The whole parvata of Tirumala Kshetra is extremely divine, hence called Bhu Vaikunta !!!
History of Climbing Tirumala
Climbing the steps of Tirumala is a big utsava for Madhwas called Mettlotsava (Mettlu - steps, utsava - festival/celebration). Even today every, TTD Dasa Sahitya Project conducts a Mettlotsava, where a lot of bhajana mandlis participate and climb the steps while singing Dasara Padagalu.
Sri Vijaydasaru used to perform Saligrama abhisheka for every 100 steps.
Sri Vadirajaru, saw the whole mountain as a saligrama and climbed the entire hills on his knees!!!!
Some saints used to come down the hills just to answer nature calls. Such is the piousness of these hills
Why to Climb Tirumala
Srinivasa Kalyana first chapter talks about Madhava Brahmana, who left his wife, aging parents, stayed with a chandala, consumed beef/alcohol all of his sins were wiped out by merely climbing the hills.
My personal experience is that some of most satisfying darshanas have been when I have climbed the hills.
By the grace of Sri Hari Vayu, I've been able to climb to Tirumala around 7-8 times.
I've decided to take you through the journey of climbing the hills. I've climbed with a lot different age groups, so I'll write this from the point of view that the climber is a reasonably weak (no offense to the reader) so it becomes a little more easy to relate. I did not take any pics while climbing, so I've had to rely on google for the pics. Thanks to everybody for their pics.
Some pretty basic rules
a) Absolutely No footwear while climbing
b) Travel Light ( Almost all supplies can be bought on the way )
c) Have a bottle of water handy
d) Some glucose for instant energy (Please check if you are diabetic)
e) Try to carry a backpack, to keep your hands free; but don't stuff it
f) Some stotra sheets (Venkatesha Stotra)/ Dasara Songs
g) Since the hills are sacred, people suggest to climb only after taking bath.
h) Keep lots of change (only means no 500's/1000's or even 100's). The vendors don't carry a lot of change, so you will need 10's/20's and 50's.
So let's begin our journey
GOVINDA, GOVINDA , GOOOOOVINDA!
Don't forget to say Govinda, if you haven't scroll back up 2 lines and fill the air with "Govinda"
The reason is simple, unless you are a youth who has had lots of trekking experience blah blah blah.... You cannot climb, only Sri Ventakesha has to make you climb. When you finish the climb, you are going to realize, how true is "Naham Karta, Hari Karta"
This is the strating point; Alipri checkpost;
The entrace to the footsteps
Once you enter, here there is a luggage counter; where you can deposit your heavy luggage and collect it in Tirumala. There is a check point with a metal detector; beyond which is the chappli devasthana. (shoe temple)
Once there was a devotee who was cobbler, who wanted to make slippers for Venkatesha, but since he did'nt know the size, he made slippers of various sizes and took them to Sri Venkatesha. Since he was carrying so many slippers; he was not allowed to climb the hills. Sri Venkateshwara then appeared before him and blessed him saying that all devotees should now place the slippers he made on their head to be able to climb the hills.
Before the actual climb, the number of steps is 3650; covering 9 miles. 2 km of which is a plain road.
This how the intial steps look like, groups of 10's and 5's a flat area and then another group.
There will shelter almost throughout (regular gaps but almost continuous ) , so you can climb in the day and in the rain. There are ledges so you can relax while climbing. Tubelights are fitted throughout. The pillars have the names of Sri Venkateshwara as per Sri Vishnu SahasraNama. Some womenfolk apply kumkum and arshana ( vermilion and turmeric ) to each step as they climb. Some even light camphor on the way up. Usually work in groups, one applies turmeric, the second kumkum, the third places the camphor, the fourth supplies the burning camphor tablets, the fifth and sixth keep up with the kumkum/turmeric/water supplies.
If you are a first time climber; remember to pace yourself; it's all about the finish. Don't run too fast or go too slow. The only pace that is good, is your own pace. Don't rush to keep up or don't slow down too much to let others catch up. Your first target is "Gali Gopura".
This is how it looks at day
This is how it looks in the night
Remember pace yourself, don't talk too much, you'll run out breath very fast. Don't keep looking up; thinking I have so much to climb. Keep looking down to see how much you have covered. Sip your water, don't gulp; drink small quantities just to keep your mouth moist. Too much water will bloat your stomach and affect your climb.
On the spiritual level; remember your favourite stotra/bhajane/mantra/discourse and keep repeating them in your mind. Try to keep casual talk to a minimum and please no gossip.
Depending on your stamina, you'll run out of steam eventually. Gali Gopuram still looks miles and miles away; yet it's only the first target. At this point, you have to manage your energy more efficiently. A useful technique for me is, keeping small targets; I aim for 30/40 steps. Climb those steps and then rest for a few moments and then resume again. If I'm getting tired quickly; reduce the target to 20/30 steps. Climb again and rest. Take drinks of water every 2nd/3rd time you rest. As you climb more and more, you're brain doesn't have capacity for any strategy. You can now put a little glucose in your water; sip a little and climb a little. Sometimes Goli Soda by local vendors also helps; alkaline to reduce stomach acids. Keep climbing; remember progress is crucial. Depending on your physical condition it will strech to your physical limits. Keep climbing; still Gali Gopura seems so far. Now you just want to rest ...
Sometimes take more rest and sometimes take less rest, but keep climbing. One attitude I find helpful is when you sit down to rest, sit down with the thought that you have to get up soon. Don't sit down with the thought that you can't get up; makes a big difference.
Now seems like Gali Gopura is near, but still only steps are seen ahead, now all strategies have run out. No physical strength left, steps are endless; can't go up; can't go down. Now lift your hands above your head and remember Sri Venkateshwara with full concentration, " Swami Venkateshwara !!! Naham Karta, Hari Karta!!! You only have to help me climb these hills, You only have to save me, Who else in this entire universe can save me ! PRABHU!!!"
Chant Govinda, fill the air with your chant
"GOVINDA, GOVINDA, GOOOOVINDAAA!"""
"GOVINDA, GOVINDA, GOOOOVINDAAA!"""
"GOVINDA, GOVINDA, GOOOOVINDAAA!"""
Start climbing again, slowly strength returns, you can just about climb now. Suddenly now, you can appreciate the scenery around; you can feel the divinity around.
Vendors start appearing now every 100 steps, all keep saying Gali Gopura is close by. Fellow climbers are frustrated "O! man why did Sri Venkateshwara, go and sit on top of the hill ? Ohhh"
Gali Gopura is just around the corner now, keep climbing. The step turns a bit, the last part is a bit curvy; Gali Gopura is finally within grasp and soon enough Gali Gopura is reached.
SUCCESS !!!!! 1st target is reached. 2083 steps successfully climbed out of 3550
Gali Gopura is very sacred, there is a Dasara Pada on Sri Hanuman standing in front of Gali Gopura.
On the other side of Gali Gopura, refreshment stalls and behold it's flat !!! No steps !!!! Yippeee !!!!
Remember the rules f) Carry change : ) This is where it will come into play.
Relax for a bit here, don't get too comfortable, remember this is the first target.
Recently there is a ticket counter here which provides darshan tickets for devotees who climb. Please see second part at the bottom for more details on this.
Refreshed and ready; let's go !!!
Next Target " Sri Prasanna Anjaneya "
The steps now are much larger, so the climb is a gentle slope; so you can catch up some time. The steps are flat almost like walking on the ground, but endless; keep walking .
Soon enough you see signs that tell you are moving from mountain to another. A little more further; you should be able to hear vehicular traffic; which means that you are going parallel to the road. Keep walking, although a gentle slope it's very long, street vendors selling spicy raw mango. Keep walking and walking.
You will find deer parks to your left.
Keep moving, keep moving
After some time, the slope goes down; pick up your pace if you can. You can cover a lot of ground over here. The steps gradually start going up again, you should notice the steps are getting smaller. You should be able to hear traffic sounds for a long time.
Shortly you can see the 30 feet Sri Prasanna Anjaneya Swamy Statue. This is the seventh mile of the nine mile journey. SundarKanda is 7th adhyaya of MBTN and Sri Prasanna Anjaneya is huge form !!!
HANUMAN KI JAI !!!!
GOVINDA GOVINDA GOOOOVINDA!
HARI SARVOTHAMMA !!!
VAYU JEEVOTHAMMA !!!!
There are local hotels and vendors here, remember to refresh your water supply.
Refreshed and ready to go !!! Start again !!!
Next Target Sri Lakshmi Narasimha temple.
The steps now descend and finally you see a Yoga Narasimha Temple and a Sri Lakshmi Narasimha temple a bit ahead. Sing some Dasara Padas about Sri Lakshmi Narasimha, Narasimha Suladhi etc
Now you can see the road, the next 2 kms is a strech of road; please walk on the footpath as incoming traffic is always risky. The views are picturisque; you can see lush green everywhere; you can see windmills.
Also be aware of the monkeys. If you are travelling in the rainy season/ or if it has rained recently in Tirumala, you should be able to see natural fountains, where water is gushing down from the mountain. After a pleasant 2 km walk, you reach a huge Gopuram.
Now the number of steps to climb is less than 1000; the climb is steep and for first timers it comes as a complete shock !!!
Start climbing, each step seems steep. Take rest , you will feel like taking rest after every 5/10 steps. No worries, rest a little; climb again; keep moving !
Keep Chanting Govinda ! the more you can't climb; the more you should chant. Complete Surrender; all your energy is zapped; it's solely on Lord Venkateshwara's strength that you can climb now. Keep climbing!!!
Naham Karta Hari Karta !!!
Govinda Govinda Govinda !!!!
Keep Climbing !!!
The steps starts turning, some people put a lot of weight on the divider poles in the middle and pull themselves up. This tires your arms faster, but do it if you have to ... Steps seem endless and endless
They keep coming, keep small targets, keep large targets, keep moving, keep resting and keep moving
Finally the end is in sight
A few more steps and you are in the Narayanavanam, keep following the footpath; until to enter the dwara with Jaya-Vijaya and you have done it !!!! solely by his grace !!!!
Hope you enjoyed this post, I have assumed an inexperienced person climbing for the first time.
Venkatadri Samam Sthanam Brahmandam Nasti Kinchana !!!
Venkatesha Samo Devo Na Bhooto Na Bhavishyati !!!!!Timing
If you are young and can climb quickly then keep around 3-3.5 hours for first time. Anything less than that is a very good time. If you're not so experienced at climbing/trekking/outdoor activity 4.5 hours is a reasonably respectable time. If you're traveling in a group which has older folks then 6-7.5 hours.
Bharati Ramana Mukhya Prana antargata Sri Krishnarpanamastu !!!!
Many thanks to Subhorup Dasgupta for his generous words. Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes; his account can be read at http://subhorup.blogspot.in/2012/09/tirupati-to-tirumala.html
Another detailed account by Mohan at http://www.mohanbn.com/pedestrian-path-to-tirumala
Second account with more details at http://srinivasa-kalyana.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/climbing-tirumala-hills-dwiteya.html