly was an adventure, especially with a couple of kids. But the kids themselves seemed to be thrilled about the “adventure”.

There’s so much to see and do in India, I never thought visiting some of our historical and religious places could come so close to the adventure we experienced hiking through the National Parks in the US.

Tirupathi – Tirumala Venkateshwara temple.

Yesterday, I published a post on my first time climbing the Tirumala hills.

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I felt jubilant at the end of the climb. And the kids were elated to receive us, like we had been apart for long. (We were out climbing only for a couple of hours before we joined them!)

We didn’t pay a visit to the Lord Tirumala Venkateshwara at the end of the climb. Instead, we first checked into a suite at Lailavathi Nilayam, a guest house at the hilltop of Tirumala. On our previous visits, we had stayed at Fortune Kences Hotel, which is situated close to the railway station, at Tirupathi or the Udupi Mutt which is located at Tirumala. But I highly recommend staying at one of the guest houses up the hill, close to the temple. A stay at Tirumala is much more convenient than staying at a hotel in Tirupathi; It takes longer to get to the temple. Plus, a stay at Tirumala, which is well-maintained and scenic, is so rejuvenating than staying at a pricey hotel in Tirupathi, amidst the cacophony of a big city.

Our room was clean, spacious and cozy. But the best part was the views our balcony offered.

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Refreshed after a shower and lunch at Sarangi, we headed to the temple for our appointment with the Lord at 3pm. This temple is pretty much crowded all through the year; In order to avoid the rush, we had purchased “Special Darshan” tickets for 300 rupees a person in advance. Actually, we bought tickets for both the days that we were staying there with the idea that, if it got too crowded and we were sent back the first day, we still had the chance to visit the temple the next day!

After winding through an enclosure for a long time, we were stopped at a counter to have our tickets examined. We were told that we had to submit a photocopy of our ticket, but we didn’t have one. We asked them to keep the original, but they refused and ordered one of us to go and get the copy from the Xerox machine, located at the start of the queue. Poor Prasad! He raced to the store to return before the number of devotees swelled.

Even with tickets booked in advance for Special Darshan, we walked at snail’s pace within the enclosures, with no breathable space between 2 people. Now that we had entered, there was no way out, except after visiting the Sanctum Sanctorum. After depleting their snacks, the kids began feeling bored and fussy and in the case of Medha, scared that she was going to be squashed by the adults around her. I carried Madhav, while Prasad carried Medha now and then. She is almost 5 and difficult to be carried for a longer time. So I tried to keep them entertained by singing rhymes along with them or by diverting their attention to happier thoughts, like talking to them about the windmills we could spot through a tiny window.

As it neared the end, just before the darshan, the crowd could not be restrained. There was a mad rush to “see” the Lord. The chanting of “Yedu Kondala vada Venkataramana Govinda Govinda” (“The Lord Venteshwara, who resides atop the 7 hills!” got louder and louder. People were ecstatic, as if they were about to see the God for real. I couldn’t help feeling the same… Something about that place has always had an intoxicating effect on me.

There was a place to offer money, in which I just emptied my purse. I couldn’t help it! Even though I’m not a very religious person, the Tirumala Venkateshwara temple has that kind of effect on me!

 

 

Tirupathi – the journey

“Slow and Steady!“, I kept telling myself, as I climbed the steps to reach Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara. It was my first time; I had always driven with my family by car or bus and had never taken the pedestrian path up the hills. I tried not to think of the 3550 steps before me but chose to focus on the one step in front. One step at a time! Slow and Steady! One step at a time!…

 That’s what kept ringing in my ears as it got steep and difficult to climb.

I had joined Prasad on this difficult journey on a whim. He had long planned to do the hike all by himself as he felt I wasn’t physically fit to climb. Prasad plays Tennis, does weight training and elliptical and even walks with me every morning, while I only do the morning walk. It had been long since I’d climbed or hiked last. But how could I let a personal challenge like that pass me by? Or let go of a chance to spend some quiet time with Prasad?

Our train had left Secunderabad around 6 in the evening and we reached Tirupathi early in the morning next day. The kids enjoyed walking the length and breadth of our compartment. Madhav was too excited to eat his dinner. So he felt hungry and fussy in the middle of the night. That, and the tiny berth we were cramped together in made it impossible to catch a wink of sleep. Medha- her sleep situation had scared us. She is someone who rolls all over the bed, so we worried she might fall from her berth. We asked if she would sleep with one of us. She wasn’t ready to. We tied a bed-sheet around the middle berth, placed thick blankets as logs beside her, and hoped for the best. She slept through the night without a mishap.

As soon as we got down, we went to a hotel right in front of the Railway Station to eat some breakfast. The food was hard to swallow, but swallow we did, a couple of idlis each, to stock up energy  for the climb.

We told Medha we’d be visiting a temple and if she wanted to, she could join us, but her ajja-dodda (Grandparents), who had accompanied us on the trip, would be going to the hotel to freshen up. She never passes up a chance to explore a hotel room, so she gladly went along with them. We had to sneak out of the cab at Alipiri, when Madhav wasn’t watching.

My legs protested just as I began climbing the first 1000 steps. My muscles cramped and I had difficulty breathing. I asked Prasad not to talk to me as that used up all the energy I had and kept me panting. Every 50 steps or so, I stopped to drink water and to catch a couple of deep breaths. Whenever I did that, I could feel a new wave of energy surging in, making the next few steps climbable. I never let myself sit and relax. I thought that would put my body under inertia and make it impossible to continue the journey afterwards. We kept on moving.

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Prasad mumbled a Mantra, while I mutely watched the people around me, as they undertook this journey, and also wondered what effort and time must have gone into building the steps, in the beginning. The first pilgrims must have had it so hard. We now had a protective ceiling, railings to hold onto, comfortable seats, toilets, shops selling everything from water to Bhel Puri! I only had to look at the little kids or frail old folks making the climb just like me, to pull me out of exhaustion and self-pity

We were admonished by many for wearing chappals. We didn’t know it was a rule not to. Maybe we shouldn’t have, because many hadn’t. Many considered the steps sacred and lit camphor or smeared vermilion upon each step. Imagine having to bend down every few seconds! I pitied their poor backs! I also spotted a few devotees crawling up the steps. The things we do to appease god!

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That’s OK,  but if we could use some of that will power to do something productive, this world would become a much better place…

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About 2000 steps later, the climb leveled out and it was just a long stretch to walk on, through an arid jungle. At one point, we had to walk on the road, sharing it with oncoming vehicles. But the views of the mountains were stunning, for me to sulk about the inconvenience to the pedestrians. We spotted windmills, that instantly flooded us with memories of San Diego, our favorite holiday spot in the US. I kept expecting to see a Gopuram or a gigantic statue of the Lord to mark the end of our journey, but I found none, except, maybe, the gorgeous gigantic statue of Hanuman, along the way.

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The last few steps were steep, but I was brimming with excitement with every step climbed – I had done it; I had FINISHed something hard that I set out to do; I had challenged myself and had emerged victorious. I was also brimming with gratitude towards the Lord Venkateshwara himself; Had he not blessed me with the energy, determination and the companionship of Prasad, it would’ve been impossible for me to accomplish my goal.

It didn’t matter that I was totally exhausted and sore by the end of the journey. And for the next couple of days too…

PS- The band on Prasad’s wrist recorded

9 kms walked

3550 steps climbed

1582 Calories burnt

in 2 and a half hours

at the end.