I wrote this in my journal on the second day of my trip. For those not familiar with this part of the country, Thiruvannamalai is home to the Arunachala mountain, revered as Shiva himself. Girivalam is the walk around the holy mountain, following the footsteps of Ramana Maharishi. A stretch of 14kms over road, stone and occasional blaring horn. I had imagined myself walking this sacred road with a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart. What happened follows.
Trouble afoot literally. Lazy feet unused to walking long distances and without the tender loving care of shoes, began the 14km trek comfortably enough. Dad and I set off at 5 am optimistically. We stumbled outside to realise that some benign soul had forgotten to ensure that the street lights stayed on. 2 kms went by in pitch darkness until sunrise brought some relief and we could see where the road ended and a side path of rock and gravel began.
A quiet morning, the occasional chirping of a few birds, the distant cry of a peacock, unusual sounds or the absence of sound for a city dweller. Occasional horns as trucks to the city roared past. Little shrines scattered everywhere, a profusion of lingams, ashrams sprouting up like weeds on places left unattended. Arunachala looms ahead, a constant central image on this circular route, a peg for the restless mind that pushes out in all directions.
One little shrine called the Idukkuni Pillayar - a tiny structure about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide - crawl in at the back and twist your body into the 1foot wide gap to have a look at the Ganesha and emerge at the front.We weren't brave or foolish enough to attempt it.
The first 7kms passed tolerably although the feet started complaining. I decided to humour them and sit down on a ledge for a few minutes. When I got up and back onto the road, they screamed in protest. Suddenly every little square of foot woke up and started demonstrating, Hey, these grains of sand hurt, this loose gravel is boring into me, this heat is burning me. I felt as though they were on fire, or being poked with a sharp object conscientiously well sharpened. We trudged on for another 2km bravely, but finally the pain was so bad that it looked like I would plon down right there. We hailed an auto and rode the last 5km back to the ashram, acknowledging the defeat of the feet.