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Tirumala has always been one of my favourite places to visit and even though I have been to this sacred shrine several times, wanted to travel on my bike at least once. I had to wait till 3rd Dec 2020 for everything to come together, on what turned out to be a journey filled with a lot of pleasant surprises and wonderful moments, which you will witness further.
My bike was serviced before the much-awaited trip and I was all ready to go at 6:30 AM sharp. Good that I had a peaceful sleep the night before, as the schedule was tight which included a lot of time on the road, as the plan was to return home the same night because I did not prefer to stay at hotels due to the pandemic. Even though round trip meant covering approximately 575 Kms, I knew that it could be achieved with regular pausing and re-energizing.
Ready for the ride
I started with my journey to the other end of Bengaluru as I had to reach KR Puram first, then continue on to NH 75. The route to Tirumala is as below
Bengaluru -> Kolar -> Mulbagal -> Chittoor -> Kanipakam -> Tirupati -> Tirumala
It was a cyclone period in Southern part of India, hence expected a lot of rain in the journey but was hopeful that I could also get some Sunshine as compensation. I had crossed KR Puram, when it started to rain heavily and had to stop for around 20 minutes as my body was still not accustomed to sudden weather changes. When the heavy rains reduced to a drizzle, I quickly covered my backpack with a poncho and carried on with the ride. It was freezing early morning drive as I moved away from the city to open lands, strong breeze and sudden rains added on to the cause. I was shivering and thought to myself that it was not the start I needed, but moved on. Slowly my body was getting accustomed to the weather and as each kilometre passed by, I started to enjoy the journey even more. Had an idea that I was nearing Kolar when there were huge boulders and naturally formed rocks in close vicinity to the highway. As I continued, the scenery was enhanced by mist covering the boulders and hills around.
Misty early morning ride
The roads were so smooth that in no time, I had entered Andhra Pradesh after crossing Karnataka border near Mulbagal.
Rode on to Chittor, where I took a deviation which led to Bengaluru - Tirupati bypass road. Roads were not well maintained and there were a lot of potholes due to the frequent movement of heavy vehicles. After a bumpy ride for around 15 Kilometers - reached Kanipakam, which was my first destination.
Kanipakam Temple visit
Kanipakam is famous for Sri Varasidhi Vinayaka Swamy Temple and is located near Bahuda River. As it is en route to Tirupati, no deviation was required. The Deity of Lord Ganesha is believed to be Swayambhu (Self Manifested) and was found in a well. Even to this day, the base of the Deity is under the well which is always full of water and Pooja is performed to the visible part of the Idol. The Idol is also believed to be growing in size since the Kavacham (Armour) designed for the Deity 50 years ago does not fit now.
I parked my bike and walked on to the path leading to the Temple. As there was not much crowd on the day, reached the sanctum minutes after entering the darshan queue. I could see the beautiful Idol of Lord Ganesha from a close distance, with the serene Face covered in Kavacham and grand Alankaram offered to Him, it was a blissful darshan. The place was very well maintained, Temple complex was huge and there were dedicated Shrines to Lord Manikanteshwara Swamy (Lord Shiva) and Lord Varadaraja Swamy (Lord Vishnu). There were also huge attractive Idols of Lord Shiva and Maa Parvati inside the Temple complex.
After a short ride of 10 Kilometres on the journey further, decided to make a stop for recharging my system, by savoring the special brunch I had packed. As my journey started so early, had planned for easy yet nourishing food to save time.
Energy pack for the trip
After satisfying my taste buds, I continued with the journey, which was filled with fascinating views. One has to experience the feel of riding amidst the majestic Eastern Ghats with huge mountains on either side of the road and I was awestruck throughout. Due to the cyclone clouds passing continuously, at one point it felt like I am driving around a hill station as the mountains were capped with fog, yet revealing enough beauty to behold. My worry about not getting good views with the possibility of clouds covering entire mountains disappeared. The path was so picturesque that I had to take a few mini-breaks to capture the moments.
Serene drive through the majestic Eastern Ghats mountain ranges
As I reached near Tirupati, got my first glimpse of the mesmerizing Tirumala Hills and felt excitement running through my veins. There was cloud formation on peaks, enhancing the beauty of the marvel.
Cloud capped Tirumala Hills
Thiruchanur and Kapila Theertham visit
Reached Thiruchanur after a short ride and had darshan at Sri Padmavati Ammavari Temple, dedicated to consort of Lord Venkateshwara Swamy - Padmavati Amma also called as Alamelu Mangamma, which is around 5 Kms from Tirupati. Also visited Kapileshwara Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Tirupati, which is located just 2 Kms before entry point to the hills of Tirumala - Alipiri. Kapila Theertham falls - which originates from Tirumala Hills flows through this place and the glorious Sandstone rocks of Tirumala Hills can be seen from the Temple.
Sri Padmavati Temple - Alamelu Mangapuram
Sri Kapileshwara Temple in Tirupati
By the time I had darshan and resumed my journey, it was getting dark and the clock read 6:20 PM. As I drove near the entry gates at Alipiri - which marks the starting point of the climb to the seven hills of Tirumala, I was stopped by Temple officials explaining me that entry for two-wheeler vehicles closes by 6:00 PM and the only way I could reach Tirumala at that time was by bus. It was a setback for me as I wanted to experience the drive through the scenic path of Tirumala Hills and was under the impression that two-wheeler vehicles were allowed till 8 PM, which I had come across on the Internet. Since I had booked darshan tickets for 8 PM beforehand, parked my bike in Alipiri bus stand and took a bus to Tirumala, which started at 7 PM, by which time it had completely turned dark. Realized that I was tired from the day's ride when I dozed inside the bus. Reached Tirumala around 7:45 PM and there were heavy showers as I walked from the bus stand towards darshan queue.
Special darshan Online booking procedure
Tirumala is one of the most organized places and because of the pandemic, there were few changes to the Online booking system. Limited Special darshan (300 INR) tickets were provided and other darshan categories like Sarvadarshana and Divyadarshana were stopped temporarily to restrict the number of devotees. Also, bookings for Special darshan quota for any month would be only released on the last week of the previous month. I was regularly monitoring and booked soon after Special entry darshan quota for December was released. I preferred to book the darshan for Thursday because on this day of every week, the Idol of Lord Venkateshwara Swamy is less decorated and Namam (upright mark on the forehead) is reduced, hence the devotees have an opportunity to get much clear view of the sacred Idol.
Order of darshan at Tirumala-Tirupati
As per the Legend, devotees are to follow below order of darshan in Tirupati-Tirumala.
1) Darshan of Sri Kapileshwara Temple in Tirupati, as it is recommended to take the blessings of Lord Shiva for the purification of mind before climbing the Hills.
2) If possible, take the Alipiri route, a footsteps path of 9 Kms including 3550 steps, to climb the Seven sacred Hills of Seshachalam, which represents the seven heads of Snake God Adisesha (Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrushabadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri) starting from Alipiri - around 4-5 hours needed for an average person.
- If above option not possible, travel in vehicle for 18 Kms from Tirupati and then take the SriVari Mettu route, a footsteps path of 2.1 Kms including 2399 steps - 1.5 hours for the climb on an average.
- If both options are not feasible, travel by vehicle to Tirumala.
3) Take a dip in the Holy pond - Swamy Pushkarani, which is inside the Temple complex (Next to Sri
Varaha Swamy Temple).
4) Darshan of Lord Varaha Swamy Temple. Legend has it that originally Tirumala was called Adi Varaha
Kshethra and Lord Srinivasa sought a gift of land from the presiding God - Sri Varaha Swamy, which
He readily granted. Hence offerings in Tirumala are done to Lord Varaha Swamy before Lord Venkateshwara Swamy.
5) Join the queue and have darshan of the Moola Virat - Lord Venkateshwara Swamy.
6) Darshan of Padmavati Ammavari Temple in Thiruchanur (located 5 Kms from Tirupati) upon return
Thanks to my friend Srineel, from whom I learnt this important information few years back and have been trying to follow ever since, though I could not follow this time because of several restrictions.
Other places to visit around Tirupati are Srinivasa Mangapura, Sri Kalahasthi, Sri Govindaraja Swamy Temple, Sri Rama Temple and Appalaya Gunta. Also, there are places situated on the Tirumala Hills such as SriVari Pada, Akasha Ganga, Sri VenuGopalaSwamy Temple, Silathoranam.
Tirumala Sri Venkateshwara Swamy darshan
I joined the Special darshan queue and noticed that there were precautions taken by officials to sanitize the area with the help of air purifiers and ensuring that all devotees were wearing masks. Within 15-20 minutes of smooth queue movement, entered the Mahadwaram and realized that I was very close to having darshan of Lord Venkateshwara Swamy. As queue moved on and soon entering the third Dwara(door), people started folding their hands and cries of chanting the Holy Name "Govinda Govinda" intensified. As I walked on, six feet tall Idol of Deity Garuda (Vahana of Lord Vishnu) in bowing position was visible to the right and standing opposite to Garuda was the Lord Himself. Took a glance of the Dwarapalakas Jaya and Vijaya, who were standing right next to the door and then all my attention was completely immersed on the Lord. As it was Thursday, I noticed that He was decorated with fewer garlands and ornaments which enabled me to get a glimpse of the Holy Lotus Feet and my eyes next focused on the Hands of the God and then on the ever-charming Face of Venkateshwara Swamy with His gracious smile. I got at least 7-8 seconds of uninterrupted darshan of the Magnificient Moola Virat Idol and felt blessed.
After coming outside with feelings of satisfaction, proceeded for a Pradakshina (the ritual of walking clockwise to complete circle around the Temple) of the Garbhagudi (Sanctum Sanctorum), during which I got a glimpse of the prominent Idol of Sri Vimana Venkateshwara Swamy located on the Ananda Nilaya Gopuram.
After coming out of the darshan queue, took a Pradakshina around the Temple which are called the Mada Streets and collected pre-booked Laddoo Prasadam from Laddoo counter. It was almost 9:30 PM when I came out of the Temple complex to collect my backpack and mobile phone. Since it was still pouring rain and the weather was cold, I understood there would be a lot of fog in the night, which would make driving tough. Hence decided to stay overnight in a decent hotel in Tirupati. Little did I know at that time, about the surprises the next day had in store for me. Got a good night's sleep as I was tired by the long ride and also because of long walks involved throughout the day.
Day 2 - Bike ride to the Tirumala Hills
Woke up by 8 AM and had bread and some snacks which I still had in my backpack. Decided to take a ride to Tirumala Hills in my bike, as I could not fulfil it on the previous day.
The weather was pretty much the same as the previous day - cloudy, continuous drizzle and intermittent showers. When you are accustomed to the weather, you start to enjoy riding in the rain and it was new normal for me. Had giggles when I saw people running around for shelter due to downpours. Soon I entered the Alipiri Gate, where there is a mandatory security scan for devotees and their belongings. Could get a close view of the marvellous Hills, which were full of greenery and was excited for the next part of my journey as I knew that the Eastern Ghats provide some breathtaking views during the seasons of monsoon and winter.
Alipiri entry gates to Tirumala Hills
View of Gaali Gopuram
Ride of 18 Kms up the hills was peaceful because of high-quality road maintenance and the forest was covered with lush greenery due to recent cyclone rains. Drizzle subsided eventually and as the road led further up the hill, each of the 36 hairpins meant that views were starting to open up more and there were small open spaces, which offered spectacular views of Eastern Ghats landscapes. I stopped at a few spots, making sure it did not affect the movement of vehicles and was able to capture a few amazing clicks. Clouds were continuously on the move and hence mountain ranges nearby were getting covered with fog one moment and released the next. Weather was so cool and views so amazing that it was hard to leave the place wanting to stay as long as possible. As I moved higher up the hills, there came the mist and visibility of roads diminished a bit.
Hill resembling the Face of the Hanuman Deity
Eastern Ghats view
Peaceful drive through the Tirumala Hills
Clouds on constant move
Soon I made it to top of the Hills and took a drive around the town of Tirumala. Felt like staying on the Hills for some more time, so parked my bike and took a walk around the Temple complex, it was still misty.
On the Centre - Tirumala Temple, Top Left - Tirumala Museum, Top Right - Swamy Pushkarani Pond, Bottom Left - Mada Streets, Bottom Right - roads of Tirumala town
It is a different route on the descend of Tirumala Hills and more surprises were waiting for me. As I started, there was a cloudburst and could see water gushing through roads downhill. After the pour continued for 10 minutes, it subsided and I had descended around 40 percent. The moments after it stops raining are the most pleasant and sights on the descent were a treat for my eyes. The naturally formed rocks of Tirumala Hills were wet and shiny, so vibrant that it gave richness to the vision. I was spellbound by the landscapes, which included panoramic mountain ranges capped in fog and also the close view of Kapila Theertham falls in full glory.
Hill resembling the Garuda Deity
Panoramic views on the descend
Drive to remember
Distant view of Kapila Theertham Falls
Kapila Theertham Falls in full glory
Elegent rock formations
Statue of the Hanuman Deity enroute
Reached Alipiri and was completely satisfied with the Tirumala Hills ride. Was delighted to spot Sun briefly for the first time during the trip as I headed to Bengaluru.
Sun coming out of the clouds
Ride back home was also memorable with cloudy weather and with fog caressing the mountain ranges. By the time I reached Chittoor and connected to NH 75, it was dusk and the night drive was smooth because of good road conditions ahead. Reached home safely after spending a couple of hours more on road.
Picturesque view of Eastern Ghat mountains
This trip was one of the most memorable experiences and puts a smile on my face as I recollect the wonderful moments. Will cherish it for a very long time.
PS : Nature is our Home and it is our responsibility to protect it. Please do not litter during the trips, carry them back to do proper disposal.