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.
The city of Bangalore is India’s third largest city and the state capital of Karnataka, known for being a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis at the helm of the country’s IT-boom. Bangalore is a shopper’s haven overrun with big malls and shopping districts, as well as a food lover’s paradise with one of the highest concentrations of places to eat in the continent. Spotted with parks and natural lakes, Bangalore is alternately known as ‘The Garden City of India.’ Recently voted as the most livable metro in the country, Bangalore is known as‘Pensioner’s Paradise’ on the one hand and as ‘Start-up City,’ on the other, attracting youth from across the world with its trending markets and rapid availability of jobs. With Bangalore’s ever-doubling IT infrastructure, it is often referred to as the Silicon Valley of India.
Another aspect of Bangalore is soaked in the history of bygone, ancient cultures. Bangalore has been peopled for up to 3000 years, bearing megalithic monuments that treasure its rich past. Bangalore, as we know it today, was established in 1537 by KempeGowda I, who constructed a well-planned city within an oval mud fort in the area that is today known as City Market. Gradually, Bangalore grew into a commercial center and a chief part of the silk industry. Over successive centuries the Marathas, Mughals, Wodeyars and the Mysore Sultanate, all did their bit to develop the city further. In 1809 the British set up a cantonment in Bangalore, drawn by its pleasant weather and central location.
The earliest recorded usage of the name Bengaluru is found in today’s ‘Old Bangalore,’ in a 9th century temple. According to legend, King ViraBallala was once lost in the jungles that once overran these parts. He was wandering, tired and hungry, when an old woman revived him with her hospitality and a plate of boiled beans. Out of gratitude the King consequently named the area ‘Benda KaaluUru’ (Town of Boiled Beans). It was only in 1831, when the British seized Mysore from the ruling Wodeyars that the capital was shifted to Bangalore. The anglicization of Bengaluru turned it into Bangalore until it was recently reverted back to its original.
Although Bangalore is not a popular tourist destination, there are many sites worth taking a tour of. The legislative House of Karnataka, VidhanaSoudha, is one of the Chief attractions of Bangalore. It was built during the 1950s using granite in a neo-Dravidian style of architecture. Other places of historical interest include the Bangalore Palace, constructed by the Mysore Maharajahs and Tipu Sultan’s Palace, built around 1790 as Tipu’s summer retreat.
A tour of Bangalore must also include Lalbagh Botanical Gardens- built by Hyder Ali in 1760, and the Bannerghatta National Park- a 25,000-acre zoological park one and a half hours away from Bangalore City. Educational tours of Bangalore may include the Vishweshwaraiah Industrial and Technological Museum, the State Archaeological Museum, the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, the Venkatappa Art Gallery and the Karnataka ChitrakalaParishad. Religious tours of Bangalore cover the Bull Temple in Basavanagudi, the Maha Bodhi Society Temple- a replica of the Bodh Gaya Stupa, the ISCKON temple, the Maruthi Temple, the GaviGangadeshwara Cave Temple as well as many other temples, mosques and churches of historic significance.
Due to an average elevation of 920 meters above the sea level, Bangalore enjoys a cool climate throughout the year. Although summers can get hot with dry heat waves, it seldom exceeds 35 degrees Celsius and hovers around a mean temperature of 24 degrees Celsius.