North side of Arunachala – Under the loving gaze of The Elephant: By Richard Clarke

We are starting to explore the North side of the holy hill. One thing we look for is an ‘Inner Inner Path’ that is closer to the base of Arunachala. On all sides of Arunachala there are many paths, foot trails and animal paths. We have been gradually exploring the mountain, using what we can find from these paths.

Earlier this week we took the

and started exploring the area between what we call ‘the Basin’ and the hill. We found a bit of what could be the ‘Inner Inner Path,’ and started round the mountain. Soon we found a big rock formation that climbed up the base of the hill. We went up this rock and found a wonderful view of the area North of Arunachala and Adi Anamalai. When we left, my new pruning clippers remained behind, on the rock where I placed them when I sat down to rest.

Today we went back to see if the clippers were still there – and with our camera. Here are some photos we took ‘Under the loving gaze of The Elephant. The Elephant is the move visible structure on the North side of Arunachala.

The Elephant from the Inner Path, North of the Hill, ‘Parvati.’

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My wife, Carol, is walking ahead, with The Elephant on the mountain in the background. You can see the head and trunk on the hill.

The Frog Pond

At the end of Parvati there is a small tank we call ‘The Frog Pond.’ There is usually water and frogs in it. I dried out towards the end of May. Since then rains have filled it again, but I don’t see the frogs yet.

Approaching the Frog Pond, you may notice a small palm. I use this as a land mark, since I can see it from up the trail before we arrive at the Frog Pond.

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The Frog Pond is a place where often people walking the Inner Path will sit a rest a bit. Notice stone steps on the other side of the photo below. There are a couple of sets of steps. We usually sit on the steps at the South end of the pond. There is shade there in the mornings when we pass by.

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We will sit a bit, drink some water, and maybe read a few verses from ‘The Song of Ribhu’ before proceeding on our walk.

To and across the Basin

Today we would head to ‘the Basin’ and cross it to find the same set of paths we used earlier in the week. We are heading out from the Frog Pond. If you look closely you can see an earthen berm, with trees growing from it. This is what collects water in the basin.

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Looking across the Basin:

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Sometimes this is filled with water. In this dry season there is just a small pond, to the left of this photo.

We are going to the trees on the right of the photo aboive. That is one place where the path was easy to find.

Below is the path, we took the second, higher path. There are many places to explore here. There are several big rocks that push through the trees. These interest me. I know that there will be great places to meditate at some of them.

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Today we walked through the woods …

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And started to see the rock structure on the mountain. IN the photo below you can see a grey path of rock in the center of the photo. This is the rock.

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Up a rock on the North side of the hill

At the base of the rock. the rock is maybe 10 – 20 meters high, certainly high enough to get a grand view of the surrounding area.

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And at the top of the rock, there were my pruning clippers, still there two days later.

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The view from the rock on the North side of Arunachala

Back towards Parvati Hill

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towards the Frog Pond and the North side of Parvati

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Adi Anamalai (enlarged to see the detail)

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Up Arunachala. More places to explore some other day

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Looking North. Note Adi Anamalai to the left in the photo.

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Postscript

Today we did not explore more. We just headed back to the Inner Path to finish the mornings walk.

After the path section I call ‘The Elephant’ is another section where maybe 20 years ago many trees were planted in rows on both sides of the Inner Path. I call this section ‘The Trees.’ IN this section there is a picturesque area with big rocks. Here is a photo of Carol sitting here.

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Tired today . Further on the trail, near Panchamuka Shrine, Carol and I were very tired. Carol rested a bit before going on. Here she is in a yoga position, Savasana.

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A goat on a Rock

As we walked on the road down the hill from the Shrine, there was a goat again, sitting on a rock.

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From here we walked to the RamaKrishna Hotel and had breakfast of dosas and vadas, and Indian Milk Coffee. Then we called Rajan, our auto-rickshaw driver for a ride the rest of the way around the hill, and back home.

Working on a path across Arunachala: By Richard Clarke

We usually start walking along the southwest side of Arunachala where we live. Looking at the mountain, we thought that a shortcut across a low pass might be possible. We first walked to the area, and found part of a path up the pass. We forced our way up to the top that day, but did so by pushing our way through brush and bushes, many of which were various thorn bushes. Recently we had some garden pruning shears sent to us from the USA, and so we spent a few days trying to make this path more walkable.

After the work was done, we can now walk more easily to the top of the pass and on to the other side of the Hill. Much of the ‘path’ up a is a dry creek bed, so water cascades down the path when it rains. For anyone might be interested in trying our path, here is a warning: Parts of it could be difficult if your legs, knees and ankles are not in good condition.

Orientation to the path

Here is an Arunachala map where I have shown in red some of what we see.

Arunachala with new trail and markers

Sri Ramanasramam is at the bottom of the map, the south side of Arunachala. The Inner Path is not shown on this map, just the Outer Path. Marked in red letters are the approximate locations of our house, Papaji’s Cave, and a couple of water tanks we regularly see. The approximate route of the path over the mountain is indicated by the vertical red line above letter B.

The main part of Arunachala is to the right of our path. The section of the mountain to the left of the red line is known as Parvati. Between Arunachala and Parvati, there is a small hill that joins them. You can see this from our roof, below. Our path is on the right side of the hill, the lowest of the two passes.

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Early morning start

This is May, the hottest month of the year. We start early. This day it about 6:30 and the sun is rising over Arunachala.

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Turn off Pradakshina Road to the path that leads to Reforestation Station

We walk across Bangalore Road to the Pradakshina Road. We turn off the Pradakshina Road toward the Inner Path across from a small temple where they sell wish bags that can be hung on the temple wishing tree. They want Rs 20 from Westerners.

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The sign shown below is one other landmark for this path.

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Up the path towards the mountain

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Past the Sadhu Tank

Sadhus sleep at this tank, and in the early morning they wash themselves and their clothes. Often you will see a saffron dhoti stretched out, drying in the sun.

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There are other places near here where you can see the sadhus meditating in the morning.

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To the Reforestation Station

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Turn right and walk towards the mountain

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Take the left branch of the path

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During part of this section, it is not always clear where the path is. Just keep going uphill, generally following the creek bed. For the most part, the path goes to the right of the creek, then up the creek bed where it gets steeper.

The path goes up the creek bed

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Much cutting to prune back many thorn bushes

Carol and Richard get much work, clearing back brush, and especially thorns. Many different kind of thorn bushes, some quite nasty. It is also getting hotter. If your look closely you will see that my shirt is soaking wet by now.

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Richard cutting a path through thorn bushes

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There are many bloody spots from the thorns. They fight back.

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At the top of the pass

While at the level of the pass, one cannot really get much of a view.

Below we are looking at the side of Arunachala.

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Adi Anamalai seen from top of the pass

This photo shows the view of Adi Anamalai through the brush that surrounds the path leading down the other side of the hill. This path is much better than the one we came up. If you take it and bear left, it will take you to the ‘Frog Pond.’ I am not sure where you will go if you bear right. We will find this out another day.

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The View from the Ridgeline

We found another path going towards Parvati that took us higher where we could see in all directions. This was up the ridgeline.

Climbing up to the ridgeline towards Parvati, one can get a wondrous panoramic view of both sides of Arunachala.

Looking back towards Tiruvannamalai

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Looking to the Inner Path, as it progresses past ‘The Elephant’

The locals call a structure on Arunachala that is east of Adi Anamalai ‘The Elephant.’ The is a main structure on this side of the hill, and it does look like the head and trunk of an elephant.

Below is the best picture I have so far of the Elephant. Here you can just make out the structure to the left that is the end of the trunk of The Elephant. the rest of the head is obscured by clouds.

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Soon I want to explore around the big rocks that are at the bottom of this hill, pushing through the trees in this photo.

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Walking up to Skandashram: By Richard Clarke

Here in Tiruvannamalai for many Westerners the focus is on Sri Ramana Maharshi and Ramanasramam. Many of these go up Arunachala to the caves where Ramana lived and taught and gave darshan.

One of these caves is Skandashram. It is perhaps one mile from Ramanasramam, up a well cared-for path, up the side of the mountain.

Ramana lived at Skandashram from 1915 to 1922. This is where his mother joined him, and started preparing meals at the ashram, rather than having prepared food carried up, as had been the case since the earliest years. After the mahasamadhi of Mother, and her subsequent interment at the base of the hill, Ramana then took residence at her samadhi, the location of the present day Ramanasramam.

I show here photos from a recent walk up the hill to Skandashram. We started about 7:15 in the morning, before it was too hot. We left out the back gate of Ramanasramam.

Getting started

Going through Sri Ramanasramam

Carol walking through Ramanasramam to path to Skandashram One of the guides who accompany newcomers The gate from Ramanasramam

Starting up the hill

Starting on the path

A woman working with gathered material

Village woman collecting plants

Up the path we go

Starting to climb up the path

The path is ‘paved’ with stone, from Ramanasramam all the way to Skandashram, stones set into the dirt, forming a path about three feet wide. In steep areas there are steps. Someday these stones will be smooth, after 100,000’s of feet have passed over them. Each stone was carried to the path and set into the ground by unnamed workers.

On both sides of the path you will notice tree plantings, done as part of the Arunachala reforestation project that has been going on the the last few years. Ramanasramam has increased interest in Arunachala both around the world, and in India. It is this increased interest in Arunachala that has brought this project about.

Take the right fork. To the left is an entry into the inner pradakshina path.

The path forfs, Skandashram to the right

Up the hill

Carol is barefoot. Arunachala, the whole mountain, is considered to be a temple, and in India you take off your shoes in a temple. Many Westerners do not do this, but Carol goes barefoot on the walk to Skandashram. I do wear sandals. Carol gets more ‘punya,’ spiritual merit.

Carol walks barefoot up the path

And up the hill …

Climbing stairs here

Often there are people sitting and meditating here

To the  left, a place to sit and meditate

Up the path

Up the path

View along the way down to the city

View to the right of the path

Keep going up

The path keeps going up

A Sadhu is usually here – “Sivo Hum,” he may say

Sadhu's spot

There are stone carvers along the way

Stone carver

Up to the top of the path

Up to the top

The view from the top of the path

View from the top - Aranachaleswara Temple

And now to Skandashram. Skandashram is the in clump of trees in the center of the photo.

Final leg of the path

Here we are, but the gate is locked

Skandashram Skandashram gate

Path down to Virapakshu Cave. It is pretty steep.

Aranachaleswara Temple from Skandashram

Opening the gate, walking in. The attendant unlocks the gates.

Opening the gate Entering Skandashram grounds

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Skandashram

View from Skandashram

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Entering Skandashram

Entering Skandashram

The inner chamber, with the attendant getting ready for the morning chant. This chant is wonderful to listen to. The voice is resonant, and you can hear the love for the teaching in the voice. When we go up to Skandashram, we try to get there for this morning chant. We will sit in the outer chamber, and listen to the chant and meditate, and continue the meditation after the chant is finished.

Innter chamber

Looking out from the porch

Looking out

The Mother’s Quarters

Mother's room Altar in Mother's room

One last look around

Skandashram grounds

One last look at Skandashram

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Back down the path

Path back to Ramanasramam

The walk down the hill was harrowing. A tree with a bees nest had fallen, and the bees chased some people down the hill. I was one of these. A swarm of bees circled around my head, stinging the back of my head several times. I was able to brush then out of my ears and off my mouth and face without getting stung there. Finally, about halfway down the hill, they stopped following me.

This is why the photos end with the one above.

Impressions from Full Moon night pradakshina around Arunachala – April 19, 2008: By Richard Clarke

Saturday night was full moon night again, this time special due to the Tamil New Year. Carol and I had not done pradakshina around Arunachala on such nights and had planned to do so this night.

We have been preparing. This is a big effort for aging Westerner bodies. From our house, Brindavanam, it is between 9 and 10 miles to circuit Arunachala. For the last two weeks we had been doing ‘half pradakshinas’ (about 5 miles from our house along the inner path to the Ramakrishna hotel, where we would stop, get breakfast – vadas and dosa, and Indian milk coffee – then take an auto-rickshaw the rest of the way home. To get ready we have been walking about 25 miles a week on Arunachala, either around it or up and down to one or another of the caves and meditation spots.

It is April now, and the summer heat is starting. Saturday at our house it was 38 C (100 F). When we left about 6:15 PM it had not cooled off much.

We walked out to Bangalore Road, west of where the pradakshina roads turn round the holy hill. The road used for pradakshina is blocked off from traffic, and traffic is rerouted for this night. When we got to Bangalore Road we saw many busses parked along the road, and thousands of people streaming towards the pradakshina route. The foot traffic was light, we found out in a few minutes – only maybe 5 or 6 abreast taking only half the road.

We joined the pradakshina crowd about 2 miles into the route many take. It is common to start at Arunachaleswara Temple, in the center of Tiruvannamalai. We joined after the route has left Tiru and is starting around Arunachala to the West of town.

Since this was a big night there was a big crowd. We heard crowd estimates of 10 – 15 lakhs (1 to 1.5 million people) – this in a city of about 100,000. When we joined the route the road was packed, maybe 10 or 12 abreast and taking up all the (recently widened) road. To get a sizing of this number of people, in the US there is each year a ‘Super Bowl’ championship of American Football. This gets many 70,000. For European football (soccer in the US) the best teams, like Manchester United gets crowds of maybe 75,000. Lesser teams get maybe 20,000. So the crowd is like 15 or 20 Super Bowls or Manchester United matches.

Visitors commonly take busses here. When they arrive they start the walk. When they are finished, they may eat by the bus then get back on the bus and sleep on the drive back home.

We saw men, women, children, lovers, families, babies asleep being carried over the shoulder and being passed from Dad to Mom along the route. There were small groups of young women walking without parental supervision and human chains of young men, each holding the shoulders of the man in front, pushing their way through the crowd, chanting Siva chants. Many people walked holding hands or in some way staying connected to the people in their group.

People walking pradakshina

Though we were walking at night, the road was mostly well lit, lit up from all the roadside shops and temple that line the route. Most of the ‘shops’ were temporary, built from poles and erected just for the one day. They supplied everything you can imagine. This included drinking water, green coconuts (for drinking), fruit juice stands, soda stands, food stands, spiritual picture stands, toys, clothes, women’s bags, jewelry (mainly the bracelets that almost all Indian women always wear and color-coordinate with their sarees or salwar suits) food staples like rice and lentils, and many more. I even noticed a motorbike display, showing the latest models. Sometimes it had a bit of the feel of a Western trade show, with all the vendor booths showing off their wares. .

Occasionally there was no light and the crowd was illumined just by the moonlight. I liked this the best.

In the crush of the crowd the walking was not easy. One could not set up a stride and keep it up. People pushed their way past you, crossed the road in front of you, and there was a surprising number of bicycles, motorbikes, and even a few cars and vans going the other way. We were almost hit by an unlighted bike crossing the road against traffic in the dark. Often the most aggressive at pushing their way past us were women.

Though the purpose of the walk is spiritual, it seemed that many making the walk were not really doing so with this approach. We passed many temples. Some walkers were going in. Many were not. Some were chanting as they walked. Most were not. Some were paying attention to Arunachala as they walked. Most were not. Most were talking with the group they came with. Many were chatting on cell phones.

Small simple altar, after Adi Annamalai

Here is a photo of a small, simple temple altar to the side of the road after we passed Adi Annamalai. All the others had many people. This just sat a bit away from the road, lit but mainly unvisited. It looked homemade.

I could track our progress by the changing face of Arunachala as we walked. From our walks on the inner path, I now pretty well know were we are by the view presented by the holy hill. We start on the west side and see the view from our house, the mountain, and to the left side, the hill called Parvati. As we walk then we pass Parvati, then the ‘knob’ (whose name I do not know) that I associate with the Adi Annamalai Temple on the backside of the hill. Then we pass the forest to the right that marks the end of the inner path. This means that we are nearing the road back into Tiruvannamalai.

Finally we walk the three miles through town, passing Arunachaleswara, then Ramanasramam. We stopped at a restaurant, Usha’s just before we came to Ramanasramam, to sit and get a bite to eat. I am so tired by now I can barely take the steps, and much of this body hurts, the lower back, hips, legs and feet all hurt, some parts more than others. To keep going I have to think of near term objectives – it is just one block to Ramanasramam, I can make it one more block – like this I was able to make the last couple of miles.

Emerging from Usha’s, now it is about 11 PM. Though late at night, it still must be 90 or 95 F, still surprisingly hot. The crowd we are with is mainly a new group, just starting out. We thought the road was crowded before, but now there seems to be almost twice as many people. The road is packed from side to side with so many people that the pace has slowed to about half of what it was before. At one point, right before Bangalore split off from the pradakshina route, the crowd actually came to a standstill, too many people to even move.

Finally we could turn off the pradakshina road and continue walking without all the crowds the last half mile back to our house. I can make it to the light, I can make it to the corner, I can see our house, I can make it past the guest house, I can make it across the field, I can make it to our gate, I can make it to our house! In the house, we will fill the shower bucket and wash off all the sweat and grime from the night. My feet are just about as dirty as I have ever seen them. We got to bed around midnight.

I got up about 4:30 this morning and went up to the rooftop to be with Arunachala and meditate. In our usually quiet country location, there was still much noise from the road. I think a lot of this noise was horns of busses, trying to make their way out, to start back home. And in the dirt road in front of our house, there were, even at 5 AM, many rickshaws (which usually we do not see at all) which were, I guess, carrying walkers too tired to go further, back to their busses.

Papaji’s cave – half way to the top of Arunachala: By Richard Clarke

We explore Arunachala frequently. We walk from ‘yenga veedu’ (our house) to the mountain. I wanted to live on the SW side of the mountain because the forested area at the base of the hill interested me, as does this side of Arunachala.

The pictures here are from a walk we took this week from our house up to Papaji’s cave. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the side path off the inner pradakshina path, then another 30 minutes up the hill.

Nandi by road Carol on path Take path to left Carol on path, Arunachala in background

To get to the path from where we live, we walk out to Bangalore Road and then walk in towards Tiruvannamalai. Just before where the pradakshina road turns off of Bangalore Road there is a Nandi, shown above, pointing to Arunachala. On the other side of the road is where the path starts. Follow the trail to the left.

Everywhere here, Arunachala dominates the horizon. Carol, my wife, is shown above walking up the path with Arunachala in the background. Notice the trees by the path here. They were planted long ago, I guess as shelter for this access path. This path is marked with ‘trail markers’ for the pradakshina path (A white ‘cup’ holding a red ‘flame’).

Here is inner path, turn right Walking inner path

Look for the OM Or the Om Amma and Arrow Up the path to the mountain

When we get to the inner path, we turn right and go against the usual clockwise pradakshina direction for a few hundred feet until we see the Om marker on a rock. We then turn left towards the mountain. Where this path starts there is another Om Amma mark with an arrow.

Om Amma is a local woman, quite old now, who lived in a cave on the hill close to the cave where Papaji stayed for some time. She is said to have a natural Om symbol on her forehead. People would climb up this path in order to get to her for her darshan. Now some people have moved her down the hill to a location near AHAM’s ashram. She is still available at least once a week at her “new place.” It is said that she does not respond in any normal kind of way, and often does not take any notice of other people. Locals feel that she is somehow ‘touched by God.’

Sometimes the path is steep Arunachala from path

From here the trail gets more difficult, but is still pretty easy to walk and climb up. As always, Arunachala forms the background (and the foreground and is Reality itself).

We made  it! (this far anyway) Note about Aum Amma

UP the path Another view  of Arunachala

About half way to Papaji’s cave starts one of several sections where you walk up over big rocks. On the first of these, where Carol is signifying, “I did it” there is more painting on a rock about Aum Amma. And as always Arunachala stands as the substrate to all.

Over rocks we go Looking from the mountain, SW C;imbing over more rocks We are very close, now past Aum Amma's cave

Up the hill we go. You can see from the hill back into area West of Tiruvannamalai around Perimpakkam Road. Now we are getting close to Papaji’s “cave.”

Here is Papaji's cave Altar

Meditating at Papji's cave Meditating at Papji's cave

We climb over one more big rock and there, past two small pools of water that are labeled in white paint, ‘drinking water’, we can see the ‘cave.’ It is small, not really what most people would call a cave, just a sheltered space beneath a rock.

An altar has been created there out of rocks from the hillside. There are a few things on the alter, as well as a ghee lamp and a burnt out candle. Sometimes you see flowers draped over the altar. Not today though.

This is a very good place to sit and meditate. Carol and I both take advantage of this.

Arunachala from Papaji's cave

Here is Arunachala from Papaji’s cave.

Looking back to Perimbakkam Road See our house? Yenga veedu

Looking down from here, one can see the surrounding area. And in the red circle is ‘yenga veedu’, our house.

Arunachala from Papaji's cave area

One last look at Arunachala, and we make our way down the path.

Walking home we usually stop at ‘The three star hotel’ (Aruna Annai??) and have a cup of Indian Coffee ). Often there are other Westerners here and we will chat with them a bit. Then the short walk home.