I am in Chennai currently, and yesterday went to Tirupati or more aptly the hill town of Tirumala for a visit to Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in Andhra Pradesh. It is about 138 kms from Chennai. At first we had decided to take the TTDC (Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation) bus to our destination. But the crazy pick up time of 4.30 am from Park station led us to probe other options. So a quick google search later, we found lots of options for the tour, all with the same premise. Pickup at crazy early morning hour, breakfast on arrival at Tirupati, Darshan, lunch and then back reaching Chennai around 11 pm at night.
We did find a tour that left at 10 pm from Chennai and then Darshan at 4.00 am which would be perfect to avoid the crowds and traffic. But the one leaving that night just had one empty seat and there were the three of us. And then suddenly we were gripped with the fever that we had to go. So we booked an Indica car that would pick us up at 3 am, with all the trims.
Of course 3 am turned out to be 4 am. But in the early morning dawn we set out. Of course given the crazy hour we had to wake up and be ready, 2am I couldnt sleep. This of course is highly debated by my sister who claims I just thought I was awake while in fact I just had my eyes closed, for the two hours or so.
Our driver was very friendly, of course not with us since there was no mid point our shoddy Tamil and his equally shoddy English could ever meet. But he kept stopping for tea breaks and such, chatting nineteen to the dozen with his other driver mates. The scenery might have been nice, especially the early timing of the trip but there was no way I caught up with any of that. I started snoring in the back of the car even before we had even left Chennai.
Anyhoo around 8 am we reached Tirupati and after a South Indian breakfast which I totally enjoyed of Idli, Vada and a debatable Pongal or Khichadi we set off for Tirumala hill. We left our phone and slippers in the car and barefoot and sleep deprived we joined the 2 km queue. If only we had known then the queue stretched for dozens of kms more and the point where we saw the queue entering the building was just the beginning of the stretch that Nagini would be proud of, we would have thought otherwise.
But with hope in our hearts and a strange bravado we joined the queue. Of course the queue breakers tried joining with equal pertinence as our attempts to get rid of them. In fact even our driver, Raja brought a group of people from his mate’s car to join the queue where we were. This attempt was thwarted by his super bossy sister of course with a long righteous speech, but we discovered later they had somehow slipped in a few people down in the queue.
With hope still high we persevered, we had come so far and as monitors of the queue we found ourselves with duty as well. The good thing was the queue kept moving, pretty quickly at that point so we were still in good spirits. We proceeded to the area where we thought was the entrance only to find the queue snaked around to the next corner and this went on for a long long time.
This is when things started to turn ridiculous. We were to climb steel walkways up and down, random chairs had been placed in our paths and water taps that just made the path wet (side note: I hate the feeling of wet feet, especially from unknown sources), the morning was turning into an unforeseen obstacle course. Of course there were barricades on all sides, no way for anyone to even consider leaving since the ’emergency exits’ had huge locks on them (donated of course I am guessing from the good people at Godrej heavy-duty lock company), claustrophobia was in the air. We then looked around and started feeling sorry for the elderly and people with kids. Kids, why would you put them through such torture, I didn’t understand.
Three hours later, our hopes fast diminishing and water supply low, we just didn’t know what to do. By this time the moving queue had suddenly stopped. So people were just sitting where ever they could park their asses, I just sat on the floor, and think I had a little nap too.
Five hours later and feeling like if there was a emergency exit somehow open by the miracle of god, that would help lift us from this struggle, we could make our escape, renewed hope glimmered. Finally the pay counters were in sight, and of course our obstacle course had not taught us anything by this point because after that cages started. Giant people holding cages. And we were in the 300 Rupees queue, which is steep for India, and being treated like animals for that.
This is when losing my patience and hope, what was that? Just four letters combined together to form a word, with meaning, a meaning which meant nothing at that point. I just wanted to get out of that place and fast. Such torture I have never known in life. And I kept remembering that if God was omnipresent then why were we here?
Finally after what seemed like days being holed up in people holding cages, from cage no. 5 to cage no. 4 onward to cage number 1, going up, down steel walkways has given way to wood. We finally could see the tops of the temples that we had seen in the Wikipedia page. By this time of course I was cursing God, myself and my poor family who I had coerced into coming with me for this crazy misadventure.
Finally we passed the silver giant doors on to the golden temple complex that we had struggled for so long to see. It was an amazing sight and a truly marvelous place but in the end the wait for omnipresent God just seemed like a holiday wasted. 6 hours of life we will never get back, not to count the 15 hours the whole experience took.
TTD, the management body of the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple needs to learn a few lessons from other temples who have an amazing queue management system in place. According to the Wikipedia page, “The temple is visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily (30 to 40 million people annually on average)” this is not a yearly occurrence so please for the love of God, arrangements need to be made and straight forward ones at that.
We were just surprised at the lack of management and the hoops we had to pass, yet people keep coming back to this temple, many times in a year. At least this first time, we had the good fortune of not knowing the procedure, but imagine having to anticipate the whole process, I think next time I will just have to ask my brother to get me a VIP Pass fora quick VIP Darshan. To the poor common man, on the other hand, lots and lots of God’s blessing to get through this whole process.