Tirupati, the abode of the God of the Seven Hills, nestled in South India in Andhra Pradesh, is the most frequented holy place in the world beating Rome, Mecca and Jerusalem hands down. This 2000-year-old pilgrimage center is arguably the holiest place in India because the God here, Vishnu, is said to be sure to fulfil your wishes. The image is said to have sprung up on its own in the hills. You can easily recognize this God as you enter the temple because you would have already seen numerous pictures of him in shops, hotels and buses. The rich Vijayanagar kings of the sixteenth century Andhra Empire gilded the temple tower with gold and precious gems.
A peculiar custom at this temple is that pilgrims offer hair as symbol of renouncing their ego at the feet of God. For this there are huge halls with barbers patiently shaving hundreds of heads. People also lie down on the space around the temple and roll on the ground, in a bid to lower themselves in front of God as a penance for sins. To atone for their sins people also drop silver ritual objects into large offering cans called hundis. It is said that if you are handicapped in some way, you can offer a silver piece in the shape of that organ and you can get some kind of relief. People donate flat beaten silver shaped into kidneys, eyes, noses, and tongues, especially for suffering children. The idol is bathed with sandalwood and this is offered to the devotees who prize this as being now imbued with the special powers of the deity.
To get to Tirupati is easy from Chennai where a large number of buses ply. It is best to buy a link ticket that will allow you to go right up to the hills of Tirumala. You can taxi it to there in comfort or even go in for a shared taxi. The Indian Airlines Office (22349) is in the Hotel Vishnupriya Complex opposite the main bus stand in Tirupati.
Tirupati has to be very well organized to meet almost a hundred thousand pilgrims a day, so there are all manner of hotels and cheap motels called lodges that offer you the barest minimum in accomodation. If you are careful about your belongings these will serve your purpose since tariffs start at Rs 100 a day. The Vasanta Vihar Lodge near the railway station offers extremely economical accomodation. Bhimas Delux is a good hotel with moderate tariffs. The similar sounding Bhima Paradise is a bit more expensive. Hotel Mayura is a three star hotel. There are also choultries or free guest houses on the hill around the temple. Some of these are rather nice.