Set in a stunning position, surrounded by wooded hills capped by a ring of vertical red rocks, the Sri Venkateshvara temple at Tirumala is said to be one of the richest places of pilgrimage in the world, and is certainly the most popular, drawing more devotees than Rome or Mecca. With its many shrines and dharamshalas, the whole area around Tirumala Hill, an enervating drive 700m up in the Venkata Hills, provides a fascinating insight into contemporary Hinduism practised on a large scale. 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 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. At the bottom of the hill, the Sri Kapileswaraswami temple at Kapilateertham is the only Tirumala temple devoted to Shiva.

The hill is 11km as the crow flies from its service town of Tirupati, but double that by road. The town is almost entirely modern and pretty unappealing, as well as being predictably crowded with the constant flow of pilgrims. A five-minute walk from the railway station, the one temple in Tirupati itself that’s definitely worth a look is Govindarajaswamy, whose modern grey gopura is clearly visible from many points in town. The inner sanctum is open to non-Hindus and contains a splendid large black reclining Vishnu.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

India features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

13 tips for backpacking India

13 tips for backpacking India

Whether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will alwa…

15 Aug 2017 • Helen Abramson insert_drive_file Article
Video: a 2 minute guide to India

Video: a 2 minute guide to India

India has been captivating travellers for centuries – and it continues to enchant to this day. It's a country that has it all: rainforest, desert, pretty beac…

20 Jul 2017 • Colt St. George videocam Video
Living the past: the ancient professions of Old Delhi

Living the past: the ancient professions of Old Delhi

Modernity is seeping into Old Delhi, a walled district that has long harboured the Indian capital’s traditional ways of life. But what does this mean for long…

13 Jun 2017 • Jack Palfrey local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month