It was a bit of a rocky day. We had very few details so were in no hurry to get there. Frannie had booked massages (which turned out to be the oiliest massages every requiring me to wash my hair no less than 10 times) and we were in no hurry. At 2:30 Rahul called our VIP agent and was told that we needed to be there at 6:30. Unfortunately, the town was at least 3 1/2 hours away. Poor Frannie was thrown in the car and we set out for Tirumala. Honestly, it was one of the scariest car rides ever. Imagine a three hour game of chicken on a rainy bad road and you might begin to come close. We arrived at 7:30 (on time by Indian standards) and were informed that I needed Indian dress. *sigh*. I was taken for an enforced shopping trip, re-dressed and our shoes were removed. We then entered the initial stage of the temple.
We were given another *agent* who was supposed to make our way to see the Lord Balaji easier. This involved begging at a locked gate to priests who essentially played rock/paper/scissors to see who would be let in, and in what order. We were let in, but then told we needed to pay for our tickets (pay a bribe). Frannie and I were separated, I was taken to fill out a registration form in which I swore that I believed in Balaji and may have renounced Christianity. Frannie and I were reunited and no money changed hands.
We were then in yet another waiting hall. This time with a video of people paying homage and trying to pray before Balaji while the priests SHOVED them through the line. I guess this is what happens when there is one statue and 30,000 people a day trying to see him and pray (it sounds like this is the guy to pray to if you want money/marriage/children). Unfortunately, I have no pictures since no electronics were allowed (although my watch was fine).
We were then led through a maze through the temple. Indian temples are amazing in their architecture and even more amazing in that the priests seem to LOVE to decorate them with cheap light strings and chandeliers that seem to come from Ikea. We finally made it to the God. It was honestly amazing to see people so moved, when they first saw him they would all shout "Govinda" and put their hands to their foreheads in prayer. Unfortunately, it was so fast that I did not get a good look at the diamond studded hands.
We were then led through the rest of the temple complex where people were dumping money EVERYWHERE. It ended with our receiving rice (yum) and ladoo's - which are a famous sweet. We gave ours to the driver so he could take them home to his family. A priest seemed to like me so I was given several extra.
Oh, and it was raining so we were SOAKING WET. After a fast and mediocre dinner (where I was told to fill out a customer comment card with positive comments before we would receive our bill) we fell into bed at our guest house. After asking for hot water, we were ceremoniously show how to turn ON the hot water in our bathroom:)
The next morning, we were woken up early by the wife of the caretaker couple. She provided is with VERY overpriced chai and then took a HUGE tip. I guess they make their living on tips!
One of the things that the temple is famous for is "hair tonsuring" or hair cutting. People come and shave their heads and the temple sells the hair to add to it's treasure chest. After several false attempts, we finally found a tonsuring site (but were not allowed to take pictures).
So I took a picture of the sign.
We then headed off to see some of the smaller temples in Tirupati. It was raining and wet, but we pushed through to the top!
I loved the temple at the top. It was smaller and manageable for a temple novice!
We then headed for the waterfalls that we had heard so much about. On the way up, I learned that umbrellas are best when shared with friends.
I also learned that "waterfalls" in India must be code for:
water coming out of monkey faces that men bathe in.....
We then got in a car to head to Kanchi Puram.