Like most mothers, my mother also had one wish: to take me to a temple. After a lot of coaxing and cajoling, my mom managed to convince me, but I had no clue that her intention was to take me all the way down south to Tirumala (for that is the name of the place where the temple of Lord Trupati is situated). The Tirumala hills are the world’s second oldest rock mountains.
It is a small range of seven hills, and atop the Venkatachalam hill is the temple of Lord Tirupati or Lord Venkateswara. Agreed; its the most beautiful and one of the richest and most visited holy places in the world after the Vatican, but I was in no mood to spend the last week of my vacation in a crowded, stuffy town full of religious people scurrying about to catch a glimpse of their favourite, Lord Tirupati. But I was in for a huge surprise and a pleasant one at that.
Lesson no 1: Always go with some amount of expectations about a place. That way it’s more fun when it surprises you.
My trip to Tirumala has officially been the most fruitful and pious experience of whatever little that I have lived of my life so far. I have been to quite a few holy places in my life (thanks to my mother) but Tirumala is the only one that counts as being the most relaxed of them all. It could also be attributed to the timing of the trip. We went towards the end of June when there are no big festivals being celebrated, and therefore, makes it the best time to visit Tirupat,i if all you are looking for is a quiet visit.
But if you want to see the temple in its full splendour, then the best time would be during September, when the temple celebrates Brahmotsavam, which is the most important of all the festivals. This festival sees the arrival of millions of devotees within a short span of a week. February, March and April are also the other auspicious months, when the temple receives a large number of devotees.
Anyway, there we were with our luggage at Dadar station (in Mumbai) waiting to board the Dadar-Chennai express at 8:20 pm which would reach Renigunta at 5:20 pm the next day. On reaching Renigunta, we hired a cab to Tirumala, which takes hardly 30 minutes. It was made entertaining and interesting, with Telugu songs playing on the radio and a helpful driver who gave us the entire low-down on how to get rooms, when to go the temple, approximately how long would we have to stand in the line before we finally get our darshan, etc. That’s something wonderful about this place. Even if these people don’t speak your language, they are ready to help you in any which way they can.
And speaking of languages, it is mandatory that you at least speak English or Hindi (if you don’t know Tamil or Telugu), because that is a language that they sincerely make an attempt to speak in, putting an end to the myth that people in South India refuse to speak in Hindi or any other language except their own.
Lesson no. 2: Be multi-lingual but do not try to speak a language if you are not well-versed in it (my Tamil was painfully rejected). Speak in a language that you are comfortable in. Chances are that they will know it too.
Now came the main task of finding a place to stay in. We were told that the TTD (Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam) – Trust of Tirupati temple is the right place to look for. They have a huge complex, complete with small shops, a restaurant and close to 400 rooms, which would make you think that accommodation would be a piece of cake. But it was not. At any point of time, you have to wait for at least two hours to get a room and in our case, 4 hours. The cost of one room is 200 per night for non-AC rooms and 400 for AC rooms. The rooms are all clean and well-maintained. But apart from these, there are many hotels around the TTD complex, so that you are, at all times, close to the TTD complex and can avail of its facilities. Remember, whenever you go to Tirumala, it is better to book your rooms’ before-hand. You can do this online on the TTD website.
We were so tired and exhausted that we opted for a room in a hotel right opposite the TTD complex. But lunch, dinner and breakfast was all at the TTD restaurant inside the main complex building. The food is good, reasonably priced and predominantly vegetarian. Non-vegetarian food is available, but not at the complex. You will have to go looking for it outside. The restaurant has a simple, calm and clean ambience. And while you are there, one thing that you must try is the fresh fruit juice stall. Every glass of juice is freshly-made right in front of you and simply delicious. And I can personally vouch for every fruit juice that is made in that stall as I have tasted them all.
Another thing that will surprise you about this place is how neat it is, considering the number of footfalls it receives each day. They have a cleaning staff everywhere that works round the clock to keep the place neat and clean at all times. But then, to everything positive, there is a negative side as well.