The city of Tirupati is one of the biggest pilgrimage centers of the world. Positioned at the foothills of the Eastern Ghats in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, Tirupati is most famous for the VenkateswaraSwamy temple located in the Tirumala Hills. 50,000 - 100,000 pilgrims visit Tirupati every day, traveling from far and wide to offer Darshan to Lord Venkateswara. The number of Darshan seekers who take the tour in a single day can skyrocket to 500,000 on special occasions, making Tirupati the busiest religious destination in the whole world. The Venkateswara Temple is found atop the last of the seven Tirumala hills near Tirupati, at an elevation of 853 meters. Other major centers for the pilgrim’s tour include the Govindaraja shrine within Tirupati and the Padmavati shrine in Tiruchanur, about 5 kilometers south of Tirupati.
Historically, the Venkateswara Temple in Tirumala is claimed to have been an established center of Vaishnavism by 5th century A.D. The town of Tirupati formed itself much later around the foundation of the Govindarajaswami Temple, which was established by the Vaishnavaite teacher, Ramanuja, during the twelfth century. Prior to this the only settlement in the area was a tiny village named Kapilatirtham, a short distance to the north of modern-day Tirupati. ‘Ramanujapuram,’ expanded a great deal during Vijayanagara times, gradually forming a big township. Over successive centuries, several other shrines too sprouted up lending to Tirupati’shighly regarded sanctity. Today, with never less than 5,000 pilgrims offering Darshan to Lord Venkateswara, the temple has turned into one of the richest places of worship in the entire world, second only to SreePadmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala.
Entry and regular Darshan at the TirupatiVenkateswara Temple is free, however, those who choose to pay extra may join the express lane for a quick Darshan. Touring pilgrims may also buy quick Darshan tickets that are available at the Vaikuntam Queue Complex- a series of inter-linked hallways leading up to the main shrine where the BalajiDarshan takes place. The queue system regulates a minimum of 5,000 worshipers seeking Darshan at any given point and ensures orderly movement of pilgrims. The free Darshan is called ‘SarvaDarshan,’ translating into ‘darshan for all.’ This common Darshan is normally allotted between 18 and 20 hours daily and has different timings each day. The ‘SeegraDarshan’ ticket was introduced in 2009 to provide a quick and convenient Darshan for Pilgrims who are willing to pay extra. The cost of a SeegraDarshan ticket is Rs. 300 per pilgrim and can be made available as part of the package tour. On purchasing the SeegraDarshan ticket, pilgrims are allowed their Darshan directly. SeegraDarshan tickets are available at all times when the SarvaDarshan is open.
The DivyaDarshan is provided for those who make it to Tirumala by foot via the GaliGopuram or SrivariMettu, facilitating free Darshan, accommodation and food. The Sudarshan token, issued from various TTD-counters at Rs.50 was introduced to reduce waiting time by indicating a particular time when the pilgrim may enter the Vaikuntam Queue Complex. A Special Darshan is also available for the Physically Challenged, the Aged and infants, along with attendants, through a separate gate at the main temple entrance. E-Darshan counters are available in major cities from which bookings can be made 60 days in advance of the tour.
The seventh of the sacred hills (Tirumala) that houses the Venkateswara temple is known as Venkatachalam Hill and is the predominant part of all tours to Tirupati. It is located 12 kilometers northwest of Tirupati and is surrounded by hills of higher altitude. At the final leg of the tour to Tirumala are five different routes, two from Tirupati- a pathway built of steps and a motorway, a third from Chandragiri, a fourth from Mamandur Railway station and a fifth via Nagapatla.
Vijayawada is the commercial capital of Andhra Pradesh and is recognized by McKinsey Quarterly as a ‘Global City of the Future.’ Vijayawada is the most central transportation point in the state and is also well connected to the rest of the country with two national highways passing through it. Pandit Nehru Bus Station in Vijayawada is slated to be one of the largest bus stations in Asia while Vijayawada Junction Railway Station is the largest railway junction in the region. The Krishna River flows to the east and west of Vijayawada while the Budameru River holds the north. Fertile agricultural land irrigated by three major canals cover Vijayawada’s central, southwestern and northwestern parts and small to medium-sized hills surround Vijayawada from the northern, northwestern and southwestern sides. The 30,000 acreKondapalli Reserve Forest provides Vijayawada with clean air and the soft wood used to make ‘Kondapalli toys,’ popularized by the celebration of BommalaKoluvu.
Vijayawada is well known for the Kanaka Durga temple that beckons busloads of devotees everyday. It is located on top of Indrakeeladri Hill, from where one may enjoy an eagle’s eye perspective of Vijayawada. Ancient epigraphs line the two routes leading to the temple, still retaining ancient stories of religious significance. According to one version of mythology, Vijayawada was GodessDurga’s resting place upon slaying the demon, Durgama. Another version recalls Arjuna receiving his holy weapon, the Pasupatha, on top of this hill. Upon doing so, he built the Kanaka Durga temple, around which the city of Vijayawada would bloom. Other sites of religious significance include the MarkataRajarajeswari Temple; the SubramanyaSwamy Temple; the MahalakshmiAmmaravu Temple; The Narasimha Temple in Mangalagiri; The HazratBal Mosque that displays a holyrelic of the Prophet Mohammed once a year; HinkarThirtha, the region’s largest Jain temple, and the GundalaMatha Shrine that hosts the annual Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, attended by hordes.
An escape route from the city life in Vijayawada leads to the 133-acre Bhavani Island located on the Krishna River. Visitors may enjoy boat rides to the island, water sports and stay at a river front resort. The town of Amaravati, 33 kms outside Vijayawada, is the site of Chintapalli, a Buddhist settlement during the reign of Asoka. A massive stupa once stood here, said to be bigger than the ones found in Sanchi. The Archaeological Museum in Amaravati boasts of exhibits dating back to the 3rd century BC. Another site of educational significance, just 8 kms from Vijayawada, is that of the Undavalli Caves that showcase the rock-cut sandstone architecture of the Guptas from as long ago as the 7th century BC.
Vijayawada’s 1.2 km Prakasam Barrage built across The Krishna River is the largest of its kind in Asia. It was first constructed in 1855 and reconstructed in 1957. The barrage irrigates over twelve lakh acres of farmland and supplies water to the thermal power plant at Ibrahimpatnam, which powers much of Andhra Pradesh.
Other places of general interest in and around Vijayawada include the Mogalarajapuram Caves, with carvings said to be the first of their kind; the hamlet of Kuchpudi, located 60 kms from the city at the birthplace of the age-old Kuchipudi dance form; The historic Victoria Jubilee Museum in Bandar Road; Gandhi Hill with a 50 ft. stupa in memorial of Mahatma Gandhi and the Kondapalli Fort, 16 kms from Vijayawada, which served as a center of commerce for many dynasties and as a training station for the British army.