Many people visit Tiruvannamalai. Usually Indians come for just a day or two to walk girivalam around Arunachala and maybe visit the big temple, Arunachaleswara. Westerners come for a few weeks, or a few months. For Westerners, there is definitely a ‘season’ each year, from October through February. For people who live here, like Carol and me, the season seems to start as things open up for the newly arriving visitors. Two ‘traditional’ such openings are the start of bajan singing with Upahar and Veena, and the opening of Om Cafe, the multi-cuisine vegetarian restaurant that was new last year. This year there are other things of interest, such as the opening of a bar at the Ashreya Hotel that will cater to Westerners, and wood-fired pizza on Saturday nights at Sathya’s Cafe. I have a few photos to illustrate these, and a map that shows where they’re located.
These places are all off Perumbakkam Road. This area is presently being built up with new housing and accommodations for Westerners visiting or living in Tiruvannamalai.
The bajan singing is at Upahar and Veena’s house. It is a short block to the left off Perumbakkam Road. A new house has been built between it and the road, so it is less visible. Bajan singing is from 10 AM to noon on Sundays. This has been a regular Sunday event for many years. Upahar and his wife, Veena, stay in Tiruvannamalai for six months each year. This year they also offer a bajan session on Wednesday afternoons.
The crowd fills their house. It is early in the season and already the room seems pretty full.
Upahar leads the chanting. He will play either the harmonium, guitar, or drum. He also plays a flute, and each morning starts with a meditative flute improvisation. The chants are written out, and passed out the those attending.
Other musicians come and play. Here we see a man playing a drum, and another with a rhythm instrument.
Sometimes people bring their children. Right in front of us a young Indian girl, brought by her father, plays with a Western boy, brought by his mother.
This Indian girl was one of three brought by a Jean, a French man. She is lying on a pillow near us.
Now Upahar is playing the guitar and chanting. He has a good voice and clearly enjoys singing.
This Indian boy came with his family, and he brought his drum with him.
After the singing is over people talk and enjoy one another’s company. For many this is also a social occasion, meeting friends. This post is from last year, and shows more of a typical day of bajan singing.
Down the road is the Om Cafe. It is run by two locals, Harriet, an English woman, and her Indian husband, Happy. Harriet is the head cook, and the menu is not the usual faire offered locally. There really are not many food choices available for Westerners, so the Om Cafe is a welcome addition. It opened last year. Here is a post from last year after it first opened.
Opening on October 21st will be the bar and non-veg restaurant at the Ashreya Hotel. This will be the only such place that caters to Westerners.
We had heard that it was to open on the 17th, and went to enjoy the occasion. It was not yet open, but they let us come in, served us food, and went out and got beer for us to drink. Below, Carol, Alan and I hoist our beers!
Another food event during the season is wood-fired pizzas at Sathya’s Cafe. Right now this is offered on Saturday nights, 6 to 9 PM. As the season gets underway, they will offer one or two more nights. So far, Satya’s can only offer the pizza menu when they think there will be enough business to fire up the wood-fired pizza oven, since this is relatively expensive each time. Pizzas are also available as take-out food. We usually get an extra to take home. We reheat it in a fry pan with butter or olive oil, and they are delicious this way.
Below, standing in front of Satya’s cafe is the proprietor, Dhakshinamoorthy. He is a villager, learning to operate the cafe after being electrocuted a few years ago. He also runs a local nonprofit, Quality of Life Trust, which, among other things, cares for abandoned elders in his village. This is a real problem throughout India. The traditional Indian family expects the children (specifically the oldest son) to care for mother and father when they get old. But when the son goes off to the big city, he often seems to forget his roots, and his mother or father may end up living on someone’s porch, begging for food. Quality of Life Trust sees that they get food and medical care. They hope to build a home for the elders, too.
So things are picking up in Tiruvannamalai. More people are in town, and more are coming each day. The most Westerners are usually here in December and January. The largest crowds of Indians are here for Deepam. This year the big day of the ten-day Deepam celebration is November 25th. Maybe two million Indians will be in town for that day. The merchants, vendors, and rickshaw and taxi drivers all depend on business from visitors for their living. So please be willing to shop at their stores and stalls, and use their services. I know many of the rickshaw drivers from around Ramanasramam, and they will do everything they can to help you have a good visit in Tiruvannamalai.