Tiruvannamalai to Bengaluru & Highgates Hotel

End part of a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Once my time at the ashram was done it was just a question of taking a taxi ride back to the city of Bengaluru in the state of Karnataka.

So the interstate swing back from 19/2 went something like this. First of all I knew that was it, my week in Tiruvannamalai at the Athithi Ashram was over and now there was to be no lookin’ back. I had done all that I could do and really in all honesty it had gone better than I could have ever expected – the meditation, the talks with Swami Hamsananda, the mesmeric shrine times at the end of the day in the dual temples of Ramanasramam, staying fit, staying healthy, no bad stomachs or stuff like that – which had meant that I was happy, more than happy as a matter of fact. Turned out to be a bit of a rush after my parting talk with Swami as my taxi was already waiting outside the ashram gates and I still had a bit of this and that to do with regards to packing my case and clearing up which meant I would have to get my skates on. Before going back up to my room I told my driver who was sitting in the car on the other side of the gates that I would be about 10 minutes or so and bounded back up the stairs to my room in order to get myself together.

The ride from Tiruvannamalai to Bangalore turned out to be a bit of a fast one as once we got to the town of Krishnagiri we joined the main highway which more or less runs the length of the country, with more than one or two pinch points in between, and where signs to Varanasi indicate it is over 1700 km away in a direction which was pretty much due north. So it was speedy, a Grand Prix shakedown on a four lane highway where weaving in and out of the traffic in front of you whilst travelling at high velocity was very much the order of the day. It was one of those rides where I sat in the car with the back windows wide open instead of in a nicely chilled a/c bubble, and the reason for this was that my driver had a stinkin’ cold which I most definitely wouldn’t have minded not picking up in any way whatsoever. In fact, although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, paranoid thoughts that he might have Coronavirus passed through my mind, making me wonder if it was worth asking him if he’d driven any or many people from the Chinese part of the world recently. Glad to say I managed to resist the temptation, mainly because I knew that with his very limited English and my non-existent Tamil, it would have been too damn complicated for me to break on through and get him to understand what the fuck I was talking about. So anyway, we rocked on through the Tamil countryside with the warm air blasting through the open windows of the car from any direction you might care to choose, no problem with that really, sure the air was warm but it wasn’t hot and within that lies a very big difference.

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Indian Ashram: Athithi Memories 2020

Memories of a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The resident teacher of Athithi Ashram is Swami Hamsananda, with whom it is possible to sit and meditate with each morning as well as engage in conversation about the life of Bhagavan, the practice of meditation, and the spiritual paths of bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (self-enquiry) in the form of asking the question – Who Am I?

Entrance gate to Athithi Ashram

When I arrived at the Athithi Ashram after my taxi ride from Chennai I opened the gates, took off my shoes and put them on the shoe stand as no footwear was allowed to be worn in the ashram grounds. Then I went to the small ashram office on the left hand side within the ashram compound and which had a couple of desks and computers in it as well as some chairs for people to sit on. A gentle mannered man dressed in white cotton clothes checked me in after I’d filled out all the necessary forms, given him my passport details and taken a photograph of myself with my mobile phone which I then emailed to him on the spot. The room I was given was in the block above the office and I guess that block must have had nine or ten rooms which were spread over three floors. Mine was on the top floor where there were three other rooms, all of which seemed to be occupied. Stepping inside my room for the first time I saw it had a single bed with a very firm mattress and a pillow with a thin sheet on top of it, so I guess it was just as well the weather was hot and that I would not be needing a blanket. There was a table and chair in the corner of the room next to the window and some shelves built into the wall upon which I could put my clothes once I’d unpacked my case and stashed it under my bed. On the wall opposite to the side of the room my bed was on there was a framed and mounted colour portrait of Ramana Maharshi and also one of the holy hill Mount Arunachala. There was a door at the end of my bed which opened up into a bathroom where there was a toilet and shower along with a small basin and mirror. The window in my room had shutters rather than glass with a wire mesh tightly strung across it so as to keep the mosquitoes out, although with my room being on the top floor hopefully their presence would be minimal. I opened the shutters for some airflow and soon realised the street outside was quite noisy with plenty of sounds rising up from it, primarily sounds of auto rickshaws and honking motorbikes. Later on I was to discover the block my room was in overlooked the entrance to a much larger ashram close by, the ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, which attracted large numbers of people each day from early morning onwards.

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Taxi from Chennai to Tiruvannamalai

By the time the taxi rolled up at the entrance to Woodlands in Mylapore it was just past 9.30 in the morning and the reception was relatively empty which ensured I was able to check in quickly after filling out all the usual forms and handing over my passport for it to be photocopied by the hotel staff. I then left my rucksack with the porters in the lobby and went straight to Vrindavan, the excellent vegetarian restaurant within the hotel, where I ordered a pretty good dish of dhal with a couple of fresh baked chapattis just before closing time. Satisfied that I had managed to get some good quality food inside me, more than happy that I had successfully managed get to Chennai on the day I intended, I went straight to my deluxe non-AC double room after I had eaten in order to rest. As luck would have it the room had been recently renovated and was therefore in sparkling condition with a big fan already whirring away in the centre of the ceiling. I was now pretty tired from my trials and tribulations from another day on the road in India, another one of quite a few I had taken over the years, over the decades.

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Skandashramam

This piece was written during a trip made to Ramanasramam in the holy temple town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. It is specifically about a couple of walks made up to Skandasramam, the cave behind on the holy hill of Arunachala and where Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi stayed for 7 years from 1915 – 1922. Towards the end of the piece reference is made to the red flame vision described in my previous blog entry, Honey Valley.

First Walk

My early morning meditation began later than usual due to my late night struggles to get back on track, but I was in the meditation hall by 6 am where I had a solid hour of sitting whilst feeling in a good state of recovery. Concentration good, body pacified and back to the breath! Skipped breakfast as I wanted a couple more hours for my stomach to feel fully settled, instead I went and had a large glass of coffee from the tea bar across the road from the ashram entrance. Cost me 20 rupees which was a bit of a rip off price, but it was good to sit there for a while and watch the early morning street life pass on by outside the ashram. I realised the sound of the lorries had not bothered me half as much the night before, maybe that was because I had other things on my mind such as my guts. Probably would be the case that if I stayed round the ashram long enough I would not even notice those lorries were there as everything would eventually blend into one.

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Honey Valley

Extracted from a diary account of time spent in India. This piece was written during a short trip made to the Honey Valley Estate in the Coorg hills in Karnataka, not far from the town of Varajpet and region of Kakkabe. In certain parts it describes a flame vision which I had been experiencing in my meditation for a number of weeks and which was particularly noticeable up there in the hills. It turns the nature of this vision was resolved for me later in the trip when I went across to the Ramanasramam in the holy temple town of Tiruvannamalai which is in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India.

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Mysore Day Trip

This is an account of a day trip which I made to the city of Mysore by bus from the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe in March 2018.

Been feelin’ rough these last few days, little appetite for food but still managin’ to get some down me, little appetite for meditation but still knockin’ in those sittin’ hours as well, but it is all a bit flat.

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Sringeri

This is an account of a journey made to the temple town of Sringeri in the state of Karnataka which I made in February 2017.

It was an early morning start for the trip to Sringeri as we rolled out of Bylakuppe at 7.15, heading west on the road past the Coorg town of Kushal Nagar and up into the hills. For this little trip it was me and Anita, Sonam Tashi and his daughter, Passang Dawa. It would be Sonam Tashi doing all the driving in his black Mahindra Scorpio, his bulky four wheel drive we had to take us there and back. The reason for us going to Sringeri was to see the holy Hindu temple at Sringeri, which lay by the river Tunga in the hilly Chikkamagaluru district of Karnataka, north east of Mangalore on State Highway 169. It was an ancient temple, or math, and had been founded by the great Advaita Vedanta teacher, philosopher and saint Adi Shankara in the 8th century. Sringeri has been a place of pilgrimage, and spiritual learning more or less ever since and is the seat today of the Jagadguru Shankaracharyas who can trace their lineage back to Adi Shankara himself.

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Travelling from Madurai to Bengaluru on a Sleeper Bus

This is an account of a journey by sleeper bus from the Tamil Nadu city of Madurai to the mega city of Bengaluru in Karnataka and occurred in February 2017.

It was early evening when we got back to the Residency in the centre of Madurai, time had moved on quite quickly if truth be told, it hadn’t been such a drag after all, my fears of it being an unmitigated bore fest had turned out to be unfounded. After all we were not due to catch our sleeper bus to Bengaluru until 9.45 pm and yet we had officially checked out of the Residency at 1 pm, leaving our bags there behind the reception leaving us with over 8 hours to fill.

In fact it was not long after I had settled back down in one of the comfy chairs in the lobby, stomach still full from the meal we’d eaten, that our man from the travel desk came over and advised us that we take the taxi ride over to the Maduthavani bus stand sooner rather than later, due to the fact that some parts of Madurai were likely to disrupted because of the thunderstorms from earlier on. This kind of made sense to the both of us, me and Anita, as there was simply no point in hanging around the lobby anymore if truth be told, we might just as well get on with it, and thus avoid any last minute hiccups. We had agreed a price of 500 IR with the man from the travel desk earlier on in the day for the ride over to the Maduthavani which, although well above what we could have got a ride for if we had stepped outside to negotiate with one of the numerous street taxis, was OK for us. This was mainly due to the fact that we had been able to hang around the lobby and safely store our cases behind the reception until it was time to go.

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On the Shatabdi Express

This is an account from 2016 of a journey I made on the Shatabdi Express from the city of Mysore in Karnataka to Chennai, state capital of Tamil Nadu.

The Shatabdi Express from Mysore to Chennai was due to depart Mysore at 2.30 pm so I got to the ticket office at around 12.45. As soon as I saw the queue that had already formed at the reservations counter for the departure that afternoon I had a bad feeling. This was confirmed when 20 minutes later, after I had gone to the trouble of filling out the obligatory reservation form, I was told in no uncertain terms by the man behind the counter that I would only be able to travel as far as Bangalore, just a couple of hours down the line. I would not be able to go the whole way to Chennai as the leg of the journey between Bangalore and Chennai was already fully booked.

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Ramana Mandiram

001RMSmall

This is an account of one of my visits to the Ramana Mandiram in Madurai in 2017 when I was travelling with a friend through Tamil Nadu, South India. It was in this building that Sri Ramana realised The Self in 1896. We had first stayed in the Sri Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai before making our way to Madurai to visit both the Ramana Mandiram there and the Ramana Maharshi Sundaram in Tiruchuzhi. The visit described below was made on the evening of the day we had gone to Tiruchuzhi. I was feeling tired from a day on the road in South India and we had just walked in to the building after an end of day thunderstorm, a common occurrence in that part of South India when the weather is hot.

Ramana Mandiram
17/21 Chockkappan Street
Madurai – 1
(opp: To Meenakshi Temple South Tower)

It was gone 8 by the time we got to the mandiram, it felt good to be able to step back inside the building again, where the evening puja on the ground floor, with men on one side of the room and women on the other side, was just coming to an end. It did not take long for Anita and I to make our way back up the stairs to the first floor, to those two virtually empty rooms, save for the large framed photograph portraits of the guru Ramana Maharshi.

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