Tirupati and Tirumala
- We took the short flight from Vijayawada to Tirupati, excited to continue our exploration of South India. For those who do not know (as I had no idea), Tirupati is a town located at the base of a large mountain range. At the top of the impressive hills lies Tirumala, which houses a very famous and culturally important Hindu temple. Visiting Tirumala was an extremely impactful experience, and re-opened my eyes to the power of spiritual significance.
- We landed some time in the late afternoon and were very lucky to once again be helped out my friends family (a different family member), who picked us up from the airport and arranged for us to drive up the hills while explaining to us much of the significance of the temple. They also very kindly set us up in a hostel of sorts where we slept.
- We needed to wake up very early the next morning (around 5 am) to get in line to do a “Darshan” — an opportunity or occasion of seeing a holy person or the image of a deity. So we woke up really early the next morning and walked to the start of the temple. The lines are like nothing you have ever seen before…I promise. We were lucky to get “vip access,” which still afforded a 2 hour waiting period, but some people wait literally days to get enter the temple. “The temple is visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily (30 to 40 million people annually on average), while on special occasions and festivals, like the annual Brahmotsavam, the number of pilgrims shoots up to 500,000, making it the most-visited holy place in the world.” These are actually amazing numbers…and what are they visiting for? Not to diminish the experience, but most people get to get a glimpse of the holy deity for something like 15 seconds. Yes, people excitedly, gratefully, and patiently wait days, literally days, to experience something for 15 seconds. Where else in Western Culture does this sort of discipline appear? My trip to Tirupati was an amazing experience, not because I am Hindu (I am not) but rather because I was able to feel the spiritual atmosphere — so so many people — centuries and centuries of passion — walking (barefoot) through the grounds of this temple. I think Western culture vastly underestimates the power of traditional religion — a a true vehicle for action, change, and impact. Every person who enters the temple is fed! There are free buses that drive you up and down the hills and even free hostels (which are not that nice) if you want to stay. Amazing how powerful this whole environment is, really changes peoples lives.
- Two of my friends shaved their heads (as is custom and part of the experience).
- We also hiked the hills which took us a few hours. Really cool to see all the wildlife (boars, monkeys, etc.) as you hike the mountain!
- And the views are quite special!
This is the type of experience I think I would not have been able to have without knowing or having friends with family members around. Definitely a memorable experience!!