A Walk in the Mountain: Tirupati to Tirumala

I wrote and rewrote these first few lines more than a dozen times. Then I realized that I cannot express in words what I want to share and gave up. I am grateful to several people for the courage to do this post the way it has turned out. The first, of course, is my father, who taught me all that I know about looking through a lens. The second is Sandeep of Crack The Sky, whose simple yet profoundly touching photo-essays can make you rethink all that you believe in. Third, to Bhavana whose photographs are comprehensive narratives by themselves. Fourth, to Aarathi Selvan for introducing me to the concept of contemplative photography. And finally, as the music fades in and I know I am in the crosshairs of the man at the back of the dark auditorium, I am grateful to the man in the mountain who makes all things real, grateful to life itself.

Last Saturday, while having breakfast and looking out at the pigeons bickering in the grey morning, we decided to go to Tirupati. We bought bus tickets online and threw some clothes and toothbrush into a case.


The overnight bus dropped us at the Tirupati APSRTC stand at 6.30 a.m. We found a room, washed up, and set off on the 9 km walk to Tirumala, located 3200 feet above sea level. We set out at 9 in the morning. By the time we began the climb it was about 9.30 a.m.






The more commonly used route is through Alipiri, and is almost entirely covered so you don't have to worry about sunshine or rain. Unless you are in peak physical condition, the first few hundred steps will really test your strength and endurance. What kept us motivated was the endless stream of people, many of them carrying heavy loads, or items of daily use, and the overwhelming sense of mission in our fellow climbers. We rested frequently.



It takes a while to get used to the breathlessness, the sweat pouring down, and the protesting muscles. But the beauty of the mountains soon overtakes you as you realize you have left the town down below and feel the cool mountain breeze on your forehead.


For the religious-minded, the route is filled with temples, gateways, and shrines dedicated to the nameless gods of hill travelers. People pile stones atop each other, tie threads, coins, or bangles on to trees and rocks. The greenery and the wildlife slowly kick in, and you realize you are in a different space altogether. The mind is always quick to provide explanations for things that cannot be explained.




There are adequate provisions for refreshments along the way, along with diversions to keep your mind off the arduousness of the climb.





There is a deer park that runs alongside the walkway for a while, and you can stop for a snack yourself and feed the deer too. The older deer are fearless and will come and wait for your leftovers, while the younger ones tend to stay at a distance.






For people who are walking up to Tirumala, there is a free biometric darshan token that is issued at Namala Konda or Gali Gopuram, which is the first level stretch on your climb and then the token is stamped and validated further ahead near the Laxminarasimha Temple. The walkway, like all popular tourist sites in India, is filled with graffiti. I found this one particularly intriguing.



Once you are two thirds of the way up, you come to a nearly one-km long level stretch that you feel extremely grateful for. You may want to catch up some rest at this point, since this is followed by the last incline, a rather steep one, but if you have paced yourself cautiously, your body will tackle this easily.If you are reasonably fit, you will be able to do the entire climb in 5 to 6 hours. By the time we reached Tirumala, it was almost 3 p.m.



Tirumala itself is a delight to be in, regardless of your likes or dislikes. The Lord looks down upon smoking and alcohol but seems okay with tea and coffee. You will get a good sweet and milky cup of tea or coffee almost everywhere, but for the discerning, there is a tea board outlet at the bus stand where you can request a sugarfree or milkfree cup. They also sell a nice cup of lemon tea.



The temple town is clean, well organized and a miracle to witness. An average of 50,000 people visit this small hilltop town on weekdays, yet with a little patience, you can get most of your work done within a short while. There are queues for most things in Tirumala, and they can look daunting, but they actually help keep things moving efficiently. After spending a few days there, you will have a tough time getting used to the lawlessness of the rest of the world, and almost wish for serpentine queues. Another interesting thing about Tirumala is that most of its energy needs are met through solar, wind and water power.





Our free divya darshan token took us in the massive pilgrim's queue complex and placed us close to the perimeter of the sanctum sanctorum. Since it was a Sunday, it took us close to five hours to travel around the temple and get a brief glimpse of the man himself, a glimpse that people say it takes a lifetime to earn, and then we were pushed out of the complex by a combination of pilgrims and volunteers.



It was late in the night, and since we did not have accommodation at Tirumala, we bussed down to Tirupati for 34 rupees each, and hit the sack well past midnight with our legs feeling like they were not there. However, the next morning, there was little if any soreness, and though we lazed a little, we were able to catch a bus and reach Tirumala by noon. I went about looking for the queue to get free tonsuring done. It was huge, and hoping to save time, I went and joined a queue for paid tonsuring (for 10 rupees), only to realize after quite a while that it was for people with Tirumala accommodation receipts. I went back to the free queue, and a helpful cop offered to help me get it done, well, instantly. Only later did we realize that he was expecting to be repaid for the favor. It did leave a bit of a bad taste but we ended up saving some time.





We spent most of the remaining two days soaking ourselves in the deeply charged atmosphere of the temple town, and its surrounding places, reflecting on where we stood in the journey of our lives, and what the universe was asking of us. We left with a sense of longing, as we swayed and lurched on the bus ride down the hill, longing to fulfill our mission in life, longing to return again and report victory, and longing for the serenity and connectedness that we experienced during our time there.





For those interested in more information on the walk to Tirumala, please see Mohan's excellent post on the Pedestrian Path and Hrishikesh Srivatsa's very detailed post on Climbing Tirumala Hill. All the images in this post were photographed by me or by Madhavi. You are free to use them for any purpose that is worthy of the subject of this post. Credit and a backlink would be nice but not mandatory. We do not sleep with your conscience, and we do not expect you to sleep with ours.

74 comments:

  1. Really nice and informative post! It really walked one through the whole place.

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    1. Thanks, CW. I would strongly recommend the two links I have added at the end of the post for anyone who is reading this and wants more information.

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    2. thank you for this information Mr. subhorup ...can you please update about tirupati pooja news and main festivals becuz i need to update my clients....

      tirupati darshan package from chennai

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  2. Wow the narrative is stunning, almost like a film reel. Reading and looking at the photos of you guys climbing up the hills I broke into sweat myself. Thank you for sharing your spiritual and material journey, I feel refreshed.

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    1. There are 3550 steps that take you 3200 feet up. The first 1000-1200 really test your determination and eat into your reserves. They say that the trick is to not let your muscles go into fatigue or lock up. Others, including me, believe that it has nothing to do with ability but with faith and causes that you have created.

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  3. Refreshing read, inviting photographs, inspiring narrative. Lovely post.

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    1. Thanks, Pattu. Heard you were not keeping well. Do take care.

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  4. Lovely photo essay. I have done this once with family, and it was fun. The only thing I had on my way up is the soda that they sell in bottles. That helps with the thirst. It is much more difficult to do it with kids because they want to be carried! On the way back, we took one of the buses down to Tirupati town. We also had a lovely dinner at Bhima's. You must do this photo essays too. You have done a good job!

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    1. This was the fourth time that I had the good fortune of being able to walk up the hill. There is a shorter and steeper climb that was the original pilgrim path, but which has now fallen out of favor thanks to the amenities on this route. It is known as the Srivari Mettu. I hope to be able to do that sometime too. For people traveling with kids, you can engage someone at the foothills (Alipiri) who will climb with you and help carry the kids and their bags whenever you tire out. You can speak with the women who sell flowers and coconuts right at the entrance to the walkway.

      I stayed away from writing about the food at Tirumala and Tirupati mainly because I am a total foodie and love the fare there. Both offer basic wholesome food. Tirumala has only vegetarian food, and choices are few, but the simple food becomes even more special in the overall vibrations of the place. Apart from the centrally located Padmavathi and Mayura, there is Woodside which offers a little more variety, and then there is Annamaya Bhavan which offers a slightly finer version of the South Indian meals you will get at Padmavathi. The best meal you can have, though, is the free meal that is served by the TTD for those who have a darshan token. It is a three course meal that is prepared and served by pilgrim volunteers that no fine dining can match in terms of nourishing the spirit.

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    2. I share your apprehension of rituals and dogma that dog Hinduism. I am pretty much an atheist now. But, anything spiritual and I am game. I haven't been here since many years and you talk about things being better organized, so I am tempted to try it out once more.

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  5. Lovely narrative. You have beautifully depicted the your experiences besides sharing valuable information. Wonderul

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  6. It was like taking a walk with you both. A life altering journey and a life touching post!

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    1. Thanks, Abhimanyu. You guys will love it.

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  7. A most refreshing account of the yatra! Loved it.
    Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Sir. Your comment on this post means a lot to me.

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  8. wow..I loved this post; more the pictures. Quite informative. I hope to visit this place some time in future.

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    1. Thanks, Diwakar, and welcome to SJD. Do check out the two links at the end of the post before you plan your visit. They are very useful.

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  9. Thank you so much Shubho. I was myself looking forward to take up this journey and reading your post has given me a good insight about it.

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    1. So glad you liked it, Amit. Do look up the two posts I linked to before you set out.

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  10. Wow!!! Let me confess I have avoided Tirupati like a plague. Mostly because I did not want to go to a magical wish-granting God. For the very first time, after reading this account I am seeing Tirumala in a whole different way. The photographs of the mountains, the fruits, the animals, and of flowers are so exquisite that I am begining to like the temple itself. Your essay has managed to convert this die-hard anti-tirupathi human into--"dang, I need to go here soon!" Thanks!!! And thanks for the plug...-:)

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    1. I have a great deal of aversion to all of organized religion, especially the commonly propagated form of Hinduism. You will find the hype about the magical wish-granting nature of Balaji in abundance here too. I believe that my tie with this place is mystic. The myths are fascinating. The sights are intriguing and colorful. The air and the water are salubrious. The place is clean. There are signs and help desks everywhere. There are no "agents" whom you have to engage in order to commune with the "lord," other than the TTD administration. In spite of the incredibly huge numbers, everything is smoothly organized. Amenities and facilities are in abundance. Once you go there, you will realize that you have come to a place of true spiritual seeking, one that transcends dogma and tradition. Strongly recommend that you put it on your list and see if the man on the mountain remembers you from the inconceivably remote past.

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    2. A comment as beautiful as the post -:) I will go!

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  11. Wonderful photo essay Subho! Great pics..nice narrative:) Thank you for taking me there:)

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  12. Very nice!
    I was impressed with the use of 'alternate' energy resources. Isn't it great that the temple caretakers have realized that God's gifts can be put to use in many incredible ways than just darshan? :)

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    1. Rickie, I have struggled to keep my excitement in control as I was writing this post. All the lighting along the hill road is solar powered, with independent panels and batteries, and triggered by light conditions, so no cabling, no transmission loss, and no wasted light. Solar power is used to turn steam turbines and generate power. Large wind turbine farms have been set up on nearby hilltops.

      The entire queue control (upwards of 50,000 people a day) is biometric and computerized. There is free transport within the temple town. There are separate arrangements for the elderly and the handicapped. There are separate arrangements for parents with infants. Free food is available for all. The place is washed and cleaned continuously. Thousands of volunteers man the crowds, the help desks, cook and serve food, and provide medical assistance. It has to be experienced to be believed.

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    2. That is really impressive, I must say!

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  13. Hey Subho! I was amazed to go through the delightful journey. Some great fruit salad images tempted me to make one for myself.

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    1. What a lovely surprise to see this comment from you, Mickey! Glad you liked the pics, and hope your art and your business is doing good.

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  14. Dear Subho , Yor narrative and the photos had an uplifting effect on me. I had been there in my forties accompanied by a colleague who was in her late twenties. But none of us even thought of walking up.May be because it was the month of May and extremely hot. We also stood in the queue for hours. the waiting area however was continuously watered but even then we got blisters . Darshan as u narrate was just a glimpse before we were pushed out . moreover that day some VIP had gone for darshan. I do not remember the amenities you speak of . Thank you for taking me along through ur narrative . The photos are wonderful. Although I will not be able to climb ,I would definitely like to go with you once . of course it will depend on whether i can earn the darshan .God bless u. Ma

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    1. Thanks, Ma. As you have mentioned, a lot of people believe that a visit to Tirumala is something preordained. We will definitely try to go once together.

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  15. The synchronization between the pictures and the text is what I liked best. I'd certainly have loved to have more text here, but the photographs compensated for its scarce presence.

    Arvind Passey
    www.passey.info

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    1. Thanks, Arvind. I thought there was already more text than a photo essay should have had, and had a tough time keeping it out. So glad to hear from you that you missed text. I write for you, Arvind!!

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  16. Amazing photos. I just visited Tirupathi through your blog.

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    1. Thanks, Abhyudaya. It is my good fortune to have been your guide.

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  17. Nice photo essay! I really appreciate your spirit to take photographs of the things while climbing breathlessly and sweating, really it stands as a guide for many...

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    1. Glad you liked it, Technophilo. I actually noticed quite a few climbers doing the same. It is just that I chose to do this specifically to be able to share my journey with all of you.

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  18. awwwwww am jealous :)

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    1. Alka, put it on your prayer/determination list and it will happen for you too!

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  19. Lovely narrative!And those pictures look heavenly! :)

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  20. I haven't been there for over three decades now and the two times I had gone there were by foot and I presume what it is called Srivari mettu, because it was through jungle paths and rough cut steps. Things were not as organised either back then. So this essay makes me want to go again. The first time was as a 10 year old and the next was when I was off organised religion and temples. So this time it will be different! Thanks for the push.

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    1. My guess is that you did go by the Srivari Mettu, Zephyr. I have not done that route though I have made this particular trip four times. I too have evolved in my understanding of the nature of phenomenon during the same period. It has been very interesting reflecting on things and how they change during these walks.

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  21. Beautiful post and photographs. Thank you.

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  22. I liked all the walking/climbing pictures. Movement appeals to me. Also the fruit one. I know, this is not as easy as it seems, so kudos for this post :)

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    1. :) I really enjoyed taking all the long exposure shots.

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  23. Can smell the air of the place. The shaven-headed shots are a disturbing revelation that it is actually possible for you to look more ugly. And really refreshing is the lack of the affectation that usually spoils your posts for me.

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    1. Thanks, Rahul. Revealing my true self, coming out of the shadows, and discarding the ego that the hair symbolizes. I AM taking writing tips from your comments, as you have noticed.

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  24. I enjoyed the trip. Thank you for taking me there, Subho. You should do more of these kinds of posts. :)
    Love those food photos; they are so very attractive. :)

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    1. Thanks, Divya, and apologies for this late reply. Somehow missed replying earlier.

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  25. For a person like me who has never been to Tirupathi, this blog is one motivating factor. The narration was no less than a visit. Moreover, the photos in the blog also helped for a imaginary trip to one of the famous holy place. Nice writing!

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    1. Thanks, Haritha. May your imaginary trip turn into a real one too.

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  26. oh the pics reminded me of the days back in 2006 when i went to Tirupathi for the first time !

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    1. Very glad that this post resonated with you, Rahul.

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  27. Nice pics and a good narration.
    Thanks.
    A .Venu

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    1. Thanks, Venu. Do keep coming back for more.

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  28. Nice pic Subho.. bright colors!!!

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    1. This post seems to have really reached out to a whole lot of old friends. I am so glad you liked it. Do connect when you are in Hyderabad.

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    2. To connect doesn't need to be in Hyderabad... even this is connect subho, and yes old friends..., yeah whom you connect deeply once they will be there in your mind somewhere maybe dont remember do to day life but the connect will be there. Specially we met with a special mission and with beautiful notes always... miss your guitar...

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  29. nice snaps. I loved the ones that captured the movement and life with a good measure of exposure time. :)

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  30. Anonymous8:22 AM

    I am not a 100% religious or god fearing guy. But I go to Tirumala everytime I am in India. And also climb up and climb down too everytime on foot. I do this once every 3 years. I feel so relieved after the 2 way trek and feel I got some new life energy into my body. And the place itself atop the mountains is so peaceful and serene. I feel so at many of our hindu temples like Srisailam, Madurai also.

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    1. I haven't visited Madurai since I was a child, but have been to Srisailam, and it too fills me with energy and wonderment.

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  31. The last line was the cherry on top. Perfect and concise. I loved it. It made me grin.

    Dagny

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    1. Thanks, SerenelyRapt.

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    2. Call me Dagny please... everyone does. :)

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  32. Hello! Amazing post, loved it! I have walked the devastanam in 5th grade (now in 8th) and the post explained it exactly the way it was! Awesome!
    *********I have one question: how many steps are there exactly and how much distance do you need to walk? I mean steps as in stairs.

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    1. Thanks, Deepika. I think it is a little over 3500 steps and 9 km.

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  33. NICE PRESENTATION OF THE ETERNAL VALUES - TIRUMALA

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  34. Most of these yatras usually make us out of breath... after all, meeting God is not supposed to be so easy :-))
    the aerial view and the rock pattern before that was so beautiful!

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