Tirumala, the house of Lord Balaji, located at Seshachalam range (Eastern Ghats), is one of the most visited (avg. 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims per day with peak of 500,000 pilgrims during festive period like Brahmotsavams) and wealthiest shrine in the world. Most of the Indians, during their life time, do pay a visit to this holy shrine.
I have visited the holy shrine N-Number of times, with family & friends. And, have covered most of the places in and around Tirupati during my multiple visits. The current blog is a consolidation of all my travel experience to Tirumala and is written with the aim to high-lighten the below aspects:
- Depict the correct order to visit the Tirumala Balaji and its related temple/s, to perform a ‘Sampooran Darshan’ of Lord Balaji.
- Highlight other popular tourist places in and around Tirupati, apart from Lord Balaji Shrine.
Tirumala and Lord Balaji Darshan
The holy city of Tirupati (Tirumala) is well connected with major Cities through Road, Rail and Air route. It is around 138 km from Chennai, 291 km from Bangalore, 435 km from Vijayawada, 572 km from Hyderabad, and 781 km from Visakhapatnam. Once we reach Tirupati, we have two stepped pathway a motor road way (about 19 Km) to reach Tirumala. The Motor road ways are well laid out, with different routes to go up-hill (to Tirumala) and to come down-hill (to Tirupati city). The road route offers great view of Tirupati and its surroundings. TTD also provides free bus rides from railway station & bus station to Tirumala foothills.
Tirupati to Tirumala Stepped pathway details
The two stepped way to reach tirumala from tirupati town are:
- ‘Alipiri Mettu’ located in Tirupati (~11Kms with 3550 steps) is open 24 hours and is the most used one. It takes around 4hours to reach tirumala by foot. TTD runs free bus service from railway station and bus station to Alipiri Mettu.
- ‘Srivari Mettu’ located near Chandragiri, around 8 kms from tirupati (~2500 steps). These steps are relatively easier to climb (when compared to Alipiri Mettu), but, is closed during evening time. It is said, that the kings (sri krishnadevarya) used these steps to reach Tirumala.
TTD ((http://www.tirumala.org/)) has made arrangements of free accommodation and free ‘Divya’ Darshan for the people who climb the hill on foot. The free tickets are distributed in midway (at Gali Gopuram in Alipiri Mettu pathway).
Climbing the Hill via Alipiri Mettu
The most-used foot route to reach Tirumala is Alipiri foothills, as it is easily accessible and is open 24Hours. A huge Garuda statue greets the pilgrims at the Alipiri foothills. All my travel trips to Tirumala on Foot were through Alipiri Mettu only (and where mostly done during Night time). TTD offers free luggage transport to the hill top, interested Pilgrims can deposit the luggage at the check-in counter present at the hill base and collect it at the luggage centre at top. It is a custom to climb the hill bare footed (and mostly people avoid using slippers at Tirumala hill top).
The climb starts at Alipiri temple, where the Padukas (slippers) of the Lord are kept, post which we have the first Gopuram, from where the steps begin. There are a total of 5 Gopurams and 3550 steps on the way to the top. The toughest trek (steep steps) are the initial 2000 steps till Gali or Kali Gopuram and, the final 500 steps from Mokalimitta Gali Gopuram to reach Tirumala.
At Gali Gopuram, TTD offers free Divya Darshan biometric tickets. Also, there are few shops offering refreshments and Tiffins. From here to Mokalimitta Gali Gopuram, the stretch of 7kms is pretty smooth (and flat). On the way to Tirumala top, we cross Sri Prasanna Anjaneya Statue and Deer reservoir. There are potable water supply and toilets at convenient distances along the way.
At Tirumala top, TTD offers affordable accommodation facilities, which can be pre-booked at TTD website (http://www.tirumala.org/) or at TTD centres present at Tirumala and at all major cities in India.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t cover all the seven hills, when we climb the hill or take the motor road. From Tirupati, the hills we pass over are Sheshadri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrishabadri and Venkatadri. The seven hills (detailed below) are said to represent the seven hoods of Lord Adisesha, the king of serpents.
- Vrushabhadri – Hill of Nandi, the vahana of Lord Shiva
- Anjanadri — Hill of Lord Hanuman.
- Neeladri – Hill of Neela Devi. It is believed that hair offered by the devotees is accepted by Neela Devi. It is because of boon granted by Lord Venkateswara to Neela Devi.
- Garudadri (Garudachalam) – Hill of Garuda, the vahana of Lord Vishnu.
- Seshadri (Seshachalam) – Hill of Sesha, das of Lord Vishnu.
- Naraynadri – Hill of Lord Narayana. Believed to be the first place where lord kept his foot. Srivari Padalu are located here.
- Venkatadri – Hill of Lord Venkateswara. On which the temple stands. It is the lowest one and is surrounded by the other hills, which are much higher.
Main Temple Visit at Tirumala
The Correct order of visiting the Lord Balaji / Tirumala is
- Kapila Theertham temple (at Tirumala foot hills) is a Saivite temple and is believed that, Lord Siva on being impressed with Kapila Muni’s devotion presented himself as Svayambhu Linga at this place. During rainy season, water from Seshachalam Hills falls into the temple Pushkarni, which adds aura to the whole place. The story of Kapila Theertham is depicted on temple walls, which can be viewed once we exit the main temple.
- Sri Govindarajaswamy Temple (at Tirumala foothills). Here, the deity of Govindaraja is in reclining Yoga Nidra posture with Sridevi and Bhudevi in sitting posture at his foot. It said that Govindarajaswamy (considered as the elder brother of lord Venkateswara), was bestowed with the task to keeps records of the loan amount and ensure repayment of the loan. He was so tired of measuring the offerings that, he decided to lie down with his head on the measure itself; hence, we have the sleeping mudra position of Govindaraja swamy.
- Varaha Swamy (outside the main temple of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala). At Tirumala hill, we are first supposed to visit the temple of Varahaswamy temple (the Lord Vishnu in the form of Varaha, a wild boar). As Lord Venkateswara is said to have leased Tirumala from Varahaswamy (who owns the entire mountain range of Tirupati, or Sheshachala). And, since then, Lord Venkateswara had no money to pay for the lease, he is said to have told his devotees to first visit Varahaswamy shrine and make their offerings and then visit his (Lord Venkateswara) temple.
- Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple (Main Shrine at Tirumala): The main temple is an architectural marvel. The Gopuram of the main temple is covered with Gold, which increases its aura. Normally, the darshan takes around 3-4 hours period and tickets for the same can be pre-booked at TTD site (which opens four months in advance). Huge Temple complexes are created for halting the devotees, here free refreshments are provided to devotees, if the wait period increases. TTD also offers other sevas for visiting the holy deity. Taking pictures are strictly prohibited in the temple compound. In the main temple, one can view Lord Balaji in standing position. The idol is beautifully ornamented and, is a life time experience to have his darshan. Lord Venkateswara story has been etched out (in pictorial representation) in the inner Courtyard surrounding the main shrine (Read his story here). Also, as we leave the main inner courtroom, we can see the statues of Raja Krishnadevarai and his consorts, who have gifted many valuables to Tirumala temple, including the famous Crown of Lord Venkateswara.
- Vakula Devi (Mother of Lord Venkateswara) shrine (kitchen) is in the left corridor of the main shrine. After seeing the lord, we need to see Vakula Devi and then proceed to make our offerings in the hundi. Opposite to the hundi there is an image of Mahalakshmi on one of the pillar and it is considered auspicious to pray to her after making our offerings.
- Vimana Venkateswara Swamy is an arc present at the Back of main temple Gopuram.
- Padmavati Amman temple located at Tiruchanur (5 Kms away from Tirupati), is the home of lord’s consort Padmavati. It is a customary to visit this temple after having darshan of Lord Venkateswara. According to mythology, Padmavati is the reincarnation of Vedavati, a pious lady who performed penance to win the hand of Lord Vishnu and who is believed to have taken sita’s place at Lanka, when Ravana kidnapped her. Rama promised Vedavati to marry her in the kaliyuga, during his incarnation as Lord balaji.
- Shri Mahalakshmi (AmbaBai) Temple at Kolhapur.
Note: The Story of Tirumala Balaji Can be read in the blog: http://discovery-of-global-indian.blogspot.in/2017/02/lord-venkateswara-tirumala-balaji-story.html
Apart from the above Darshan order, the devotees also include other pilgrimage sites to Tirumala Darshan trip. Some of the most followed travel routes are –
- Tirupati - Tirumala trip followed by visit to Srikalahasti Temple (Lord Shiva) and Kanipakam temple (Lord Ganesha).
- Tirupati - Tirumala trip followed by visit to Kanchipuram temple/s and Vellore Golden temple.
- Tirupati - Tirumala trip followed by visit to Annavaram Temple and Varaha Narsimha Swamy temple at Simhachalam.
Notables Tourist Places at Tirumala
At Tirumala, Jeep drivers organise trips (2 routes) to cover the places located in Tirumala. One route covers Sila Thoranam and Srivaru Padam. Sila Thoranam (‘Garland of Rocks’) is a 25 feet natural stone arch (One of the three natural rock arches in the world, the other two being, the Rainbow Arch at Utah, USA and the Arch of ‘Cut Through’ in UK), located at around 5 km from the Venkateswara temple. It is believed to be the source of Lord Venkateswara’s idol with the rocks resembling hood of a serpent, a conch and a discus. The rock formation is pre-Cambrian and is estimated to be about 2500 million years (arch being around 1500 million years old). The best time to visit the arch is during sunrise or during sunset period. There is a small garden in the vicinity of the Rock, where, rock idols depicting Lord Vishnu’s avatars are kept. As we move ahead of Sila Thoranam, we reach Srivari Padamm a place believed to have Lord’s footprints. From here, we get a good view of Tirumala Temple valley.
The other route covers Papavinasam Theertham (Devotees take holy bath here to purify their sins), Japali Anajaney swamy temple (Lord Hanuman Shrine) and Akasaganga Theertham (Devotees take holy bath here).
* At Tirumala, there is also TTD Museum and TTD Garden for visiting (http://www.tirumala.org/).
Tourist Places in and around Tirupati
Being a religious city, Tirupati has N-Number of temples esp. dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Among, the many, the key temples in and around Tirupati are
- Kapila Theertham temple.
- Sri Govindarajaswamy Temple.
- Padmavati Amman temple.
- Kodanda Rama Temple.
- Iskon Temple.
- Srinivasa Mangapuram, is located near Srivari Mettu at about 12 Km from Tirupati at Chandragiri. Here, the Lord is known as ‘Kalyana Venkatramana Swamy’ with Padmavati (Alamelu Manga) by his side. It is believed that, after his marriage, Lord stayed here with Padmavati for 6 months, as per customs, new weds are forbidden to ascend a hill. Near Srinivasa Mangapuram, we have Agasteeswarar temple (believed to be the ashram of Sage Agasthya) on the banks of the Swarnamukhi River at Tondavada.
- Narayanapuram is located at about 40 Kms from Tirupati. It has a temple to commemorate the wedding of Lord Srinivasa and Padmavati.
- Srikalahasti Temple (known as Dakshini Kailash) located on the banks of Swarnamukhi River at Srikalahasti (around 36 kms from Tirupati) is the famous shrine of ‘Vayu’ Shiva Linga (one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalam) and Gnana Prasunamba (Parvati). SriKalahasti got its name because of the great devotion of Spider (sri), Serpent (kala) and Elephant (hasti); And, as remembrance of their extreme devotion, the imprints of a spider, two elephant tusks and a five-headed (the five elements) serpent can be seen at the foot of the Linga. In the temple compound, we also have ‘Patala Ganesh’ temple. The temple is also famous for Rahu-Kethu puja. The artistic Gopuram and 100 pillar Mandapam was constructed by Krishnadeveraya in 16th Century. Bhakth Kannappa and Markandeya have linkages with this divine place.
- Parasurameswara Temple (Unique Shiva Linga) at Gudimallam, Srikalahasti Mandal. As per Legends, the Shiva Linga is a manifestation of Trimurti, with Shiva on the top, Vishnu in the middle and Brahma at the bottom.
- Kanipakam Vinayaka Temple located on the banks of Bahuda River in Kanipakam village (Irala mandal, Chittoor District, AP) is the famous shrine of Lord Ganesha. The self-manifested idol of Lord Vinayaka was discovered in a well, and the temple was constructed around it. As per legends, the idol is growing continuously.
Apart from religious places, Tirupati has a rich heritage and rich flora and fauna. Few of the worth seeing places in and around Tirupati are
- Sri Venkateswara National Park.
- Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park.
- Chandragiri Fort located at around 20 kilometres from Tirupati (after crossing Srivari Mettu) was constructed by Yadava Naidus and later it came under Vijayanagar rulers (Srikrishna Devaraya spend his childhood at this place and it is believed that he met his queen Chinni Devi here) and was their last capital before Golconda Sultanate annexed it. The Fort complex greets us with a beautifully carved pillared entrance. As we enter the fort compound, we can view ruined temple structures. The fort comprises of majestic 'Raj (Chandragiri) Mahal' (now converted into a museum), Rani Mahal, and a park with lake offering boating rides. The southern side of the fort is guarded by walls. The museum at Raja Mahal contains ancient sculptures and idols of gods & goddess; it also houses revenue stamp details of the place. The star attraction (for me) was the replica model of Gudimallam temple and unique lingam and the model of entire Chandragiri fort. AP Tourism conducts sound and light show every evening (6:30 PM show in Telugu and 7:30 PM show in English) for visitors.
- Talakona waterfalls located at around 60kms from Tirupati, is the highest waterfall in AP. It is popular among trekking enthusiastic. There is also an old Shiva temple at the waterfalls.
- Gurramkonda Fort located at around 72 km from Tirupati.
P.S. The Story of Tirumala Balaji Can be read in the blog: http://discovery-of-global-indian.blogspot.in/2017/02/lord-venkateswara-tirumala-balaji-story.html