So what is it that brings people to God. Why do people believe in a force that they cannot comprehend or showcase. I guess God only has the answer.
And so it was on a Wednesday evening that we started for yet another Sabarimala trip. The trio of me, Deepak and Jithu. I had already put Mala while the others were on fast but were planning to put it at Eranakulam. We boarded the Kochuveli express from Bangalore. Our destination - Eranakulam. Starting time 5:15 pm. I made myself comfortable near the window seat. Deepak was describing about the adventurous North East trip Next Year. The train was full even though it was in the middle of a week. Deepak found "Inner Peace" in a siesta :).
We had dinner (idly & vada) at Salem station and went to bed at around 10 pm. We reached Eranakulam at around 5 am. The taxi (travera) we had booked was waiting for us at Eranakulam south railway station. We arrived at Chilvannur flat (Deepak's in-law's flat) at around 5:30 am. Took a small nap and got ready by 8 am. Our Kettu Nira was done at Palarivattom Ayyappan Temple (all thanks to Deepak's Father-in-law & his brother-in-law). And so we were on our way to Sabarimala at around 9 am. We stopped briefly for breakfast at Thrippunithura. Deepak suggested Udupi Hotel. And the food was really Yummy.
Distance from Eranakulam to Pampa = 165 Km. Average running hours = 4 hours. If you take stops, it might be around 4.5 hours. It is relatively hot in Kerala (considering temperatures in March). There were reports of people suffering from sun burn in many parts of the district(Pathanamthitta) and all through out Kerala. We were cautious and wanted to make sure sure we start the ascend in the evening. We advised Nikil (our driver) to take it easy so that we arrive by evening.
We saw Arattu (God/Goddess carried on procession) on the way. Rivers are plenty in this part of the world and most of them are perennial.
We arrived at Erumely (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erumely) temple by around 1pm. There is also a mosque near by. Kanni Ayyappa (people who visit Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala for the first time - http://www.indiavideo.org/kerala/festival/erumeli-petta-thullal-51.php) are supposed to visit the mosque and the temple and perform Petta Thullal ritual. And we thought Unity in Diversity only existed in Books :) (More to come).
We had lunch at a near by place (on our way to Pampa valley). 4 Meals 90 Rs. Jithu insisted on having Porridge.
By 2 we were at Pampa. Little do we realize with the broad roads that we are in the midst of Dense forest. The forest is part of Periyar Wild life sanctuary & Tiger Reserve. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periyar_National_Park
Call it rush of blood or devout for the lord. We decided to start the ascend at 2:30pm. Bad decision!!!! 10 steps and our feet started to feel the Heat. Everywhere around Pampa concrete is laid and roads are tarred. We had to be cautions to land our feet in the shade. At pampa the water levels were low, we cleaned our feet and started the ascend. Till Pampa Ganapathi temple we were hopping between shade left by identification boards. Hop Hop and Hop.... We thought the worst was over, the climb would be in the shades even though there is concrete that is laid. Again wrong calculations. The first part of the steps was in the shade but from there till Marakootam there were only few patches which we could traverse on bare foot. Since we had enough time we decided to go slow and take as much of rest as possible.
Second Break : This time I was chatting to Swami the guy who sells pineapple at Sabarimala. 4 pieces 10 Rs. His story : He is from Elapara Estate nearby. Was working as a plantation worker before quitting. He has 3 children all of whom are studying in school. What does he do for a living? During season, he sells Pine apple at Sabarimala, he does not cultivate; he gets it on lease from a source and sells it at premium. Carries few buckets of Pine apple all the way up. So how is this years season, I asked. "Pretty bad. Don't even think if I will get my principal back. I have kept 3 pineapples for my kid and I am off after I sell these few pieces. " While we were chatting, 3 other Swami's joined. I bought pineapple and shared with them. Swami was telling us about his feelings about the lord. "When i want to visit the lord, it just feels in my heart and I go and visit the lord. It takes me 1/2 hour to get there. I have bath in the pond and I go and see the Lord. On my way back I buy 2 Rs Ground nut and I munch them on my way back. "
By 5 we were at Sannidhanam. The First sight of the Temple complex was enthralling. We had made arrangements in a Guest house and it was a nice setup. One of the advantages of traveling during off season is that you get to avoid the crowd.
We had bath and went for the first darshan at around 6pm. We offered the Irumudi to the lord and prayed. Fortunately there was Padi pooja that was performed on that day.
We visited the adjoining temple of Malikapuuram and Vavaru Nada. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vavar . And think about Communal harmony... A muslim priest at Sannidhanam offering blessings to devotees of a Hindu Temple. And the lord insists that one who visits me has to also visit Vavar. God I love to take a snap of this and send it to Huji or Harkath or Let.
On our way back we Saw Narayanettan. Right under the electric lamp showering his anger on someone in the Dispensary near by. And so we asked a person (A person who carries Doli for the folks who cannot climb the mountain on their own). "Oh him, he is Narayanettan. He became like this because once a Police man shouted at him. During Summer he losses his temper. People at Sannidhanam and Pampa know him so no body complains." And believe me he was non violent.
We went back to our guest house. And guess who visited us. Yes a Wild Boar. In fact you could see a lot of them roaming around Sannidhanam. Do they hurt you. Well of course not. Call it grace of god or that they have got acclimatized to having people around. The care taker was also telling us the story about Bears visiting the area. They don't harm either !!! In this large jungle, the only inhabited place is Sannidhanam (and the narrow road that leads to Sannidhanam). In a sense human beings have occupied their space. So I asked Unnikrishnan the care taker of the Guest house. How does it feel to be away from the family. "It is tough, but it is also Luck. But many do not have the privilege of getting early in the morning and visiting the lord every day. It is a feeling of happiness" .
We had dinner and then went back for Harivarasanam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harivarasanam) . Narayanettan was still in his merry world!
Sung every night before the temple closes. During off seasons it is done at 10:00. During season, it is sung at 11:00. Ladies (Old ladies & young Malikappuram) are not allowed during this time at the Nada. And so I had the privilege of Singing Harivarasanam at Sannidhanam. Thoroughly an Experience of a life time. While we were staying at HAL, we used to visit Ayyappa temple in the evenings for Harivarasnam. So the experience helped.
Global warming has its semblance everywhere. Sabarimala is no different place. Hotel Annapoorna had so many lights lit up at the entrance just to attract the folks (well I guess the lights were so intense they were warding off a few customers.
We had darshanam in the morning as well (Nei Abhishekam). The crowd had started to build up steadily. We started our descend around 6am. I took time to snap of sannidhanam before we left.
By 7 we were at Pampa and the Sunrise just around the corner.
We boarded our vehicle and were on our way to Eranakulam.
All through the journey I was thinking the planning that we undertake for this once in a year visit to Sabarimala. And yet there are people around who are more lucky, who could visit the lord as soon as they would like to.
Dedicated to all the Devotees of Ayyappa and especially the thousands of public servants for their relentless and selfless service. From the care takes of the guest house to the Devaswom boards to the Police at Sabarimala and to the thousands of cleaning workers at Sannidhanam and Pampa. You are really Lucky!