I did not want to spend a lot of time in Vellore and at 9:30 am I got to the bus stop and boarded the first bus to Tirupati, that turned out that was going directly to Tirumala, the temple of wealth, money and wishes that come true. The ride was relatively short and we reached Tirumala after about 3 1/2 hours.
From Tirupati the 2 lane-one-way road starts climbing a hill for 18 km where is located the temple. For the return they built another 2 lane-one-way road. The access is completely controlled and at the base of the hill and the start of the bus ride, you exit the bus and all people and luggage are scanned. Obviously with my huge luggage and the tons of electronics I created a commotion and they wanted to open everything till I started to yell that they will have to put all back if they open so they gave up for most of the luggage. After we boarded the bus we got quickly on top of the mountain on a beautiful drive on switchbacks.
On top was complete mayhem, with lots of people and too few places to ask questions. It looks being completely chaotic, an opposite situation compared with the Golden Temple that I visited the previous night. The Indians are crazy about money and wealth and this temple attracts them like a magnet. There were lots of pilgrims and I noticed lots of multi apartments bungalows to accommodate them, the accommodation office being the most sought after.
I had my luggage with me; a heavy backpack, the camera backpack and another bag with the laptop and others and I had to deposit them somewhere. But where, because nobody had a clue sending me from left to right with no solution in sight? Finally I got rescued by an Indian from Hollywood, CA who was dressed in orange swami clothes. He moved me around asking in Hindi left and right for quite a while till he finally, when I was ready to give up, found the right place. It was a pavilion for foreigners named Suphatam, where you could show the passport, pay the fast line fee of 300R, Seva Q line, and you were let to enter the line even more in front that the others locals who get into this fast line. After some confusion in regards to my luggage, some guys from the scanning, yes you are scanned again, helped me and deposited two of the large luggage in a nearby cloak room. The camera backpack with all the valuables but no cash, you carry that with you, I gave to the officer in charge of the security who took out everything and made a note what they are, gave me the note and put them in a locker. They were concerned not to be any cash in the bag but all the equipment on the table, valued at many thousand of US$, were OK.…. I am writing all this because I wished I knew how is dealt with the luggage in advance and I tried to find out but to no avail.
This being done, I was scanned again and let in to buy the ticket. When the guy from the office asked and found out that I am not Hindu he asked me to sign a paper in three forms that I support Lord Vishnu, who is venerated here as Sri Venkateshwara, one of its avatars, this being also the name of the temple. The papers had to be signed also by a witness that was promptly collected from the line to do it. With the support for Lord Vishnu in my bag I could enter the gauntlet of the cages.
I did some darshans in various places. The first I did in Balaji, a small village in Rajasthan, 15 years ago not even knowing that it was a darshan. The driver suggested to see that temple where only men were allowed inside. So I Ieft my shoes outside, walked for the first time on the dirty street and entered the cage. Cristina was left outside, at the entrance, surrounded by lots of Indian men who were startled to see a western woman in their village, looking at her like she was ET. The cage was actually a one person wide corridor where Indians were pushing to get ahead fitting 2-3 people. It was full of smoke and incense, the air being almost solid, barely breathable and I was wondering if I will ever get out alive. in the end, I saw the deity, a frightening figure of Hanuman that I still remember even today and I exited through a courtyard where fires were lit on barrels and trance like people were throwing stones over their head waving on top of the fires.
The cage in Tirumala remembered me of Balaji without the smoke and incense, just the crowds, sweat and sweltering heat. You cannot escape from it and the Indians were pushing and yelling something to be heard by the deity, being happy to be in the cage since 9:00 am, already 6 hours. The line moved better than expected, in total about 1 hour wait on the fast line, and of course I had to answer all and the same questions all over again. After an hour we became friends and if I stayed longer, even relatives…..After another scanning and patting we were let inside the temple where the yelling and pushing increased.
The temple is interesting, covered in silver at the gate and further in gold, it has a roof entirely covered in gold glittering in the sun. The security is very tight having also manned observation towers in front of the temple.
Pilgrims were already hyped up by the long 7 hours wait and after we waited again at the entrance mandapam we were let inside the altar from where you can see somewhere deep in the back the statue of Sri Venkateshwara. At this moment everybody got crazy. They were pushing and shoving and I thought that this is the way how a stampede may happen in Indian temples. Yelling, raising their hands and imploring the deity to grant their wishes they were pulling their ear with their hands crossed and jumping. I stayed out of it and admired the temple interior and the mayhem created by the presence of the deity. After a while I got back in the cage and was shoved both by the pilgrims but mainly by the security to get out as soon as possible, The number of pilgrims can reach 100000 per day and the temple is open 24/7. In any darshan is not too much time to see the deity. Just a peep and go.
Happy to be out I recovered my items, camera, shoes, etc and I shot a little bit outside the temple and rushed to the bus, special shuttle buses running all day from Tirumala to Tirupati (40R). I was so thirsty that I drank 1 litter of water in 2 sips. You cannot buy water in the temple and I was shy of drinking from the tap no matter that it was advertised as purified.
Finally at 6:45 pm I boarded a bus to Chennai (4 hours) that I am riding right now writing this blog in a full moon Southern Indian night on a very bumpy road.