29th February 2016

After a “life threatening” bus ride, I finally managed to get to Tirupathi. But where on earth is the Kovil? I was dropped off in the middle of a town in the middle of the night! I was not sure about the bus. Did they trick me? I was hoping to see a place with calm and spirit with a beautiful kovil at the center and pilgrims crowded. But this is just a town like any other town in India. Ok, what's going on? The first thing I did was check a name board of a shop. There were hotels mostly than shops. The hotel sign said Tirupathi. It also said INR1800 per night. It was dark, I had no idea where I was, so the logical thing is to go to the first place you find and clear out this mess.

I went to this “INR1800 per night” hotel. At the reception there were people still up and working and guests checking in. I asked the reception if this was Tirupathi. Yes, I did! And they must have definitely thought I was stupid. Then I asked where the Kovil is and information I was certainly lacking. Apparently, the Kovil is closed right now and will be open only at 4am. It's about one hour away from the Tirupathi town, which I am at right now. The Kovil is on a hill atleast 10km from here [approximately one hour bus ride]. So usually what happens is people stay at a hotel and go there in the morning THAT is if they were like me, to arrive in the night. Or else they come directly in the morning. Unless you book a Darshan, the chances you would get to see the God is very low. The cheapest Darshan would be INR300/=. That too, you have to book long before you actually arrive. The chances of getting to buy a Darshan ticket right now are pretty much zero, unless ofcourse you book online, even so, now is just too late. The hotel offered to book a Darshan for me if any were available, but like I said they were gonna do it online too and chances for last minute tickets are low. Ok, forget about the last minute bit, even if I DO get a Darshan ticket, when would the Darshan be? What time would it be once I'm done with everything? The Darshan starts at 9am and if you are lucky or get very high priced tickets you would get to see it and finish off soon,or else, it could take all day for your turn. But my returning bus leaves at 7.30am tomorrow! Well...too bad. With or without a ticket, the Darshan starts at 9am anyway. I came on a daring trip to Tirupathi, and my choices are #1 forget about the returning bus ticket and go to the Kovil or #2 forget about the Kovil and go back on the returning bus. Either way, I would have to stay the night somewhere. After all this trouble, it seemed like a waste to just go back next morning without even seeing the Kovil let alone the Darshan. I had a decision to make. What should I do? The "Make my trip" online booked ticket was non refundable and do not allow last minute cancellations. So, just to save it and use it I would have to give up everything on this trip. As if my whole coming to Tirupathi was put into garbage. For nothing at all. The bus to Tirupathi leaves at 4 in the morning. I had to wait for it anyway. I didn't have enough money to stay in a hotel, because I was completely not prepared for this and thought the money I had with me was enough. If I am to anyway spend on a hotel stay, might as well go to see the Kovil and maybe even try my best in getting into a Darshan. Otherwise my money, time and energy was all down the drain. This hotel is INR1800/= per night. Surely I can't afford this. This is India, and this is a pilgrim sight. Surely, there would be cheaper places to stay and maybe even a free ashram. Its time to go around looking for a place to stay. Moved on to the very next hotel. It seemed like a budget hotel. I asked for information on going to the Kovil like I asked the previous hotel. They said the same things. The bus can be taken from the bus stand which was right in front of that hotel. A room at this place is INR500/= single non AC. Ok, so this is like the first place I came to. If I can find a place for 500 so quick,then there must be cheaper places around.

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Where can I find an ATM machine? Its also in front right at the entrance of the bus stand. First get money. Crossed the road and went to the ATM machines. There were machines from various banks, but no Standard Chartered bank. Ok, this is not good. How can I get money now? Would my ATM card work on Indian bank machines? And there were only men on the road now. There were other men at the ATM too. I didn't want to get mugged right after I enter the machine cubical. Or when I come out. Travelling alone was not fun right now. So many seriously bad things could happen to me. I waited until the crowd lessened hoping I would be alone,but it didn't happen. As if everyone in town is in need of urgent cash all of a sudden. If I stay until everyone leaves then I would have to stay all night standing outside the ATM machine. THAT would draw unnecessary attention towards me. After a few men left, I decided to use the ICICI bank ATM machine as it is there in Sri Lanka too. So I figured my card can be used in that. I was careful not to show my pin number when typing to others, was covering the machine dial pad with my handbag and pressing the buttons. As it proceeded, there was a message telling me that there would be a 10% charge for the transaction as I am accessing a foreign account. Hmmm...not like I had much choice. I withdrew 2000INR and was charged an extra 200INR. Just great :( I wanted to quickly get out of that place as there were men standing in que for their turn. I didn't want them to see how much money I had with me. I didn't even request for a printed receipt of the transaction, just wanted to put the money in my purse and vanish. In my hurry, I didn't wait to check twice, just took my card back and started walking off. The man after me called me "madam your receipt". I didn't ask for the receipt, the stupid machine has anyway printed one, and now he knew exactly how much I withdrew! Stupid machine :/ Anyhow, I took it from him and quickly made my way out of that place.

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Decided to find a cheaper hotel. Started with where I stopped. From the last hotel I went to which said INR500/= for single non AC room. Hopped to the next hotel. Single non AC room INR700/=. Kept hotel hopping and still couldn't find a better deal. Maybe I might find an ashram to stay the night. Went on searching for a good place but no luck. It was past 10pm and I am still walking on the road. One side done, crossed to road to check out the hotels in that side. Still the prices are from INR700/= upwards. They were not even as clean as the initial one. At one place I was offered a room for INR600/= single, non AC, but if I wanted to shower, I had to share a bathroom with the next room, which was a double. Absurd! A room with no wash room? The sheets were so dirty in so many of them that, I would wake up with "Hepatitis" or something!

Past 10.30pm and the streets were in no hurry to shut for the night, busy with their duties. Vehicles were still moving up and down the road and traffic was still on. There were only men on the streets at this hour. I didn't see any women. I did notice that I was the only female on the streets, but no one seemed to care much. I was not stared at. Probably because I didn't have a backpack or luggage,people thought I was either someone who is already set in a hotel or a local. Even the hotel people didn't care much to show me around. Maybe they also thought I was not serious. Usually [in my experience] if I walk around looking for a place to stay, I would be hogged by auto rickshaw people "hotel madam?hotel madam?". This time no such thing.

I didn't even bother to go inside bigger hotels,as I knew I could not afford them. I am not prepared to waste so much money just to sleep. But still, I had to find a place that was safe. Turned to an alley. It was dark and less lit. My heart told me to think twice before going in there, but still the stupid me just walked on. The moment I entered the alley,it was creepy. There were a few hotels/guest houses, but they were confined to themselves and not too interested in what was happening on the streets. I really should learn not to take these stupid risks. Especially since I am alone and with no communication mode.

I felt something odd. Like someone was following me. I heard footsteps continuing behind me, about 50m away. Didn't change my pace, just continued normally. The steps kept on following me. I didn't turn to look because then they would know [who ever it was] that I noticed them. My strategy is to ignore and pretend to be on my own way. Then, to get my attention a man called out. "Hey baby, hey baby..". He said some more, but I can't remember them now. I think it's traumatic amnesia or something. Now, I was scared. I understood that this was a drunk man. I still didn't look to see him or to frown at him. Just continued to go on my way. And he too continued. Maybe even got closer. Now various thoughts were running in my head. No one else was on the street. What should I do?

Published by SaThi