Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Girivalam - Walking the Arunachala circuit!!

                                      pic courtesy : google images ...Arunachala mountain

Alert: a very lengthy post but i would appreciate if you read this. Thanks.

In the past many months especially 4-5 months, It had been my wish to go for a marathon or more than running I wanted to speed walk for 10Km. I regularly walk and  practice yoga but other than that the last one year I wasn't  confident of my physical fitness thanks to a health setback.Now that I have almost recovered, I wanted to test my endurance in any walkathon  and was waiting for an opportunity.

As if my wish was heard, my little sis said she would  be walking around the circuit of Arunachala hill (14km) . This is actually a spiritual yogic walk  called Girivalam or Giri pradakshina and must be having some significance, I don’t know . I didn't even bother to google  its benefits , I immediately said I wanted to join her in the walk too.

Now continuing with my previous post where I said I got up at 3 in the morning with just 1.5 hours of sleep, My sis and I  after a bath and just a sip of water, set out for Girivalam at the stroke of 3.45 from ‘Achalam’ our guest house, we walked to Sri Ramana ashram which was  some 500 metres(  or may be less than a km) away.  Traditionally, the girivalam starts and ends from the Shiva temple (Annamalai) but ours started  from  ‘ Sri Ramana Ashram’.  Needless to say, it was pitch dark sky but the pathway was lighted with Sodium vapour lamps which was  laid or donated  a few years back by Filmactor Rajnikanth( another great devotee of Sri Ramana)  to facilitate the walkers.

There were a few people at that unearthly hour who were also doing the girivalam but we slowly walked past them  and after a few kms, the atmosphere was eerie with  herbal forest and cemetry  on either side . I chanted ‘Om nama Shivaya” and walked as fast as my legs could carry .  I tried to  match up my sister’s stamina at all stages.

Traditionally, one has to walk in and out of all the 17 or 18 temples on the circuit, but like I said, I was not conforming to the rules and so just bowed  my head to all the gods I could see on the circuit.  All along the road now, I could see many sadhus, god men in ochre robes sleeping on the foot path with their alm bowls and a water bottle. How difficult it must be for them to sleep in such humid weather but they know not of AC comforts. 

There was no morning nip in the air,  not even one leaf rustled,  the trees were stand still, even then the still air was redolent with herbal aroma emanating from the  forest around.  A few people ( men) walked past us and  a few we left behind  but we continued our walk with the same pace as we started.

6kms into the walk we had an husband and wife  couple who walked right in the middle of the road while we walked on the side of the road and just then when I glanced sidewards, I could see the Arunachala hill showing up since the forest cover had receded. At the very first look, it mesmerized me and I could absorb  the vibes of  Arunachala. It surely was not like the regular mountain or mounds that I often come across in the rocky terrain area where I live. Neither did I feel anything, when  I see the many rocky hills and mountains at KRishnagiri enroute Tiruvannamalai.  But, this mountain, surely oozed grace, divinity and  one sure could be cloaked in bliss.

Again, the forest cover hid the mountain and all along my walk  the mountain was playing hide and seek, and I enjoyed the game  and chanting “Arunachala Shiva”  and slowly when the twilight appeared, a beautiful cloud was hanging and it was a terrific sight to catch, A photo would have done justice but I was walking bare hands.

 pic courtesy: google images. this is close to how it looked to me at twilight with a cloud hanging across in haze

With all these hide and seek, The dawn had cracked and we reached the main road. I had clearly completed 11 kms and more , Somewhere near the main road, we lost track of the couple who were walking with us( we never talked though, not even me and my sis).  At the main road, I realized,only  I was sweating profusely all along and my sister was totally dry. 

The city traffic caught on and the stray dogs were plenty on the  very broad main road, I had to negotiate carefully on the side walk where there was garbage all along and traffic of buses, cyclists and motorists. My pace slowed down although I continued walking with out a break. I was sure, a slight knock by a cyclist would have brought me down to ground. my legs were wobbly yet they were walking.   I sensed cramps in my lower half of the body and was slowly losing my confidence to walk another 3 kms. I was wishing the temple tower was in sight atleast that way I knew how much more I had to walk but the temple tower was nowhere in sight. I glanced sideways now and  could catch a full vision of Arunachala. Now  my sister was more than 100 meters ahead of me and I was almost hoping I would fall down , the city traffic was totally chaotic, add to that the many stray dogs which were fighting and coming closer to me. 

 I once again glanced sidewords  to Arunachala for inspiration and decided I must push myself and start walking although I felt my legs were heavy and I felt my hands were swollen( but they were’nt) .
Suddenly, my sister realized I was not close to her and turned back, when I told her, I have cramps and I felt my hands were crampy too.  She realized I was dehydrated due to  excessive sweating ( she is a nutritionist) and so she  told me to drink juice or water. Actually, I did’nt want to drink anything but did’nt want to swoon  either so I walked to the nearest kiosk and had a Ginger tea.  It was an instant energizer or atleast mentally for me.   A few twists , turns and steps later, We were now close to the temple tower,  Now my pace had definitely slowed  to where I started but I was still moving in good pace. I walked steadily now till I reached the Ashram premises. And we had clocked 6.50 when we entered the Ashram right in time for the breakfast at 7 in the dining hall.

When I stood still there for 10 minutes till the dining bell rang, I realized my whole legs had jammed, I had to walk with heavy steps   the whole day.

That I had walked  14 kms did’nt sink into me that time. I had  Walked 14 kms of which 11 kms nonstop with uniform pace and the rest of the 3 kms again almost nonstop but with slow pace with a 2 minute break for tea - all in 3 hours and 5 minutes.  Honestly, though many walk bare foot effortlessly, I walked with my shoes on.  But nevertheless,  I felt  I had accomplished something very great only a day later. The whole effort was humbling in the end yet a sense of pride reigned.

After breakfast,  I spent some time in the Ashram library”Ramana Granthalayam” which is a beautiful new building  with an amazing collection of books.  Then later, I walked down the ramp towards the shrine slowly watching the monkey's antics  and as I was crossing over……. guess whom I crossed path with?

Music maestro Illayaraja !!!  with no bouncers or bodyguards, he was moving around all alone. He is a regular here and a great devotee. We came face to face in the Ashram twice but nobody bothered to hound him for autographs or selfies . I then went to the main shrine again drawn to the chants of Vedaparayanam and the Aksharamana malai  chant was simply soulful.

WE had lunch at 11.30 and retired to our guest house and I think I must have slept like a log catching on the  previous night’s sleep and my weary legs must have cried for rest.

But now a week later, slowly the moments are sinking in  and  I am rejoicing  and recollecting my girivalam moments and am also amazed at my inner strength.  That lovely Arunachala hill and the Ashram moments come alive and float like those clouds  when i close my eyes. One of the most fullfulling experience I have had in recent times. Absolutely fantabulous…or say.....  those words don't translate my feeling.....I am at loss of words to describe the experience.  Girivalam – I want to do it again.

“There are many things that seem impossible only so long as one does not attempt them.”
André Gide

P.S : I have walked more than 14 kms because we started off from our guest house  (more than 500 metres) and took a circuitious route after the tea near the temple to avoid traffic ( 200 plus steps) 14kms +500 metres and roughly 200 steps:)


  1. I've done it only once and that was barefeet. had blisters on feet but it was worth every bit of it.

  2. God! how did you manage to walk with blisters? but definitely a fulfilling walk it must have been. My sister walked for the 5th time, while the last 4 were on barefeet, this time she walked with her shoes on. But it truly was humbling to see even old people and hunch backed walk barefoot. Even with shoes on, i had sore feet.

  3. Asha,
    It was really nice to read your post. You have walked us through your experience so well that we can visualize each step.


    1. Thank you Veena. Glad you could have a virtual circuit. honored by your kind words!

  4. Wow! 14+ Kms!! You are so inspiring, Asha!! Loved your grit and determination. I so agree about our inner strength. We all have it in us, it's amazing what we can achieve when we realize its power. Kudos to you for successfully walking the Arunachala circuit!! Well done and proud of you! ♥

    1. Thank you for your generous kind words like you. You are bang on about our inner strength which unless tested we ourselves never know.

  5. Well done Asha. And yes, the quote is so apt.

    Its amazing what strength faith can give. Surely the body is capable of so much more, if the mind wills it.

    1. Thank you Ramesh and so true...our body listens to whatever our mind says.

  6. Kudos to ur grit n determination,Asha.truly inspiring