Andhra Pradesh

Buzzing Tirupati screeches to a halt

Decision to stop darshan at Tirumala keeps the huge pilgrim crowds away from temple city

The COVID-19 scare has created enough ripples that the people across the country have been advised to stay indoors to avoid social gathering. When this in itself is enough to wreak havoc on small businesses, street vendors and hawkers, one can imagine the case of the ever-buzzing temple city of Tirupati, and the loss of business likely in store due to the absence of the tens of thousands of pilgrims that visit the city every day.

Tirupati has always been a haven for small-time business community. Every alternate shop in the core city area and on the hills makes brisk business by selling portraits, laminated photos and illuminated images of Lord Venkateswara. Caps are sold like hot cakes to those sporting tonsured heads, while the same outlets started selling dhotis too, after traditional dress was made compulsory at Tirumala. In a nutshell, there is business opportunity everywhere. However, the current crisis has hit every rung in this multi-layered business model, right from the hundreds of roadside eateries around the central bus station to the kumkum vendors at Alipiri trekking route and finally to the sacred yellow wristband makers of Patnool Street.

Big blow

Even as the message and scare spread on the virus, the pilgrim footfall started dwindling over a week. While the precautionary measures adopted by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) such as keeping the Pushkarini out of bounds for pilgrims and screening the trekking devotees with thermal scanners were indicative of a looming threat, the decision announced on Thursday to stop darshan at Tirumala for at least a week starting March 20 came as the proverbial last straw for the small traders.

Mastanaiah Mandadi, who sells puffed rice and samosas near SVIMS circle, was shell-shocked on finding the crowd on the road getting thinner by every passing day. "I have heard of the virus spreading in China and elsewhere, but did not expect it to hit my samosa business in this town," he said wryly.

Migrant auto drivers

Similarly, Mohammad Rafi, an autorickshaw driver who migrated from Piler to Tirupati eyeing big business, is equally disillusioned.

For the last two decades, many unemployed youth from the western Chittoor mandals like Piler, Madanapalle and Palamaner and southern Kadapa areas like Kodur and Rayachoti migrated to Tirupati to work as autorickshaw drivers, to meet the needs of the huge floating population. The loss of business was too much to bear during the last two days. "We witnessed a similar situation during the Samaikyandhra movement," recalls Areti Bayyanna, who recently upgraded to a new autorickshaw by taking a vehicle loan.

The situation is expected to turn only worse and not improve, till the deadline on travel is lifted.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 3:33:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/buzzing-tirupati-screeches-to-a-halt/article31129830.ece

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