My visit to Thiruvannamalai was completely unexpected. It’s been a long since I travelled alone. I travel with my friends most of the time nowadays. There was a comfort zone created around me which restricted me from many things. I needed to break that, to experience the joy of solo travel again. I was thinking such a journey for some days. But the initial hurdle to break out of my comforts pulls me back all the time. Overcoming that is pretty difficult. One side of our mind tells us to go but the other side wins most of the time. But this time I was determined.
In my opinion, it is the strong urge to get out of our comforts that make us a good traveller. We should have the mind to accept whatever comes in our path, take everything positively. Nobody travels for nothing, everyone needs something. And if what we are looking for is experiences and can be happy in our own company, then we should try travelling alone sometimes. I assure you, the difference it makes is amazing.
Coming back to my visit to Thiruvannamalai, I was in my room without any plans on a Friday evening. I was thinking what to do for the weekend, so many thoughts went through my mind. After some time, I took my bag and left my room to catch the bus to Thiruvannamalai. I had read about this place in the newspaper couple of days back. That was my first information about the place. Also did some search on google before going. Tiruvannamalai offered me more than I expected. A town with hundreds of temples, good people, saffron-clad sadhus, peaceful ashrams and the beautiful Arunachala hill which is visible from kilometres away.
How to reach Thiruvannamalai
The best way to reach Thiruvannamalai is by bus. Buses are available every 30 minutes from Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminal (CMBT), Koyambedu. The journey will take about 5 hours. I started my journey around 11.30 PM and reached Thiruvannamalai around 4 AM in the morning. Buses are also available from other major cities of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. There are frequent buses between Bangalore also.
Travelling in and around Thiruvannamalai
Once you reach Thiruvannamalai bus stand, the Arunachala temple is just 15 minutes walk from the bus stand.
Girivalam is a circuit around the Arunachala hill. You can hire bicycles or motorcycles to travel around. Or else, you can hire an autorickshaw, that will take you around the hill. They will stop at all the important temples. The auto rickshaw fare is 300 INR.
You will get bikes and bicycles for rent near Ramanashrmam.
Trekking Arunachala hill
When I asked the local people about trekking the Arunachala hill, the response was negative. They told that trekking is only possible during the “Karthikai Deepam” festival. I was little disappointed. The Arunachala hill looked very charming. Even though it is not a big mountain (800 meters), there were clouds on its top. It looked different and I fell in love at the first glance.
Trekking to the Arunachala hill was allowed earlier. But later it is prohibited due to forest fire caused by the sadhus burning wood for their rituals. There is a trekking route through the back entrance of the temple. But it is open only during the festival time. A giant flame is erected on the top of the hill during this time. Devotees hike the hill to be a part of this ritual. It is estimated that around 20 lakh people come to Tiruvannamalai during this time.
Later, I found out a way to trek to Arunachala hill by an alternate route which starts from the Ramanasramam. A sadhu informed me about this route. The trail leads to Skandasramam and Virupaksha cave. If you continue trekking up from Skandasramam, you can reach Arunachala hill. The trek will take about 30 minutes to reach Skandasramam ( the trail is clear and well paved) and another 2 hours from there to reach the top. There are markings throughout the trail, so don’t worry about losing the direction. You have to climb over the rocks to reach the top, so be prepared to put some effort. It is better to trek during the early hours of the day, it will be hot and you need to spend a lot of energy.
Things to do in Thiruvannamalai
Annamalaiyar temple is the prime attraction of Thiruvannamalai. It is one of the most important Shiva temples in the world, visited by thousands daily. It is a major spiritual centre for Shiva devotees. You can see many sadhus walking around the streets and foreigners who come here to learn about eastern spirituality and philosophy.
The temple is built by Chola dynasty in the 9th century. It is one of the largest temples in the country.
The temple opens at around 5 AM. It was my first destination. The atmosphere in the temple at dawn was amazing. I spend some time inside, watching the sunrise. The Arunachala hill slowly appeared in front of me.
Girivalam is the 12 km circuit which goes around the Arunachala hill. Often the pilgrims circumnavigate the hill by foot. There are eight Shiva lingams en route, sacred for the devotees. A lot of Sadhus live around the hill. The route is scenic, gives a 360-degree view of the hill. You can hire an autorickshaw or a bicycle also to complete the circuit.
Sri Ramana Ashram
This ashram of Bhagwan Sri Ramana Maharshi is one of the most visited places in Thiruvannamalai. It is about 2 km from the Arunachala temple. Local buses are available from the bus stand or else you can hire an autorickshaw.
The atmosphere in the ashram is so peaceful. It is a centre of spiritual teaching and meditation. People from all around the world come here and stay for days to learn about the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. You can meet and interact with many people from different parts of the world.
Skandasramam and Virupaksha cave
As I mentioned earlier, a small hike to the hill behind the ashram will take you to Skandasramam and Virupaksha cave. Shri Ramana Maharshi meditated in these two places for years. The hike is through the forest. The trail is clear with proper markings. The walk is refreshing. These two places are very sacred for the devotees. People come here to meditate. So you have to be little careful not to disturb others.
Accommodation in Thiruvannamalai
There are many lodges in and around the temple. You can also stay in Ramanashram. Contact the administrative office to check the availability of the room once you reach there or check their website in advance to book your accommodation.
Few things to know about the visit to Thiruvannamalai
- Thiruvannamalai is a religious place. So don’t expect any kind of tourist attraction here.
- The climate here is generally hot, so the best time to visit Thiruvannamalai is during winter months. The temperature will be good.
- The main festival here is “ Karthikai Deepam”, an auspicious day in the Tamil month Karthigai ( often comes on a full moon day between November or December).
- You can find a lot of Sadhus around asking for alms. So be a little wise in giving them money.
- There are few restaurants and art shops run by foreigners in the town, do check them.
- Gingee fort is around 39 km before Tiruvannamalai when coming from Chennai. You can plan for Gingee fort.
As I said earlier, I fell in love with the vibe of the place. The ashram and the trek Arunachala hill was my best experience there. A weekend is enough to explore the place. I would suggest, instead of going to the same weekend getaways all the time, try something different, visit this little temple town.
Read Kanchipuram: City of thousand temples” , another temple town in Tamil Nadu which is very close to Chennai.
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