Dec 30, 2007


Last week I had an opportunity to go on a short but intense pilgrimage to Sabarimala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa. Ayyappa is known to embody the two divine aspects - Siva and Vishnu. What I did not know was that there is a Masjid in the foothills involved in the story of his avatar; devotees pay their respects there as well before trekking to the main temple.

We landed in Cochin on the night before and quickly took a cab to Guruvayur temple situated North of the city. There was a huge rush at the temple and it was reverberating with thousands of Ayyapa's devotees. The devotees were ecstatic chanting loudly and literally bouncing in the air. The darshan at Guruvayur was extremely brief and the light was very low, nevertheless my second visit to the historic temple was good.

We made a quick halt at Erimeli the gateway to Sabarimala hills on the way back from Cochin. It was 2 am but the place looked like what Paris would on a similar Saturday night bustling with devotees. They were dressed like tigers, kinkaras and ascetics and chanting loudly running across the town. Somehow this verve and bounce was not that much visible in the actual climb to Sabarimala.

We then moved to Pamba and reached there by 4 am and took some time to get the climb started. The climb to Sabarimala is done barefoot and is about 6 km long. It must have taken us 3-4 hours to climb and the crowds were huge with the wait time for darshan rumoured to have been 12-18 hours! We were in the 'civil dress' queue not having taken the 41 day deeksha (vow), and the advantage is that the wait time was hardly 15 minutes. I managed to make a couple of more darshans and felt the trip was worthwhile after that. Prasadam was scarce due to some artifical crisis created, undoubtedly by the corrupt temple administration there. So ineffective is the administration that, inspite of a reputed 20 million devotees visiting each year the sanitary facilities enroute were pathetic and even inhuman. Attempts to have a setup similar to Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) appear stuck (see yesterday's article in the Hindu).

After a good darshan, the climb back started and it was definitely much tougher than the climb up. Walking downhill barefoot hurts the feet due to the sharp stones and one is forced to control the impact pulling on the calf muscles over 2-3 hours. Finally it was a huge relief to get back to Pampa and the comfort of the vehicle. We headed to Kottayam our place for the night halt.

Kottayam is a quaint little town that reminded me much of Mangalore. We stayed at the Mali hotel (next to the railway station) which had a decent room but everything else about the hotel was a sham. The Multi-gym was nothing but a dingy basement, the dinner was stale and stinking (an 'Andhra meals' board was setup to attract the majority Telugu crowds) and contrary to the promises there was neither a massage center nor a Jacuzzi! I ditched the meals there ended up having a hot Chapati based meal at the vegetarian restaurant in 'down town'. The next morning we purchased a lot of Kerala plum cake (it was Christmas eve!) and some golden stuff (Kerala is famous for less adulterated gold) before heading to the famous backwaters of Kumarakom.

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