I had visited Tirupati in 2008 with a friend and that was not a bad experience at all as I got a darshan in about two hours. But this time I was not so lucky. When one takes a package tour, one never realizes the true nature of any city or place. And when you are exploring a place on your own you either get to witness the hidden treasures or in this case the dirty truth.
When my in-laws mentioned about a visit to Tirupati I agreed but I preferred to drive there instead of taking a public transportation and believe me driving was the best part of this trip.
At 5:00 AM on a Friday morning (Nov 23rd), we left home and took NH4 via KR puram ->Kolar->Chitoor->Tirupati road. Once you are on the NH4 there is no way you could miss out the sign boards to Tirupati. Only tip that my friend gave which I think is very good – take the bypass route at Chitoor. The bypass road skips the main city traffic. This road is not in a very good condition but I am told is worth taking than the one through the city.
Light drizzles made the drive more enjoyable and my first stop was only at Chitoor at around 8:15 AM. On the bypass road in Bans hotel which is really good. We had some tasty pongal and vada.
Another quick tip from my friend - Don’t take the first deviation to Tirupati, It will take you to town. Instead you go straight until you reach the main junction. But anyways we had to drive straight to go directly to Kalahasti temple which is about 30kms further. The road is bad hence it takes almost an hour to get there. Luckily we had a quick darshan and pooja.
Came back to Tirupati and waited for my in-laws who took a train from Coimbatore. My FIL wanted to try the newly constructed lodge by the trust – Vishnu nivas, so we enquired about it. Here I was introduced to the first dirty truth – The security guards at the hotel reception are the boss. They tell the rooms are booked and that we have to wait in a queue. The employees are wasting their time waiting for rooms to be vacated in huge numbers before allotting. After a few hours of wait we get an offer – AC rooms only and only one! They ask us to adjust in one room. Crazy! Others simply wait for non –AC room as we grab the opportunity. 5 people do 5 different things to finally lend me the keys to the room. So we rest for a while and take off to Padmavati Temple and Govindaraj Temple.
After a quick dinner we retire for the day. Next morning we start late. By the time we are ready, its 7:30AM and by the time we get to Thirumala toll gate it’s around 8:00AM and there is a long queue of vehicles. Scan all belongings, check the car, pay Rs. 15 and get on with drive uphill.
At the summit we find a parking spot, have breakfast and then realize we have to go to Varaha temple first. So we track that place and wait in an hour long queue and by the time we are done its 10:30. So we bid farewells to in-laws who have booked the ticket in advance and run to the Sheegra darshan ticket counter. (Rs 300) By now thousands of people were struggling to breath in the cage. We got close to ticket counter and were stopped for God knows what reason for almost 1.5 hours. Then we are made to sit in another cage for few more hours and finally get to join the other queues (Rs 50 and Free) at different stages before entering the temple. So finally when I saw Lord Balaji, I had passed 5 hours in a queue. I was pretty okay till then as I had expected this. At the main shrine, the guards “shoo” you away if you loiter around for more than few seconds. But faith had more queues for us. For Ladoos! Oh wait, for the Extra laddoo coupons. Another hour was spent to buy coupons for extra ladoos. Then we go to this beautiful building to collect our laddoos. There is lot of chaos there. The guards or whatever they are called bring in laddoos but are not distributing it. But they are filling it for their friends or colleagues. It was bizarre and after almost half an hour P found out that we could collect them upstairs. By now I had lost my temper and swore never to return to this place!
The first thing I did was drive out of Thirumala and Tirupati nonstop till Chitoor. At Bans hotel had our Lunch cum Dinner at around 7:30PM. By the time we reached home it was 11:30PM.
I was pretty okay with the queue for Darshan because there was a lot of crowd. But occasional long waits made me feel that it may be simply a way to make the Darshan more desirable. But waiting for Ladoo coupons and Ladoo itself is pathetic.
By the end of this day I had realized that Tirupati is a place ruled by security guards and temple administration. We humans will create opportunity even out of God. I am not sure when I would return to this temple until then I shall prey to Lord Balaji from where ever I might be.