A trip to Tirupati is always a welcome change, whether you are a believer or not. May be it is just in the blood of someone who hails from Andhra but this place has some charm that doesn't diminish, considering that an average person from Andhra visits Tirupati atleast once a year ! After more than 2 years of not making a trip to Tirupati, in the end of July, we were finally one our way to the King of all pilgrim places !
Phase one of the journey began from Hyderabad to hometown Nellore where we were to take a break for a day and then head to Sri Kalahasti and Tirupati. This was our Ecosport's first trip to our hometown. If you are driving on the NAM Expressway on the Hyderabad-Chennai highway, you wouldn't have much to complain about. This coffee shop is our new favourite pitstop on this highway, Rush Cafe at the Medarametla-NH5 junction.
Stop here for some nice coffee, milkshakes.
We reached Nellore in about 7.5 hours, chilled for a day and drove to Sri Kalahasti.
Sri Kalahasti part of the pilgrimage
If you are from Nellore, a drive to Sri Kalahasti is like a long drive in your neighbourhood, 90 odd kms on super good roads ! At the most, an hour and a half drive.
Arriving at Kalahasti a little late in the afternoon, we checked in at SSR Hotel near the temple. After freshening up a bit, we set off to have a darshan of Sri Kalahasteeswara, Lord Shiva in the form of the Vayu Linga.
We can't bring you pictures of the temple because photography is not allowed, so here is a picture of one of the entrances to the temple along with the Bhakta Kannappa hill in the background.
The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in our hotel room, shopping in a "Rs.10/- any item" shop and winding the day up with a delicious Andhra Meal at the restaurant adjacent our hotel.
Our appointment with the Lord of Seven Hills
The next morning began with the best of all breakfasts - Pongal-Vada !
Shortly after breakfast, we headed to Tirumala, the 32 kms drive from Sri Kalahasti to Tirupati takes about 45 minutes. The moment you reach Alipiri, from where the ghat road to Tirupati starts, you know you have reached the all important place ! Security checks and long line of vehicles waiting to pass through. You have to disembark from your vehicle, take out your luggage and go through security. It was relatively an off-season and a working day, so we could get through in about 15 minutes but there are days when this would take hours !
We visit Tirumala too often and focus only on the religious part, very few of us actually stop to admire the natural beauty of the Seshachala Hills and the forest area. It is definitely more fun climbing the hills on foot but this time since we were short of time, we drove up the well maintained ghat roads.
Nothing great about the above picture, just a random, mandatory click of the road when you are seated in the front passenger seat.
Once in Tirumala, we checked in to our room and went to the temple to keep our appointment with none other than Lord Venkateswara, the busiest God in the world ! Before, we had a simple Andhra Meal, usually people wait until after darshan to have a meal but considering how long the Lord could keep us waiting, we decided "first things, first !"
Looked like the Lord was happy with us too because from the time we stepped into the line and stepped out, it took us only 1.5 hours to visit the grand Lord of the Seven Hills, no matter how much you complain about the crowd, waiting and pushing, those few seconds that you spend looking at the idol, somehow seems to blank everything else out, may be it's all just in the mind or it's the collective vibe of the thousands inside the temple ! No wonder, Tirumala attracts 35,000 people on an average every day !
Our initial plan was to stay at Tirumala but since we had only one room and had to fit in the entire family of 8 adults and 2 kids, we decided to drive down to Tirupati and stay in a hotel. Also, we wanted to save some time and visit the Goddess Padmavati temple at Tiruchanur. The drive down the ghat road is more fun with sharp hair-pin bends and some great views of Tirupati city as your near the end of the ghat road.
We checked into KVR Residency at Tirupati, a short walking distance from Kapila Theertham near Alipiri and turned in for the night.
Early next morning, we made a quick visit to the ancient temple at Kapila Theertham and after a Pongal breakfast, yet again, we visited the Padmavati temple at Thiruchanur. The visit took us an hour and the main purpose of our Tirupati trip done, we began to think if we could fit in one more place before heading home.
The oldest existing Shiva Linga in the country
When we planned this trip, we wanted to include a place that we had not visited before and our search led us immediately to a place that we had been meaning to visit since long - Gudimallam. About 45 minutes drive from Tirupati, there was a time people did not venture going to this remote village because there were no roads. Now, good roads take you all the way to the temple.
On the edge of the village is this more than 2000 year old Parasurameswara temple. The temple structure that exists today is around 1200 years, though.
The ASI information board says the Shiva Linga inside the temple has been around since 3rd or 2nd Century B.C., making it the oldest, surviving Shiva Linga in the country. And, not just old, it is probably one of the most unique Shiva Lingas too.
The actual temple looks very humble, it's antiquity visible in every corner. As usual, photography is prohibited inside, so we have no pictures to show you. It was quite a hot day and we had to literally run inside the shade to save our feet from the burning hot slab stones on the ground.
We had seen and read about the Gudimallam Shiva Linga on the internet but when we went inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, we were not prepared for the sight before us !
Below the ground level stands the close to 6 feet tall Shiva Linga with railings around it like the ones you see around a Buddhist Stupa and on the face of the Shiva Linga is carved the figure of what the ASI believes is a Vedic and early Puranic representation of Lord Rudra, where Rudra is described as holding a bow ! One can find pictures on the internet.
We went "wow" at one look and remained standing and looking at the oldest Shiva Linga in the country. More than 2000 years ago, someone had installed a Shiva Linga at that very spot and we were paying our respects to it ! It was a surreal moment.
According to ASI, the Shiva Linga probably belongs to the early centuries B.C., the railings, the information board says is reminiscent of the Barhut Stupas that were built during the times of Asoka. It is believed that the Shiva Linga was initially set up in the open air, the temple structure was probably built much later when the temple building became a norm, some time in the 6th-7th Century A.D.
We spent a very long time looking at the Shiva Linga, known as Parasurameswara here because the idol holds an axe in one of the hands.
It is in a way unfortunate that a temple with such an unbelievable history is hardly known outside Tirupati. The Vedas talk mostly of Lord Rudra, the Linga at Gudimallam seems to represent the Deity's journey from Rudra to Shiva, the idol in the form of a warrior in front and the Shiva Linga in the background. The study of how Gods came to be and their temples is truly fascinating !
We started from Gudimallam to Nellore, stopping for a happy Andhra meal at AP Tourism's Haritha Hotel near Sri Kalahasti. 2 days later, we were back in Hyderabad and began planning for the next trip. One can never have enough places to travel to and if you live in an incredible country like India, the list is never ending ! Gudimallam is one example.
Gudimallam is 21 kms from Tirupati. You may not find any decent public transport to Gudimallam, if you do not have your vehicle, hire a cab.
The temple is open during normal hours i.e 6 AM till lunch time and probably from evening till 8 PM.
Not too many people visit the temple, so the temple is not crowded at any time of the day. Gudimallam is a small village, you may not find any facilities in the village, you wouldn't need any though, because Tirupati is very close by.
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