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A Trip to Pampa and Beyond

October 27, 2008

The first time I went to Sabarimala was in ’92. Though I was in my late 20’s I thought of myself as strong and invincible and made up the hills without much problem. Last week I made my fourth trip to sabarimala. In the last 16 years I have never been able to make it consecutively. Each trip was about 4 or 5 years apart. My friend of many years and my erstwhile colleague PK was my companion on the last two occasions. We started our vritham ( a state of being austere -a conditioning of the mind and body) around the 15th of September.
Hinduism is a religion based on science and a lot of practices are scientifically designed. In the earlier days, there were no roads and the pilgrims had to walk on foot through forests and slippery rocks, so
  1. walking barefooted during the vritham was a kind of rehearsal for the main show.
  2. A black dress will camouflage you from the wild animals that were known to roam the forests.
  3. The Mandala Puja was in November- January, supposedly cold in that region. Leaving hair growth without shaving, protects the face from the cold.
  4. There were no shops en route, so you had to cook your own food, the reason for carrying rice in the irumudi.

All these have changed . Roads have come up right up to Pampa. There are many shops/eateries on the way. The way up the hills is cemented. There is no need for the vritham in the strictest sense, but practicing it gives a sense of purpose and a much needed discipline.

I was in Myanmar and later in Sri Lanka when I started the Vritham. Food was a main concern as being veggie is part of the vritham. One had to live with fruits and limited options of vegeterian food.

We started from Chennai on 16th October, after filling the Irumudi. Central station resembled a mini Sabarimala as there were many devotees like us. The temple opens for the first 5 days of the Malayalam months, which falls on the 15th /16th of the English months. Mandala Puja in November and Makara Vilaku in January are 2 major events when the devotee turn-out is the largest when the infrastructure creaks unable to withstand the influx. That is the reason why we plan our visits in September or October. September is more ideal, as the crowds will be less, the Pampa is in full flow after the monsoons, the water is clean and crystal clear. This year we missed September due to prior commitments.

The shortest route from chennai is to travel up to Chengannur (close to780 Kms) by train and from there travel by road to Pampa (93 Kms) and climb the last 4 kms on foot. We reached Chengannur around 5.30 on the morning of 17th. There were a mad rush to get out of the station and catch the bus to Pampa. By the time we came out, the bus was already full and it didn’t make any sense to go standing all of 93 Kms. The other groups were big with 8 0r more members and they took the 2 or 3 Taveras there. The next bus might or might not come as it depended on the crowd and there wasn’t much .So we took a bus to Pathnamthitta.The weather was perfect with light drizzle and overcast conditions. We decided to make the most of it, we hired a jeep to Pampa. The jeep normally takes 10 people charging Rs.70 per head. We decided to pay him the Rs.700. The drive up the ghats was truly fantastic. Lush green forests playing hide and seek with the mist,the river coursing its way through the mountains,light rain tapping on the rooftop. It was divine. You need not have to go to any temple to feel God, if only you could spend some time in nature.

We reached Pampa around 9.00 a.m. After bathing in the Pampa ( the river was flowing fast,clean,clear and not crowded. All of this change in a month’s time when millions of people land here for the Mandala Puja and Makara Vilaku and turn this into a veritable open sewer) we proceeded to climb the hills after invoking blessings from Pampa Ganapati.The Neeli malai and Appachi medu are so inclined that no tread mill can ever prepare you . As we started climbing I realized how age was catching up on me. The lungs started wheezing for precious oxygen and my much abused heart was exerting itself to get the oxygen to each of my trillion cells in my body. In the process it was beating so fast and loud.My lungs and heart started sounding like a nadaswaram( a piped musical instrument) and mridthangam ( a percussion instrument) in a jugalbandhi. I looked around to see old people and even small children climbing up without much difficulty. I also saw a man fitted with a Jaipur leg hobble by. I don’t know about ‘faith moving mountains’ but it sure shrinks them. Making a mental note to be fitter for my next trip and calling on Ayyappa to give me the strength to reach the sannidanam, we managed to reach the temple before they close for the afternoon.

My friend PK was better off with his yoga and clean habits. Setting foot on the Padinettu padi (The eighteen steps leading up to the temple as in picture above) is bliss and all the physical pain is obliterated.We had a good darshan of the Lord and performed all the rituals to be performed there including the neyabhishekam on 18th early morning. We trekked down the mountain and reached Chengannur by 2 p.m well in time to catch the 8’o clock train to Chennai. It was a cleansing experience for mind and body. I think it was Karl Marx, who said ‘Religion is the opium of the people. I must agree that I had a ‘good trip’.

P.S. For a more comprehensive details of many of the pilgrim sites you can look up Saravanan’s blogs. They are very informative.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    November 5, 2008 22:42

    cheers! good work ! keep it up!

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