Tiruvannamalai, Jan 12-14.
I arrive on a honking local bus from Bangalore, 5hrs, $3. Tiru is a spiritual Mecca: not only it sits at the bottom of Mt Arunachala, which is supposed to be the incarnation of Shiva in the element of Fire, but also it's where Sri Ramana Maharshi, a great sage and guru, lived and founded his Ashram over 50 yrs ago. All the westerners here talk about awareness and supreme consciousness, they all wear long tunics and ample pants, favorite colors are white and orange, and they are all seeking their way to enlightenment, therefore there's a huge offer of spiritual activities, which you can find on all the billboards of the cafes: satsang with various gurus - you may find yours -, spiritual dances and kirtans, Yoga and Ayurveda. I have to admit that this place really confused me a lot!
Ramana Ashram is very tranquil, despite the numerous visitors, there are peacocks and monkeys, and they have pujas in the main temple twice a day, where you can go freely to calm your mind and get uplifted. In the back of the Ashram there's a path going up the mountain to visit the cave where the Guru spent several years in contemplation, there's beautiful energy there and it's perfect for meditating.
Then there's the main temple in town dedicated to Shiva and Fire, which is one of the biggest in India with its 9 towers. It's surrounded by the messiest, most crowded and noisiest streets, we rented bicycles for $1/day and ride around: it's remarkable how we could keep our mental and physical health in that chaos. It was also Pongal in India these days, a special holiday to celebrate the harvest, so there was even more people around; for the event the females of each household draw every night on the street in front of their entry gate beautiful colorful geometries similar to mandalas, they use sands of different colors that during the day get ride and stepped on, or even more decorated by the doo doo of the numerous cows walking around; but it seems not to matter at all and every evening they wash it off and draw new beautiful ones : )
We found accommodation in the neighborhood across the street from the ashram where most of the visitors stay. $10/ night, decent room, guesthouse with no name, the lady who manages it has her face yellow of turmeric for some reason... Now try to find it!! : D
Restaurants and cafes. The ones for visitors are spiced down and few times the food was not that tasty, the indian ones are few and not that clean. Anyway I would recommend:
- Dreaming Tree, also guesthouse and Internet point, with breezy rooftop where you can also take a nap. All organic, great chocolate cake
- Shanti Cafe, great for breakfast, high speed wifi, they also run a foundation for local kids.
- Tasty Cafe and German Bakery, both nice and it's easy to meet other visitors there
- Quo Vadis, spiritual cross religion center, with a lot of activities, a pretty garden and very tasty cheap Indian food....
And now ... Mysore: local bus to Bangalore $3, 5hrs+ local bus to Mysore $3, 3hrs.
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