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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Went on a 2 day trip to Kalahasti, Tirupati & Tiruchanur with all the kith and kin that could make it. We started from Chennai at about 11 AM in the morning on Sunday and took the Chennai - Poonamallee - Tiruvallur - Tiruttani - Puttur - Renigunta route. From Renigunta, the road to the right leads to Kalahasti while the road to the left leads to Tirupati, Tirumala, Tiruchanur etc.

We first went to Kalahasti and reached there at about 3PM. The festival to mark Shiva Ratri was in full swing and there was a sizeable crowd inside the temple. We had a good darshan. Details on the temple, the legends and other things that you might want to know are available here and here.

From Kalahasti, we headed straight for Tirumala (details of temples/places to visit available here ). From Tirupati, which is located at the foot of the hills, you can either walk all the way up to the temple complex at Tirumala or go by road. I had walked all the way up to the top the last time I had come to Tirumala which was just before I joined ISB. Though my uncle and I were planning to do the same this time also, some confusion regarding the booking of our accomodation at Tirumala ensured that we hit the road and scurried to the top to sort out things. The weather at Tirupati was an extremely pleasant one but it started raining cats and dogs just when we started driving uphill. The guy who drove the cab in which I was sitting was this F1 fan who somehow couldn’t stand the sight of any vehicle in front of him. Believe me, this guy would give your favorite F1 driver a run for his money any day. There were so many instances where I felt I was just seconds away from becoming one with God. There were so many sharp turns where our guy, despite the pouring rain and poor visibility, chose to overtake vehicles much larger than his own. I have never before met a guy with so much guts as to try overtaking buses and trucks right at hairpin bends. All this only reinforced my belief that there is so much of talent in the country lying wasted.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you when I say that I, along with 4 others in my cab, managed to reach the top much ahead of the others in the entourage. We had the Rs. 200 Archana Anantara Darshan (AAD) tickets and we were supposed to assemble at this place called Vaikuntam Queue Complex at 3.30AM … yes you read that correctly …. 3.30 AM in the morning. I do not know why my relatives have complete faith in me while giving me the responsibility to wake them up …. and so while they hit the beds and slept soundly for the few hours that remained between then and darshan time, I was kept fully awake with snores of different pitches and amplitudes coming from all directions. Well … I managed to wake them all up at 2AM and instead of singing praises of how I managed to complete such an arduous task, they sang praises of how they managed to wake up despite having slept for just those few hours. At times, I feel there is no difference between one’s boss at work and one’s kin. If you are thinking why one needs an hour and a half to get ready and assemble at a place that is a stone’s throw away, let me remind you that we had ladies in our group too.

We finally managed to locate the end of what seemed to be a never ending line outside the Queue Complex and assembled there. There are two species of people you almost always seem to find everywhere - parking ticket-waalas and chai-waalas. While a representative of the former kind was probably busy in an adjacent parking lot, there was a chaiwaala right next to the place where we had assembled to give us the much needed eye opener caffeine shot. The serpentine queue started moving at about 3.50 PM and it took a while before we actually entered the queue complex itself. Once we entered the temple compound, we just seemed to be slowly walking again and again in concentric circles that led to the sanctum.

There were multiple queues separated by barricades. The gentlemen in the group were busy planning the rest of the day and the trip back. The kids in the group were jumping up and down and running around in whatever little space they could find between people. The ladies were busy checking the denominations of tickets that people in the adjacent queues had bought. If one of the adjacent queues moved faster, there would be loud gasps and arguments as to which ticket was the best one to be bought and what a terrible mistake the gentlemen in the group had committed. A lot of people were singing bhajans and we pitched in whenever we could hear a familiar song/tune. The kids were very enthusiastic even at this time of the day and they too sang their hearts out. The youngest of my cousins, in her enthusiasm, even sang “Hallelujah, Hallelujah” when the rest of us sang “Govinda, Govinda”. Must have been the effect of the “Christmas Tree” that she saw just outside the queue complex or the realization that God is one.

After what seemed like ages, we finally managed to get a good darshan and come out of the temple complex in one-piece. A tougher, yet to be accomplished task, was getting the famous Tirupati laddus. Believe me or see it for yourself when you go there next - the joy in the faces of people who manage to get the laddus completely overshadows the joy you see in their faces after they manage to get the darshan. After getting the laddus, we visited the Sri Varahaswamy temple nearby and returned back to our rooms after a quick breakfast.

I have been harboring this wish of hearing Smt. M.S. Subhalakshmi’s rendition of Sri Venkatesha Suprabhatam at the Tirumala temple itself. Though I couldn’t get this wish of mine satisfied, I managed to hear her “Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam” in the temple complex and it was a great experience for me.

We started the return journey at about 10.30 AM in the morning with our cab driver still in peak form on the way down. In what seemed like a passage strewn with some of the sharpest hairpin bends, he almost managed to send 4 buses, a ‘tempo’ and countless number of cars tumbling down the hill. His victims would have accumulated a lot of sins on account of the pleasantries they mouthed.

On the way back, we first went to Sri Padmavati Ammavari Temple in Tiruchanur located quite close to Tirupati. We then retraced our way back and went for the first time to a place called Srinivasamangapuram. There is a lovely temple of Sri Kalyana Venkatesa Perumal here. The crowd here is much lesser than that at Tirupati, or at Tiruchanur for that matter, but this is certainly one temple that you must include in your itenerary if you are planning a trip to Tirupati. The beauty of the lord of this temple, as manifested in the idol there, is something that is very difficult to put in words. I also managed to get one of the best “sakkarai pongals” I have had in the recent past, as prasadam here.

We had initially planned a visit to Sri Govindarajaswami Temple in Tirupati and a few other temples like the ones in Tiruttani and Tiruvallur but couldn’t make it to these places as it was getting late. If you plan well, you can see all these temples in two days. A good order that you could follow is the following: Kalahasti -> Tiruchanur -> Srinivasamangapuram temple -> Tirumala and Sri Govindarahaswami and the other temples on the way back.

Here are a few snaps shot from my cell phone camera (please click on the thumbnails to view the larger versions):

Kalahasti

Gopuram over the main gate (located some distance away from the main temple)

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Temple chariot:

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The river Swarnamukhi … actually not sure if this is the river as it is in a very bad state. Going by the fact that the temple is supposed to be located close to the river and that this was the only (prominent) water body around, I guessed this must be the river.

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Tirumala/Tirupati

View of the city from the hills (taken while on the way down):

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Statue of Smt. M.S. Subhalakshmi at a place near the entrance to Tirupati:

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The Kalyana Venkatesa Perumal Temple (Srinivasamangapuram):

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