It was on an early summer morning of March that we set off to our Palani trip. It was a pilgrimage to Palani Dhandayuthapani temple. Temple was constructed by Cheraman Perumal – A king of the Chera dynasty on 700 AD but as per legends, it dates up to 3000 BC. It was a working day and the train was almost empty. Some foreigners were there with us on the train along with their guide. We got down in Palani railway station at 7:30 am sharp. Horse carts and auto-rickshaws were available from railway station to go to Adivaram, which is 2 kilometres from Palani station. Adivaram is a tourist hub just below the Palani hills. Auto-rickshaw drivers charge ₹ 80/- from station to Adivaram, but as it was not crowded that day one auto-rickshaw driver gave us a ₹ 50/- deal, which we took. When we enquired, he said horse carts were cheaper but they will make the passengers buy pooja items, which was their side business.
Adivaram is a tourist hub, full of hotels, restaurants, pay bathrooms, clock rooms, pooja items and souvenirs shops. Like all pilgrimage spots in Tamilnadu, the moment we entered Adivaram, hawkers and shopkeepers ran towards us to hard sell their items.
Tip: There are plenty of paid clock room throughout Palani ( To keep footwear, bags secure ). People will obsessively fluster you to invest your foot-ware in their shop for a small fee. However, it is advised to use the clock room or hotel nearby the temple. Otherwise, you will burn your foot walking bare footed in the scorching heat till the temple entrance. There is also free footwear storing facility provided by the devaswom before reaching the stairs.
We had our breakfast from “Balaji Bhavan”. The food was pricey and quality was average. Our coconut chutney was watery and without any salt. Masala roast cost ₹ 56/- Ghee roast ₹ 51/- Coffee ₹ 21/- per cup. In our place, we could get better food for less than half this amount. Price board was conveniently missing. I would recommend you to search for some restaurant farther away from the main tourist spot for a better experience.
Ours was a one day trip so we didn’t bother to reserve a room. But soon we realised that it was a mistake. By then I had bravely decided to shave my head, which is popular offering ritual in Palani. So I needed a place to bath after my haircut. We also needed a place to rest and secure our bags and foot wares.
There were plenty of rooms available in Palani. We just needed a simple room for our purpose so we opted for a government devaswom lodge. Room rent was only ₹ 300/- per day for a non-AC room. After waiting for a while we got our room at “Karthikeyan Illam complex”. Our room was livable and it also had a Hot water pipe. You get a place enclosed with four walls for ₹300/- don’t expect anything more than that. We were not spending that night in Palani so it was enough for us. AC rooms cost 1000 Rs.
Tip: You can book devaswom lodge and darshan online from official Palani TNHRCE website http://www.palanimurugantemple.tnhrce.in/e_booking.html.
Next, I had to get my head shaved. The main business in Palani is hair-shaving. Pilgrims came from distant places to get bald. As per prophecy, if you shave your hair in Palani, along with your hair you will lose your bad karma. I thought I should have grown more hair. Just opposite to my lodge complex, there was a small place where devaswom hair shavers were sitting on the floor. When I saw a board which said 10 Rs for Shaving your head, I was surprised. But later I realised that ₹ 10/- was just for the coupon. You get a razor blade and a receipt for that amount. We had to pay ₹ 80/- minimum to the hair shaver as his wages. Extra for hair sweeper lady too. There was this guy who came before me with his dozen children, made all of them shave their head, thinking it was cheap for just ₹ 10/-. Later he got into a brawl with the hair shaver who asked for a lump-some money. Getting head shaved completely will take around 1 Minute. My hair-shaver had a loadable razor cut throat knife, he slitted the blade into two then loaded it in his weapon. Then from his hand, he took a handful of water and slapped into my head. For few seconds, I felt like he was scraping my head with a feather. “That’s it”, he said in the next moment. I was completely bald, and the process was simple and painless. There was a long queue behind me. For one minute he charged ₹ 80/-. On festive days, he might get more than 100 victims. His business cost, ZERO. I thought I should be getting this lucrative job.
We were late for Ucha Kala pooja which was scheduled at 12:30 PM. We had booked our pooja tickets online. We were running hither and thither to find a way to reach the hill. First, We opted for the rope car. We get to know that the rope car station was around 1 Km away from our spot. Our next option was the winch station (hill train) which was considerably slower than rope car and had a long queue. Seeing us stranded and confused, one silver plate salesman told us not to bother with this as we had to reach within 45 minutes. He advised us to climb the temple on foot. We had to climb the hill, find the devaswom office, show our receipts for ucha pooja, find the entrance, fight the crowd, reach the main hall and secure a good spot for darshan all within 45 minutes. It seemed impossible.
Tip : If you want good darshan, book online tickets for pooja. It costs minimum ₹ 177/- per person. It grants you access for Pooja. GET THERE EARLY. Otherwise, brace yourself to get squeezed by the crowd. Free entry will cost you a lot of time in the queue.
The steps diverge into two. One is called the human trail, other is the elephant trail. The advantage of elephant trail is that it has fewer steps but it is steeper than the normal path. I felt that elephant trail was better suited for climbing. Both covers the same distance. The view while climbing the steps was breathtaking. We saw Palani town in birds eye view. There were some temples and plenty of water filters on each level. As we were late, we did a trekking race and reached the top quickly.
Tip : There is no need of taking water while climbing on foot. There are plenty of drinking water pipes along the stairs and throughout the temple.
We showed the tickets in the devaswom counter and they directed us to enter the main temple through the exit. It was privilege access as we had the ticket for pooja. Ticket checker verified our ticket and provided access. But by then it got crowded inside the main hall. Early birds were sitting comfortably in front. There was push and pull and whining and squirming by the devotees. Each pushed and pulled other to get a glimpse of their God. We joined them too. Somehow we got to see the Ucha kala poojai. Poojari gave us vibhoothy ( sacred Ash ) and Sweet thirtham ( Milk water). He then paraded with pooja flowers and allowed devotees to touch the container. Eventually, those flowers would be remitted to Palani andavan. The whole event took around 20 Minutes, and the pooja was over.
We were rambling around the temple thinking of lunch and then we saw a long queue. Someone told us that it was the queue for free lunch (prasadam). We stood on the line. There were different chambers and open cabins with chairs. Devotees have to pass through each level in the queue to reach the dining hall. Because of some mishaps in the serving process, we were served last. As a result, we had to gulp our food quickly before the next item came to the table. There was raw banana upperi, beetroot thoran, papad, sambar rice, rasam rice, vella payasam and moru rice. The food was good. Particularly, the rice was of premium quality.
After lunch, we continued our strolling around the temple while the summer heat of Palani fried us alive. In no time, I was running around on my bare foot and bald head. There were shelters on the left side and on the right side were panchamrutham shops and other pooja items shops. Panchamrutham is the famous prasadam of Palani. Panchamrutham is prepared using dates, honey, jaggery, banana & cardamom. It is delicious. We bought 2 bottles. Panchamrutham comes in ₹ 35/- per bottle and ₹ 40/- per can. After returning home, I repented not buying more of it. If nothing, it could be used as jam.
Tip : I recommend buying bottles of Panchamrutham. It is well prepared and worth the money. Buy it from the devaswom stalls inside the temple. There are also other alleged prasadams sold like laddoos appams etc. These are private enterprises. Still, we bought laddoo from there. 1 large Ladoo costs ₹ 20/-, but considering the quality it was good.
Birds eye view of Palani town could be seen from the temple complex. The view was spectacular. The buildings seemed like small cubes arranged by an autistic kid. Like most towns in India, it was evident that Palani was also an organically formed township. At noon, with the sun gleaming over the top, buildings shone with their colour and contrast. It was a beautiful sight. Along the temple walls and trees, monkeys lived with their families, sometimes taking a stroll with the pilgrims and occasionally sipping water from the drinking water tanks.
It was around 4 PM when we decided to climb down the hill. We decided to take winch or rope car to get down. Winch station was weirdly placed on the slope of the hill. We were walking 70 degrees erect to the ticket counter. Ticket cutter told us it will take at least 1 hour and 30 minutes for the winch to get back. So we went to try our luck with the rope car. Rope car was placed nearby the winch station. There was a long queue for getting into rope car. Tickets cost ₹ 15/- or ₹ 50/-. I sincerely don’t know the difference between the two. Someone said that ₹ 50/- Rs people get preferential treatment. But I could’nt see any difference. Both queues were getting processed in similar way. It took about an hour to process the queue and finally we got down. It took 5 minutes in rope car to reach the ground.
Tip : It is evident that the best way to get in and out of the hill is through stairs, i.e if you have good health.
Rope car dropped us around 1 Km from our room. Horse carts and auto-rickshaws were available, we chose to walk on foot to tour Palani town. Like many Tamilnadu town, there were lots of “koozhu” store with spicy pickle and crunchies on the cart along the streets. We bought spicy raw mango for Rs.10/-. Streets were neat and clean. Shops catering to all classes populated the street sides. We reached our room. Packed the bags. Vacated the room.
The hotel guy took ₹ 400/- from us earlier and had told us that he will refund ₹ 100/- when we vacate the room. When we delivered our key he just gave us a wide smile. We had to remind him to give us back our ₹ 100/-. In tourist places like Palani we need to be vigilant.
Our train was at 7:30 pm. We rushed to Palani railway station and decided to have our dinner from a restaurant nearby the railway station. We couldn’t find any good restaurant nearby the railway station. Palani railway station is pretty small with only 2 platforms. We had hot chilly bajji and raw banana bajji along with tea from the railway station canteen and pretended that we had our dinner. Bajji = ₹ 5/-, Tea = ₹ 7/-. Our return journey was comfortable.
Our Palani trip was a good experience. We got good darshan and attended pooja with little trouble. Finally, I was brave enough to shave my head clean. It was on my bucket list for a while. I will very much recommend everyone, a Palani trip.
( This Journey was on 29 / 03 / 2016. )