If you hail from Andhra Pradesh, a trip to Tirupati is almost like a birthday, it comes every year ! You fret about the lakhs crowd, the pushing and shoving but never think twice before planning a trip to Tirupati, such is the pull of the place, call it divine, call it the aura of the place or plain natural beauty of the hills. While the first two are dependent on one’s spiritual beliefs and experiences, the last one is for all to experience.
In April this year, we unexpectedly got a chance to attend the Suprabhata Seva and the whole family tagged along, Senior Citizens were to avail the special darshan dedicated to them. While the sibling’s family did not have a darshan option, we converted it into a summer holiday trip for the kids.
The family drove down from Nellore and we were to take the evening train from Hyderabad. We had miscalculated the journey time to the station, reached the station 5 minutes late and found the train leaving the platform. We ran in a last minute frenzy hoping catch the moving train but screeched to a halt just in front the compartment because the board read Hyderabad – Visakhapatnam, it was the Godavari Express that was running late by 45 minutes ! Godavari Express being late meant our train had not yet reached the station and we heaved a sigh a relief. During our cab ride to the station, we were sure, we would miss the train and had planned to go back and drive to till Kurnool for the night and then head to Tirupati the next morning. Thankfully, all was well except for the fact that our train arrived late and reached Tirupati with a delay of more than 1.5 hours !
We checked into Hotel Govind Heights, located in some narrow bye-lane near RTC bus complex but a decent, budget hotel to stay over for a day. We had breakfast at one of the roadside stalls. Our family joined us around 11 AM and to indulge our sibling, we decided to hire a bike to go around because the Vento car wouldn’t accommodate 6 adults and 2 kids. Promptly an Avenger bike was hired.
By the time we settled down it was lunch time, we headed to an old restaurant Hotel Dwaraka for a proper Andhra Meal.
SV Zoological Park
Since our darshans were scheduled for the next day, we spent Day 1 at Tirupati. With kids around, the first place we could think of to visit at Tirupati was the Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park. We did not have too many expectations from the Zoo Park and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
At the moment, you can take your car inside the Zoo, the place is well maintained and organised.
It was peak Summer but we were in for some luck as the heat was quite bearable, the greenery made it more pleasant.
There is a small souvenir shop, we stopped by to buy something to take back with us. Then, we went around the enclosures, the animals were busy doing their thing, we are sure, they must be wondering what kind of creatures stood on the other side of the fence. They must be hoping for a day when they can cage us inside the enclosures and watch the fun !
Unlike the zoos in the cities, that are crowded on most weekends, the S V Zoo Park was quiet, one can spend some relaxing time here. We drove towards the Safari Park and decided to the take the Lion Safari.
For the Safari, one has to hop on to the buses run by the Zoo, private vehicles are not allowed. We hopped onto the bus and a few yards into the safari, before we crossed into the Lion zone, there was massive gate that was slid open by two people. The build up made us feel like we were in the Jurassic Park, going to see Dinosaurs !
The safari took us to some dry open lands and after a short drive, we saw a few lions lazing behind a fenced area. Further up, another giant gate opened and we were asked to close the glass panes because we were at a spot where two lions were left loose.
The bus stopped right in front of the lions. Both the lions looked up at the bus and at us humans, gave a “we are bored of looking at you guys” look and went back to snoozing !
The safari continued as we spotted some Spotted Deer, Sambar and so on, the safari duration was about 20 minutes. Back from the Safari, we had a glass of fresh lime soda from one of the stalls, relaxed for a bit and then went to see the White Tiger, we were quite excited to see the fully grown, huge, ferocious looking White Tiger !
As we drove around, we could see the Tirumala Hills in the distance and the stretch of the forest, Summer had turned it dry but forests have a beauty for all seasons !
We wound up our trip to the zoo, with a quick visit to the elephant enclosures.
May be it is to do with us growing old, though we had a good time as family, we began wondering if we were being fair to the animals? Are we justified in caging them, keeping them away from their natural habitat, even if it is meant for us to learn more about them?
The trip to the zoo was followed by a visit to the Kalyana Venkateswara Swamy Temple at Srinivasa Mangapuram. This temple is always very peaceful. We were also lucky to be in time for their Chakkara Pongal Prasadam, trust us, Prasadam at Vishnu Temples is next only to Vaikuntam itself !
We drove to Thiruchanur to visit Goddess Padmavati temple but couldn’t get a darshan because the temple was closed for some pooja. We returned to the hotel and after some rest, made another quick visit to Kapilatheertham. Dinner was at some random hotel that hardly had any items on the menu but the hospitality was nice, so the quality of dinner did not bother us.
Tirumala – Views we never knew
The next morning after breakfast at Hotel Saravana Bhavan, we drove to Tirumala, the abode of the Lord of 7 Hills. We have taken a bus, driven a car and climbed on foot, this was the first time we rode a bike to Tirumala. It was as if a whole new world opened up before us. While driving or taking a bus ride, one doesn’t focus much on the scenes around, on a bike, with everything open and the breeze on your face, you get to see views that you normally don’t stop to take a second look.
We stopped the bike at view points to marvel at the landscape, we had never realised that the Eastern Ghats was such a continuous chain, we could see a long range of hills in the horizon.
Even the road snaking between the hills looked breathtaking.
Waiting for our family to catch up with us in their car, we stopped at one of the many view points and sat gazing at the hills and the traffic heading towards Tirumala, one doesn’t get to do this often on a pilgrimage to the place.
We reached Tirumala around 10 AM, checked into our accommodation, all 6 adults and 2 kids into one large room, that is the fun of visiting pilgrim places with family.
The Senior Citizens in the group had their darshan scheduled for 2 PM, so we drove to Srivari Padhalu, the highest peak in the Seshachalam range where the feet of Lord Venkateswara have been carved on top of the peak. The drive to this spot is gorgeous, even in the month of April, the place was lush green.
Returning from SriVari Padhalu, we dropped off the Senior Citizens for their darshan, had lunch at a newly opened Sarangi restaurant and drove around the hills towards the Vedic School. We parked the car nearby and took a stroll into the forest, there were directions towards some waterbody but we had no plans of visiting it, we simply walked through the pathway, hearing the birds and wondering what we would do if a wild animal suddenly made an appearance !
Being responsible citizens, we did not venture too much into the forests and returned within 15 minutes. We stopped at a small shrine for Lord Anjaneya and sat under the trees in complete bliss, the breeze was cool, greenery everywhere we looked and absolute silence.
A trip to Tirumala usually means rushing for darshan and visiting temples or a few waterfalls/Theerthams, we usually do not get the leisure to just sit and contemplate, this was probably the first time we were spending such quality time in Tirumala and we loved every moment of it.
The next stop was the popular Silathoranam or the Natural Arch, a geological formation which is estimated to be atleast 1500 million years old, the rocks are much older at 2500 million years ! The last time we visited this Arch was some 14 years ago and seeing it again after such a long time and having read a lot more on geology in the last 14 years, we were wonderstruck all over again !
How precious these hills and rocks are and how little we bother to safeguard them ! All it takes is a real estate project and billions of years of nature’s effort is lost for ever ! Tirumala Hills are safe because they are considered sacred, imagine the plight of the rocks in a bustling city like Hyderabad.
Our Senior Citizens were out by 5 PM and we spent the rest of the evening shopping, walking and then wound up with a light dinner. We turned in very early because we had to wake up, get ready and report for the Suprabhata Seva at 2 AM.
Suprabhata Seva or the auspicious wake up call to Lord Venkateswara is a wonderful experience. Standing in front of closed doors of temple at 3 AM, listening to the priests recite the Suprabhatam and chanting along is spiritual bliss. If your routine includes starting your day with M.S.Subbulakshmi’s rendition of Suprabhatam, you would be able to relate to that feeling. That is followed by the darshan of Lord Venkateswara, the grand finale of your trip to Tirumala !
While visiting the temple, instead of pushing and shoving other people for a better view, may be we could take the time to admire the sculptural richness of the temple. The temple has been in existence for over 1500 years and the architectural and sculptural beauty deserves our attention.
Done with our darshan, made a quick but mandatory visit to the Varaha Swamy temple and then returned to our room by 5 AM to catch up on sleep ! After a good 2 hours, we were up, it was time to leave. Our train was scheduled for later in the day from Nellore, so we drove to our hometown, slept again for 2 hours straight and caught the Padmavati Express back to Hyderabad. The train was late by 1.5 hours again but we were surprised when it arrived at Secunderabad ahead of its scheduled arrival time, Indian Railways – we are fans forever !
We would continue visiting Tirupati, like we have done ever since we can remember and each trip would continue to feel like we were visiting it for the first time all over again !
- S.V.Zoological Park is open from 8.30 AM to 5.30 PM, the timings are adjusted by half an hour during winters. The Zoo is closed on Tuesdays.
- If you wish to take your car inside, the fee is Rs.500/-. There are charges for Cameras and videography also.
- Safaris are charged at Rs.50/- per person.
- There are battery operated vehicles to go around the zoo, the fee is Rs.50/- per person.
- There are two slots a day for Senior Citizens and Physically Challenged to have darshan – 10 AM and 3 PM. One will have to show proof of their age and medical reports in the case of Physically Challenged individuals. One has to report near the Tirumala Museum 2 hours before the slot. The darshan is usually quick and hassle free. Food is also served at regular intervals for those waiting for this darshan.
- TTD has introduced a lottery system for various darshans, in addition to online booking. One has to register on their website and wait for lady luck to smile on them !
- There several waterbodies and Theerthams on the Tirumala Hills, always a good idea to take some time to explore them especially in the winter months.
- Tirumala is not just about being the most visited pilgrim place in the world. It is a haven for natural beauty and houses some of the oldest rocks in the world, going back to the time when the earth was just settling down as a planet. This aspect of Tirumala deserves devotion too.
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