Tirupati: This is the richest temple in the Indian subcontinent, and truly, you know it when you are there. Getting a glimpse of Lord Venkateshwara at this temple is not easy and it calls for immense faith to get that rare glimpse.
People across the country travel miles to get here, wait endless days for accommodation and boarding till that final glimpse is achieved. It’s a long trek to paradise to see Lord Venkateshwara who silently waits testing the devotee in every step he takes.
Getting to Thirupati, the harder way is a long drawn process. The shortest entitles you to be either a politician or the like to get the "instant glimpse" but if you are common man, guess you struggle harder. People come to thirupati from all walks of life. It depends on how rich you are and how much you are willing to blow up for an easier darshan, as the lord waits there patiently for your arrival. You can zoom up crossing the seven hills by car or bus taking 45 minutes to get there, make sure you start the climb before 10 pm, they shut the entrance after that. Or you decide to walk the stretch on seven hills in four hours with occasional breaks.
Lets take the walk up with Srinivasan, an ardent devotee of the Lord. The first is a climb, where flights of steps staring at Srinivasan as he makes a slow trek up to kali gopuram (the glowing gopuram you see from a distance indicating the hill after sunset. It has nothing to do with goddess Kali). These are steep flight of steps testing him as he puffs his way up looking up every time to see the never-ending steps leading to the top, while the hillside bakes in the sunlight. Along the way as he is taken by fatigue, he can see that the devotion of the people is etched into the stone steps. Fresh coats of turmeric and vermilion adorn these steps screaming out the back pain of all the aspirants who tried to make it up the hill, bending over to add their bit, saying "Govinda Gooooovinda" along the way.
The echoes of this sacred name "Govinda Gooooovinda", brings in the inspiration to reach the top of the first hill. People yell out the Lords name as they ascend up the hill, taking occasional breaks to catch their breath. Once Srinivasan reaches the top of the first hill, there are enough refreshments to take him up the climb. Well at least he has now covered the first climb.
Now it gets a shade easier. The walk along the hillside displays deer sanctuaries; vegetation and forests with wild life add ons. Now the crossing of 7 hills is more like a cruise as the maximum height of a flight of steps is about 7 to 8 at best, still bright with the glowing fresh coat of vermilion on turmeric paste. People chat along the way, families make friends with other families, people tend to know each other, bonding and talking about themselves or the divinity and spiritualism. They make the climb slightly more entertaining with occasional outbursts of "Govinda Gooooovinda" along the way, making it even more pleasurable spiritually as every one along the stretch shouts along adding to the common community spirit, enhancing the feeling of devotion. Srinivasan adds his bit of "Govinda Gooooovinda" as he continues his climb up the hills.
This is a two-way passage, which also has people coming down the hill, most often tonsured as they have offered their hair to the Lord. Tonsured heads are easy to find along this stretch, it’s not for style, its sacrifice. As the hours crawl by and even the conversation take a toll on the mind, Srinivasan now walks in silence thinking to himself... about life, family, god, spiritualism, or what ever is lined up to do when he goes back home with occasional "Govinda Gooooovinda" echoing along the way. There is a point when the walk up meets the road to drive up.
This is a beautiful stretch along a now lonely hillside, with occasional vehicles zooming up the steep slope along the cliffside. This stretch has a few interesting things to offer. Two places along the cliff for a view of the valley below, which Srinivasan looks over to get a fair idea of the height he is at which until now was not visible. Steep cliffs, drenched in monsoon clouds at the right time of the year, displaying beautiful waterfalls in the very lap of nature. Among the wet rocky cliff sides is a shrine of Ganesha,carved into the cliff. Srinivasan stops by to pay his respects to the deity and carries on with his walk up. The walk goes on, it bridges the way from one hill to another and finally leads Srinivasan to the last climb. This is the last and final climb up, steep, intimidating and exhaustive along a steep cliff edge, all for that one glimpse of the Lord. Oh! What a beautiful sight.
Once on the top, it doesn't feel like Srinivasan climbed the hill at all. It feels like flat ground, with Lodges and hotels in all shapes and sizes advertising themselves to Srinivasan to take refuge and rest his tired feet, and the worst - people, people, people everywhere. It feels like the entire Indian population is parked here. Having tested his capacity to walk up seven hills and walk to the temple is not the end of the test, what lies ahead is even tougher. The three-hour wait, two if he is lucky, one if he really pays his way through, it’s no joke. Most people who show up here are very aware of this fact.
Srinivasan now finds himself waiting in claustrophobic passages, getting narrower by the minute, there is no chance of going to the loo if he gets into these queues, and he has to wait for hours for the queues to move. It feels like animals in cages and the long winding passages are to be seen to be believed. Yet the devotion is so strong that Srinivasan will wait for hours to see that one glimpse of God.
Along these long narrow passages are inscriptions along the stonewalls, relating to the time of Krishnadevaraya, of the Vijayanagar empire. Finally the crowd heads towards the shrine and Srinivasan moves frantically with it in anticipation of that one glimpse. For that one glimpse, he has traveled so long, for that one glimpse that he has longed for, has dreamt of in his sleep for, has been restless about and has come to Tirupati to fulfill this one desire, that glimpse! That one glimpse he longs for, which attracts a million Indians to this temple every year. He enters craning his neck to see the Lord standing in silence at the far end of the inner sanctum.
Finally the moment comes, when Srinivasan is now nearing the most wanted place to see the Lord completely, eye to eye, standing right in front of the deity, its this moment when he thinks about all that he did to see this one glimpse of The Lord, the restlessness, those claustrophobic queues and waiting for hours in dingy rooms to get this one glimpse, that long walk and those miserable energy sapping climbs to see this one glimpse, seems to have finally paid off. Finally the crowd moves in, the sound of "govinda goooovinda" fill the air which has "om namah narayanaya" humming in the background, oh the air, the smell of incense and finally the last walk into the sanctum.
Srinivasan enters, being pushed through the crowd, as if in a trance, speechless with a blank mind forgetting his entire wish lists when he comes face to face with the Lord. Its the moment of that one last glimpse, which he is so over whelmed with that he bows to the Lord in complete humility and prays for those few seconds he has been granted - with Eyes Shut!!!