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.
Nellore was part of the Mauryan Empire, ruled by Ashoka during the third century BC. Since then it came under several rulers such as the Pallavas, Cholas and Satayahanas. Consequently, the varied artistic influences on Nellore is apparent in the structure and architecture of its temples.The city of Nellore is the administrative stronghold of Sri Potti Sri Ramulu Nellore District (previously Nellore District) and the sixth most populated city in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Nellore is located on the banks of the Penneru River, 453 kms from Hyderabad, 168 kms from Chennai and 386 kms from Bangalore. It is renowned for producing handmade gold jewellery, mica and lime. Nellore is also a leading producer of agricultural and aquaculture products, predominantly rice. Known as VikramaSimhapuri till the 13th century AD, the word Nellore derives from a combination of the two Tamil words ‘nelli’ and ‘ooru,’ meaning ‘paddy’ and ‘village,’ respectively. After India gained her independence, the Telugu patriot PottiSriramulu set up the state of Andhra Pradesh from his base in Nellore, giving his name to the district. Today, Nellore boasts of some of the state’s best infrastructure with rapid growth and modernization.
Nellore holds close proximity to time-honored temples like the NarasimhaSwamy Temple and the Someswara Temple. The temple of Sri MulasthaneswaraSwamy, built 1400 years ago at the site where the Lord appeared under a Nelli tree is located to the west of Nellore. The 600-year-old TalpagiriRanganathaswamy Temple is a main attraction for tourists to Nellore sporting a 70 footgaaligopuram, or ‘wind tower,’ that holds 10 feet of gold-plated vessels. During the months of March and April, Nellore plays host to a grand 11-day-long festival held at the Ranganathaswamy Temple called Brahmotsavam, celebrating the life of Lord Rama. Other major temples in and around Nellore include thePenchala Kola, Ayyapa Temple, Jonnavada, KamahshiAmavari, Rajarajesjwari and the GolgamundiVenkayaSwamy Temples.
Nature lovers can find many places to take reggae in and around Nellore such as Pulicat Lake and the Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary, which hosts many rare and exotic bird species. A 165 km coastline adorns Nellore with serene beaches such as Krishnapatnam, Ramayapatnam, Kodur and Mypadu, among many others. The Prabhagiripatnam ruins, 45 kms from Nellore, contain the ruins of a temple housing Lord Shiva and PerumallaSwamy, belonging to 1512 AD. The island of Sriharikota is also found between Pulicat Lake and the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Space Research Organization’s rocket launch site that launched India’s mission to Mars.