All, Travel

Palani Trip

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.

Palani Adivaram ( Palani Temple could be seen on top ).

Palani Adivaram ( Palani Temple could be seen on top ).

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.

Devaswom room details

Devaswom room details board. ( Click to read )

Dandayuthapani Nilayam Room Booking

Dandayuthapani nilayam for room booking.

 

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.

palani elephant path

palani elephant path

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.

water filter

Plenty of water filters throughout the temple and stairs.

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.

Enough resting places are provided for the pilgrims.

Enough resting places are provided for the pilgrims.

 

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.

Queue for shappadu ( Lunch)

Queue for shappadu ( Lunch)

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.

A pipe hole in the wall we saw during our food queue which revealed astounding scenery of mountain range.

A pipe hole in the wall we saw during our food queue which revealed astounding scenery of mountain range.

Panchamrutham board

Panchamrutham board

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 ( Click to Enlarge ).

Birds-Eye View of Palani Town ( Click to Enlarge ).

Palani Money 1

Palani Monkey

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.

Rope car station palani

Rope car station palani

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.

Palani town

Palani town

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. )

Monkey posing for my photo.

Monkey posing for my photo.

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All, Travel

Sri Ramana Ashram and Kanchipuram

Trip to Sri Ramana Ashram ( Ramanashramam )

Recently we (me & my father), went to a pilgrimage to “Thiruvannamalai Ramanasramam” hoping to cover “Kanchipuram” after the 3 days stay in the ashram. We travelled through train. As we were on the waiting list No 2 & 3, sleeper was not allotted to us. Getting rejected after pleading to a hot-headed T.T.R, we had to flatten our suitcase opposite the wash basin near the train door and sit on it for an entire night. It was not as bad as I thought and we survived the night.

This might be helpful to anyone who is interested in visiting Thiruvannamalai Ramanasramam and Kanchipuram. I am not including the history or its significance as it is readily available in Wikipedia.

Route

The Ramanashram route we took was Palakkad -> Kalpady Jn or ( Arakkonam ) -> Thiruvannamalai -> Sri Ramanashram. 

You have to reach Tiruvannamalai. If you are arriving through train, reaching Kalpady or Arakkonam, and getting connection train to Tiruvannamalai is a good idea.  But it depends on where you are coming from. You can use “Indiarailinfo.com ”  or “Redbus.in” for planning your journey.

We took, Palakkad -> Kalapady Jn -> Train No – 16042 / Alappuzha Chennai (Alleppey) Express. Image of train route to PGT - KPD

Kalpady Jn -> Tiruvannamalai -> Train No – 56881 / Katpadi-Villupuram Passenger.

Image of train route to KPD - TNM

Thiruvannamalai -> Ramanashram -> Local Bus ( 10-15 Min ) | 3.5 Km.

map from TNM to Ramanashramam - https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir/Tiruvannamalai+Railway+Station,+Railway+Station+Rd,+Mathalangulam,+Tiruvannamalai,+Tamil+Nadu+606601/Sri+Ramanasramam,+Chengam+Road,+National+Highway+66,+Thamarai+Nagar,+Tiruvannamalai,+Tamil+Nadu+606603/@12.2304977,79.0665672,15z/data=!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x3bacc0924428deeb:0x24e118df1b0a28e9!2m2!1d79.077742!2d12.238274!1m5!1m1!1s0x3bacc0797b9aa92d:0xf93adc4c5b61f370!2m2!1d79.056384!2d12.224006

We reached Tiruvannamalai Station (TNM) on 07:15 am. TNM is a very small station with around 2 platforms. There is a main bus-stand near the station. Walkable distance. Bus to Ramanashram is available from there. We should ask for bus going to “Chengam“. At least some regular people there don’t know about the ashram. Bus Conductors will recognize if you ask for  “Ramanashramam”. Most of the daily travellers didn’t knew about the ashram which is just 4 Km away. As it is Tamilnadu, people are loud, friendly and casual. Not many people knew about the route to ashram, and gave contradictory recommendations to us. So, We had to roam around there for a bit.

In Tiruvannamalai the local working class daily food is called “Koozhu” ( a type of porridge), which is served with spiced vegetables, fries and pickles. We could see hand carriages serving this everywhere. There is also famous “Idly-Vadai”, which is a Tamilnadu special. Idly is cooked from roadside, sitting on the floor. Stoves are assembled on the road side, with red-bricks. Usually entire family,  with mother and children do the business. Mother / Sister cooks while son / husband serve the food. The cost of idly is mind-bogglingly low. We ate 3 Idly and 2 small vadai from road side for 15 Rs each. May be it was because we were starving, sambar and coconut chutney served along with it was really delicious. Then we took a bus to Sri Ramanashram.

Tip – Easy way to reach ramanashram from TNM is by AutoRikshaw. But by local information, autowallas are cut throat, especially from bus stand or from railway station. For tourists they charge 150+ Rs for a 3.5 km ride. Bus charge is less than 10 Rs. Bus charges are variable by bus types. Green coloured buses are government buses.

Biggest problem in Tamilnadu is that everything is in Tamil language. From bus plates to flux boards, even shop signs are all in Tamil. It’s because most local people don’t know any other language than Tamil. It would be hard to communicate for non-tamil speakers. Another problem is beggars. There are baggers everywhere. The ones who are not beggars also stretch their hands, if they knew you were a tourist. If you stayed in a temple junction for more than a few minutes, you will encounter a begger zerg rush. Avoiding them is a challenge. Also, mind your wallets and shoes. I lost my sandals from Tiruvannamalai temple, and had to buy a new one.

Sri Ramana Ashram ( Ramanashramam )

Around 8:30 AM, we reached “Sri Ramanashram”. My Ramanashramam experience was really wonderful. It’s a peaceful ashram, neat and clean. Ashram was not particularly crowded at that time. Temperature was around 37ºC.  April is not the most popular season for visiting the ashram. People prefer December, as the climate is good for climbing the Arunachala hill, as well as they can see the peacock dance. Ashram has a few dozens of peacocks & few more dozens of monkeys and dogs. Peacocks screams freely and sometimes walk past you. While monkeys might sit near you. I was sitting on a veranda and shortly a monkey family came and sat near me. Animals were peaceful. Kids were having a good time. Ashram authorities were pleasant.

Accommodation Map of Achalam Residence near Ramanashramam.

As soon as we got inside, we went to ashram office and showed the printout of the email they sent us, confirming the stay for the allotted days. Shortly, we were allotted in rooms at “Achalam”, a residence owned by Ramanashram outside the ashram. It is in walking distance from the ashram. They gave a map to achalam as well as room keys and schedule leaflet. Room was comfortable, equipped with hot water. Cool drinking water filter was there. We thought we could stay in the main ashram itself, but only sanyasis are allotted in the ashram rooms.

Ashram Schedule

Leaflet of Daily Routine Sri Ramanashramam Schedule.

Food

As per the schedule, breakfast, lunch, evening coffee/milk, & dinner are given to the ashram guests. Food is worth mentioning as it is different from the food available outside. Food taste resembles to traditional tambrahm food, you would know if you are familiar with it. As per Ramana Maharishi’s teachings, nutritious food is served. What we had –

  • Breakfast – Pongal, Idly – SambarRamanashramam Food
  • Lunch – White Rice, Ghee, Sambar, Rasam, Butter Milk (Moru), A Vegetable Upperi, Achar, crunchies (pappadam etc), Curd Rice (as prasadam), Sometimes Payasam (maybe on sunday).
  • Evening Coffee / Milk – A steel tumbler full of Coffee / Milk ( Worth 2 1/2 normal cup ). Milk might be from the ashram cows, as it tasted like pure milk.
  • Dinner – vegetable Rice, Rice meal, Curd Rice, A Fruit is always provided during dinner. We got Rose apple ( Chambanga), Water Melon, Banana.

Food is served in strict schedule in food hall. Queue starts 5-10 minutes before the schedule. A bell rings on time. Every ashram guests on the queue gets food, but queue is processed only once, and the door is closed behind. People who are not punctual wont get food. Lunch is served in banana Leaf, Breakfast and Dinner are served on plates made of jack fruit tree leaves. Long term residents have there own steel plates. I loved the food there. It resembled me of my home food. Water is good. There are also stores nearby, selling packaged mineral water. Outside ashram there are plenty of street vendors selling koozhu, butter milk & achar. Also sugarcane juice and coconut water sellers. There are some hotels also.

Places inside the Ashram

Ramanashramam Layout

What I noticed….

  • Temple of Lord Shiva & co.
  • Large meditation & pooja hall. [Main]
  • Separate silent meditation hall with Ramanamaharishi’s couch.
  • Kitchen & food quarters.
  • Other sanyasi’s samadhi place.
  • Nirvana Room of Ramana Maharishi.
  • Dispensary.
  • Pets of Ramana maharishi samadhi. [dog, crow etc…]
  • Skandasramam and Virupaksha Cave Hill Climbing entrance.
  • Library [ full-fledged library, all types of books from comics, magazines, novels, devotional books etc… , They allow you to take books to your room if you are ashram guest.]
  • Ashram Rooms.
  • Bio gas plant & Cow shed.
  • Place to play volleyball. [ Saw some people playing ]
  • A well full of monkeys. [ A well is provided for monkeys to bath and swim.]
  • A footwear guarding room, governed by two rude keepers.
  • Ganpathy hall [beneath the library.]
  • Book Store. [Ramana Maharishi books in all languages.]

Hill Climbing

Skandasramam & Virupaksha Cave

Skandashramam is where Ramana Maharishi stayed before ashram was built [ details ]. There is an entrance on the rear side of the ashram which is the entrance to the hill. Hill climbing starts there. It leads to Virupaksha cave and Skandashram. Virupaksha Cave was at least discovered before 1300 AD. Ramana Maharishi lived and meditated in the cave for 16 years, from 1899 to 1916. The uphill trekking is tedious. Its 1.4 Km Uphill. Only recommended for healthy people.

Tip: Take your footwear with you while climbing the hill. We climbed bare footed and suffered. Also carry water with you. On hot season, climb early in the morning. 7:30 Am is a good time. It’s a dry hill, and trust me, you don’t want to be there at the peak of noon in summer. Ignore the guides who offer help for money.

When I did a trial climb, a guard appointed by the reforestation society was sitting there, when I just enquired about the climb, he started acting like my guide. He gave me information and took me to a small settlement where he have placed a Ramana maharishi’s picture. He lighted the lamp, gave me prasads and he told me that, he needed some money to buy oil for lighting lamp for Ramana maharishi. I clearly knew the money I gave him went for lighting his cigarettes.

The mountain journey was scenic and worth every effort. Climbing the hill might be a bit tedious for the aged. Its a dry forest hill. We just saw some monkeys and a snake. Path is pretty straight forward. From one place, you could clearly see Tiruvannamalai Temple from the hills, in birds-eye view. There are water / buttermilk sellers and stone craftsmen selling stone souvenir, crafting on stones on the side path. Buttermilk is mediocre, big bottle costs 30 Rs, small one costs 25 Rs. First you reach Virupaksha Cave then there is a path from there to Skandashramam. There are alternate paths also.

Thiruannamalai Temple from Arunachala Hill

Tiruvannamalai Temple from Arunachala Hill

Girivalayam

Walking around the Arunachala Hill is called “Giri Pradakshina” or “Girivalayam”. People used to do Girivalayam through mountain inner path, but as of 2012 the passage is blocked by the forest department due to increasing forest fire. People who are interested can get permission from forest department and take the inner path for Giri Pradakshinam. Currently people walk through the outer path which is 14km tar road. Some people even use auto rickshaw to circle the mountain. One evening we walked around through the outerpath for a bit. There are lot of temples nearby. Sugarcane juice and jack fruit pieces sellers, tea and bhajji stalls are around. Soon after realizing walking is pointless, we retreated back to the ashram.

Excerpt from sriramanamaharshi.org –

Pradakshina means the act of walking around any holy place in a clockwise direction, with one’s right side facing the object of adoration. ‘Giri’ means hill; so giri pradakshina refers to walking around the Arunachala Hill. Devaraja Mudaliar states in My recollections of Bhagavan:

Such, however, was my indolence and also perhaps to some extent my supercilious sense of superior wisdom which counts mental worship enough without such physical austerities as walking about eight miles barefoot, that even after coming to live in the Asrham as a permanent inmate, I did not go round the hill as most others did. Nevertheless, from all I had seen and heard, I felt there must be something really significant in this Pradakshina. So I often plied Bhagavan with questions as to whether it is important to take this trouble. …The following is the gist of what I was told as the result of my conversation with Bhagavan on this subject.

”For everybody it is good to make circuit of the hill. It does not even matter whether one has faith in this Pradakshina or not, just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe it will or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go round it.” Once he said to me : “Why are you so concerned with all these questions about the efficacy of going round the hill? Whatever else you may or may not get, you will at least have the benefit of the physical exercise.”

Bhagavan thought this at least would be clear to my dull intellect. On another occasion he said to me : “Go round the hill once. You will see that it will attract you. I had also seen that whoever came and told Bhagavan he was starting on Pradakshina, however old or infirm he might be, Bhagavan never even in a single case discouraged the idea, but at the most remarked : “You can go slowly”.

I am now as confirmed a believer in Giri Pradakashina as any other devotee of Bhagavan, though I regulate the frequency of my circumambulations with due regard to my age, health and strength and the strain to which they can reasonably be put.

Ashram Experience

ramana-and-monkey

Sri Ramanamaharishi giving food to an ashram monkey.

Ashram experience was wonderful. There were a lot of foreigners from Germany at time of my visit. By standing on the ashram premises we can see foreigners, who were spiritual tourists and non dualists, wearing saffron robes, rudraksh and vibhuti going in cycles and bikes. Ashram is scenic and peaceful. For best experience, I would recommend a time when it is less crowded. At times of celebrations and festivals, I heard that ashram is pretty crowded. One guy told me 10 Lakh people came there at one occasion. I found it hard to believe, yet there is a mountain range nearby which could accommodate that many people. He might have refered to a festival called “Arunachala Deepam” in Thiruvannamalai Temple. When we went their,there might be less than 500 people in the ashram. At times even less than 50. The ashram authorities and volunteers are doing a nice job. I recommend sri ramanashram for spiritual people, who like to be in a serene environment, meditate and understand more about Advaita (Non dualism) and learn more about Shri Ramana Maharishi. You can request accommodations by emailing stay@sriramanamaharshi.org and also apply online.

Maximum of 3 days are allotted as per the reservations.

For more details goto -> http://www.sriramanamaharshi.org [ Official Website ]

Wonderful blog about ramanashram with lots of pictures – http://richardarunachala.wordpress.com/

Quotes by Sri Ramana Maharishi

happiness-is-your-nature-ramana-maharshiyou-have-to-ask-yourself-the-question-who-ramana-maharshiyour-duty-is-to-be-ramana-maharshi

Part 2 – Thiruvannamalai Temple and Kanchipuram Visit

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