India // Andhra Pradesh //

Tirumala Hill, the Venkateshwara temple and Kapilateertham

The road trip up Tirumala Hill is a lot less terrifying now that there’s a separate route down; the most devout, of course, climb the hill by foot. The steep trail starts at Alipuri, 4km from the centre of Tirupati; all the pilgrim buses pass through – look out for a large Garuda statue and the soaring gopura of the first temple. There are drinks stalls all along the route, which is covered for most of the way. The walk takes at least four hours, and an early start is recommended. When you get to the top, you will see barbers giving pilgrims tonsures as part of their devotions.

The Venkateshvara temple (aka Sri Vari) dedicated to Vishnu and started in the tenth century, has been renovated to provide facilities for the thousands of pilgrims who visit daily; a warren of passages wind their way around the complex towards the inner sanctum; weekends, public holidays and festivals are even busier. Unless your visit is intended to be particularly rigorous, you should buy a special darshan ticket as this can reduce the time it takes to get inside by quite a few hours; for an even quicker route in, go for a seeghra darshan ticket. Both tickets can be purchased from the temple tourism office not far from the temple bus stand on Station Road: you have to sign a declaration of faith in Lord Venkateshvara, and take photocopies of your passport and visa, and the originals. Note that no electronic devices are allowed inside the temple.

At the entrance is a colonnade, lined with life-sized copper or stone statues of royal patrons. The gopura gateway leading to the inner courtyard is decorated with sheets of embossed silver; a gold stambha (flagstaff) stands outside the inner shrine next to a gold upturned lotus on a plinth. Outside, opposite the temple, is a small museum, the Hall of Antiquities. Your darshan tickets entitle you to enter the museum via shorter queues opposite the exit.

At the bottom of the hill, the Sri Kapileswaraswami temple at Kapilateertham is the only Tirumala temple devoted to Shiva.