Recently, my daughter and I completed a pilgrimage by foot, to Tirumala. This was our first trip by foot. I have tried my best to consolidate our experience here.
There are two routes for pedestrian pilgrims, from Tirupathi to Tirumala.
- One of them is the longer Alipiri route – a combination of steps and walkways. More details for this route can be obtained from the internet, than from me (since we did not use this route)!
- The other route – Srivari Mettu – is the all-step route – 2388 steps. The starting point is reachable by autos from anywhere in Tirupathi, or by a free bus service from Tirupathi railway station / bus stand. (We had checked into a hotel for the night stay after the pilgrimage, and took an auto right from there, to the starting point).
Srivari Mettu is open only between 6 AM and 6 PM. A total of 6000 pilgrims PER DAY get the Divya Darshan pass, through this route. At the start of your ascent, a display indicates the number of passes remaining. It is NOT a running counter, but is updated frequently.
A total of 12,000 Divya darshan passes are issued to pilgrims who choose the Alipiri route.
A few hundred steps into the ascent, you get the Divya Darshan pass (a card about twice the size of a visiting card). At the 1250th step, you register your photo and fingerprint, get a sticker, indicating your time of entry (into the queue complex) and paste onto your card.
Keep this card absolutely safe till you collect your laddus. Don’t fold it, or let it get wet. The QR code on this card is scanned at a few other places, and it becomes a serious problem if the card or the QR code is damaged.
This half of the ascent is relatively easy, and it took us just an hour.
From here, the steps get a little steeper. The remaining half took us 90 minutes. We typically did about 30-50 steps and rested for 2 minutes each time. I was the slower one and had to take all the breaks. Just before the end of this route (~2200th step), your pass is stamped again, to show that you have indeed covered the entire route.
(Background: In the past, some pilgrims(??) allegedly took the cards at the half-way point, got the entry timing slot, trekked back downhill – which is much easier and quicker – and took a vehicle all the way to the queue complex!!)
After you reach Tirumala, you can have food and wait till your entry time. If you have brought your phones / cameras, you can engage in some excellent photography. An hour before the entry time (on your card), you can enter the Srivaikuntam Queue complex.
There is a separate entrance and queue for pedestrian pilgrims (Divya Darshan). This leads to a series of waiting rooms. There are Srivari sevaks (volunteers of the Lord) serving light refreshments in these rooms. Restrooms are available for each such waiting room.
At the designated time (or, at the most, after a 10 minute delay), the pilgrims from each room are allowed to join the queue. Our pilgrimage was on Vinakaya Chathurthi – a day when crowds at Tirumala are supposed to be very sparse. Sure enough it was true, and only two halls for each hourly slot were full.
Closer to the sanctum, the queues in the complex merge :
- The Sarvadarshan (free darshan) queue
- The Divya darshan queue- the one we are in, and
- The special darshan (Rs 300/- ticket) queues.
Beyond this point, no description is required, and it is up to the Lord to grant darshan when HE wants to!
In terms of our timing: We left Chennai by car at 5:30 AM. Reached our hotel at 9 AM. After informing the front desk (and dropping off our luggage, footwear and cellphones), we took an auto that dropped us off at Srivari Mettu a little before 10 AM. We immediately started our ascent, and reached the halfway point at 11 AM. Moving on, we completed the ascent at 12:25 PM.
We got a slot for 4 PM – which means you will join the queue at 4 PM. We entered the queue complex at 3 PM, and waited in the hall till 4 PM. After that, we joined the queue, and it took us about 90 minutes before the lord granted us his darshan. We were out by 6 PM.
After collecting our laddus from the counter in an adjacent building, we spent some time in the quadrangle, where a TV crew was shooting a dance performance – music / dance performances go live on SVBC (Sri Venkateswara Bhakthi Channel) in the afternoons and evenings.
Each pedestrian pilgrim is entitled to a free laddu, and an optional bonus of four additional laddus for a concessional payment of Rs 70/- (one laddu costs Rs 25/- otherwise). So each pedestrian pilgrim is guaranteed 5 laddus. Sure enough, we opted for the extras, and got 10 laddus in all.
After that, we took a bus for the return journey, at about 7 PM. Reached the hotel by about 8 PM for a good dinner and a well-earned night’s rest.
Some details about the facilities along Srivari Mettu.
- There are running water taps every few steps.
- There are restrooms as well, along the way.
- At every 50th step, the number of steps you have covered is engraved clearly.
- Most of the mettu is covered by a roof.
- There are occasional patches of 5-10 steps, that are not covered, but that is not a concern at all.
- You can rest either before or after you clear such patches.
- There is a centre handrail, and there are handrails on both sides of the steps.
A few other details:
Dress code: The recommended dress code can be seen on www.tirumala.org. However, there were some men dressed in trousers and shirts. We don’t remember having seen anyone dressed in Jeans, T-shirts etc., though there may have been some, and we didn’t notice. All ladies were dressed in traditional Indian dress.
Footwear: Both the pedestrian routes are very holy. It is recommended that you do the pilgrimage barefoot. No one prohibits you from doing the ascent with footwear, though. During our trip, most of our fellow pilgrims were trekking barefoot, though we saw a few with footwear. There are counters where you can leave your footwear, though we don’t know the details (we had left our footwear at the hotel).
Luggage: ONE small handbag per person – typically a cloth / plastic bag or a small backpack – is allowed. You can carry some food, water bottles, essential medicines (if any), and some face towels etc. However, there is fairly intense scrutiny of that handbag, and the security staff look for cellphones, cameras and any other electronic items (this is when you enter the queue complex).
Bigger pieces of luggage are NOT allowed, and have to be deposited in the free baggage counters. There is one right at the start of the Srivari mettu route, where the road ends, and the stairway starts. There is a notice that the luggage has to be properly locked – otherwise the counter staff will refuse storage.
Cellphones are prohibited beyond the security checkpoint (at the entrance of the queue complex). There are storage places where you can leave your cellphones and other luggage. However, since we left our cellphones at the hotel for safekeeping, we are not aware of these details.
Some other general information:
It is highly recommended that you start the ascent through the Srivari mettu as early as possible (in other words, as close to 6 AM). This way, you can be fairly sure that you get one of the 6000 passes. On the other hand, if you book special darshan tickets online, you can pace your pilgrimage as you wish.
Travel light, as always, but more so in this case. Just take along one handbag with the absolute essentials.
Charge your cellphones to the brim, before you leave. Carry one or more battery banks as you deem fit.
For those pilgrims driving from Chennai, Google maps is extremely helpful – EXCEPT that the main highway (NH 205) is seen with some other number! A word of caution: The drive is about 150 kilometres, and the highway is a 2-lane road for at least 100 kilometres. No central median, and only one lane each way. There are two toll booths, where you have to pay Rs 30 and Rs 65 each (one way).
There is one place where you are better off not obeying Google maps. Close to Tirupathi, the route takes you through Renigunta. This is NOT required. Instead, look for “Tirupathi bypass road” which takes you through Tiruchanoor, and back into Tirupathi town, somewhere near the bus stand / railway station. This is a stretch of empty road, and saves you some time, though not many kilometres!
Ensure that your car is in top condition. We didn’t see many mechanic shops, or those which can fix a punctured tire. We borrowed an additional spare wheel, since we had abundant space in our boot, and negligible luggage.
Consult your general physician (and other specialists if required) about your suitability to make this pilgrimage. At the start of the Mettu, there is a cautionary sign, discouraging people with BP / heart conditions from taking this route.
OM NAMO VENKATESA.