Chapter Two: Pilgrimage to Sacred Mountain
Chapter two: pilgrim to a sacred mountain We left Ft Cochin on New Years Day. Little traffic (unheard of) and we flew from Cochi to Chennai. One hour flight? The driver from our Eco resort, Sparsa was late. One hour. Two hours. Two plus hours later he arrived and we began the long 5 hour journey to Tiruvannamalai, home of the Arunachala mountain. The landscape was breath taking. Tired and overwhelmed, we arrived at our resort and commended ourselves for picking such a nice place (recommended by friend). Of course we ate and had HOT showers (nicest bathrooms yet!) and figured we would reach out to our local friend in the morning.
Ramesh came and picked us up with a rick shaw. Our driver was Gandhi and we went straight away to the Ramana ashram to prayer and sit. Shrines everywhere and a deep reverence for this man, Ramana Maharshi. There many many devotes and I followed Ramesh and Vidya as they walked around the first shrine three times and the big one, nine times. We sat. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, Vidya and Ramesh were nowhere to be seen. I followed my own footsteps which led me behind the ashram up rocky stairs, along a path towards what I would later learn would lead to Ramana's cave (another day). I loved walking barefoot on the rocky path; the sun was beating down on me and sweat dripped down my back. I only went a little ways before I turned back, knowing Vidya and Ramesh were looking for me.
After this, we had an errand to deliver a package to a local woman from Vidya' s friend in AZ, name escapes me... We are invited into a shared dwelling: the sister lives downstairs with two children who were engrossed in a television but soon became entranced by us...there was a lot of giggling and upward eyes form the little girl. Then we are led upstairs to pass on the care package. A gentle but stern German woman commanded we drink water and Vidya and I have one of those moments: lottery ticket?!...Let me explain. When you buy a lottery ticket, there is a small chance you will win. Similar to eating food or drinking drink offered along the way. We don't want to win but if you play...you might get sick. So we bought a lottery ticket on the offered water (and both of us lost, meaning we did not get sick).
Now rest, Ramesh told us. He will send Gandhi for us at 5 and then we will go to the big temple in town. We rest and Ghandi picks us up and we drive into the city center. ghandi is a true genius navigating the traffic in his rickshaw and we gasped and swuealed at every turn. When we arrive close to the temple, Ramesh tells us to take our shoes off and leave them with Ghandi. Barefoot in India?! What would my mother say :) The building structure is luminous and grand: four rising temple peaks and an enormous center... We go in. Very few westerns around in the area but some are wandering the periphery . Then we go in deeper. To the heart of the temple. Music, chanting, incense, dripping wax, flowers, so many pilgrims in saffron and yellow praying and bowing to their gods, Shiva and Vishnu to name two....there are an infinite amount of gods. Arunachala is the mountain that is their God lord Shiva. Thousands of pilgrims come to pray here. We are in the heart of it. We are blessed and ash is spread upon our foreheads. We smile and share head nods with the pilgrims. We feel lucky to be included in this intimate religious and spiritual ceremony.
Next day, we go to the ashram to pray and sit, shop a bit in the book store and then head back to Sparsa for massages and relaxation at the resort. Then we are picked up to go walk around the mountain. It is the night before the full moon and there are many pilgrims on the streets but Ramesh says the next day it will be impossible to walk. He says, one will just be carried by the masses. It is quiet and alluring. We are respectful but curious. Children try to sell us flowers and water. It is two hours and we only go half way around. Then for chai. Vidya has that wild look in her eyes. Like the mountain is speaking to her or the sadhus, who we have been passing in the night, are calling her. Neither of us sleep well that night.
The next day is our last. We wake up early and go to the ashram to walk up the rocky path I had discovered two days before. I barefoot. Ramesh and Vidya with shoes. We will pause and rest when Ramesh deemed reasonable. Half way up, we sat on a large rock formation with an incredible view of Thiruvanamalai below. I took out a snack and 2 minutes later, a monkey joined us. He crawled right into my lap and opened my bag. The wrapper he believed to be interesting is not. Then he repproached and grabbed my water bottle. This I was not willing to give up. He open his mouth and showed his teeth but in the midst of my fear, I managed to claim the bottle and scurry off the rock. We made our way up to the small abode that Sri Ramana had lived in and practiced for years. Fully occupied with visitors spilling out the edge of the front door, both Vidya and I sat on the concrete, covered porch. A deep chanting and tone came from within and it was easy to close my eyes and feel deeply moved and connected. This was not my guru or teacher but his lineage and the land held a universe principle of silence and a dedication to self discovery. After, we went to the cave he lived in for years.... And the cool walls, and low ceilings invited a deeper quiet and we sat. After many minutes, it was time to descend the moment, visit Ramesh's proud and humble dwelling, get back to the Eco resort and check out.
We knew traffic would be difficult as that night was the full moon and the pilgrims were walking around the mountain. We piled into the car with two men and we giggled in delight at two opportunities where the police denied us access to the main road, and the driver skirted around and through a field, only to be lectured and caught by the same police on the other side. Both men got out of the car, leaving Vidya and I sitting in the middle of traffic and hundreds of people in a car without air condition and no sight of our guys. How they convinced the law to abide to their wishes, we will never know. But through the town we went, smiling and waving as we weaved through atrocious traffic...making our way back to Chennai for our next flight Back Up North, the final chapter of Vidya and t'ai.