I guess the title says it all.
We walked up starting from Alipiri. My two daughters were with me. My co brother too chose to walk up with us. There are 3550 steps to climb and let me tell you that it wasn't difficult at all; in fact, the children enjoyed it very much (though we adults were puffing a little at times). Every 50 steps the number is engraved on the step so you know how many more you need to negotiate.
We started at 10.30 am and reached the top at 3.25 pm, in just under 5 hours.
All along the way up, the entire path is paved and completely covered overhead so we were not bothered by the sun. There are lots of shops along the way selling mineral water, spiced buttermilk, chocolates, aerated drinks, tea, coffee etc. You need not carry anything at all. We did carry waterbottles in a back pack and regretted having done so as it slows down your climbing. We drank the water quickly to reduce the load on our back.
There are reverse osmosis water purifiers in a couple of places. Normal drinking water taps are present every few hundred steps.
All along the path there are signboards urging you to call such and such numbers in case of an emergency but the mobiles don't work except for around a km and a half when you are walking on the road. There are no landlines installed by TTD! You would think that it is such a simple solution in any area of poor cell phone coverage to have landline phones, but TTD, like God, moves in mysterious ways. Before climbing up just pray that you don't come across any emergency because there is no way you can summon help in a hurry.
Half way up you come across hundreds of deer. The children were thrilled.
We had booked our darshan for the 4 pm to 6 pm slot.
And we reached the queue at 3.45 pm and started moving along but were suddenly stopped 5 minutes later by the TTD staff in uniform and were told that we can not proceed further as they received orders from the higher ups to stop the queue at once. We were told that some seva was going on on behalf of a VIP (the curse of this nation) and we would be allowed to proceed only at 7 or 7.30 pm! No amount of arguing and trying to reason with them would move them.
You can imagine our plight.....we had been trudging uphill for 5 hours and the children were now really tired. We had not eaten anything except for some groundnuts and some buttermilk along the way. And now we could not leave our place in the queue to go and eat something though now we had so much time on our hands. One of us went and got some biscuits and juice for the children.
Then we waited. And waited.
7 pm... nothing happened. 7.30 pm ......still nothing. 8 pm.....nothing. 8.30 pm ........no movement and no TTD staff to tell you what is going on. By the way, the TTD staff are trained to speak only in Telugu and no other language. They do not understand Hindi, English, Tamil or Kannada (or they pretend that they do not understand any language other than Telugu). In a pilgrimage place teeming with people from all over the country and indeed from all over the world there is not one staff who can say something that can be understood by people from other states. Again, TTD moves in its own mysterious ways.
Oh, yes, and the staff are extremely and I mean EXTREMELY rude. This includes staff at the cloak room (written all over Tirumala as CLOCK room,btw) too.
Finally, at 8.45 pm they opened the gate and we started moving. The movement was more or less orderly till we reached the main entrance of the temple. Then we went inside and were stopped for a few minutes before the dwajastambam so that those who had finished their darshan can come out.
While waiting here I noticed that there were 2 more queues converging from other directions and waiting like us. Our queue consisted of people who had purchased 300 Rs tickets and 50 Rs tickets. The other queues were of free darshan and senior citizens/physically handicapped persons.
I was amazed to see that they let all of loose at the same time from all the 3 lines! Can you imagine the crush and the stampede! We all had to squeeze through doorways that are about 6 feet wide and one gentleman elbowed my 10 year old daughter in the face so hard so that he could surge forward for a glimpse of the lord. Old people and handicapped people were being crushed in the melee and there was nothing we could do about it.
I was really glad that my aged parents were not with us.
And we were allowed a glimpse of the Lord from a distance of nearly 30-40 feet for a couple of seconds. You blink and you miss Him. For reasons unknown the Lord is in a dark room that is lit only by oil lamps so you can hardly see him. If you try to linger you are unceremoniously dragged and pushed out by the ubiquitous TTD staff.
The last few yards of the queue can be managed more humanely and more intelligently than how they do now. You really feel like herded cattle in this place.
If you truly believe that God is ubiquitous and omnipresent you would think long and hard before going here.
You won't catch me queuing up in Tirumala for a darshan again in a hurry.
Having said that I'll also say that I will climb up by walk (if I ever make up mind to go there again) and catch a taxi and immediately come down to Tirupati.