This was the most impulsive journey that I ever embarked on.
It was half past 9 on a Friday night and I was sitting at a 24-hour coffee shop in Bangalore with one of my friends. I was telling him about my motorcycle trips to the different places as I was discussing with him about the places around Bangalore that I’d like to visit. ‘Tiruvannamalai’ was a chance mentioning by him, but something that caught my imagination.
By 12'o clock at night the back packs were ready, the tank of my bike filled and we set off to the abode of Arunachaleswara.
Through the country road
The 90-km ride till Krishnagiri along the NH 7, which connects Bangalore to Salem in Tamil Nadu, took me two and half hours and was more than comfortable. Though the four-lane, well maintained National Highway was flocked by slow paced heavy trucks at night time, cruising, sometimes along with them and at times ahead of them was an enjoyable experience. We had only one halt on the way till Krishnagiri and that was at Hozur where we had omelets fresh from the frying pan at a road side stall. We reached Krishnagiri at around 2 at night. From there we had to bid adieu to the good old highway, take a turn and follow a trail of country road sometimes through what looked like jungle, and at times through little villages. The silhouetted trees against the moon, and the silvery hillocks on either side made us feel as if we were riding through a land in someone’s imagination. We reached Tiruvannamalai by around 6 in the morning and checked into a lodge near the temple.
This is the first place we visited. The aashrama of Maha Rishi Ramana is hardly a kilometre away from the temple. I'd have to write a book if I start writing about this enlightened soul. But I'm least bothered to take up that effort as there already a thousand and more books written on the life and teaching of this great saint. Instead, I'll tell you something about the aashrama. It is a quaint little place with a temple dedicated to Swami Ramana Maha Rishi and little other temples for various other Hindu deities. There is a restroom for the pilgrims visiting the aashrama, a book shop that sells religious texts and books written by Ramana Maha Rishi and other souvenirs. But the major attraction for me in this place were the peacocks that were roaming around so freely and without any fear of other two legged creatures like us around
Right close to the aashrama is this hill at the foot of which the town of Thiruvannamalai rests has an interesting story attached to it from the Hindu mythology. It is said that once Maha Vishnu and Brahma, puffed up with arrogance, sought to see for themselves the end and beginning of Shiva. Vishnu took the form of a boar and started searching Siva's feet, while Brahma turned into a Swan and looked for the head of ‘The Destroyer’. Siva took the form of fire just to snub their vanity. As the Lord had taken the form of fire, neither the crest nor the root could be approached. 'Aruna' means crimson colour and 'achala' means immovable. As Shiva stood in the form of fire it came to be known as Arunachala (Fire Mountain).
We trekked up this sacred hill and hit base by afternoon. After having a decent meal from a nearby restaurant, we took a nap.
By around 5.30 in the evening we got up, took turns under the shower and visited the famed Arunachaleswara temple.
The 11-tiered East Rajagopura rises to a height of 217 feet, while the fortified walls with 4 entrances offer a formidable look to this vast temple complex. The Pei Gopura, Tirumanjana Gopura and Ammanaiammal gopura are the other three. The 1000-pillared hall and the temple tank were built by Krishna Deva Rayarar of Vijayanagara. Each of the entrances of the temple has a huge Nandi (the sacred bull of Siva) and several towers such as the Vallala Maharaja Gopura and Kili Gopura.
Just sit inside the huge temple precincts near the huge pond with your eyes closed and let the sanctity of the place seep in… Ah! That was such an unparalleled and elevating experience of my spirit!
We got out of the temple to find out that both our sandals had been stolen. Both of us got very frustrated at this and called, who ever who did that, names never heard before. We then straight away went to a footwear shop in the town and brought a pair of brand new sandals each. But we had the laugh of our life time when we visited the temple the next day morning. We saw this person sitting at the entrance and he had sandals of people who had gone in lying around him. He kept the sandals for us for some tips in money and that, it seems, was his job. So we placed our sandals in his custody, least we wanted it to be stolen a second time. And while coming out I struck a conversation with this man and told him how our sandals got stolen the previous day. He just looked at me, opened a tin chest near him, took out our sandals and asked whether we could recognize them? Now, this was something freaky funny. It seems that he watched over our sandals for us the previous day without our asking him to do that and when he couldn't find us coming out for a long time, he just kept them away safely in his chest. Tiruvannamali is truly a divine land!
Nearest airport - Bangalore (220 kms), Chennai (170 kms)
Nearest railwaystation - There are trains to Tiruvannamalai from Chennai.
Bus services - Tiruvannamalai is well connected to both Chennai and Bangalore with regular bus services from both these cities.
Accommodation - You can find very cheap to economy lodges around the temple.
For more details, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiruvannaamalai