Tiruvannamalai and Gingee Fort

I had been wanting to visit Ramana Maharshi ashram in Tiruvannamalai since a long time. My last visit there was in November 2019. Due to covid and lockdown, I was unable to go there in the past 3 years. So, without wanting to delay it any further, I planned a visit the ashram on the weekend of 27th May. Normally, I prefer going there alone but while mentioning this to a traveller friend of mine, he expressed his desire to join. 

I had met Rahul in Dehradun last December. I was on my Kedarkantha trek and he was doing Brahmatal trek. We had met at the hostel in Dehradun. Inspired by me, he wants to go on a solo backpacking trip. But before doing that, he wanted to check if he was ready for such a travel. I agreed to take him along on this journey. 

On Friday, the 27th of May, I left home at around 6AM. I took a bus to Madiwala where I met Rahul. We boarded a Tamil Nadu State transport bus to Tiruvannamalai. There are many buses  to Tiruvannamalai from Bangalore. I think there is a bus every 30 minutes. 

Rahul always has a lot of questions for me about life in general. So, we spoke non-stop till Krishnagiri. At Krishnagiri bus station, we had some tasty Paddu, Vada and coffee for just Rs50. Cost of living in Tamil Nadu is way less than that of Bangalore. 

The journey continued and so did our conversation. At around 11:30AM, we reached Tiruvannamalai. We got off at the ashram. I often stay at a hotel called Akash inn. It is situated very close to the ashram and is clean and reasonably economical. We got a room for Rs1800 per night. That was a discounted price from Rs2500. We gladly accepted the discount. 

We freshened up and set out for lunch. The Dreaming tree is located behind hotel Akash inn. The ambience is amazing with great interiors and spectacular views. We picked a spot overlooking Arunachala hill. 

I wish I could say the same about the food. The sandwich and pizza that we ordered, were not that great. It was overloaded with cheese, vegetables and paneer.

At around 3:30PM, we headed to the ashram. We walked out of the back gate and climbed the hill to reach Skandashrama. It is in this house that Ramana Maharshi and his mother had stayed during the last few years of their life. It was built by one of his devotees. 

Until this time, I had not told Rahul about the importance of this place. Around here, I noticed that he became silent. Something that happened to me too. After a short trek uphill, we reached the viewpoint. From here, you can see Arunchaleshwara temple complex and the town. This overview of the temple architecture never fails to impress me. 

The closing time of Skandashram and Virupaksha cave is 4:30PM. We got a chance to enter the house and sit there for a while before it was closed. 

We had to immediately leave and descend to reach Virupaksha cave. As we approached the cave, the caretaker signalled to us that it was closing time and we could pay a quick visit. We entered the cave, which contains the samadi of sage Virupaksha who had traveled from Karnataka. When Ramana Maharshi came here, he chose to mediate in this cave and for a long period went on a  Mauna vrata (A vow of silence). I always feel calm and peaceful when I come here. Not just the cave but the entire hill gives me that feeling. 

We came out and allowed the caretaker to lock the doors to the cave. Rahul and I sat on a rock outside and I asked him how he felt. He told me that from the time we began the trek up the hill, he felt that his mind had gone blank. A mind that was otherwise always full of thoughts, worrying about one thing or the other, had come to a stand still. I concurred. It is exactly what I feel, every time I come here. He helped me articulate it better. It is then that I told him about the place and how people from all over the world come here and experience something similar and keep returning back to the place. This was my fourth visit. 

We walked back and stopped at the viewpoint. An old man and his wife were selling Lemon soda. The temperature at Tiruvannamalai was around 40 degree Celsius. The lemon soda sure did feel refreshing. 

Back at Ashram, the devotees parayana was in progress. What I like about this place is that it is not commercial. There is a set schedule and you can choose to participate in it. If you do not want to, you can simply sit and observe or meditate. Many foreigners have come and settled here and it is a common sight to watch a westerner in Indian clothes walk around or meditate, along with thousands of Indian devotees. 

The biggest difference I find between the people who come here and the devotees I see in other religious establishments is that people who come here seem contented. In the religious monuments like temples, churches and mosques, I have mostly seen people come to express their concerns or wishes. Here, the devotees seem to be at peace. They seek nothing. 

We headed back to the hotel. As I wasn’t hungry, I chose to skip my dinner. Rahul had some dosa at a local stall. A long day thus came to an end. 

Next morning (28th May), we woke up and got ready by 7:30AM. We headed to the restaurant below for breakfast. The breakfast is included in the room tariff and that is one of the highlights here. The buffet serves Idli, Vada, Poori, Dosa, Kesribath, Pongal, Corn flakes and Bread. 

After enjoying that heavy breakfast, we took an auto rickshaw to the main bus station located 3km from Ashram. At the bus station, we boarded a bus to Gingee. When I visit here alone, I generally stay at the ashram all the time but since I had company this time, I decided to show my friend around. The bus was headed to Chennai via Gingee. The driver drove rashly until someone pointed out that a sack of flowers that had been placed on the last seat had fallen off the bus. The driver had to stop and the conductor called the owner to come look for the sack which had fallen off on the way. We waited for the boys to come. They had found it under the flyover, where the driver had taken a sharp turn. The driver too had predicted the same. 


We continued our journey to Gingee. I noticed that the driver had reduced the speed now. He was more careful. Within an hour, we were at Gingee. There are three main forts here - Krishnagiri, Rajagiri and Chandrayanadurg. Chandrayanadurg is not so popular as it is in ruins. I have already done the other two treks. Of the three, I find the trek to Rajagiri challenging and interesting. Rajagiri fort entrance is about 1.5 km from the main road. We walked till there. 

At the gate, we were told that the tickets had to be purchased online. 10 college students from Vellore requested us to process their tickets as well. We did that and began our walk up the hill. 

The sun was out and that made the trek even more challenging. But within an hour we were at the summit. The views all through are amazing. 

At the summit, I picked my usual spot by the temple, located at the far end of the hill. The view from there is spectacular. We relaxed there for a long time before returning. A lot of people trek here and the guards keep track of the climbers. So it is a safe place to be at any time of the day. 

There is a lot to explore in this fort. You can go through my blog post on Rajagiri for more details. The Kalyana Mahal (The wedding hall) is one of the popular attractions at the base. 

At the base, we had some much needed cold drinks at a local shop and then rode an auto rickshaw to the town. Rahul had sunscreen all over his face. The locals found that funny. We met a man who had lived in Bangalore for a long time. He guided us to the right bus to Tiruvannamalai. 

After freshening up, we walked to Virupkasha cave again. This time, I chose to go there via main road and not by climbing the hill behind ashram. At the cave, it was peaceful but the humidity made it difficult to sit there for a long time. I preferred sitting outside, under the trees. The cool breeze was refreshing. Few people had gathered around the cave and they requested the caretaker to talk about Ramana Maharshi. 

I have been here several times but I had never gone back and read about Maharshi. This was the first time I was actually hearing about it. He told us how at the age of 16 Maharshi had a near death experience and enlightenment. He had come to Tiruvannamalai and mediated in this cave where Virpuaksha Rishi had attained jeeva samadhi. The book “Who am I?” Is a compilation of answers given by Ramana Maharshi to a devotee. He wrote the response to the questions on sand because, at that time, he was under mauna vrata. The caretaker talked about the devotee who constructed the house for him. The house (Skandashram) is named after him.  He asked us to watch a YouTube channel called - Voices of Rishi. Further, he mentioned that all who come here, experience something very similar and Maharishi makes himself known to them. And therefore, people keep returning to this place, he said. He also added, that once we have realised Maharishi’s teachings, life shall seem simple. There shall be absolute peace of mind. We can exist in our surrounding happily performing our duties. We seek no new knowledge and all kinds of curiosities come to an end. 

We chose to stay back after the talk. Rahul told me that he disagreed with the caretaker on the curiosity part. He felt that curiosity was important for a man and that is why we have reached where we are today. And what would we do without curiosity? If we give up everything, then what would we live for? I completely understand his points and I would have been saying the same, a few years ago. There is clearly a generation gap between us and he has more to experience in life, in order to reach a state of mind that I am in currently. And it is important to have those experiences to reach this state. Today, I think differently. Once we have fulfilled the desire for knowledge of the external world, we tend to seek more about ourselves. 

Specially after Goecha La trek, I have come to a firm understanding that life is simple. Man belongs to nature, as he is a part of it. But instead of realising it, we have complicate our lives. We have found solutions to the problems that do not even exist in the first place, thus giving rise to new problems. Hence, we continue our search  of another solution to a problem that is created by a solution we found for a non-existing problem. And all knowledge we tend to seek is but an explanation to this solution and its problems. The more I read or listen to people who have introspected over this further, the more I understand that they say almost the same thing. 

The knowledge we have gained about this external world does make us an interesting person for sure but to find out about ourselves, we need to focus inward. To focus inward, one needs a mind that is devoid of thoughts. And that comes through complete detachment of materialistic possessions, including maybe knowledge. One who has realised that, seeks no interest in gaining external knowledge because they are not important. I am sure there is more clarity to be achieved on this before I can assert it. I am sure, I shall figure that out in the due course. 

We returned back to ashram and sat there for a while. We stayed back for dinner. The food was simple but tasty as always. 

On Sunday, the 29th of May, we got up early and were ready by 5:30AM. I had decided to do the Girivalam. It is a popular religious practice here in which devotees circle around the Arunachala hill. This is mostly done on a full moon night but you will find a lot of devotees doing it on any given day. The total distance of this walk is 14km. 

It is interesting that both Rahul and I do not believe in either religion or God. But we were doing this religious ritual. When you are a traveller, you have to discover every aspect of the land that you are visiting. Because, it is the tradition and the culture that help define a place, not only the geography. Without being part of it, one can hardly claim to have experienced a place. 

To be honest, the walk isn’t that very exciting as it is on a paved road. There are a lot of beggars and swamis requesting for money or food. It is difficult to distinguish one from the other. Modernisation has made this ritual look uninteresting. There are wide paved roads, footpath, shelters for resting etc. A trail closer to the hill and the forest would have been much more interesting. I reckon, it must have felt so in the olden days. After having walked about 7km both of us felt that it was better to take an auto rickshaw to Arunachaleshwara temple. Anyways, I had completed this walk previously

Arunachaleshwara temple complex is huge. I normally go there at 6AM when there is hardly any crowd. This being a Sunday, the temple was slightly crowded and it was 8AM already. However, we did not have to wait for a long time. Within 30 minutes, we finished our Darshana (Viewing of main deity). I enjoy watching the idols and the decoration. Under the natural lighting of lamps, the Shiva linga looked impressive. 

Back at the hotel, we had a good breakfast and checked out at 11AM. We took a local bus to the main bus station in town and boarded a bus back to Bangalore. Though I prefer going to Ashram alone, I did enjoy Rahul’s company. Because, he was observant and introspected on the experiences we had had. Moreover, he is always open to new ideas and thoughts. And for him, he seemed positive on doing a solo backpacking trip soon.


  1. Loved this post. Been to thiruvannamalai many times. My late wife was from there.


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