Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sabarimala - Pilgrimage (Part 1): Preparations and Onward journey

"A picture log of the beautiful Sahya ranges on the way to Sabarimala, the regular trekking path to the shrine and the more scenic and picturesque Swami Ayyappan road"

Sabarimala - a holy shrine, is unique because of the fact that it is located amidst dense forest and mountains of the Sahya range as well as people of all caste and creed irrespective of their religion visit this shrine which is indeed a symbol of religious harmony. One has to trek a 5 km long path through these dense forest to reach this shrine. The temple is open only during the first five days of malayalam month apart from the week long "mandalakkalam" stretching from November 15 to Dec 26, Jan 15th and April 14th.

Traditionally one has to take a vratham (penance) for 41 days before visiting this holy shrine. Nowadays vratham has been reduced to the time one decides to start the journey and after wearing a special garland (Mala).

Owing to the heavy rush during the mandalakkalam, we decided to visit this holy shrine on the first day of Malayalam month in September. One has to carry "Irumudi kettu" which contains the offerings for Swami Ayyappan (idol at Sabarimala) along with him. Only devotees with Irumudi kettu will be allowed to climb the 18 Golden steps leading to the Holy shrine. Others can take an alternate way to visit the shrine.

Getting ready
We packed our Irumudi kettu from Udiyannoor Devi temple. This ceremony is called as "Kettu nira". The routine started as early as 5.30 am in the morning. There were about 30 people for the trip. One person called as Guru Swami who was arranged by the temple authorities helped us to fill the irumudi kettu which contains two coconuts of which one is filled with ghee and other offerings, pack all these in a special bag with two compartments. By about 9.00am all the Irumudis were ready.

We have to carry the irumudi kettu in our heads until we reach the shrine.

Embarking the bus with the irumudi

Sabarimala Irumudi

I sat in the front seat of the bus, to capture the natures creations. I had been to Sabarimala earlier in my Bullet, and enjoyed the scenary to the core.
(Click here to view the Bullet ride to Sabarimala during an off season).
Let us now start our Journey to sabarimala

The Journey
Our Bus rolled out of the city through the NH Bypass to Kazhakkoottam to avoid the traffic blocks in city area.

Sabarimala route

The technopark - one of the oldest of its kind in India, employing more than 30000 people is located in this route

Soon we reached Kazhakkoottam in NH 47. We had to go through the MC road which is in the east ward direction. Now there is new bypass after Kazhakkoottam Junction towards east which connects it to the MC road via Pothencode. This bypass is 90% complete. The advantage of this route is that we can avoid the twists and turns of the road from Kesavadasapuram to Vembayam.

The tarmac was real neat and journey was comfy through this road
MC Road bypass

We passed through Sainik School, Kinfra Film and video park and Pothencode.
Kinfra Film and video park

Soon we entered MC road (Main Central Road). In earlier days there were lots of turns and the roads were quiet narrow. But a recent upgrades has left all the dangerous curves to history and this road is now a drivers paradise with lots of scenaries around.
That is a KSRTC superfast bus.

This road has been built by cutting the hills as can be seen on one side. Lots of effort eh!
Main Central Road Kerala

Thick dense flora and fauna can be seen on both sides making us feel as if we are travelling through a forest.

We passed Kottarakkara by about 11am. Our next stop was at a place called Enath, where breakfast was arranged at one of our colleague's house. We were surprised to see the arrangements made by the family for our breakfast. Eventhough it was a large group they played the perfect host and the food was yum yum too.
After enjoying their warmth and affection along with super food we bid goodbye to them.

My colleagues father and mother played the perfect host.

We reached Adoor and turned right from MC road, Eastwards towards Pathanamthitta. The roads were a little narrow. We reached Pathanamthitta by 1 pm.
After Pathanamthitta there are signboards at every turning point, directing towards Sabarimala.

We entered the Ghat section. Thanks to the bad engine of the bus, the bus was climbing at snails pace in the high ranges enabling all of us to enjoy the scenic beauty around.

From Vadasserikkara, ghats started.
Vadaserikkara Sabarimala
The cloud cover was adding to the beauty of this place.
The hill roads were a treat to watch
Sabarimala road

As we were approaching Laha the area became real dense forest with minimal inhabitants
Sabarimala road

Sabarimala road

Soon we reached Laha. The signboards contains all the major south indian languages, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu along with English.
Sabarimala road

The roads which we came through can be seen from this point. Loved this scenary.
Sabarimala road
Sabarimala road

All in the bus were enjoying the journey just because of the scenary around even though the vehicle was not so comfortable.
Sabarimala road

Now we seems to have reached a peak of sorts. The pictures just tells the story of the altitude we are in
Sabarimala road

We were nearing Nilackal. Meanwhile we were searching for a good location to have food
Nilakkal Sabarimala

We chose a spot inside the Nilackal Siva temple campus to have food. We were carrying food with us.
Nilakkal Siva Temple

The final stretch of road through dense forest was starting and there were signboards warning about animal crossing and to not use plastics in this area
Sabarimala road

Vehicle traffic was less
Sabarimala road

Some streams were seen flowing from the rocks nearby, all of which were occupied by pilgrims for bathing coz the crystal clear and cool water was not easy to be discarded.
Sabarimala road

Some pilgrims were enjoying there pilgramage on two wheels
Sabarimala road

Signboards depicting that we have to travel 19 kms more to Pampa.
Sabarimala road

The final stretch of road leading to Chalakkayam, where vehicles are normally allowed to park during pilgrimage season.
Chalakkayam Sabarimala

This not being mandalam season vehicles are allowed to proceed till Pampa. We alighted at Pampa at 5pm in the evening and all of us are ready with the Irumudi on our heads for the trek ahead after a dip in the holy river Pampa.
Pampa Sabarimala

The holy dip and The climb to Sannidhanam
Thanks to the overnight rains, Pampa was filled with water and owing to the altitude the water was so cool. We were finding it hard to come out of the water because of the coolness it was providing after the tiresome journey which lasted almost 7 hours. Finally when we came out we were all rejuvenated and all our fatigue seems to have blown away by this dip in holy Pampa.

The upward climb started at 5.45 pm and we chose the regular route which contained steps since it was sure to get real dark by the time we finish the 5 km long trek.

Starting to climb amidst chanting of "Swamiey Sharanamayyappa". It is a popular belief that if we keep calling this slogan, we won't get tired even after trekking for 5kms uphill

Even though it was offseason, there was no reduction in the rush, partly due to the pooja holidays. You can also see a "Doli" which means a seat carried by 4 men, services of whom can be availed for the physicall challanged or elderly people, a single trip costing almost 2500 INR.

Soon darkness spread and my camera was soon seen sleeping happily in my pouch after a heavy workload.

This route now contians steps and concreted roads with ample number of shops serving bottled drinking water and rice soup. There were some 4 or 5 steep climbs after which there is a flat road. Finally by about 7.30pm we reached Sannidhanam.

We had booked 3 - 4 rooms with the Devaswom Board. Two rooms were in the Devaswom Guest house and two were in the Donor's house nearby. Kept our belogings in our rooms and went to the shrine with the irumudi.

We broke one of the cocunuts which we were carrying in the irumudi before climbing the "Pathinettam padi", meaning eighteen golden steps. Then we climbed the Golden steps amidst heavy chanting and calls of Swami Saranam. There was a big queue for the "darshanam" (meaning to see the diety). But we could reach in front of diety after about half an hour in the queue. This is nothing when considering the 5 to 8 hour queue time during the Mandalakkalam.

We stayed in the Shrine till the temple was closed at 10.30pm after the customary singing of the song "Harivarasanam". We could also get the blessing of the chief priest "Melshanthi Vishnu Narayanan Nampoothiri" who also happen to be a colleague of us.

We got back to our guest house.

The guest house simply had no facilities at all, not to mention anything about the cleanliness. We were happy that there is atleast a usable bathroom. Seems like Devaswom (the manging group which runs the administration of all temples in Kerala) wants each of the devotee to understand the plight of the common man and the saying that for the god all human being are equal irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, privileged or underprivileged.

The long journey, the trek of 5kms and the time spend standing inside the shrine had made all of us really tired and soon we were into deep sleep, sleeping comfortably in the mattress laid out on the floor in the same comfort of the cosy beds which we find in our homes.

Links to all parts of this Travelogue
Sabarimala Pilgrimage (Part 1): Preparations and Onward Journey
Sabarimala Pilgrimage (Part 2): A morning stroll through Sabarimala forests
Sabarimala Pilgrimage (Part 3): Picturesque Swami Ayyappan Road and the return journey

My travelogues on some beautiful destinations nearby. (Click on the names to view the travelogue)

1. Peruthenaruvi - An unexplored but beautiful rocky location near Erumeli where natures unleashes its water craft in full fury

2. Panchalimedu - The historical place, where Pandavas hid along with Panchali. This unexplored hill station is near Kuttikanam and the Ponnambalamedu is clearly visible from this location

3. Vagamon - Know as The Swiss of Kerala and it does complete justice to its name

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