Govinda! Govinda! As these cries rent the air, you find yourselves among the many devotees thronging the queue to the holy shrine of Tirupati Balaji.
We too went for a darshan (holy sighting) of Lord Venkateswara in August this year. So, after asking friends and acquaintances for suggestions and how-to’s for this pilgrimage, we turned to….Google! Although there are posts and articles on guide to Tirupati Balaji Darshan, they were too sketchy, outdated or simply inaccurate. And hence I decided to write a post on Tirupati Balaji Darshan for the benefit of other devotees wishing for a smooth darshan / visit.
So here we go:
Tirupati Balaji shrine is located in the Tirumala hills, about 21 kms away from Tirupati. So, first one could get to Tirupati either by air (flights from Hyderabad), train or road. If need be, you can stay at hotels at Tirupati itself – there are hotels which are 4-star and below or there is limited accommodation at Tirumala near the temple. My suggestion? If you must stay, then it is best to stay at Tirupati (and not Tirumala), since there are better facilities below.
But, before you book your travel tickets and hotel rooms, you must check the availability of slots for darshan. Yes, due to the heavy crowds at the shrine, devotees are slated for one-hour slots as per choice. One can also go to the shrine without any slot booking, but then you should be ready to spend 6 hours or more in the queue! Since you are reading this post on a computer or mobile device, I assume you are well-off enough to afford the extra amount for ‘special darshan’, which costs just Rs 300 and you get 2 laddoos free with every ticket. Of course you can also ask (and pay) for extra laddoos! You can view and book your slot online at https://www.ttdsevaonline.com. It is simple – register your account, keep your ID proof details (AADHAR card or passport etc) ready with you since you will need to fill in these details for EVERY member of your group / family to be entered. NOTE: You are likely to be asked to produce these ID proof at any point. The primary member in whose name the account is created also has to upload his / her photo in JPEG / GIF format. So keep it ready in your laptop / desktop too. Once you register, then login to your account, fill in the form for the darshan on available date and time, make online payment and then print the receipt. I suggest you keep 2 copies – one for the entry and one at the laddoo counter (will be covered later). Now, you can start planning your journey to Tirupati.
From Tirupati to the temple at Tirumala, it takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the rush of traffic. About 1/4th of the way up, one has to stop at the toll gate and security check – this itself might take about 15 to 20 minutes. For security check, you have to disembark from your vehicle, whether it is self-driven or taxi etc. That done, you are on the way again to the shrine on a smooth road maintained by the TTD board. As you climb the hills, the temperature will decrease and some people may need light woolens…just in case. And yeah, don’t mess with the monkeys on the way! Once you reach the top, there aren’t many signboards to the shrine, so if you are new, you will have to ask people around for the entrance gate.
Now, a note about the dress code here: ladies are allowed with traditional Indian saree or salwar-kameez (also called chudidaar pyjama) and men have to wear the white dhoti (which a non-South Indian may identify as a “white lungi”). Men can wear a shirt with collar above that. So, before you enter the temple complex, it is advisable to wear the appropriate dress and leave your footwear in the car / room. Of course, there are cloak rooms / counters where you can keep your stuff and yeah, there are sellers (seemingly authorized?) who will sell you dhoti if you don’t have one – at prices starting from Rs 100. One important thing – the temple authorities are very serious about not allowing any cellphones. So you better keep the phones in your car / room or deposit them at the many cloak rooms / counters. At one point there will be a notice which will warn you that any mobile phones / electronic devices found on any person after that point will simply be confiscated. Consider yourself warned. You must however, keep your entrance ticket and ID proof with you at all times. Keep some cash around too.
Now, once you get into the queue, you walk with the other devotees for almost 20-25 minutes before you are herded into different enclosures, each having a capacity of about 500 people. After what seems like an eternity (almost 40 minutes), you join yet another queue…slowly inching towards the destination. If you visit in peak summers, your darshan will certainly qualify as a penance! Another half-hour crawl and you see many people joining your queue – these are the people without any booking and when I inquired, they were in the queue for about 6 hours!! Talk about faith!
As you are nearing the main shrine, you begin to hear the hubbub rising and the pushing and shoving increasing. To be fair to the temple authorities (TTD), they have done a lot in facilitating the queuing system, however the pressures of increasing populace simply cannot cope up with it and hence this maddening crowd. Anyway, as you inch towards the sanctum sanctorum, the agony becomes unbearable…until you get a glance at the Lord himself in his glory. At that moment, I forgot everything and simply bowed before Him, thanked him and asked for His blessings.
After the darshan, you are given the free prasadam (laddoo) and in about 10 minutes you are out. Now, you will see people rushing towards the laddoo counters. This is one whole building dedicated only for the prasadam. Inside there are over 50+ counters on two floors! One of the counters sells only poly-bags, if you didn’t bring your bag / container for the laddoos. Now, before you join any queue, do ask people in the queue since specific counters are meant for particular ticket-holders. Or else, you may join one queue only to be told by the seller that you are in the wrong queue. And don’t expect anyone at the counters to answer any query of yours. Moreover, you will be witness to some arguments between people queuing up (the frustration now is clearly visible) and between the people and the salesmen…about as seemingly trivial as the weight of the laddoos. Anyway, you get yours and get out.
Needless to say, there are various shops who hawk everything from religious stuff to trinkets and food. At the entrance there is a dining hall which provides free food to all devotees – yet another facility provided by the temple authorities.
If you are lucky, you finish the darshan in about 2 hours. Weekends and festivals are much more crowded. It is easy to get distressed by the huge crowds, the time it takes to move and the attitude of the staff including the priests. But, at the end of it all, one is going there for the Lord’s darshan, which is what matters.
You too therefore shall join the chorus of Govinda, Govinda!