Sunday, February 9, 2014
Among the top three richest shrines in the world, the Tirupati-Tirumala temple is about 150km away from Chennai. It is visited by about 30,000 people on a normal day, with the number going up to 100,000 on special occasions. To help those pilgrims, the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams has facilitation centres across the country, in every state capital and many other towns. Quite a few of those would have started their journey from Chennai, which is the closest city to the shrine. Chennai therefore is the only location that has two facilitation centres.
This is the one on Venkatnarayana Road, the one that has a temple attached to the information centre. (In fact, the temple has probably become more prominent than the information centre itself). Every morning, a fleet of buses and vans start off to Tirumala from here. With a 4-hour journey ahead, the vehicles have to leave early to complete a day-trip to the shrine. 5am is the usual departure time, and if you have booked your ticket, you are asked to land up here at 4.30am, at which time there is nothing open nearby.
Even the temple opens only at 5am; the priests come in between 4:30 and 4:50, the security staff then go around opening up the gates and getting ready for the day. By 5:15 or so, the first worshippers would have taken their places and the pujas would have begun. But look closer at the picture (right-click to open in a new tab) and you will see the earliest devotees - the morning jogger and another, at the gate, praying to the closed doors!