I finally managed to take the darshan of Lord Balaji. We were 5 adults +2 kids. The whole trip was (un) organized :) for my second son who is 8 months old (for tonsure ceremony) and that to on a weekend (25&26 June 2011).
We travelled from Bangalore to Tirupati. I asked many friends for advice and most suggested packaged trip but after reading few reviews on the net realized that darshan is guaranteed only on weekdays and not weekends. So, I was left with only one option to plan the trip myself. There were a couple of limitations 1. My wife is not comfortable in travelling by cab (motion sickness) 2. My budget was limitedJ.
I heard that sometimes it takes 3 days for Lord Balaji darshan, hence the first thing what I did was book a ticket online (http://www.ttdsevaonline.com/). I took 4nos of Rs.50 tickets (e-Sudarsanam) (Missed my Mom’s tickets as she joined at the last minute). This e-Sudarsanam helped my brother-in-law to take the Lord’s darshan (will tell u in a short while). TTD trust have done a good job in this, if we are able to get the required number of tickets online then unnecessary hassles can be avoided. There is limited number of e-Sudarsanam tickets so the earlier it is booked the better. Also for accommodation better opt for e-Accommodation facility; I was not able to get this as all the rooms where full :(.
We booked a train ticket to Tirupati from Bangalore (Train no: 12543, Yeshwantpur-Tirupati EXP (Dep-07:20 a.m, Arr-13:30 p.m) as we thought that for small kids and elders the best way is to travel by train (Good decision at the end). For the return journey (planned on 26th June2011) I booked for the same train but for different time just in case if we are able to take the darshan on time and return the next day by 2 pm to the tirupati station (Train No-12544 - TPTY YPR EXP (Dep-14:50, Arr-20:55).
My wife in the mean time spoke to her friends and one of her friend told that her mother-in-law stays in Tirupati and she will help us out. It was a bad decision from our side to take her help as she was continuously insisting us to book a cab from Tirupati to Tirumala. But as she was from Tirupati and knew the place we still were in touch with her.
My brother-in-law (BIL) suggested us to visit Kanipakam (Chittoor) and take darshan of Lord Ganesha as Chittoor is on the way to Tirupati. So we decided to have Lord Ganesha’s darshan first. In Hindu tradition it is know that Lord Ganesha is prayed first, hence we felt that we were following this ritual. We reached Chittoor at around 12.30 pm (on the same day). One cab driver was asking us if he can take us to Kanipakam for Rs. 350. We told him no and went straight to a auto driver and near the station and went to Kanipakam at Rs. 120 this includes the toll which the Kanipakam village panchayat charges to the auto drivers for using their roads. We reached the Kanipakam temple in 20-25mins. Then we kept our luggage in a cloak room who charged us Rs. 35 for 6 bags. Then deposited our camera and cell-phones in a counter (they took Rs. 5 for each item). Then we took Rs. 10 (per head) ticket for the darshan (there is one more Rs.50 ticket). Took Lord Ganesha’s darshan and proceed to Tirupati by BUS. We had another option to go by train from Chittoor (one passenger train at 2.30pm and another express at 5.30pm). But as it was a short travel and lack of time we proceed for the BUS stand. The BUS stand was about 1km from the Temple. We boarded the Bus at 4.30pm and reached Tirupati at 6.30pm. We called that lady (my wife’s friend’s Mother-in-law) she came as started scolding my wife why we went to Kanipakam first as there is heavy rush in Tirupati that day. Then again she asked we should book a CAB to go to Tirumala. She took us to a Travel agent and asked to book Innova which would have costed us Rs 2500/- for 30kms. We told her that we will travel in Tata Sumo. The travel agent put a bill of Rs. 1100/- but as we had asked her help we were not able to refuse. Later when we enquired other operators we were shocked to find that they would have taken just around Rs.350-Rs.400. We went to Tirumala by the Tata Sumo booked by our guardian angelJ. We reached Tirumala in about 45 mins. Then she went to speak to some guy working in her department for the guest house. But was not available get any room hence she took us to another guest house. I must give her credit for this as we were happy with the guest house (Sringeri Shankara Mutt). This guest house is behind Sandeepa (Muyura) Hotel and near to the Srivari Temple. We can actually walk to the temple from this guest house. I don’t have their phone number right now. (Warning to the devotees- Please ensure that you take a receipt from them as I just read that these people don’t give receipt and take the cash every day and before leaving they ask for the receipt in case it is not furnished they ask for the all the days money again). I didn’t face this problem as they had given me the receipt on the first day itself.
One better thing that our guardian angel did was to inform us that there is a separate queue for kids below 1 year (I think this queue is named as Subhapradham. Kindly check this at Tirumala) and misguided us that there is a senior citizen queue where my mother (63yrs old) and mother-in-law (62yrs old) can take a darshan without any hassle (Later we found that this queue is only for people above 65 yrs old). We decided that I, my wife and our two kids will go in the separate line for kids and my mother, mother-in-law and my bother –in-law will go from the senior citizen queue.
On Sunday (26th June 2011) we woke up at 3.30 am took bath and went to Varahaswamy Guest House at around 4.45 am to offer our hairs to the Lord and for tonsure ceremony of my son. One funny thing happened here, we can tonsure by paying Rs. 10 (Note: to the devotees, they give these tickets only if you produce accommodation receipt of a TTD guest house) but one barber while I was in the queue called us and asked us that he will cut the hairs and we need not stand in queue, we opted for the same as we heard that these barber will inflict cuts on the kids head if we take the Rs. 10 tickets. We told him that we were 4 people and we will give the extra money later after he cuts our hairs. He did a good job in cutting our hairs. Later we handed him Rs. 150 (he was expecting around Rs. 1000 :) ) but he could not raise his voice and you can guess it why.
At around 7.00 am we left for the temple, my BIL and others went inside the senior citizen queue (which would start at 9.30 am) and I+wife+kids went to the kids queue. We were allowed inside immediately there they gave us two Rs. 20 tickets for myself and my wife (where we will get 2 laddu per ticket :) ) this line eventually will merge to the Rs. 300 (Special ticket queue). TTD in this respect has given relief to parents with small kids. We finished the darshan by 8.30 am and came out of the temple by 8.45 am, to find my mother, M-I-L and B-I-L in the senior citizen queue waiting for their turn. When their turn came finally the person at the gate ushered them outside by telling us that they are still not senior citizens. TTD has some pathetic rule that people above the age of 65 are senior citizens. My mom has diabetes and High BP, and my MIL has arthritis so you can imagine how frustrated we became when we came to know they won’t allow them in the queue. This incident turned our trip into a struggle. We then felt we should take a special darshan ticket for the three but to our amazement saw the special darshan queue longer than Rs. 50 queue. TTD has played a fantastic game here. The ticket to Rs. 50 is only available at Tirupati (Bus station and Railway station) and not in Tirumala. As people are too much of a hurry to come to Tirumala they fail to take the Rs. 50 ticket and land up in (Not so) Special darshan ticket. We returned to our guest house frustrated and were thinking for the next plan of action. Then we decided to go at night and check if devotees in the special darshan have reduced. My BIL then decided to take the darshan with the online e-Sudarsanam ticket I had booked, as I told before I had missed to book my mom’s e-sudashan ticket hence my MIL and my mom decided to take the darshan together wherever they can find the tickets. Our e-Sudarsanam ticket was booked for the 3-4pm time slot. My BIL went at that time with the 2 mandatory ticket copies (once he had to return because the TTD official didn’t allow him inside because he had only one online ticket copy:(, that entirely is my mistake so sorry BIL). The next time my BIL went he was able to take Lord Balaji’s darshan in less than an hour, later he narrated an incident which I want to share with you. While he was in queue he met one devotee who was in the special darshan queue since 8.30 am. He was asking my BIL since when he is the queue and when my BIL told half an hour, he quizzed if there is Rs. 1000 queue or what. When he told he was from Rs.50 queue the devotee was so frustrated that he was blaming himself for this situation. Then my BIL explained about the online ticket facility and Rs. 50 ticket counter at Tirupati.
Later that night we went to see if the special darshan queue has reduced but were very disappointed to find that the darshan has been stopped for the night. There was only one option left for us is to go to the temple early in the morning and stand in the special darshan queue (Note: the tickets are offered in the queue itself no need to stand in one more queue. There were some devotees who slept overnight in the queue for the Lords darshan this made me nervous but we were so tired that we thought we should go and rest and come back again in the morning. Next day morning (27th June 29, 2011), first I went to the temple to find from where the special darshan starts once I found it I took my mom, MIL to the queue. They were in the queue at 5.45am. The darshan started at around 6.30am. When the queue was just about to start I saw a couple holding a small baby, I told them that there is a special queue for kids; but the husband was too busy ushering her wife to move on in the queue. Then I felt that there are so many people out there who don’t know there are some facilities which are available but just because of lack of knowledge they are not able to avail the facilities (hence I am writing this big blog :) ). I still hear my wife’s words while writing this blog she said “There is no crime in asking for information and availing the facilities only thing is we should ask”. Finally, my mom and MIL took the Lord’s darshan and where out of the temple by 8.30am. We all took sigh of relief; we accomplished what we came for. The whole trip taught us few lessons which we would have never learned in a packaged trip.
Some pointer for devotees:
- Avail the facilities offered by TTD.
- Book online (e-accommodation and e-Sudarsanam) tickets in advance
- There is a separate queue for kids less than 1 year where you have to just pay Rs. 20. Only parent and the kid are allowed.
- Go for Rs. 50 tickets available in Tirupati (this is referred as current booking)
- Finally travel by bus to Tirumala from Tirupati it will cost you only Rs. 30 per head. Don’t use any expert’s advice (like our guardian angel).