Tirupithi in Andhra Pradesh is home to apparently the world's largest pilgramage site of any religion. The Balaji/Venkateswara Temple attracts tens of thousands (100,000 to be exact) of devotees a day, bringing in earnest donations to Him in faith that wishes and hopes are granted. To my amazement, donations amount to a whopping 3 croes per DAY! That's $600,000 USD. The line to spend 3 seconds in prayer takes up to 24 hours, winding through four levels of "Q" space. If you want a true Indian experience, go to Tirupithi. You will leave behind personal space and take new meaning to "push and be pushed".
And if you do make the pilgramage, follow this advice. Don't say someone did not warn you.
1. Go with a local if you can. If not, go with someone who knows the local language Telegu. At the least, know Hindi. English, Gujarati, Kannada, etc will not suffice. Lucky for us, Srinidhi's dad speaks Telegu, Kannada, Hindi, and English. Phew.
2. The ride can take 7 hours from Bangalore. Don't let anyone tell you 5 hours maximum. Sure, traffic in Bangalore and one small break account for just over an hour but that still misses the mark.
3. It's hot even in winter but cool at nights. Come prepared. But don't wear shorts unless you are not of Indian origin. Western people can get away with it probably (even the sari warning below...that is not for you). Conservative in the States is apparently liberal to them...
4. Get over your fear of foot-fungus-ingrown-toenail-nastiness. You will walk on the same ground barefoot as millions of others, with spit, glass, rocks, and all.
5. If you are female, just wear a sari. Don't mind the rules. Even if they say it is not required. You will avoid questions (or remarks...) such as 'what world did she come from' in languages that may as well be Lao to your ears. And if you choose to defy my advice, just don't wear a dhoti in place of an ohdni (dupatta). It's just wrong. The Goddess of Fashion will judge you.
6. Don't forget to look straight ahead when the pushing gets real (and spectacular). It will be your only shot at seeing Him. After all, that is why you came. And I would hedge my bets you may not come again.
7. Always (always) test your driver's phone and always be sure HE is also topped off. Sure-it is not your job but you will be the one stuck looking for him in a sea of thousands looking just like him. And most likely, your stuff will be in his car.
8. Oh yeah, don't forget to write down his license plate number. Apparently, some Indian police may care just enough to help you find him. Not that we would know any of this from personal experience.... Right?
9. Enjoy the food. It is yummy and cheap.
10. Enjoy the view up and down the hill to the temple. It's amazing. Rolling hills...aerial views of the city...cleanliness...good roads.
Probably my most striking experience was seeing (actually feeling) that people really believe. I mean the faith was palpable. Transfixing almost. Even women readily give their hair (for real...wicked bald) when wishes come true. These people don't know I am watching...this was not an act. They truly have a faith that I have yet to see in the Western world (even having grown up in part of the Bible belt). And it is a benign faith. They do not wish to make you or me believe. They simply believe.
For the record, we only spent 2 hours in line. Thank you to not going during the weekend and paying the max of 300 Rs/person (~$6.50-$7 USD). I may not come again, but I am glad I came once. It seems to be the type of pilgramage people like us make only once in a lifetime.
I leave you with one last thought. Why may I not use my camera to capture the temple? I am pretty sure God is fine with being photographed... Thus, I have no artistic pictures to share with you. Only my sarcasm and written experiences.
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