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Thread: Has anyone done girivalam?

  1. Re: Has anyone done girivalam?

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  2. #12
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    Re: Has anyone done girivalam?

    Namaste,

    I finally made it to Ramashramam at Thiruvannamalai.

    We (family of 3) , planned our trip well in advance. I had corresponded with the ashram management earlier , and secured stay for 4 days.

    If you plan this early enough, you have a good chance of securing an accommodation . The accommodation is free along with food and other facilities. You may have to send couple of reminders. This may be the method for ashram staff to make sure that the requestor is serious.

    We took the train to Vellore (Katpadi station) and landed there around 4 am. There was another train leaving Katpadi to Thiruvannamalai around 5 am , reaching Thiruvannamalai at 7:30 AM. The trains final stop is at Villupuram. This is a passenger train and nearly 3/4th empty. As soon as we alighted the train, we were surrounded by auto-rickshaw drivers. They offered a ride to the ashram for 100 rupees - less than 2$. We got dropped at the ashram around 8:15 am.

    We waited at the ashram office till 9 am for someone to show up. There were another set of youngsters - 4 of them - waiting before us. As soon as the ashram manager came in , he invited us inside and asked us to show the confirmation email. I had a printed copy with me. He looked at it and assigned an apartment for us. Since we were a family, the apartment he gave us had kitchen , 2 bedrooms and a verandah. For the youngsters ahead of us, he allotted rooms that resembled a hotel room. All the rooms had fans , mattress , bed cover etc.. Towels & toiletries were not provided. We knew about this from earlier acquaintances , and had provisions like soap/shampoo/towels/toilet paper etc.. Even if you did not carry them, there are provision stores in front of the ashram. They open at 10 am , and stay open till 10pm.

    The ashram grounds themselves are managed impeccably. They employ plenty of folks to keep the place clean. Ashram also provides free vegetarian meals. Breakfast at 7 am , lunch at 11:30 , coffee/tea at 4pm, dinner at 6:30 pm (these timings are approximate). Before every meal, a bell rings. Usually folks queue up in front of the dining hall 5-10 minutes before the dining hall opens. Most of the folks are seated on the floor. If you have difficulty sitting on the floor, they have about 10 seats (the dining hall accommodates about 400 people) with table/chair. We saw old folks, some westerners using the table/chair.There were several ushers to help seat people in rows. Food is served on banana leafs , in an assembly line fashion. I think that the facilities are open for 30 minutes and close after that. They are strict about this.

    Something to be said about the ashram grounds - there were several peacocks , dogs , monkeys etc.. Roaming freely thru out the campus. Some monkeys tend to be aggressive , if they see plastic bags in your hand. They don’t mind suitcases or zipped bags.

    If you miss your food schedule , you need not worry. There are several restaurants just outside the ashram. None of them looked as clean as the ashram's dining facilities - but the food was nonetheless very tasty. If I am eating outside, I would go with bottled water.

    The ashram itself has several meditation halls. When I was there, there were several westerners also. Don't know whether this is the norm. Some of them were not clothed properly - with hippy like clothing. Pajamas , matted hair etc.. I was bothered by this , but no one else seem to care about this. Usually the meditation halls were open and quiet. For some evening slots, there were ritualistic chanting by children - seems to be organized within the ashram itself.

    Most of the folks were walking without any footwear within the ashram.

    On the first day, we took rest , explored the ashram and scouted the surroundings.

    On the second day, we decided to climb the hill and see the caves. These caves were occupied by Bhagwan when he sat on meditation. In one of the caves , he spent 16+ years. We walked without any shoes / slippers. But we noticed few that were walking with slippers. Being unused to walk without shoes, I could feel my feet tingling/paining. I got used to it by the end of the day. On the way up , there was a flat resting place. I saw a joint Punjabi family of 50+ people. The elder of the family was giving some sort of lecture and everyone was listening. I met some of this party later and learnt that the family is spread thruout the world (UK, US , Australia etc..). On the family elder's request , they came together and charted two buses to visit the temples of the south. They were not staying in the ashram. The whole family seemed wealthy (the guy I talked to was working at wall street) enough to afford travel in luxury.

    On the third day, we spent lots of time in the peace and quiet of the ashram. We planned for 'girivalam' (going around the hill). This is a 14 kilometer trek. Most of the path has been paved by cine-actor Rajni kant. Thruout the path, speakers are setup with chants of 'Namasivaya' with very low volume. Initially we planned to start at 3pm - but it was too hot. We waited till 6 pm to start. There were several 'linga' temples on the way. We stopped at every one of them! The last stop is at the Thiruvannamalai temple itself. We could attend the last puja in the temple. By the time we came back to the ashram , it was 1 am . The gates were closed - but the watchman at the gate could recognize us. We were let in without any fuzz. It was a tiring day.

    Next day we went to the Thiruvannamalai temple. In daytime , it is an awesome sight . One of the largest temples I have seen. We walked to the temple and back. The whole endeavor took about 6 hours. There were several beggars around the temple squatting on the pavement. Some were even muslim women wearing islamic garb.

    Next day, we made our return trip the same way - by train. You need to give the keys back at the ashram office.

    Overall , it was a very fulfilling trip.

    If you are travelling to Ramanashramam please note:
    • Travelling by train is the cheapest & convenient way.
    • Make sure you have train reservations. Without that, it will be a nightmare.
    • Auto rickshaw drivers were reasonable. There was no need to haggle.
    • Ashram management advices you not to tip anyone (sweepers / watchman etc..). They insist that all these people are paid by ashram. Please respect that.
    • The ashram does not expect anything in return. This is a free service. If you inquire about it, they will let you know where you can donate. I leant that most of the support for ashram comes within the local community.
    • Take a print out of the email communication. You will need it.
    • Thiruvannamalai gets hot during summer. Have light cotton clothes & flip flops. It will help a lot. When we were there the temps touched 44C.
    • Be punctual for the free food! The food is delicious.
    • If you are going for girivalam, take a water bottle with you. Also take lots of ten rupee notes. It will be useful to donate at temple hundies / arti plates.
    • Do not take any plastic bags - this will tempt the monkeys. Backpacks seem okay.

  3. #13
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    Re: Has anyone done girivalam?

    Namaste,

    Thanks for taking the time to provide so much detail.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seeker View Post
    We took the train to Vellore (Katpadi station) and landed there around 4 am. There was another train leaving Katpadi to Thiruvannamalai around 5 am , reaching Thiruvannamalai at 7:30 AM. The trains final stop is at Villupuram. This is a passenger train and nearly 3/4th empty.
    For people not familiar with the area, is the first train ride from Chennai to Vellore and the second one from Katpadi (Vellore) to Thiruvannamalai? And the reservation is needed only for the first one, as you said that the second one was 3/4 empty? Reservations to be made well ahead of time or buy a ticket for a reserved seat just before departure? If ahead of time, through family/friends or an agent available for out-of-towners? Also was the first ride on a night train - sleeper coach? departing at? There must be some day trains available too?

    Pranam.

  4. #14
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    Re: Has anyone done girivalam?

    Namaste Believer Ji.

    You can travel from either Bangalore or from Chennai to Vellore (Katpadi Junction).

    Train schedules from Chennai

    http://indiarailinfo.com/search/35/36/0

    Train schedules from Bangalore

    http://indiarailinfo.com/search/136/36/0

    Trains from Katpadi to Thiruvannamalai

    http://indiarailinfo.com/search/36/6917/0 (I took the second train)

    You can arrange the journey based on your schedule.

    You can also look for other routes at the Indian railway site.


    Please note that you can book advanced reservations for express & superfast trains. For passenger trains you need to buy the ticket at the station or in the train (you can buy it from the traveling ticket examiner if you run short of time).

    I tried to book it from here , but I was unable to. The railway site was asking for PAN number. My brother in India booked the ticket for me.

    The fare from Katpadi to Thiruvannamalai was close tp 20 Rs/

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited by Seeker; 29 July 2014 at 04:03 PM. Reason: fixing typo

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