As another year is seeing its sunset days and many of us waiting to have an annual break, I scrolled the list of articles I penned so far. They are a little less compared to previous years, with two of them being penned by my dad. As I have mentioned before, I always love to explore new places and whenever I go somewhere, I take care to make note of details and of course take a lot of snaps. I scrolled down my blog to see if we visited new places this year, and realized that Thiruvannamalai is our first trip and that too at the fag end of the year. Will we explore one more new place before the year ends? I would love to do so.
It is almost customary for us to go to my in-laws' place in Hyderabad every year for Diwali. But this year, it did not happen due to miscellaneous reasons. To ward off our disappointment, we decided we would visit a place which would not take more than 2 days. And off we drove to Thiruvannamalai.
This place is about 200 kms from Bangalore and can be reached within 4 hours. If you go on the Hosur road, after a 100 kms, there will be a diversion where you take right to go to the destination. After we took diversion, for some distance, the roads were bad and unpredictable and it is better to drive on this route during the daytime.With the help of Google maps we hit Ramana Ashram 1st, which is at the entrance of Thiruvannamalai. When it comes to Google maps, it helps you in finding way, but from our experience, we have to take the help of the locals to go forward, as at some crucial places, the billboard signs are absent. You can call it 'the Indian way'. The ashram is a sprawling area with prayer and meditation halls, library, Ramana saint's room where he attained samadhi, the dining area. There were a couple of peacocks which was an attraction and with which people were taking selfies. It is visited by foreigners from the Western countries who hope to find some peace and solace in their lives. Some cows are maintained for fresh milk and milk products. The place is a center of activity which caters meals to the homeless and poor people around on daily basis. Ramana Maharishi was unique in a way that he did not claim to have any spiritual powers to cure the sufferings of the common people and did not invent any new religion. He experienced sudden liberation and overcame fear from the death in his early years. He spent about 17 years in silence and solitude in the Virupaksha cave and Skanda ashram which can be reached by 1 hour trek and situated in the back of the ashram. In these places, there are dogs because the saint is said to have lived or co-existed along with animals and even talked to them. The trekking, which should be done during the daytime, is well worth as it got us in touch with nature and was rejuvenating. Virupaksha cave is the final point of trek where it is dark inside with the idol of Ramana Saint, and silence should be strictly observed as people come to meditate. There are some dogs roaming near the cave, but it should not be of much concern. It is still the proof of the Saint who lived among the animals. I felt some connection and experienced some calm when we visited the ashram the next day. It is noteworthy that one can be a saint or maharishi without claiming to have spiritual powers like Shiridi/Satya Sai baba, Mata Amritaanandamai, Swami Nityananda, and still admit to have human limitations like Ramana. Still, lot of people came to him to pour their sufferings and hardships the life offered. This ashram is more frequented by westerners who looked to have found something, where many Indians are yet to find.
From the cave, there is an easy way to reach Arunachaleshwara temple, the temple of Shiva. It is vast and has 8 gopurams or towers which were under some renovation. The temple is only 1 km from Ramana ashram, and these two places attract tourists all over. It was not over crowded, though we had to stand in the queue to get the fleeting glance of Lord Shiva. We spent some time exploring the temple. For some strange reason, an elephant is kept and it attracted the visitors who fed the same. I am not the fan of temples keeping the animals and birds like peacock, as it is only torture for them. The temple prasadams or offerings can be bought inside the temple premises, and I tell you, they are very tasty. The temple becomes unapproachable during the month of November-December due to the upcoming Karthikai, the festival of lamps. During the day of Karthikai, which falls on the full moon day of Vrishchika month, the lamp is lit on the top of the hill, and the lamp is said to represent Lord Shiva or Arunachaleshwara, and this is on the concluding day of Karthigai Brahmotsavam which attracts crowds from various parts of India. It represents the Makara jyothi of Sabari Mala temple of Kerala. Devotees consider themselves blessed when they go to temple during this time. But for casual goers like us, it is best if we don't go to temple during the festival to avoid the stampede-like crowds.The city of Thiruvannamalai belongs to lower middle class people whose lively hood depends on the ashram and the temple, and one cannot escape many asking tips for simple services. There were very less cars and more bikes and scooters. We wanted to go on a 14-km trek around girivalam, but to our disappointment, it is banned by the Government, as the tourists are disturbing the animals/flora/fauna. We went to girivalam by road, and it took much less time.The road had some temples of various Shiva lingas. We stopped at a place which was just so beautiful and it turned out to be a lengthy garden and a bright, airy hall which had Shirdi Sai baba statue made out of marble. It was just quiet and peaceful. We took a room in Aakash inn which was opposite to Ashram, and it was quite comfortable and provided free Wi-fi which has become 'an addiction?' for everybody just like having food. Food was good in the adjoining restaurant. I had a relaxed and a rejuvenating Ayurvedic body massage. The massage center is situated in the building of Ramana towers (which has service apartments). If you want a fully relaxed trip, then this massage is a must try. We had a pleasant drive back home, though we did not feel like leaving the place. Some photos of our trip, as an article on travel is incomplete without photos. So, here are some more photo collages....Couldn't control myself posting so many photos...When I finished this and made some collages, I had a feeling of revisiting the place!!! Enjoy..