We finally made it to Turtle cave on the third attempt. We had tried from the left of it and from the right. This time I thought to try to get there going directly up from beneath it, based on my reading of its location looking at the Google Earth maps.
Map of area (created from Google Earth tm).
Turtle Cave is in the general area of Virupaksha Cave, but to the northeast of it. You can approach it on foot the same way you would go to Virupaksha Cave, starting up the small road at the northeast corner of Arunachaleswara Temple.
This time we drove our scooter up the side road that is sometimes walked after the Inner Path Pradakshina turns you out onto the streets. From this road, which we entered from Big Street, we turned left at the second street that went up the hill.
We drove to the end of the street, where there were stairs rising up the hill. The stairs lead to a water tank, which can be seen on the maps as a circle on the side of the hill.
We walk around the tank.
Houses are built high up on Arunachala. I think that most of these are ‘squatters’ and do not own the land. For the most part, the government does not seem to enforce the land laws, and after some time living in a place even squatters earn some rights. But they cannot buy and sell their land. And if the government has a real need, they can force these people to leave and then tear down the houses. Usually some kind of resettlement offer would be made, though.
I see above and to the right of the water tank the direction I want to take.
The locals though try to talk to us, and insist that the way is to the left, up this ‘path.’ Carol is sure they think we want to go to Virupaksha Cave but are confused as to where we are going.
As we continue to walk up, we see Indian families outside, sitting and talking. They will almost always try to engage us in some kind of conversation, even if just to say, “Hello. How are you?” and display their English and skill in dealing with westerners. The local Indians are almost always friendly and welcoming. Many of the women offer to feed us, even.
We go further up the path. We will turn right past these stairs.
I recognize this path now as the way that leads to Palamaram Ashram and Cave.
I really did not want to go this way. I had checked it out last time we were here and there did not seem to be much of a trail, as you can see below. We pretty much just have to push our way through brush and climb over rocks.
We can see Arunachaleswara Temple through the trees as we climb.
Here is more of the route we took. Does this look like a path to you? It sure did not to me!
Over some rocks, the way is a little easier.
There is the water tank below us. We are now about where we would have been if I had just gone the way I had wanted to at the start of this climb, instead of the way the villagers insisted we go.
Carol is behind me with the clippers, cutting thorns to clear her way. I did not bring my clippers today, and I already have one deep scratch on my left arm, with a patch of blood drying in the heat.
In the lower right of the photo below is a small cave we came across.
The cave is really a big dugout under a rock. There are several pillows lying in this cave, so someone is obviously using it. I don’t have any name for this cave, so will just call it ‘Dugout Cave.’
We keep going across and up the hill.
We get to bigger rocks. I think that this is probably the base of the rocks on which Turtle Cave sits.
Carol thinks she sees something above, and starts climbing up the rock face.
Her balance is not always solid.
There is Arunachaleswara Temple through the trees that cover the hillside here.
Up the rock ahead, we see something.
It is the cave. We scale the rock.
The cave mouth is the triangle that we first saw when we were at Pavala Kundru.
In the cave we can look down through the trees into the city below,
There is a nice rock in the mouth of the cave on which to sit and meditate. I wonder who else has sat on this rock? Ramana? Who else of the many saints that lived here?
Here is Pavala Kundru from Turtle Cave.
We had seen a troupe of monkeys as we were climbing today. While we were sitting in the the cave, they joined us.
Richard is watching this monkey to make sure that he does not get to his carry bag and steal something from it. The monkeys are always curious and searching for food. They will get into anything.
These monkeys look at Richard through a crack in the rock. When we used a flash to take a picture, they all ran away.
Here is Arunachaleswara Temple from the cave.
The city below.
We climbed down, going to the left. Carol thought that maybe there was a better way down on that side (since there was NO good way up from the right or the front). She was right, and we found a real path, though still steep and not great footing.
Here is the best view we had of the big temple on this day.
There are many thorn bushes here, and Carol has her clippers out and ready. I am behind her now so can take advantage of her clipping. I didn’t get more big scratches, but did get a thorn deep into my right foot. I think maybe today I will need to go to the hospital and have them cut it out.
We walked through the trees on the side of the hill.
Back to the water tank.
And down on the other side of the tank, past a house. This house had a forge with charcoal and a bellows, where a man was doing blacksmith work, forming iron tools.
As we pass by we can see towers from the big temple rising above the water tank.
It took us several weeks and three attempts to get to Turtle Cave after we first saw it from Pavala Kundru. On the way we found two other caves and one cave/ashram that is also the trailhead of one the the routes up Arunachala that is used to carry ghee to the top for Deepam. (See, on the area map above, the trails up the mountain that lead through Palamaram Ashram.) The particular route we took today to get to Turtle cave I would not recommend to anyone. Rather, go up the trail we walked down today. This is the path I show on the map.
With the two caves we got to on this walk, we have now found 23 caves on Arunachala.