There were a number of things I was afraid of having run-ins with in India that I had, prior to this trip to Tiruvannamalai a couple of weeks ago, not encoutered. They were: scorpions, cobras, and aggressive monkeys. So, in full disclosure, I have still not encountered a cobra anywhere in India yet, which I am perfectly fine with. I will gladly return to America in 4 weeks without that particular anecdotal gem under my belt. However, I kept expecting to see scorpions, and on some level felt disappointed by the idea that I might come all the way here to India and never once encounter one (from a safe distance of course!). Well, as you can see from the above photo, on our hike back down the holy mountain my wait was over! We were very hot and decided to sit in the shade. My friend Nava (She is Vanji’s mom, and an amazing 1st grade teacher who cooks the most incredible vegetarian food I’ve ever eaten) went to make space for me on the boulder where she was sitting by moving a smaller boulder out of the way. When she lifted it up, this scorpion was asleep underneath. The first photo I took of it was pretty much a failure, because a sleeping scorpion so well camouflaged with the rock below it basically doesn’t have much wow-factor. However, Vanji was so excited to get a good photo of it, that he threw a pebble at it to rouse it from its slumber (what, if anything, do scorpions dream of I wonder?) and get it to strike a proper pose. Voila! (No one got stung, by the way.)
These two monkeys were sweetly grooming one another in front of the cave, seemingly oblivious to the marvelous view behind them.
After a very hot walk of about 40 minutes, we reached the cave where Sri Ramana Maharshi meditated for 7 years. There was a breathtaking view of the city below, and it was utterly teeming with monkeys! I took my sneakers and socks off in order to enter the cave and left them with numerous others by the gate. I went inside, which was crowded with people, and was able to meditate in the very inner chamber in which Sri Ramana had so many years ago. When I came back out, I was told by my traveling companions that a monkey had absconded with my socks, but that Vanji, my 10 year-old Indian friend (whose mother is a teacher at my school here), had saved the day! Though I had missed all of the comical action with my own socks, I got to witness and capture this sock thief in action with some stranger’s socks! I love the very serious old-man look on his face.
The holy mountain, Arunachala, behind the ashram, is a place many religious devotees make pilgrimages to. It’s supposed to bestow good luck on the pilgrim if he or she climbes around the mountain barefoot. We decided to climb with our shoes on going up (though I took mine off on the way down). This very large monkey, who reminded me so much of a Dr. Seuss character come to life, greeted us early on in our hike up the mountain. He had a very dignified and chilled-out way about him.
A couple of weeks ago I went on a trip to Sri Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai. We passed this incredible fortress on our way there.
These 4th grade boys insisted I take this photo :).
And here is the lovely beach, whose water is warm and full of mysteries (among them: squid, crabs, gregarious fish, various critters that live in fancy-shaped shells, and (supposedly) human waste pollution from nearby Pondicherry). I am choosing not to think about the final item in that list…
This is what it’s like to ride in an auto rickshaw (which is like a big tricycle with a cab on top). See how the driver is holding handle bars and not a steering wheel? The horns on these things sound like a baby’s toy—very high pitched and comical! It is unusual for there not to be cows in the road in this particular area. Two friends and I were piled into the back of this auto rickshaw headed to the beach, which is about a 5 minute drive away.
More goats and gods max’n and relax’n in the noon day sun.