Friday, March 23, 2012

Happy Ugadi / Khara Naama Samvatsara !!!

na shabdabdau gadhadha ! nacha nigamasau charchasaha ! nachan yahe proudaha ! nacha vidta vedya apimavayam ! param Shrimat Poorna Pramapti Guru Karunya saranim prapanaha manyasmaha kimapimcha vadantopi Mahantam !!!
All my fame and success is not because of my scholarship; nor is it because of my grammar, nor is it because of Veda adhyana. It is only because of Karuna of SriMadAcharya !!!
If "Shesha" Devaru says these words; we are nowhere in the picture.
Wishing all success in obtaining the karunya of SriMadAcharya !!!
Wish you all a "Happy Ugadi/ Khara Nama Samvatsara"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Climbing Tirumala Hills Dwiteya !!!

Hare Srinivasa !!!
Jai Bedi Anjaneya !!!

There are no words to describe SriHari's mercy; in the past 3 weeks I've had 3 darshans and climbed the hills once.

Hilights of the trip:
1. By the grace of SriHari-Vayu; this time I was able to cimb the entire hills 'nirjala' i.e. did not consume even a drop of water throughout the cimb.
2. I kept taking snaps whenever possible.
3. Very comfortable darshan on account of cimbing the hills; Kudo's to TTD Management for managing this excellently.

My Fitness:
I'm 6'1" (almost) and 100kg ( atleast 20 kilos overweight) I am a DeskJockey with zero exercise regim. I cannot do even two pushups properly. I'll run out breath if I run for 20m. I take the elevator to 3 floors to work. If I walk too much I develop cramps in the night; I cannot sit down cross legged ( chaka-makle in kannada ) for more than 15-20 mins.

I've given the above honest description; because I was able to climb 3550 steps; 2 km of flat road; and stayed with 9 gulps of water until late afternoon after darshan is when I really ate. With just some volini spray "just in case" in the night. I was able to go into office the next day and work full hours and not feel exhausted at all.
How true is "Naham Karta; Hari Karta"? :)

Hari Sarvothamma ! Vayu Jeevothamma !!!!

Timing : We took exactly 5 hours to climb; I kept stopping at a lot of places to take snaps so that may improve the time slighty; but I still maintain 4-4 1/2 hours is a resonable time. Most others say that 3.5 hours is more than sufficient; I think it's dependent on your fitness level and for you to decide.

Footwear: The scantity of the hills is such that footwear should not be worn while climbing the hills. A concept popularized through the "Annamiah" movie. I found only about 10 climbers in 5 hours of climb; which is a very low number; but I would like to see it at zero. :)

Luggage: There is a counter before climbing where you can check in your luggage and collect it at the top of the hills after climbing. Many people pack their footwear in this luggage; so they can use it after their climb. For darshan; you can leave your mobile and luggage in the cloak room next to the Vaikuntam Q complex; remember to take your ticket otherwise they will not accept your luggage.

Cleanliness : I'm thrilled to report that the steps are very clean; there are bins at regular intervals and people have made good use of them. I could hardly find anything littered throughout my climb. Kudos to the climbers !!! Kudos to the TTD Management !!! Both have worked in haramony and kept the hills clean. My co-climber tells me that the restroom on the 2 km road strech is "As clean as Bangalore Malls"

Flashback: In my earlier climbs I found that the steps were littered with waster papers. During my college days I took time to collect every scrap of paper I found and put it in the dustbin. I was tired from the climb; but I still bent down every time. For me I feel the initiative is on the devotees to clean up and help whatever little we can. I was doing it naturally without thinking too much about it; I had visited abroad by then and saw the initiative they take rather than complain. SriHari being extremely gracefull; sent a fellow climber to me and congratulated me and exclaimed "In my whole life I have seen people only dirty the hills; you are the first person I have seen who has been cleaning the hills!". It was a comment that went straight to my heart; until then I was cleaning more out of habit and a little reverence. After that comment; I converted it into a seva and chased down the last scrap of paper I could find.

My intention is not self praise; but to request the readers that not to let go even a small oppurtunity to serve the Lord and to help maintain the scantity of the Tirumala Hills.

Prerequesites :
1. Camera with battery fully charged
2. Stotra book ( took SriHariVayu Stuti with me this time )
3. Water bottle
4. Food items for other climbers ( our group )
5. One bagpack among 4 climbers ( our group )
6. Some petty cash. Change for vendors along the way.
7. Mobile phones for communication progress; network signal is present along most of the hills. For safety sake; we kept behind our smart phones and took some basic handsets. I think it's a good idea because
a. Safety
b. Rough handling of phone; you're not going to be ginger when handling your phone at step 2000
c. Less distraction; you'll concentrate more on the climb rather than updating fb status after ever 50 steps or worse tweet about it. :)

We reached Tirupati on Saturday; we had heard that the footpath opens after 3 am. By the time we turned in it was aready 1:00 AM. We set our alarms at 3:00 AM hoping to squeeze in a couple of hours of sleep; before our big cimb. We started getting up at 3:00 AM; I took bath early and in the middle of the hustle bustle I found half an hour to do Sandhyavandane. By the time I finished everyone was almost ready and taking their customary "one for the road" cup of coffee.. I got dressed; mentally prepared; a few notes in front of God for safe climbing  and off we went.

We reached "Alipiri" around 5 A.M.; my camera is still calibrated to London time. So you can follow the progress of the climb through the timestamp. from 00:29 to 5:30

Day Start:
We started the climb on Sunday 5:00 AM. At the entrance of the footpath; there is a Purundara Dasa statue part of the DasaSahitya Project. I felt elated on seeing that; I think it's very appropriate; since HariDasaru's celebrated Mettlotsava.

The main entrance arch for climbing the hills

The initial subway bypassing traffic above to reach the foot of the hills.

At the end of the subway a pace to offer camphor and coconut for safe climb.

An advisory by TTD before the climb.

This is the main entrance to the climb; there is a counter here; to check in luggage and you can pick it up at the top of the hills.

The devotee who brought chappals of every size to SriVenkateshwara

This is the Lords temple; HE came down to the rescue of his devotee; a visit to this temple is must for successfull climb of the hills; but it was not open this time.

The first hill is "Narayanadri"

There are sculptures of SriHari's Dashavatara throughout the climb

This is the inital path as you can see it is a gentle climb; well lit and covered for rain/sun.

There are gopurams like these throughout the climb; with resting places some have shops; almost all the gopurams have a pictures of SriVenkateshwara on the right hand side pillars and Sri Hanuman on the left hand side pillars. In fact throughout the climb you will find Sri Hanuman carvings everywhere. Being a Madhwa and hailing "HARI SARVOTHAMMA! VAYU JEEVOTHAMMA!!!" my energy level only incresed each time I see those carvings. This is a metal detector at the start of the climb also counts the number of climbers; important statistic for TTD office on top of the hill.

Ganeshas blessing for safe climb

 The initial climb gives way to groups of three steps each. The divider pole seperates the climbers from the descenders and gives support to some climbers. As in India traffic rules "Keep Left".
On the left hand side  you can see the green bin; there are dust bins throughout and at regular intervals.

Drinking water provided at regular intervals to freshen up and replinish water supply.

A passing shot of a typical stall while climbing

This is me; 10 mins into climb; all smiles :)))

The steps now start becoming more continuous with a small plateau ever 8-10 steps.

I took ample rest in between steps; ran out of breath soon. I took long breaks, but climbed slowly and steadily. Initially my plan was to recite SriHariVayu Stuti throughout the climb. But with the physical strain it was very hard to even recollect the shlokas; I kept getting stuck at some shlokas. I read some shlokas while resting; but still it was hard to concentrate even to read it. My inital goal was to reach @least GaliGopura without drinking water. I kept trying to recollect the shlokas, SriHariVayuStuti is difficult to recite when you're running out of breath. The climb starts getting steeper and steeper; the best thing to do is to remember that you're in for the long haul; treat like a marathon. Be mentally tough; the body will feel like quitting at the slightest inconvinence; but it's all about resolve now !

I gave my health card above precisely for this reason; to motivate. If I can do it; there are a lot more people who can do it !!!

My group started passing around the water bottles; even though I was tempted and repeatedly offered I politely declined, keeping my initial goal in mind !

The steps keep on coming and will overwhelm the first time climber; remember to chant "GOVINDA, GOVINDA .... GOOOOOOVIIIINNNDAAA !!!!" whenever you are tired. It's a magic mantra that will help a person to recupirate very fast.  It will help to keep thinking "Naham Karta Hari Karta" because it is a task of truly epic proportions.

Climb at your own pace; even in a group. Rest for some time to let others catch up or don't expect others to wait for you at every step. The steps are well lit and will have constant throughfare. The flat areas next to the pillars are resting areas; you can rest at technically every step. So don't worry about resting all.

For continous streches like below; keep small targets; like I will rest at that pillar or after 30 steps. Keep chanting Govinda or you favourite SriHari devarnama or stotra etc.

At close to the 500th step ( step 489  to be exact ) we got our first milestone; GaliGopura 1600 steps away.

I'll explain more about the Divya Darshana token counter later on ...

After about 40 mins into the climb I reached the 1000 steps mark; see below for the step and my condition at the 1000th step :)

Initially I was taking snaps ever 50-100 steps; but now snaps became far and few...

The next 1100 steps take a lot determination as explained before; take it easy.

Finally Gali Gopura !!!!

After reaching Gali Gopuram we rested a bit; I was renewed with energy and my thirst subsided and I decided not to have anything for the rest of the climb !

Diva Darshana Counter: On the other side of Gali Gopuram you are issued the Divya Darshana Ticket

Other side of Gali Gopuram

Divya Darshana Token Counter; with a webcam where they take your pic

Divya Darshana Ticket for free Darshana valid for upto 24 hours

Flat area after Gali Gouram with a lot of refreshment options

Transition from Vrishabhadri to Anjanadri

Soon after the refreshment area I saw some littering next to the steps; NOT COOL! What was disappointing is that the bin was right there.

Turn left see littering

Turn Right see the bin !

The climb continues ... 2300 reached fairly easily

Juvinle Graffitti; I have taken just one pic. There is NO place spared,  such Graffitti is throughout the climb !!!! Even as a college student I didn't get the appeal of this graffitti and I still don't !

A little ahead of 2400 we get the deer park

Colorful Deer Food Vendor; selling at 10 bucks a pop

Trek continues till Prasanna Anjaneya temple

Sri Prasanna Anjaneya Temple

Vishnu Sahasranama on Granite slabs from here on to the left

Heights of "Vandalism"... I don't think any product is so important that they can paste their marketing ad on VSN on Tirumala !!! Thankfully some devotees have ripped each and every poster... This one was the most complete one... I had a good mind to call the guy and give him a piece of my mind.

 At Step 2850; there is a verification of the Divya Darshana Ticket issued at Gali Gopuram.

It says Vrushabadri-Anjadri again; not sure if this is correct; mebbe it is.

SriLakshmiNarasimha and SriYogaNarasimha temple just before the road strech

View of the road strech ( 2kms ); sometimes the footpath is just painted; sometimes well sheltered

Picturesque Scenes while walking on the road !!!

Lombard Street; San Franciso got nothing on this ;)

Mondkal Gopuram !!!

Mondkal is the last strech and has just 700 steps; I took more rest I felt like resting after 10-20 steps.

I saw some people climbing some steps on their knees; I remember seeing some people at step 200 climbing on their knees; I was reminded of Sri Vadirajaru climbing the entire hills on his knees.


Narayana-Seshadri the last strech !!!

Sri Anjaneya guiding me on the way !!!

Finally the last step ! Now only short walk to the arch remaining !

 The Narayana Vana walk till the Arch with Jaya-Vijaya !!!

Divya Darshana : The ticket obtained at GaliGopura and verified later on; has to be produced at the the Vaikuntam Q complex. It took us about 1.5 hours to enter the Q waiting chambers; since it was a Sunday. Then after about 1.5 hours they provide free food ( remember the ticket is free ) and then after about 1.5 hours they let us into the Q. I think the wait period is intentional; it gives people who have climbed a chance to rest their limbs and strech a bit. There is access to drinking water and toilets while waiting. It takes about 3-4 hours in the waiting room depending on the rush. I skipped the free meals mainly because I wanted to eat after the darshan. There is a mad rush for the food; it takes a considerable heaving and shoving to get the food. It does become easier after the initial frenzy dies out. The TTD provide ample food supply; enough to feed everyone in the chamber and more. The food item I saw a rice item "Chitranna".

Finally when we are left for Darshan; we had to purchase Laddu Tokens; Rs 20 for 2 laddus per ticket. Then we rushed up the route and joined the Q at the bridge from Vaikuntam Q complex to the temple. From there we had Darshna within 45 mins. It was a Maha Laghu Darshan from Jay-Vijaya but still very satisfying.

Climbing the hills, makes you tired, question the Lord for sitting on top of Seven HILLS, cry with pain, disappointed at the endless steps,  happy at looking at each checkpoint, exhausted with fatigue; BUT once you stand before him in the Garbha Gudi everything else melts away and just his Darshana remains firmly implanted  !!!

Laddu Counter: The Laddu counters are now a little further along the same road of the old laddu counter. We got 2 Laddus per ticket; and there are counters for Laddu covers Rs 2/cover.

We came out exhausted but satisfied; had some lunch. Came back down and started for Bangalore. It was 1:00 AM by the time we reached. I applied a little volini and slept; got up excited and went to office.

Even though we took a little more time to climb; since we didn't exert ourselves and were able to attend everything else as normal the next day. I think it's well worth that extra time.

I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing about it.

Jai Bharateesha !!!!

P.S. - I will refine the post more and more as and when I get time.

BharatiRamana MukhyaPrana antargata SriKrishnarpanamastu !!!