14 Feb ~ getting there from Auroville by bus. Sitting behind an old Indian lady who ties her hair without rubber band. I use the trip to master the skill, bye bye hair bands.
|above the car: "Brake Fast"|
15 Feb ~ discovery of Tiru... it's like a mini Chiang Mai / Rishikesh / Ubud / Auroville /.. Delhi?
Of course not, it's unique, and worth a separate blog post.
|"Clean & Green City, Together we can do it": cows are helping|
16 Feb ~ climbing Arunachala and descending
alarm 6:06am, rumble rumble… stepping out of guesthouse (Hill View Residency, near Sh@nti), in awe at the sight of the top of Arunachala mountain, already in the sun and shrouded with an elegant white cloud scarf. I have only a half full water bottle, i hesitate.. feel like i don’t need more but still deciding to buy a 1L bottle (yuck.. plastic) and 2 mini bananas. Getting on the path at 7am… Glad i walked behind the Ramana Ashram instead of trying the way through, because their small gate is closed. Nice signs about not littering the place and reforestation projects. Indeed the path is beautiful and amazingly clean. I catch up with 2 Indian guys, one leading barefoot, the second with shoes, i see him speeding up as he hears me walking. Still slowly catching up, making a conscious effort not to race, walking my step, socks in sandals, wondering whether i should take it all out, but lazy to do it, hope it’s not because i would loose the “race”. Approaching view point, the second guy races to the stone before his friend (brother?), no idea if playfully or competitively,.. they’re not smiling but seem quiet and content, eyes lost in the view over the city and main temple. Indians can be so unfathomable. Viewpoint on the temple 7:22am, surprised recalling the girl said 40 minutes walk yesterday. Magic sunlight as we raise with the sun. Again surprised the main temple is smaller as i had imagined. Noisy honks & voices coming up from the town. Removing socks & shoes, let’s give it a shot! First Skandaashram: closed. Gee can’t believe i am too early for once. I walk down, significantly as the girl said, but after i pass Virupaksha and meet two old women begging for food (at their house apparently and surrounded by cooking pots, wtf!?) i realize i have been too far… back up, asking young dude selling stuff midway.. turns out the path start only a few steps down from Skandaashram, kinda hidden. And it really is small, good that they have so many arrows. I step in.
There are small trash items here and there along the way, i decide to pick up any within my reach throughout the whole climb. Meet a barefoot Japanese dude walking down with an Indian guy (guide?), and two separate couples climbing up. Everybody on the path is silent just gently smile (with one exception later on the way back down). That’s perfect, i always felt silly saying hi to strangers in the mountain. Oh one more exception: i stray out of the path as to check out a rock overhand on the left side. Looks like ppl sleep or meditate there sometimes, but i am not interested in either at this point, rest a couple minute in the moment, then i hear an indian guy chanting and walking down fast. He stops, apparently to rest. He says hello and starts talking to me, the usual what country you are, name… i ask his name as as i suspected he says Prabhu (my friend XXX i met in Auroville, mentioned that two hermits lived on the mountain, Mani and Prabhu). He starts telling me he’s on his way to get water as he lives above, tells me about the power of the mountain, the spirit of Shiva, to ask the mountain a simple question in order to live good life, not many questions just one, to walk over the top and get to another cave behind and sleep there (me thinking, yeah right, i am not spending the night there). Another guy, looking more “normal” catches up with him and they go on their descent (with empty plastic bottles, going for refill i guess).
On the path, i keep stepping on amazing stones, crystals, etc.. At one small break the corner of my eye catches a shiny purple dot on a big rock. As i move my head it disappears, only visible at a specific angle. I carefully step out of the path expecting some unusual gem to stick out of the rock. All i see is a small necklace with white-crystal jewels on metal, star-shaped, liek a 5-branched snowflake. The chain is a bit rusty. Just like with the cool stones on the path i am tempted to keep it. Nah. It belongs here.
Climbing slowly and surely, taking over the two young couples (with climbing shoes) that passed me at a pause, i am not surprised seeing how one of the couple was panting and walking awkwardly without paying attention at keeping a regular pace. Sweating nicely, drinking little sips. Small banana break in the shade. Feeling grateful for my hiking experience with parents, then later boy scouts… forgotten chunks of the past emerge on the solitary meditative path. Love hiking, but this one does feel different,… maybe cuz i am barefoot, maybe just cuz my brain was primed to think this was going to be a possible spiritual awakening… and been waiting for this moment for 2 years, ever since i cried for no other reason than just hearing the name of the city and mountain.
Suddenly I see the top! Ground becomes sandy and not so nice for the feet. Hearing strange sounds, monkeys! they play with plastic bags of food, the place is sadly littered… i even spot some empty plastic bottles. What to do… A bit after that, there is the no-shoes sign, i consider taking my sandals out of my bag, since in Indian temples you are not allowed to carry them… but i already violated that rule since i carried them on the mountain-temple so far. So i keep them and smile, not sarcastically, not defiantly… just with tenderness toward all thought processes on that topic. The ground becomes black and greasy, i recall the warnings on the top being covered with burnt ghee but it turns out to be not as slippery as i expected.
I can’t resist turning on my mobile, it’s not even 9am yet! So it took me less than 2h, probably 1h30 if i didn’t stop so often and got lost at the start. Surely even less with shoes. The restaurant girl said 2h30 and some blog i read said 4h. I can hike but i am no superman. Guess i will have to refrain mentioning that when i tell my Arunachala story, even though i can feel my ego and number-loving brain boiling proudly at the performance.
Wow the view… the views… hypnotizing,… exploring the summit, little ritual places, other similar mountains emerge far away from the misty plains. I wonder whether they have the same geological history, and possible the same energy, even if at smaller levels. Does Arunachala have a holy status because it is the biggest of its kind or because there really is something unique about it? I walk all the way to the other side of the summit,…. still thinking about Prabhu’s story of a cave there. Carefully stepping down, toward a small overhang. Here remains only a bit of burned ghee and a few earthen pots. Alone at the tip of the world. I kill a mosquito, can’t believe those bastards are still roaming this high! Lying down, head behind my bag protected from the sun i doze off, and in between sleepy states, thoughts come and go... questioning about the best question to ask the mountain… should i stay in my relationship or break up, where to settle, keep acroyoga as my focus or take a regular job, nah… gotta ask something more universal, like what’s my mission on earth? how can i contribute something good? but what is good… useful and beautiful? mind wanders around the idea of “good”, thinking back at crazy moral dilemmas. Like: a train comes at you and you can switch its course toward a cliff, killing all 50 passengers, or toward a safe track where an innocent victim is tied and will surely be killed if you switch the train that way. Then same question if the train carries war criminals. Then what if the victim is a dear friend or loved one. If you have 5 seconds to react vs. 5 minutes. Etc… so many variations. How much is morality (manifested as moral decisions) human-constructed? is there ANY universal principal of morality? or are moralities just social constructs, each adapted to a particular society and environment? Gotta check the latest literature on that, says the academic in me… but in the end the real question no scientific study can answer is: what moral decision would my Higher Self make? which is basically asking for a definition of this Higher Self.. or: does “moral” have any meaning at the highest level of consciousness? then if not, i may just sit in meditation as a smiling legume for the rest of my life… but if yes, sitting in meditation for the rest of my life may still be the best way to find out. Waking up from my reveries, the sun is getting intense on arms and legs. Ok i did end up sleeping in a cave across the summit, as Prabhu predicted/invited!
As i slowly eat my second banana, wondering what to do with the peel, would be easier if monkeys were still around. I throw it in a place i hope is accessible to them. Then 10 seconds seconds later i see a couple of monkeys, pretty far away, but they come my way… all the way to my rock! The male even grabs my bag making a hissing sound. But they can’t possibly have seen me eating the banana, maybe they smell my hands?? i stand up facing the monkey, buzzed by a small adrenaline rush, i retreat and pick the banana peal, that was brilliantly reachable, and throw it at the happy monkey. Stepping back up, one of the couples is there, the girl giving some sort of reiki to the guy. Why not,… but it does feel out of place. Like that other white guy i see climbing up later, wearing some sort of saintly robe,… nice sympathetic smile, but part of me thinks “come on dude..” while another part thinks it’s just how their connection to the place manifests. Sometimes Tiru feels like a spiritual carnival. Also on the way down i meet a Russian couple, with shoes, red faces and sweaty all over, the girl desperately asking how far they are from the top,.. i say i have no idea, really it depends how fast they climb.. When i say i figure we are halfway up, she becomes slightly pale. Hm ok, i say, actually it’s more, probably two thirds, yeah it must be and makes them feel better. Still i check on their water, they have very little left for 2, so i pour almost all my plastic bottle in theirs. So glad i bought that bottle even though i felt i didn’t really needed it. Now it makes sense! Without it they would have really been in trouble. Later i even feel a bit guilty i kept a few sips for myself. Strangely i felt i could have given it all, even though rationally that would have left me waterless. Anyway they were happy and grateful, and i kindly tell them to take their time and take breaks in the shade.
At one point my feet start to really hurt, usually i love to run downhill like a mad monkey, but barefoot i can’t. Still it’s fun to use my arms sometimes, on rocks and trees. But really it hurts more and more, now i realize the main difference with the climb is not that i am stepping harder, but that the rocks are now boiling hot. At one point i tell my ego to fuck off and i put sandals back on. Health first, for my soles and for my unprotected skin and head in need of shade soon. I am walking on clouds, now i can go fast to Skandashram… It’s nice and quiet but at first i feel uneasy with all these serious looking white people inside. So i step back behind the house, watching monkeys play and ants on the wall… an Indian guy sits in meditation all the way up. A white couple sits nearby, at one point the guy stands up, lifts a slab of stone and refills his water bottle underneath. A couple minutes later i imitate, and with sign language ask incredulously whether it’s drinkable. He nods, yes it is! So i really could have given the whole water to that Russian couple. Yet another reminder to follow/trust my intuition even if it doesn’t logically makes sense in the moment.
Entering the “cave” (more like a little house against the cliff), going for the darkest corner, good that this small room is the only left empty, as i really shun human contact at this moment. It’s so dark i can’t quite see what’s in that tiny room or what i am sitting on. Whatever just sit. Drifting and loosing track of time, still aware of any small sounds. Not an easy meditation, regularly tempted to open the eyes. At one point i open them fully, now i can see better of course, a small altar and a couple flat cushions. Most people next room have left, but i still feel uneasy. Maybe too much expectation. Still, after a while, i feel relaxed and enjoying the moment, but also that sitting any longer won’t get me anywhere right now. I pick up a small book outside, about this German guy who became an adept of meditation at an ashram in Tiru. Interesting how foreigners find revelations in India, whereas so few Indians seem even remotely interested in true spirituality. Or maybe there are, just i don’t see it, so enormous is this catastrophic chaos of a country.
Walking downhill, i check out the next cave, which is said to be the first place where Baghavan meditating in Tiru before moving to the other one. It’s a smaller house, and the only meditation room feels more like a real cave this time, with a big painted stone over the head. And some mysterious red earth mound in the center (altar?). I feel more connected to my meditation here, even though again the energy of the present people is not very inviting. Maybe a reflection of my own state of mind after the lofty solitude of my mountain walk.
Walking down again, i deviate from the main path, following a smaller one that seems to be going toward an old temple… indeed, there is, but it’s under renovation, good to see. Then a few hundred meters later downhill, i walk in a disgusting landscape of trash, pass in front (or the back?) of what may be an ashram. How can people carry their usual business in the midst of such garbage? What’s in their culture that makes them accept it, do nothing about it, and of course contribute to it? Then walking further i enter a street with laughing children, it’s cleaner here, it’s been wiped and little trash mounds are being gathered, which I sadly guess are going to end up very close from here… Now in the main road the shock of coming back to real Indian life is as big as rare is the air amongst suffocating traffic fumes.
The next day i set up to do the pradakshina, as recommended by a dear friend. This time i take the time to do a short Ashtanga practice and get some breakfast. Then off we go! I start on the same path as to climb the mountain, but veer left where i had explored a bit on the first night. It gets smaller and smaller, that route is clearly not as popular as the climb. There is nobody, and at one point many options appear. There seems to be some markings for the pradakshina, but at one point it is clearly blocked. I Suppose it’s only allowed to go that way during the official pradakshina at full moons. At one point i see the main road not far away and am tempted to join it, but i know it will be dirty and smoky, so i look for a way to get around the blockage and find the actual trail. I end up in thick thorny bushes interspersed with clearings and get totally lost. I think of dangerous snails and insects, as i try to extricate my way, even coming back to where i was seems complicated. The mountain is my only landmark, but in that case it doesn’t really tell me which way to go,.. a bit closer to the slope? or a bit further? where can i find a path through this dry thorny jungle? memories come flashing back to me of times when i had lost direction in my life, and how i blundered through eventually. No way forward, and really going back is not an option. Wondering what the hell am i doing here, going mental... then i just let go, stop thinking just walk, forget there is a purpose... breathe... and a clearing appears, with a clear path out, and landmarks reappear. Wow.
|about to close the loop around Arunachala, feels like waking up from a dream|
The rest is a rather pleasant, sunny hike, sweaty but with nice rhythms. Only a few farmers seen from afar, and cows get a bit too close (i am still weary of them after my near evisceration in Rishikesh). Stones on the ground are very diverse, some of them super heavy, reminding me of the stories about the mountain being the remnant of the very first geological events on Earth. Some heavy stones look like they could be magnetic, which could explain why this site attracts and transforms so many souls. But there are other similar mountains in the area... thinking i should stay longer explore. Eventually i close the loop, back in the city fumes, noises, and joyful kids saying hello hello!