Thursday, January 20, 2011

Arunachala Pradakshina

Arunachala Pradakshina (pronounced – aroo-narch-alla-pra-duck-shin-a - and said really, really quickly as if it is all one word) is the sacred walk around the Arunachala mountain, which by no stretch of any intelligent persons imagination can be considered a mountain. To an Australian this would be a major mountain, but by NZ standards little more than a speed bump. Arunachala is a hill all the same but mountain definitely sounds better.  Arunachala is an incarnation of Lord Shiva, according to Hindu mythology. There is a major festival in November where the town of around 130,000 swells to anything up to 2,000,000 and they all walk the Pradakshina, I cannot imagine that in my wildest imagination as even nearer the end of todays walk it was getting pretty crowded as thousands were starting out as I was nearing the end.
The walk is 14km and is especially done every full moon day by thousands upon thousands of people, today was a full moon day. Best time to do it apparently is earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon and evening so I headed out at noon, the hottest time of the day. My legs were pretty tired from the last few days of walking but thought I would just take my time, after all, there’s no hurry. Wasn’t so hot, maybe 30-32 degrees but I found that pretty good for the most part as there are plenty of trees for shade for a lot of the walk. Oh the other really cool thing is that you are supposed to do it in bare feet, which to your average Indian is probably not a big deal, even on the at-times very rough roads. I definitely wore shoes because with my whimpy soft western feet I can barely make it across the cobbled paths to the swimming pool at the hotel. There were two German girls I spoke with briefly after I started, they had already done maybe 5km (you start wherever you start) and were suffering already with about 9km to go. Not only were their feet getting sore but it was starting to get really hot as well. When I asked why they were doing it the hard-core way they simply said “because zose are ze rules”.
I stopped for maybe half an hour at the Ashram as I passed, which for me was around the 9km mark. They have acceptable toilets there, well probably the only public-type toilets in Tiruvannamalai come to think of it.  It was extra busy due to the Pradakshina, not so peaceful but still heaps of shade, which was nice. Some people make a real event of this walk, take maybe 6 or 7 hours over it, stop at the various temples along the way, stop for Chai and a chat whereas others are on a mission and probably clean it up in maybe 2 ½ hours. I can tell you that by the time I got back to the hotel the pool was extra cooling today.
Here’s another funny little story from the “Only in India” file….
The not-so-bright auto-rickshaw driver – This one rick-astley driver was taking me part of the way back to the hotel, a 4km stretch of road. He wanted to show me a better way, a faster way, “That way 4km, this way much faster, only 4.5km”….only in India ???

Here’s a selection of photos I took along the way.

Company Bicycle !

Fleet of Company Bicycles ! 

Tree Phone

Some more of the super-up-to-date transport round the town !

Strange, on the Pradakshina people would stop at all the little temples along the way, of which there seem to be one about every couple of hundred metres. This one they would squeeze through a pretty narrow gap and out the other side (then pay some more money no doubt !)

This couple have a thriving rubbish-sorting-through business.

Shoe repair man

This is a Gopuram at the big temple, more on that later when I eventually visit it

The Pradakshina is the perfect opportunity for all manner of beggers to come 
out onto the street to ply their various trades......

......Like the Babas.....

This Baba lives in this little hut on the side of the road

The thousands on their Pradakshina

I have become more and more selective about who I give a few rupees to. This guy is severely deformed and qualifies in my book, whilst there are many who don't

The busking Babas