Won't get into the 'how i said yes' bit, but decided to walk it up all the way to the Tirupati temple. Immediately after getting down from the train from Mumbai. And going barefoot.Luckily I had a huge clan in the literal sense with me. So we reached the base of the hill by cars ( why not?) and set off at 5.30pm.
A little bit of introduction here. The walk up to the doors of the Tirupati temple is around 12kms, comprising nearly 4000 stairs in total...one crosses seven hills. There are 2 paths...Path 1 via Alipiri , which is a suburb at the foot of the hills and the starting location of the common climbing route. The first hill consists of 2500 stairs and is the most difficult to climb. After the first hill, it is crossing the valleys till we hit the mokala parvatam (Kneecap Hill) which consists of another 600 stairs. The second path is Chandragiri - less common and shorter path used by the local people and traders . The path is only 6 km in length but is a more difficult route through the forest. Pilgrims are advised to avoid this path and prefer to stick to the Alipiri route. After the first hill of a vertical climb, it sort of evens out as the path begins to ascend slowly and gradually. Some time later one starts walking down as the stepped path joins the road comprising vehicles going downhill. And then the path continues as part of the road itself...and then the last bit is another steep climb of 600 steps. For all those familiar with Tirupati and gone uphill by car, imagine the same route only more straight...by car its about an hour's drive. By foot, one manages in 3hours after climbing many times over and in sneakers or slippers.
It took us 4.5 hours (in normal speed, one takes about 4 hours, so we did good really). This is also because we had an old heavyweight aunt, who pushed herself beyond her limits (and i'm abs proud of her!) and a cousin with a year old kid. Of course, most of us were first-timers at this experience. And lets not forget, we were barefoot.
The first 2000 steps were really too much to manage for my 'urban set lifestyle with no real exercise'. An uncle suggested that I walk ten steps, pause, breathe in and then climb ten more. Rather than climbing twenty and trying to hold on to your breath, and being more exhausted. It worked! And I managed real well after that. The trick is to also go a bit slow... It did not help tho that you see a white Gopuram on the way and think you've reached, when you are still a little less than halfway!
It also helped that there were stalls and rest rooms on the way. So we picked up Glucon-D powder and all of us kept ourselves alive thanks to it! That and the various juices and goli-soda! And since one has to pause to hold one's breath, one might as well make the most of it. So I enjoyed the lush green scenery of the mountains and the shining roofs of the town below as the sun slowly started setting and paving the way for the Full Moon. At times, it drizzled and made the atmosphere all the more 'heavenly'....an amazing sight!
Climbing these steps became easier when I started focusing and telling myself I can do it. I was lagging quite behind, but once the basic 2000 got crossed, then I felt a surge of energy like never before. I almost ran after that and actually managed crossing all the others. Was it a divine intervention or a religious act of faith that led me, I don't know. Because after that I neither sipped on water nor needed the Glucon D, nor needed rest...I could go on and on. And at that height, once you cross the main hurdle, your sense of perspective really clears up. You can understand yourself and your body better...and the mind and body get into sync to create you. Its a wonderful experience!
On our way, we saw many women smearing each step with ochre turmeric paste and bright vermilion/ sindhur. Mainly women perform this service - and its supposed to be an act of self-sacrifice in thanks for, or in anticipation of, wishes fulfilled. In fact many of these smearings are followed by lighting camphor pellets on a green leaf, on every step smeared. I saw old and I really mean OLD people walking or being escorted up, and every time I saw that, I would tell myself, "If they can do it, why not me?!" And its really motivational and inspiring to see these people, some of them with heavy bags and luggage, climbing up, chanting, singing and dancing to the Lord's Praises. "Govinda, Govinda, Govinda..."
Somewhere down below, a group of religious dancers (most of them school kids) passed up- all dressed in saffron and wearing ghungroos... and just when the first 2000 steps end, there is a break in the ground, where one can sit and rest, watch the city...It was here that we met the dancers again... performing in full glory as if they didn't realise they had just climbed all that way up! And as I reached there, the sight kept me spellbound. A frenzy of orange was set against a contrasting static full moon and lighted town below...it was like fire and ice! Awe-inspiring truly!
We saw the dancers performing again at the next stop point, which was where a huge Hanuman statue has been built. People taking the road by car can see it too. Then again began a series of long corridors and steps...on the way I saw all types of bugs, spiders and different insects- quite gigantic in proportion to what we see at home, I must say! We also crossed the deer park, and people stopped to feed the deers.
Then finally came the road and as we walked alongside the oncoming traffic, one really wondered what would happen if the cars lost balance- they would come straight at us, and there was no barrier between the pedestrian path and the road...but then as someone said, 'we are on the way to God's place, he'll take care of us!'. Such is faith.
We reached the temple complex at 9.45 and hung around a bit, didn't really do a darshan as we were scheduled to go the next day with tickets,etc... and came down in jeeps. Had dinner at a small restaurant and reached the hotel.
Unfortunately for me, on my way back, I sprained my leg real bad and could not walk properly the next few days. Inspite of that I walked around, rather hopped during my temple visits and the marriage. But will also add, that even after walking all that way, I only felt energised! Except the hurt foot, I was absolutely fine the next day! And I am not a very religious person, and didn't climb out of religious feelings or because I wanted God to give me something, but I truly gained a great amount of insight and blessings during that walk. And this cannot be experienced by taking the route by car. So if you are truly seeking heaven, climb up to Tirumala.
A few interesting factoids for the uninitiated:
1. Tirumala or Tirupati is so named as it means that Tiru or Shri or Laxmi's 'pati' sits on the hill. And Sri in Tirumala is known as Padmavathi Devi. Her temple is about 4-5kms from the town below.
2. It is said that a visit to Tirumala is fruitful only after visiting the Sri Padmavathi Devi temple. Legend has it that the Lord (Sri Maha Vishnu, who later took on the incarnation of Sri Venkateswara) showed his reverence towards the sage, Bhrigu Maharshi, even though the sage had insulted Vishnu by kicking Him on the chest. In anger, Sri Maha Lakshmi (the Lord's consort) reached Patala Loka, where she heard a divine voice stating that a pushkarini was dug on the banks of the river Swarnamukhi, and here She immersed herself in penance for 12 years. In the 13th year (during the month of Karteeka, on Panchami day in the last fortnight, highlighted by the nakshathram Uttarashadha), Sri Padmavathi emerged from a golden lotus. It is believed that Goddess MahaLakshmi herself emerged as Sri Padmavathi.
3. One must also visit the temple of Sri Varahaswami, which is to the north of the Sri Venkateswara Temple, on the banks of Swami Pushkarini, the temple pond.According to legend, Tirumala was originally Adi Varaha Kshetra (the home of Sri Adi Varaha Swami), and it was with his permission that Lord Sri Venkateswara took up residence here. People also believe that he keeps a track of who all visited and makes his notes to the Lord, thus ensuring your prayers are heard.
4.Other places to see:
Silathoranam is a natural rock formation in the form of an arch, near the Chakra Tirtham. Geologists have identified the rocks on the hill as pre-Cambrian, and this arch formation suggests an antiquity of several million years to the Tirumala hill. It is said that there are only two other natural rock arches of such great antiquity in the world.
The TTD Gardens - ornamental, landscape and flower gardens - occupy an area of 460 acres in Tirupati and Tirumala.
Kalahasti : This ancient temple dedicated to Shiva is one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalams (temples celebrating Shiva as the embodiment of the primary elements), air being the element in case here, the other five temples being Tiruvannamalai (Fire), Chidambaram (Space),Tiruvanaikkaval (Water) and Kanchipuram (Earth) respectively. This temple is also associated with Rahu and Ketu, (of the nine grahams or celestial bodies in the Indian astrological scheme). The legend here is similar to that of the Jambukeswara temple at Tiruvanaikka. Shiva is said to have given salvation to a spider, elephant and a serpent who were ardent devotees of the Shiva Lingam located here. The spider is said to have attained salvation in Kritayuga (the first of the four yugas in the Hindu tradition), while the elephant and the snake were devotees in Treta Yugam, the succeeding aeon. The elephant's devotional outpouring was a source of disturbance to the serpent's display of devotion and vice versa, resulting in animosity between the two, until Shiva's intervention gave both the devotees their liberation. Kannappa Nayanaar, a hunter is said to have been a great devotee of Kalahasteeswarar. Legend has it that he offered his own eyes to the Shivalingam, and for this reason earned the name Kannappan (his original name being Thinnan), and the distinction of having his statue adorn the sanctum. Nakkiradevar, Indra, Rama, Muchukunda and others are believed to have worshipped Shiva at this temple.