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Across hills... to divinity

P. Sujatha Rao

The main allure of the temple-town of Tirumala remains its hilltop shrine. But there are other places of interest to keep the pilgrim-tourist busy.

This Lord residing on the top of the thickly wooded seven hills in Chittoor district needs no introduction. Known by names such as Lord Venkateswara, Balaji, Lord of the Seven Hills, etc, he resides in the temple atop the hills known as Tirumala. The town at the foothills is called Tirupati. Together they constitute destination divine for the modern-day pilgrim, who comes from all corners of the globe to visit this temple. Many of them return annually. Such is the popularity of the deity that similar temples have been built in many parts of the world.

The temple at Tirumala finds mention in ancient texts, and history tells us that even the Pallavas, Pandyas, Cholas, the Vijayanagar rulers and the Maharaja of Mysore patronised it. The main temple serves as an excellent example of South Indian temple architecture. The gold-plated Vimana and the Dhwajasthambam are crafted with meticulous care.

Rich and poor alike throng the temple throughout the year. Authorities from the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Board have been trying to regulate the pilgrims but the sheer numbers makes it a daunting task.The best part of the visit is the climb, on foot, to the top of the hills by the well-laid, roofed stairway flanked on either side by shops that sell a variety of goods. On the way up, one gets to meet a multitude of people from various walks of life. With each step, the beauty of the surrounding greenery slowly emerges — at once soothing and serene. With entire families often undertaking the pilgrimage, it is a common sight to see family members taking turns to carry little kids to the destination.

At the end of the steep climb and arduous wait, lies the sanctum sanctorum of the deity. Here, in the absence of artificial lightning, the dazzlingly arrayed idol of Lord Balaji stands out in a glorious glitter of gold, diamonds and fragrant floral decoration. You are suddenly brought out of the magical moment, as a temple worker pushes you along to make way for other pilgrims.

Other places of interest

Though the temple remains the main draw at Tirumala, there are other places of interest, as well.

The Akash Ganga waterfall, 3 km from the temple, that the faithful believe flows from the feet of Lord Vishnu, is a huge attraction. Situated on the Tirumala Hills, Sila Thoranam, a natural rock formation, is a wonderous sight. It is a naturally formed arch of rock, the likes of which are reportedly found only at two other places in the world — the Rainbow Arch at Utah in the US and the Cut Through in the UK. The rock arch at Tirumala is believed to be 1,500 million years old and is formed by weathering and wind erosion. The length of the arch is 25 ft and its height, 10 ft.

The Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park is located 8 km from the Tirupati railway station and is home to 56 species of animals, birds and reptiles. A unique park, with replicas of giant dragonflies, dinosaurs, the lemur and the archaeopteryx bird, it is located near the Alipiri Gate at the foothills.

Just 12 km from Tirupati lies Chandragiri, the last capital of the Vijayanagar kings. Amidst the ruins of the Chandragiri fort, two palaces — Raja Mahal and Rani Mahal — stand tall. In an attempt to relive the glory of the Vijayanagar empire, a light and sound show is organised at the fort by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department.

Tirupati is well connected to all major cities in India by rail and road. TTD buses, State buses, taxis and rickshaws are available for local transportation. One can also drive down from places like Chennai. It also has a number of star hotels and lodges to suit every budget, in addition to a number of guesthouses and choultries.

Picture by P.V. Sivakumar

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