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Tirupati and Tirumala Hill

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Set in a stunning position, surrounded by wooded hills capped by a ring of vertical red rocks, the Shri Venkateshvara temple at Tirumala, 170km northwest of Chennai, is said to be one of the richest and the most popular place of pilgrimage in the world, drawing more devotees than Rome or Mecca. With its many shrines and dharamshalas, the whole area around Tirumala Hill, an enervating drive 700m up in the Venkata hills, provides a fascinating insight into contemporary Hinduism practised on a large scale. The hill is 11km as the crow flies from its service town of TIRUPATI, but double that by road.

A five-minute walk from the railway station, the one temple in Tirupati itself that’s definitely worth a look is Govindarajaswamy, whose modern grey gopura is clearly visible from many points in town. The inner sanctum is open to non-Hindus and contains a splendid large black reclining Vishnu. In its own compound by the side entrance stands the fine little Venkateshvara Museum of Temple Arts. The temple’s impressive bathing tank lies 200m to the east.

Between Tirupati and Tirumala Hill, the Tiruchanur Padmavati temple is another popular pilgrimage halt. A gold vimana tower with lions at each corner surmounts the sanctuary, which contains a black stone image of goddess Lakshmi with one silver eye. A Rs40 ticket allows you to jump the queue to enter the sanctuary.

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