Friday, January 28, 2011

The climb to the top of Arunachala

They say the best time to climb the hill is very early in the morning, that you really need to be done and finished by late morning due to the heat (and this is their winter) So just like both of my Pradakshina walks I chose later in the day and in this case I started at 10am on Wednesday.
The walk to Skandashram is about 30 minutes where I spent maybe 30 minutes sitting in Ramanas little room before heading out the back gate of the ashram and up the hill.

As you can see from this set of images it is a very steep and difficult path, if indeed path is the correct word to use. 

It’s a good five to six hours in total and from what I can see you could get yourself into a lot of trouble on this hill through heat exhaustion. It gets very hot as you go higher and then the humidity increases as well. I took two litres of water and still ran out with close to an hour to go, there was plenty of cloud cover that day so was probably quite fortunate, next time will either be early or late. Many people go up while still dark using torches so they can see the sun rise or stay late until the sun goes down which means coming down in the dark, which would be a bit interesting.
The climb up the hill is difficult enough but the climb down is much harder due to the different muscle groups used. You have to watch every step very carefully on the way down, there are many places you could take a tumble and you definitely wouldn’t want to be hurting yourself up there and relying on the local medical services, that’s if they could successfully get you off the hill in one piece. Can’t imagine what sort of shambles the rescue services would be like.

The very top of the hill. 
It's all blackened as they light fires and melt ghee, all sticky and smells of butter

Then there's another rock just nearby, this one I climbed up on, it's probably the same height. Interesting you can see that someone has somehow hauled a very large and heavy rock onto the top of it, how on earth they did that I don't know. But then a human chain of maybe 300 Indian men might manage it ok.

All the way up I was crossing paths with three others. This guy was Russian, couldn't speak a word of English (but then it's always funny how they can say "I speak no English" !)

This one was German then there was another older American guy but I didn't get a decent photo of him. he was maybe mid-60s and had climbed up there four times.

And as usual, you get the standard money hungry Sadhu. This one wouldn't touch money, you had to put it on a rock and leave it there (but I sure that sooner later he would touch it !) He wanted to give blessings but none of us who converged at the top at that time wanted his blessings so we sort of paid him not to !

Then on the way down this very cool family of Lemurs to top the day off. They were so beautiful, unlike the "common as muck" grey riff-raff Mecarques that are everywhere.


  1. That saddhu is not money hungry; he has lived on top of Arunachala for 20 years, eating only plain white rice, and drinking chai. Someone gave him a pack of cookies when I was there, but he didn't have any. He opened the bag, and gave them all to the monkeys.

    My friend and I meditated by his tent for about an hour, then went to the peak to prostrate before Shiva's footprints. As we went, he warned us not to talk to any of the tour guides, since they would ask us to pay them. I offered him some rupees, but he said, "Money does not matter to me. Whatever I need comes from Arunachala."

    Later, when the other tourists had left, (about 20 in total) he came to my friend and me, and asked us to follow him to a hidden cave. We went under and around the peak, to a sacred temple cave containing a Shiva Lingam set into the wall, with simple pooja set before it. The saddhu's guru used to meditate there; he lived on the peak for 25 years.

    On the cave walls, so many mystical faces were naturally there, as if carved by the artistic hand of God.

    The saddhu heard me tell my friend how much I wanted to take a picture, and he said- no problem. Take one!

    I told him I couldn't, since my only camera was my cell phone, which had been out of battery power for over a day. (I accidently left my charger in Bangalore.)

    He said, very coolly, "With my touch, your phone will work."

    He sounded so confidant that I handed him the phone, in spite of my own doubts.

    He took it in his left hand, and tapped it once with the middle and ring finger of his right hand.

    Instantly, the light flashed on, and the full operation screen appeared. He navigated to the camera feature, then handed it back to me, saying, "Will this do?"

    Somehow, his touch had charged it with just enough power to snap a shot of each cave face, the lingam, both me and my friend, and one shot of him.

    You're abusing him by assuming that he's money hungry even though he refused to touch money. You and your friends really missed out by not accepting the blessing of someone who lives a pure and simple life dedicated to his Guru, Arunachala and Shiva.

    There are many beggars who dress in the garb of holy men, just to get the handouts of those who think they'll get punya for giving rupees, but this Arunachala Saddhu is not one of them.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, ma!

  2. congratulations on an interesting well produced pictorial blog! Arunachala AUM

  3. Wow... This story of sadhu is definitely more interesting. I was offended too by the words money hungry sadhu. We have a rule in India. We never insult a sadhu. If we do, the papa or the bad karma of the insult reverts back to us. We should not insult anyone who appears as sadhu or Sanyasi. If they are faking, it's their bad karma and their papa, they will face. Why to take it on us, by insulting them.