Road trip! Always exciting and never without some good memories. The family trip to Tirupati was all that and more. There were definitely passengers on this pilgrimage who were unfettered by the focus of visiting the big guy on the top.
The journey consisted of milestones which were predominantly food related activities. A hearty breakfast at Kamat near Kolar saw us open our account with gusto. Starting off with idli and vadai, we moved on to dosais, poori, akki roti, khaara baath, rice baath, kesari baath and lots of coffee. After this devastation, one would think that lunch was furthermost from our mind. However, we are not that kind of a family. In fact, the discussion on lunch had already started during our breakfast.
Realizing the caliber of his passengers, our van driver suggested a roadside stop at Bans for coffee. Here we had Black Forest cake, cookies, sandwiches, fruit juice and well, yeah…coffee too. There was an inexplicable life size chimpanzee on one of the benches which my niece claimed was an Andhra Gorilla. Despite her lucid logic, we are yet to get that one.
The plan was to have lunch (yes, a few hours after Bans) in Tirupathi and then hike up the hill to Tirumala. Estimates on time to climb came in from one and a half hours to five hours depending on whom we asked and at what time. One of the bell boys, when asked if we were allowed to walk up with footwear said that was fine and we were even allowed ‘items’. My niece, who is renowned for lack of self control in a humorous situation, cackled, embarrassing all of us and the bell boy left in a huff.
As we neared the bottom of the hill, the combination of the incessant drizzle, mist, late evening and pure laziness conspired to our decision to drive up instead. My six year old had a question which made us all feel quite guilty; we ate so much so we could have energy to climb, and how come we were not? Anyway, we decided a few of us would embark up the hill at 4 a.m. next morning. Yeah!
Tirumala felt like the Alps and walking barefoot on the wet asphalt was definitely not very comfortable. But, we gritted our teeth as it’s all for a good cause and entered the Rs 300 queue which seemed empty at the starting lines. However, a 5 minute sprint by the team, and we were in a series of rooms, each packed with people. The way it works is that, the first room opens and lets people out, the people in the next room rush to the first room and so and so forth.
To ensure our entertainment, we had a guy ahead of us who was scratching his head like he was trying to get at his brains. There were a lot of expectations of a snowman forming on top of an accompanied child who was in the path of the snowfall.
Ensuring variety during the jaunt to god, there’s a moving bridge open on both sides and as luck would have it, we were trapped there for a good 30 minutes. Caught in the mist, rain, wind and one of my nephew’s considerable gas problems (which he shared with us unsolicited), made for quite a miserable experience.
A mad dash in the last 200 meters and we got our darshan (about 200 milliseconds each). My daughter was very traumatized by the bouncers who are placed strategically to push the pilgrims. Even the women bouncers are sizable and powerful and one shove from them involuntarily launches you about 15 feet.
We finally got out and though we were only eligible for 2 laddus each, my wife was enterprising enough to get a cop to give us a lot more (I will not explain the monetary aspect here).
Tired and weary, some of us decided to turn in and even did the unthinkable of doing so without dinner! Quite a feat for us. One of my nephews, who is perennially looking to recharge his mobile phone (see 'Operation Seabreeze' blog post for context) wherever he goes decided to head out of the hotel. He was met with a bevy of buxom beauties practicing the world’s oldest profession and was propositioned in no uncertain terms. Being the first time (or so he claims), he scurried back to the hotel room in disarray and had the other two guys accompany him for that all important recharge. Story has it that the 'mamasan' in charge of operations wore a gold chain the thickness of an adult anaconda.
For those who aren’t following the tale acutely, let me remind you that the plan was to ascend the mountain at 4 a.m. The first one to wake up next morning (me) did so at 7:30 a.m. So that climb went out of the window.
Not losing our primary focus, we arrived at the famous Bheemas hotel for breakfast where once again we demonstrated the fine mettle of our family. Overachievers all, though there are dubious opinions that I outdid everyone with my binging…sorry…pecking at the food.
Padmavathi, the wife of the Lord resides down the hill. Apparently, there was some falling out between the couple and the Lord decided to go up the hill and not come down ever and the Mrs decided to make camp permanently below. I don’t want to get into the mythological and religious background now. No pilgrimage to Tirupati is complete without visiting her so away we went.
As usual, I was unsuitably dressed as shorts are a no no for this lady’s abode. I had to scramble around the shops for a dhothi. I picked a pure white one that went beautifully with my brown T-shirt.
Post the temple visit, we headed back for what else, lunch at Mayura. A hearty meal later we were on the road again back to Bangalore. More eating at Bans, another stop at Woody’s and we were all back home, satisfied with the darshan and the Bhojan.
Oh yeah, I have 12 years left to complete my vow of climbing the hill.