Here are some updates from my recent visit to the famous Lord Balaji Temple in Tirumala-Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, India.
- “Sheegra Darshan” is anything but the “quick darshan” that it stands for. My two darshans with this INR 300 ticket – the only one that can be bought at the temple premise on “current booking” – took 5h45m and 4h during not-so-peak time.
- On the other hand, “Sudharshan Darshan” via INR 50 ticket – to be booked in advance from any TTD Center in India – took only 1h45m.
- This reminded me of “price inelasticity of demand”, a concept I’d learned in an economics course during my junior college!
- Don’t take the Sheegra Darshan timings indicated on the TTD website and reconfirmed by its call center (1800 425 4141) too literally. According to the sign I saw at the Vaikuntam Complex during this visit, the schedule of sale of tickets for this category of darshan could be changed without prior notice. And, indeed, changed it was: The sign announced that this queue would close at 2PM on Thursdays although it was to remain open until 5PM according to the website / call center. For Fridays, whereas the website / call center indicated a closing time of 9PM, the sign specified “PI” without any explanation of the term and the entrance to the queue had actually been shut as early as 4PM. According to other signs placed prominently near all the queue complexes, the temple authorities could dispense with Sheegra Darshan altogether during rush periods. Tip to pilgrims: Keep enough buffer in your travel schedule when you visit Tirumala.
- During my last couple of visits, I noticed that cars and taxis had to drop off pilgrims farther and farther away from the Vaikuntam Complex, which is the starting point for most darshans. Therefore, I decided to try the bus for my Tirupati-to-Tirumala trips this time. Glad that I did. Not only does the bus cost much less (INR 80 for the round trip) compared to taxi (INR 1300), the bus stand in Tirumala is hardly 400-500 meters away from the car drop off point. Another point in favor of bus travel for “bearing-challenged” people like me who have a tough time locating places on hilly terrains: It’s much easier to locate the bus stand than your car / taxi. Since you can’t carry mobile phones inside the temple, you’re likely to have left yours inside the car / taxi. Therefore, you can’t even call your driver when you return after finishing the darshan. If you travel by bus, you can at least ask around and reach the bus stand. You’d look stupid asking others where your car / taxi is parked! Tip to pilgrims traveling by their own vehicle despite this piece of advice: Don’t leave your mobile phones in the car / taxi. Instead, carry them with you and deposit them at the lockers available near the start of the queue. Upon your return, pick up your mobile and call your driver if you can’t find your way back to your vehicle.
- I found no improvement in crowd control compared to my last visit. In fact, this time I noticed that the pushing and pummeling started even before entering the temple’s main concourse. I’ve now begun to wonder if there’s some religious significance to this. I hope the temple authorities know what they’re doing because this is especially tough on the kids and elderly people seeking darshan.
- The legendary ‘Tirupati Laddu’ is now available for a price, not just bundled with the darshan ticket as was the case in the past. Not sure when this practice started but I only happened to notice it during my latest visit.