Friday, September 27, 2013

Tirupati - Tirumala Devasthanam: An Introduction (How to reach, Darshan Ticket Booking)

After 3 days of exploration, finally it was time to bid Kannur goodbye. And thereon, we headed to one of the holiest towns of India, the spiritual mecca of the south – Tirupati.

Situated in the extreme south east of Andhra Pradesh, Tirupati takes pride in being one of the busiest pilgrimage centres in the world by housing numerous temples dating many centuries back. Among these, the most prominent and claimed to eclipse even Jeruselem, Rome or Mecca in the sheer number of pilgrims is Shree Venkateshwara Temple located atop the holy hills of Tirumala (a divine mountain similar to an enormous, coiled serpent), about 20 kms. and at an elevation of approximately 3000 ft. from the town of Tirupati.

Sacred Hindu Texts like the Skanda Purana, Varah Purana, Brahma Purana, etc. and many religious historical accounts are rich with beautiful references and puranic stories on how the Venkatachala / Tirumala hill became the celestial abode of the destroyer of sins and wish granting God – Venkateshwara Balaji. This ancient temple, standing on the pillars of emotional sentiments, is a place where wishes come alive, where faith is not only a religion but a strong force connecting the divine and the human. People from diverse walks of life, different strata of society and varied cultural backgrounds converge with their unwavering belief and devotion the year round to make it what today is one of the most powerful of holiest towns across the world since times immemorial.

Scores of devotees throng the temple premises the year round, each equipped with their own set of prayers and feelings; some are here for offering their gratitude as the Lord has now granted their desires, others will now be placing their requests while some others simply find joy by soaking in His kindness and seeking His benevolence. It is a long line of devotees, a mad rush and why not? After all, a visit here is equated to visiting the heavenly house of Lord Vishnu Himself - Vaikuntha. These and many other such beliefs is what makes Tirumala crowded - so very very crowded. And, highly noisy too.

But the question here is, does it really matter?

Answers lay scattered all over the place. There is no dearth of pilgrims who wouldn't stop gushing about their opportune darshan lasting for a few seconds or so with their beloved Tirupati Balaji while there are so many others who are excitedly waiting for the same. Long far-reaching queues do not matter to any of these folks as long as they get to offer their prayers, sins nullified and wishes fulfilled. Quiz them as to what brings them here and they all underline one single point in common unison: Lord Balaji is alive. We feel His presence. It’s a place of absolute happiness, an inexplicable moment of peace. He answers our prayers.

... However technologically advanced our society may become... some concepts always remain an enigma. This is definitely one. You can question commercialization, you can bicker about crowds and corruption but when it comes to faith and belief, all these arguments somehow tend to fail and the mystery... continues to grow.

With so much mysticism on offer for the spiritualist seeker, it is no wonder that Tirupati Balaji as a spiritual destination today is one of the most sought after in a country blessed with countless pilgrimages. And we being yatris, this is one place we would like to see and experience, right? So, let’s go!

How to reach, Distances and Where to stay in Tirupati - Tirumala:

Air: Tirupati airport is located at Renigunta, which is about 15 km away from the city. Regular flights are available from Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

Train travel: is by far the most convenient way to get to the holy town of Tirupati. Tirupati Main Railway Station is well connected by rail to all major cities in India. Some of the prominent trains that can be considered are: Delhi (Kerala Exp.), Mumbai (Kanyakumari Exp.), Bangalore (Sheshadari Exp.) and Chennai (Sapthagiri Exp.). Renigunta is another major rail head nearby.

Important Distances from Tirupati To - Chennai (130 kms.), Bangalore (240 kms.), Hyderabad (572 kms.)

Where to stay: Tirupati and Tirumala are packed with hotels and guest houses catering to all kinds of budgets and travelers. Search the net and plan and book your stay well in advance especially during festivals. We stayed in ISKCON Temple in Tirupati which I'd highly recommend for anyone and everyone looking out for cleanliness and peace. However, more details on that in the next post.

Tips for your Tirupati travel

1. Book your hotel well in advance: This is a must. Tirupati remains well packed and crowded at almost all times in the year. It is always good to plan and reserve your place of accommodation well in advance. You don't really want to spend your night in the car and then get up weary and cranky for the darshan the next day, do you?

2. Book your Sudarsahan ticket online for darshan: This ideally should be your choice. I do it, so I would recommend you to do the same as well. Book your darshan tickets online well in advance. There are separate tickets available at various TTD centers (online and offline) like the Rs. 50 Sudarshan Token which is more general in nature or Rs. 300 VIP line which as the name suggests, comes with a promise to save your time. We always go for the Rs. 50 Sudarshan token ticket and book it via their e-services. Do note that in case their e-quota gets full, you will need to book it at one of their nearest centers by going there in person.

A Word on Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD):

TTD functions a highly efficient and responsive website for its devotees in a bid to facilitate their online bookings for e-darshan and e-accommodation.

Please check out these links for bookings:

Postal Address:

Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams 
TTD Administrative Building
K.T. Road , Tirupati 517 501
Andhra Pradesh. India.

24*7 Helpdesk enquiry number: +91-877-227 7777 / 223 3333

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ganpati Gele Gavala... Ganesh Visarjan

18th September, 2013 - Ananth Chaturdashi (Last day of the Ganesh Chaturthi Festival):

"Ganpati Gele Gavala, Chain Padena Amhala!"

[Rough translation: Lord Ganesh departs to His village, We all feel uneasy.]

Loud chants like these pierce the dark of the night as drum beats vibrate and firecrackers boom in the air. It seems like an entire city of Mumbai has taken to the streets. Hordes of people - more young than old - are all my eyes can see. There is jostling and shoving, there are celebrations, songs, dancing, revelry and a lot of merrymaking, everyone is on the move; so many things just a blur.

This is the last day of the annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival and one can see emotions running high; Our Beloved Bappa is all set to bid GoodBye.

On the streets of Mumbai:

At regular intervals, huge trucks, rickshaws and cars carrying varying-sized idols of Lord Ganesha make an appearance. Some pilgrims stand at the sidewalk and observe him passing by while others rush to capture His final glimpse in their lens for one last time.

A Ganesha idol being taken for Ganesh Visarjan in car, Mumbai
A Huge Ganesha idol being taken for Ganesh Visarjan in rickshaw, Mumbai
A Huge Ganesha idol being taken for Ganpati Visarjan, Mumbai
A Ganesha idol being taken for Ganesh Visarjan in Mumbai
Ganesha Goes Home

He seems living, breathing... stretching out His hands in full as an act of His blessing and benevolence.

A Ganesha idol being taken for Ganesh Visarjan in Mumbai
Ganesha Blesses All

At the Ganesh Visarjan lake (immersion site): He sits down for the final rituals; the diya lamps igniting the devotional atmosphere, the arti or the devotional hymns pitching the solemn tempo and the prayer claps raising the barometer of faith.

Ganesha prayers before Ganesh Visarjan, Mumbai
Final Ganpati arti before Ganesh Visarjan, Mumbai
Ganesha prayers before Ganesh Visarjan, Mumbai
Ganpati arti just prior to Ganesh Visarjan, Mumbai
Light of the divine: The Ganesha Arti

As someone who has been a guest for some 11 days now, Bappa knows all about you. Remember our Ganpati pandal hopping? (And, of course, our bribe of large modaks!!!) Your joys and sorrows are His joys and sorrows now. Yet, He is never tired to hear your woes out. It’s that time when you can fast track that one wish of yours for one last time. And, Yes. He fulfills. Never ever disappoints.

Prayers whispered in Ganesha's ears before Ganesh Visarjan, Mumbai
Hear my prayers, Deva!

All the religious paraphernalia is removed, slowly but surely. A member dear member of the family is about to depart. It’s a test of true love. A lesson in non attachment: If you truly love, it never disappears. It stays in the soul. Forever.

Ganesha, the Teacher

And then... like a little baby, a precious treasure... He is lovingly carried to the final visarjan (immersion) site with utmost care and highest respect. Eyes are moist, mood somber, cries of goodbye – Loud.

Ganpati being carries for Ganesh Visarjan in an artificial lake in Mumbai
A clay Ganesha being carried for Ganesh Visarjan in an artificial lake in Mumbai
Ganesha taken for Ganesh Visarjan in an artificial lake in Mumbai
Farewell Time...

Ineffable feelings of deep tender affection dissolve the boundaries of ritualistic idol worship;

Devotees bidding Bappa Goodbye, at an artificial Visarjan lake in Mumbai
Devotees bid Bappa Goodbye, at an artificial Visarjan lake in Mumbai
Goodbye, Ganesha

Instead, a new relationship is born... A relationship that promises to guide you through, through the passage of time.

Ganesh Visarjan taking place in an artificial lake in Mumbai

A relationship that is hard to forget... even harder to let go. It’s a relationship that grows stronger... year after year. With every passing year.

Goodbye’s are not forever, are not the end;
it simply means I’ll miss you until we meet again. ~ Unknown

Ganesh Visarjan in an artificial lake in a local temple in Mumbai

"Ganpati Bappa Morya,
Pudchya Varshi Lavkarya!"

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ganesh Chaturthi: Let's go Ganpati Pandal Hopping in Mumbai!

If it’s Lord Ganesha’s Birthday, it’s got to be special. And one of the most special features of this event is the ‘Ganpati Pandals that come up in hordes especially in Mumbai. 

Sahyadri Ganpati Mandal, Tilak nagar - Chembur
Theme: Celebrating 50 years of Indian Cinema

A 11 day Ganpati Pandal in a locality in Mumbai

Thematic, creative and decorative... pandals like these serve as His address for the festive 11 days of Ganesh Chaturthi, the place where He resides royally amidst lots of music, faith, devotion, affection, dances, rituals and of course, a lot of sweets. He loves meeting people here, He loves listening to their problems and He assures to grant them a blessing of happiness, in abundance. What’s more? If you wish to meet Him, all you need to do is step out of your house, and there he is: Sitting pretty in one of those tents, in your own locality or in the adjoining one perhaps or else you might just bump into Him in your neighbour’s house!

Ganpati Pandal Hopping in Mumbai:

Being a Mumbai-ite, I love pandal hopping and more so when WE, you and me, do this together every year! So how about joining hands again this year and hopping over to meet our friend Ganesha in some of the Ganpati Pandals of Mumbai? After all, what better time will there be than "now" to fast track our plea’s and get His blessings (we can also try our luck by bribing him with extra large modaks!).

I don’t want to miss this chance and I am sure you are saying the same. So,without wasting any further time, let’s just go and catch Him!


Look at His little eyes, His large pot belly, His widespread ears, His (PR) vehicle mouse, His pot sized belly, His endearing gaze --- The more I see Him from one Ganesh pandal to another, the more His charm keeps growing on me...

We Love You, Dear Ganesha

And, what I realize... is that I love Him. What makes it even more special is that every time He is home, He seems to be whispering the same to me – I love you too. It's a different bond, a personal communion, a feeling unknown ...

Yes, I do feel it. What about you? Do you feel it too?

|| Ganpati Bappa Morya ||

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ganesh Chaturthi Festival: Welcome Home, Ganesha!

9th September - 18th September 2013: Ganesh Chaturthi Festival, Mumbai:

Right now: There is music, there is the melody of arti (devotional songs), there are get togethers, a whole lot of sweets... and of course, the birthday Boy - Ganesha - Himself in various avatars summing up this lively festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, being celebrated in full swing in Mumbai and many other parts of India.

But we will come to all of these in a bit. (Upcoming posts in this Ganesha Series)

For now:  Let’s rewind... back to those days before the 9th of September 2013; to those days before the festival period actually began. And let’s catch a few glimpses of the pre-festival days: the Ganpati decorations, the making of the Ganesha statues, the erection of His makeshift house or the Ganpati Pandals and bringing Him Home.

Photo Essay: Ganpati Decorations and HIS Homecoming :-

Sometime around last week of August and early September, 2013:

Ganesh statue making, Ganesh Charurthi Decoration
Artisans at work at a workshop giving shape to Ganesha statues in Mumbai

Ganesh Charurthi Decoration idea in a shop
 Ganesha Decorations and Decoration ideas at sale in a shop

Ganesh Charurthi Decoration Throne
 Ganesha throne in a rickshaw transported to HIS house

Ganesh Charurthi Decoration, Ganesha throne and flowers
 His House, His Homestay!

Ganesh Charurthi Decoration, Rangoli drawing outside pandal
 In His welcome: A paint of Rangoli outside one of the Ganesh Pandals

8th September, 2013: Just one day prior to the festival ...

Ganesh Charurthi statue shop in Mumbai
The Ganesha shop stacked up with the birthday boy's

A cute little devotee waits with eager eyes

Wait for Ganesh statue to take home, Ganesh Charurthi, Mumbai
It's the wait to take Him Home ...

Ganesh statue ready to be taken home, Ganesh Charurthi Festival
The Birthday Boy: Lord Ganesha, out of the shop now and all excited to leave!

Ganeshji being taken home, Ganesh Charurthi Festival
He is wrapped coyly...

Ganpati Bappa Morya, Ganesh Charurthi, Mumbai
... and then carried carefully ...


A peep into a Ganpati Pandal, Mumbai

Monday, September 9, 2013

'My Happiest Yatra' in My Frame

So here’s the latest of the IndiBlogger challenges that has got me thinking:

If I could take my friends to any place on the planet,
where would that be and how would I make it the happiest one ever?

First things first. Let’s face it. There is no magic wand that ensures happiness. Happiness has to be created in order to be enjoyed. And isn’t it true for all the things in our life? And, those things include travel too. I consider myself fortunate to have learnt this from my Yatras that I have taken with my family over all these years. My happiest Yatra memories are never of rosy beds or of fantasy islands or fairy-tale castles. But more of finding out that my ticket is booked for an AC III tier instead of the “dusty” sleeper class or knowing that I will be spending the hot summer night in an AC room instead of the regular one. Simple memories these, yet so full of joy and delight and these, I owe it all to the pampering of my family.

This time, however, the onus is on me. And, therein lays the challenge. From ‘happy’ I have to figure out my way to the ‘happiest’. Right now, I am sitting with a map in my hand and trying my best to pin a place as our destination. And let me tell you, it is not an easy task. So, skipping this part for now, let’s move to part two: how will I make it the happiest one ever. For this, I have decided to create ‘My Happiest Trip Plan’. I believe it will work. Every time, everywhere. Let me share with you my formula:

#1. Forget the camera:

“But a few photos as reminders don’t hurt?” If I didn’t hear my brother just protest!

True. But not when you are on your happiest trip ever. These digital equipments sometimes act as barriers to our most memorable moments. Picture this: You are talking to a local, you don’t understand each other’s language but hearty smiles are being exchanged and warm memories created. Suddenly, you pull out that camera and you spoil that moment, one which you will never have again.

After a warm interaction with a Japanese local

I will take care this does not happen in my happiest trip. No cameras would mean no more fussing over the settings or the angles or the light. It would also mean more interactions, more eyes, the natural God-given camera and more visual treats to savor and store in the chip of our hearts. Heart is one place where it would never get erased or corrupt. Not even by chance.

#2. Book a hotel:

Hotels can make or mar a trip, isn’t it essentially a home away from home? In that sense, the staff make up for your extended family till the time you are with them. It’s very important to pick a hotel that has been researched by you. Recommendations help and it works best when you map that with your own needs and wants.

It’s something very basic but in the hullabullo of a trip, many a times hotel booking takes a backseat and nitty gritty details are forgotten. Is there a geyser in the room, a shower? And is our family room spacious enough for us to throw our baggage around? And what about the window? Since we love to catch the rising sun the first thing in the morning, we would need a window that opens in the right direction. Although not everything might be possible to have in a single room, still I would be looking out to check as many as possible in my happiest trip ever. What works for us are rooms with a nice wide window so that we can catch the rising sun on the horizon, the first thing after opening our eyes in the morning or a large space enough for us to throw our baggage around. After all, a hotel is a home away from home and so much depends on where you are put, isn’t it?

#3. Check list for Mom:

Almost every mom is a supermom but even then, there’s only so much she can do. She is not a machine. She can't remember each and every detail of yours for you. This is one of the major complain at my house and I am guilty of being one of her greatest offenders. To set things in perspective, everyone would make a list of things-to-do well in advance and then cross it out before we leave.

Make a checklist

Like packing that toothbrush on the last day or switching off the mains or tucking in the house keys. Happiness on the face of the mom reflects in the happiness on the face of the family. Because she is the ultimate boss, the quintessential manager who knows just about how every situation can be dealt with, in the right manner. She can turn those wrongs into rights and her intuitions seldom go wrong. And she is one person who truly deserves all the happiness of the world.

#4. Anticipate:

Now that everything is packed and the hard work done, everyone should get down to thinking of the trip. This is the first step to happiness. Think of all the good things that will happen and they will happen.

#5. Share the same bread:

Eating diverse is one thing but eating separate is another. In this trip, everyone eats together, shares the same table and bites from the same bread. What and how we make our holidays can lay a strong foundation for many a life values. Sharing is definitely one.

Bite the same bread

#6. Keep cool:

This is especially true when traveling with family. You are so close to them that you expect them to do certain things in a certain way. Failing which, moods go astray and tempers fly. That’s what will not happen in this trip of ours.  This trip will only have smiling faces and cheerful smiles. All along.

#7. Go with the flow:

Which simply means that you can’t plan everything and have to leave certain things for them to happen by themselves. There is only so much you can do. And any good trip should be like that. So, this would be no different and we would all go with the flow. 

Go where the roads take you

There will be moments of great joy and happiness, and also inevitable moments of sorrow and frustration, for that’s the nature of life, and travel is a part of it. Not everything can be controlled, not everything has to be in order to look beautiful. Sometimes, the most beautiful things come out of unexpected situations and that is what makes a travel memory become our happiest then what it might be otherwise.

#8. Enjoy the journey, forget the destination:

Why? Because happiness lies there. Yes. Happiness does emerge from places, even from crisp little notes, and from our interactions with other people. But, in majority, it comes from YOUR own self and only you and what you make out of your journey. I am grateful to my family for teaching me this invaluable lesson. I will always be. This is what sums up my Yatras. And the joy in them.

Happiness in OUR Frame!

So the final question now. Where will I take my family to? What is my happiest destination ever?

Thailand, Singapore, Goa.. or ... ?

Guess, I will just let them figure it out. Because that’s what happiest trips are made of. In them, there is never a destination. The journey is the destination.

PS: This post is my entry to 'Creating Happy Travellers!' contest conducted by IndiBlogger and Yatra under the topic: If you could take your family or friends to any place on the planet, where would that be and how would you make your trip the happiest one ever? If you enjoyed reading the post and if you are an IndiBlogger, please vote for it here - Else simply send in your best wishes for me. Thank you. :)