“Why do you want to do this?” asks C when I inform I plan to go walking to Tirumala from Tirupathi.
For those of you who follow my blog (which hopefully, a few do) you must have noticed that strange connect between Balaji and I.
I immediately launch into a long-winded explanation about finding myself in the chaos that is Tirupathi and Tirumala…how every Hindu does it since a child forcefully and then most-times by design …how it is about faith…spirituality…
But even as I launched into the explanation, even to me it sounded hollow and illogical.
I actually had no idea why I had agreed to do what I did but only that I did not want to say no to Babaji, my friend when he suggested this.
And anyways, I told myself time I started following my credo more often… I will try anything once.
So googling ‘Walking up Tirumala Hills’ I came across several gems including a spiritual journey, some useful tips and poetry too that were sublime and took me on the arduous15-km walk trek uphill even before I started.
Well, this post isn’t about how to do the climb or get there or even the sublime bliss I experienced after doing the unthinkable (at least for me) – I managed to walk uphill and not drop dead or getting His darshan or handy tips on walking the 3583 steps to reach the peak or finding spirituality.
Here is a list of ”Don’ts” I learnt the easy way (well, after I hauled my heavy self towards step 253; fainted at step 1080; lumbered on at step 2200 and walked easy at step 3338 to finally touch 3583- my wow moment):
Do not conduct extensive research and read too much (you set yourself up for failure even before you begin. It’s just like entrepreneurship or anything else in life. Just Do IT.)
Do not carry bottled water, rucksacks filled with emergency medication (if you need this, then you certainly SHOULD NOT walk up that hill), i-pod/music/telephone (the whole idea is experiencing this walk with all your senses)
Do not walk alone (it is easy to give up and take the first available vehicle up or down unless you happen to be one of those pig-headed sheer grit individuals one reads about in those self-help books)
Do not wear shoes (not because the stairway to heaven is sacred – which the devoted smear with haldi/kumkum/burning camphor – the last bit dangerous if you fail to notice it) if you want to walk steady without feeling like you are carrying bags full of coal and not your feet
Do not compete with yourself (your body knows how much of strain it can take -listen), your walking companion (if you are then you have the wrong buddy alongside) or the other devotees (some of whom have probably done this for the millionth time and know how to pace themselves or used the elliptical trainer for a whole month before they attempted the walk or have more faith than you do)
Do not guzzle water (plain water i.e., but lace it with Glucon D/Electral/ORS instead) but sip it (else you will know what is meant by waterboarding)
Do not have heavy breakfast or even light (remember you do not want to know what it feel likes tohave an elephant in your belly)
Do not look up (you will feel like Jack who climbed up the bean stalk only to find the giant is happily slumbering away and is actually quite friendly while you did all the hard work and built up rage and pent-up frustration)
Well after I finished step 3583 (forgot to mention I got tagged for the divyadarshan token during the trek) and walked another 4 kilometers I entered the complex proper only to see huge signboards showing ‘Footpath pedestrians DivyaDarshan’ and an arrow mark pointing this-a-way and that-a-way to barricaded entries for the real Q starts elsewhere and the million rupee question (given current forex fluctuations) is WHERE?!.
Temple authorities are busy testing your smarts (not your smart phone since google maps are of no use here coz you have already surrendered your mobile phone by now – after all you are a conscientous, hard-working pious devotee – on reading the warning notices pasted all through the complex).
Being pious gets you nowhere coz heaven is not for the hard -working but the smart-working ones. Remember, Divya Darshan (for the footpath pedestrian) merges with the Sarva Darshan (free) and this means you double your waiting time.
Pay, pay, pay your way to see the World’s richest deity and temple.
A 300 token means a 6 hour waiting time while a 500 token will have you waiting for 3-4 hours (All tokens in Indian currency).
So as the Lord smiles and waits inside the sanctum sanctorum ready to bless you, the hard-working pious devotees are busy getting conned by systems within systems. Gates that were non-existent earlier are opened and you are ushered from one corridor to another winding gate to yet another corridor.
And you thought you were inside the complex proper all ready to meet the smiling lord.
Here’s another Don’t : Don’t ever visit during the busy months when all the Utsavs are on - Kalyanotsav, Brahmotsav, etc…unless you have nerves of steel.
Well, we walked four hours to reach Tirumala; walked 45 minutes to figure out the Q; walked 1.5 hours to reach the Q proper; waited 4.5 hours in the blistering hot sun to inch along the Q; asked around trying to find a shorter way in (remember we are Indians and jugaad is our right) and got snuck into a shorter Q only to realize this shorter Q will take us into the compartment after 6 hours of waiting!!
No, I’m not the pious devotee nor the smart devotee. What I was, was a frustrated devotee seething with fury at making something as simple as sighting the smiling one such a painful process.
I left dazed and fused out…..No darshan nor wanting one.
I returned to my hotel….hungry, spent, angry, frustrated.
I see a face familiar and smiling. It was my package tour guide, whom I met on innumerable trips, when I was herded and shepherded to reach the finishing line – the sanctum sanctorum.
I narrated my (mis)adventure.
He smiled, asked me to meet him at 3 in the morning. Hah! I said. He was insistent.
So 3 am the next morning I stand in the lobby, waiting. The guide has arranged for me to be dropped off at the bus stop from where I have been instructed to board to Tirumala.
I walk into a Sheegra Darshan Q at 300 with estimated waiting time of 4 hours.
It is 4.30 am and the breeze buffets my hair and fans my hot cheeks (the mind you see never forgets) as I remember the Q from the day before. I’m suckered in.
6.30 am and I can see the golden gopura in the distance and myself walking closer to it. A gentle breeze blows into my face, teasing me.
7.45 am and I’m surrounded by humanity shouting Govinda Govinda. I’m inside the Garbagudi (Santum Sanctorum) and there he is …freshly scrubbed, annointed with hues of different colors, bedecked with flowers and jewels and stones…. and smiling, smiling at this frail human.
I stand there as the mass around me shifts and swirls.
Govinda, Govinda the shouts reaching a frenzied crescendo.
Hands push me forward and I carry the smiling visage with me.
I’m pushed forward towards the prasadam counter where a leaf bowl of hot, sweet pongal is thrust into my outstretched palms.
I break into a smile.
I lick the leaf bowl dry off the last grain of rice.
Hot laddoos are given and as the smell of ghee, raisins, cashews and laddoos fill my nose.
I’m filled with love.
Love for self.
Just pure, blissful love.
I look up and the skies are clear.
I’m back home now…bruised feet, sapped body but soaring spirits
WHY, I hear. Why?
I don’t know and don’t think I ever will…..but I know I can Do, will Do what my mind and heart are intent on doing…perhaps, there was a lesson there somewhere…