A sacred pilgrimage path takes shape in the two Telugu states, but unlike the Buddhist circuit in the north which traces Buddha’s footsteps from its birthplace to the site of nirvana, the temple circuit in the south has yet to receive an official label. There is no consistent pilgrimage route connecting these shrines by trains, buses, or flights. But demand is growing with temples seeing increased attendance across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, post-pandemic.
Informal tourist circuits crystallize with devotees devoting a day and sometimes up to 5 days, following a circuitous pilgrimage route astride important temples in the vicinity.
The capital Hyderabad has several shrines within a radius of 60 km including the newly constructed Statue of Equality at Muchintal in Ranga Reddy district, Birla Mandir and Peddamma Temple in the heart of the city, Chilkur Balaji Temple popularly known as the temple name Visa Balaji on the banks of Osmansagar in Rangareddy District. The famous Yadagirigutta temple, 60 km from the capital, is often clubbed in the route of Hyderabad pilgrims. Another key emerging circuit straddles Yadagirigutta, Vemulawada, Warangal, Basar and Bhadrachalam.
In Andhra Pradesh, the famous Tirumala Tirupati Temple is usually part of the pilgrim’s progress from the Kanaka Durga Temple in Vijayawada and Sri Venkateswara Swami Vari Devasthanam or ‘Chinna Tirupati’ near Eluru.
An interstate circuit covering Bhadrachalam, Basar, Tirupati and the Kanaka Durga Temple is also emerging with domestic and international tourists embarking on 7-day pilgrimage circuits.
“Usually people visit 3-5 shrines in Telangana, but the scenario is different in Andhra Pradesh, where religious destinations are at least 350-1,000 km apart. With no organized tours, it is almost impossible for tourists from other states or overseas to visit the temples,” said B Harish Kumar, a tour operator.
The Buddhavanam, a Buddhist-themed mega-project on a sprawling 274-acre land on the banks of the Nagarjunasagar Dam, is another shrine that attracts people from all over the world. Special Project Officer Mallepalli Lakshmaiah said, “At least 400 pilgrims visit the site every day and during weekends the footsteps climb to 1,500. We have urged the TSRTC to run buses from every seat district office in Buddhavanam and made representations to the school education department to allow for student tours. ”
The Bhadrakali Devi temple in Warangal, 150 km from Hyderabad, is full of devotees during the auspicious Shravanamasam. The footsteps of pilgrims grow to 2,000 on weekends and on other days at least 1,200 devotees visit the Bhadrakali shrine, popularly known as the ‘Grant Mother Goddess’.
In the absence of a formal circuit in the two Telugu states, pilgrims depend on their own vehicles or private tour operators. “Private tour operators charge between Rs 5,000 and Rs 20,000,” said K Ravindra, a regular visitor.