Friday, January 28, 2011

The sunset collection

Amazing sunsets here and so different all the time. 
I will try to take regular photos and hopefully tonight I will be up the hill.

Arunachaleshwara Temple

This is apparently the largest temple in India, all 24 acres of it. It’s clearly a very big deal but I was not impressed. It’s a dirty sort of a place with awful wires and big ugly sets of lights everywhere. As per usual they charge various amounts of money to get into the different little temples within the temple grounds (2 rupees for Indians, 20 rupees for foreigners) and if they don’t have obnoxiously loud recorded music playing all the time, they have someone chanting or singing, so loud it hurts your ears. But then I am convinced that Indians are half deaf due to the constant noise around them, the incessant beeping and tooting of car, truck and bus horns is deafening. The temple is the equivalent of an old Christian cathedral but dirty and in relatively poor repair (but then very good repair compared to so many other temples and buildings around the town) You can’t climb the very best bits like the huge Gopurams (the huge towers) and you can’t go into the gardens. So that was my experience of the place and I was there later in the day when it was quiet, I cannot imagine what it would be like with the huge crowd they must get at times.
The best bit of all for me was the temple elephant. As you can see from the photos the elephant will bless you….if you pay him a coin that is !
So he reaches out his trunk and very gently takes a coin from you then gives you a sloppy blessing on the head. Kind of cool but I also had some sadness for this most beautiful animal being exploited in this way. I guess he has a pretty good life for the most part but he had tears coming out of his eyes, made him look sad.

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.