There are many paths around Arunachala. These are mainly used by sadhus, villagers, and goats and cows. One of the main places for these small footpaths is the southwest side of Arunachala, between the road and the Hill. The main area where these are found is shown in the colored section of the map below. This constitutes a pretty large area. Few Westerners ever set foot on any of these footpaths.
A few months ago we moved to a location that is close to this part of Arunachala. Since then I have been exploring some of these footpaths as I take my morning walks. In the last two months I have gotten very familiar with one set of these footpaths, between a small tank by Pradakshina Road, near where it splits from Bangalore Road, and the Kattu Siva Tank. This is the area that is easiest for me to get to from my house. The main set of these paths is shown on the map below as small yellow lines. These paths give me a ‘shortcut’ through the forest to get to Kattu Siva Tank and Cave, Leopard Rock, and to the Inner Path access to the path to Papaji’s (and Aum Amma’s) Caves.
I like exploring these kinds of paths. As regular readers of this blog know, I think the thing about paths is that they go somewhere. And the only way to find out where is to follow them and find out. If I use a path regularly, then I will get my pruning clippers out and trim back thorns and brush from the path, to make future walking easier.
In this area there are now two small landmarks that I stop at again and again. I call these ‘Black Rock’ and ‘Sitting Rock’. They are marked on the map below. I usually stop at these spots when walking. I may take a drink of water, sit and meditate, or feed the dog or dogs that accompany me each day.
This post shows some of the paths that I use when I walk in the morning. In this part of the year, April, which is one of the two hottest months of the year (April and May), I usually get started early, maybe 6 AM. The morning is as cool as it is going to get. Mornings, like the one shown here, where there is early cloud cover over Arunachala, are usually more humid that usual.
Here is Arunachala as I walk from my house towards Bangalore Road.
Walking along Pradakshina Road, I see many burlap bags on the new sidewalk, filled with something.
It is rice, still with the husk on the grains.
It has been harvested from nearby fields. The farmers will find convenient locations where they store the new grain until they can bag it. The new sidewalk makes a nice flat place for this. The farmers will use whatever resources they can.
I turn into the forest here.
This is the first tank along Pradakshina Road. Arunachala can be seen in the background.
By April, this tank is usually dry. There are plants growing at the bottom, where there was recently water.
I walk around the tank and over the rear wall. Care must be take along this route, since this is an area used as an outside toilet. Don’t step on any piles!
A footpath can be see going through the forest.
This morning I go to the left at the first intersection of paths. Going right would take me towards Papaji’s Cave.
I continue through the forest a bit. Everything is pretty dry now. Dogs are ahead of me.
In the wet season this is a creek with running water.
I follow the path through the dry brush and small trees. When there are choices of paths, I go right.
I start to come into an open area. The foot of Arunachala is on the horizon.
Here is the open area.
To the left is a dirt berm, forming a small water retention tank. I never have seen it holding water, though.
I follow the path through the trees. Now I can see Parvati Hill on the left.
Following the footpath.
Here is Arunachala again, the peak still shrouded in clouds. Often it seems like Arunachala is the source of the clouds, with them streaming from the peak.
Bear right again on the path. The dirt here is red, red from the red mountain, since iron ore makes up much of Arunachala. Thank goodness that they prevent people from mining here. Otherwise there would be pit mines instead of mountain forest.
Still following the footpath through trees and brush.
To the right I see a broad flat black rock. This is a regular stop for me.
At the left end of the rock is another small path through the forest. I have clipped a lot here, to make it walkable for people.
Here is the black rock.
In the middle of the rock there is a good place for two people to stop and sit.
When I am here, I usually will feed the dogs. Today I have the regular dog from our house, Bebe. With us are two Arunachala dogs that usually join us now. I call the brown and white one Ajax, because he seems like a grizzled old warrior, with scarred face, etc. The black and white female I call Princess, for a reason unknown to even me. I don’t think Ajax is fed much by people, and he REALLY appreciates it. I can tell.
Back on the trail, Bebe and Ajax lead the way.
Coming up is a junction of paths.
Straight ahead and towards the right a bit is the path to Leopard Rock.
Turning left is the path that will take us to the back side of Kattu Siva Tank.
We head towards Parvati Hill for a bit.
Then turn right when we can.
We follow the path towards the west end of Arunachala.
I turn and follow a dry, sandy creek bed. I guess if the ‘sand rustlers’ knew of this place, they might figure out how to get bullock carts here to carry away and sell the sand. It is worth several thousand rupees per bullock cart load now.
Towards the end of the creek bed, I turn right again.
Even though this season is dry and hot, there are still some flowering trees. These yellow flowers have been blooming for some time now.
These are tiny white flowers growing on one of the most common thorn bushes. You can see the thorns. I have gotten these in my shoes and into my feet frequently. They are tough enough to go right through the sole of my sandals.
Back to the path. In this open area is one of the few places where I bear left.
Then I come to a thick hedge of growing cactus. This path through the cactus was impenetrable two months ago when I started to come here. I cut and cut through the cactus to open it up.
On the other side of the cactus gate is an open clear area near Kattu Siva Tank.
There have been stone walls that are further planted with cactus and trees to make a nice enclosed area. I wonder if devotees of Kattu Siva made this, and why they did? Maybe to grow food?
I am approaching the Kattu Siva Ashram, in ruins now.
Today the inmates of the ashram are macaque monkeys! They sit in a row on the top of the building, watching me.
Kattu Siva (literally, ‘Jungle Siva’) lived here during Ramana’s time. He was a siddhi (someone with special powers), and much revered by the local people, who built this ashram for him. He did not wear orange cloth, nor did he wear vibhuti, ‘Siva stripes.’ He thought that all of these were pretentious and not needed.
Looking towards the tank.
Monkeys climbed down from the building, I guess to get a closer look. They are not afraid of people, it seems. Since sadhus are usually here, the monkeys are used to people being around.
This must be the king monkey in the photo below. I don’t think I am welcome after all. He just bares his fangs. He does not make a move towards me.
Here is Kattu Siva Tank. It is the only tank near Arunachala with water all through the year. A woman in white, walking the Inner Path, is on the other side of the tank.
A sadhu takes his morning bath in the tank while another stands and watches. While they bathe, they will usually wash their clothes as well, and spread them on nearby bushes to dry.
One last look at Kattu Siva Tank, and then I continue the walk.
Walking back through the trees behind Kattu Siva Tank.
Leaves on this plant are shriveled, to endure this hot, dry time of year. When there is rain, they will uncurl and plump out again.
I turn left and follow a path through the small stone wall. I am going to take the direct way to the back of Leopard Rock.
The path crosses this area, open with a few trees scattered about.
Here is another tree all abloom.
Now Leopard Rock can be seen through the trees.
I will walk up the back side here.
Now I am atop Leopard Rock. Often you will see sadhus sitting and meditating. Locals say there is always someone meditating here whether you can see them or not; this place is frequented by Devas. If you want to see them, come here at 3 o’clock in the morning. That is when they come out.
Far away, to one side, is the Murugan Shrine on top of Virukkal Hill. (See the posting about this shrine here.)
As I scan the other side, first there is Parvati Hill.
Then the small hill between Parvati Hill and Arunachala, called by some Ganesh Hill. Others call it Skanda Hill. Over the low point on the right side goes the present Yellow Path. The new section of the path being built now goes over the other low point, the left pass. This is really the old path, before the Inner Path went around Parvati Hill in the 1990s, and was used for hundreds of years before this. The work is restoring this old path.
Then there are the lower slopes of Arunachala.
As I walked off Leopard Rock, I stopped and took this photo of a cleanly cut branch. This is the kind of cutting I do with my pruning clippers. If you are around this area and see branches cut off this way, you can pretty well guess that I did the cutting.
I turn right and go through a small path through the trees.
After about 100 meters, I arrive at the Inner Path.
I have marked the start of this path from the Inner Path with these small stone cairns. I often use stone cairns to mark paths, especially when I am first getting to know an area.
Turning right here from the Inner Path will get to Kattu Siva Cave.
Following the Inner Path gets you back to Kattu Siva Tank.
This faint path leads to the cave. There is another, better, path from the water pump area past the tank.
I continue walking towards the hill. The path is faint, but I know I am going in the right direction.
Dry seed pods hand from this tree.
The big rock standing above the trees in the center of this photo is the rock under which Kattu Siva Cave lies.
Better views of the rock as I get closer to it.
To the right of the rock there is a small, rough path.
Follow this path a few meters.
And turn to the left.
This is the Kattu Siva Cave area. It has been cleared, and most of the year has shade from the tree in the center of the area, so even during the day you can find shade, and usually a very quiet place to sit and meditate. Another article on the Kattu Siva Cave can be found here.
I usually sit on this seat in front of this big rock. When I come early in the morning this has nice shade.
Looking towards the big rock, you can see a dark spot at its base. This is the cave entrance. I see Bebe on top of the rock. Most dogs seem to like climbing these rocks to get a good look around.
Closer to the cave.
In a crack in the rock grows a stunted tree. This could be very old, you never know; with little root space the tree stays small, like a natural Japanese bonsai tree.
Looking down into the cave. To the left of the entrance you can see stone and cement work, a sure sign of human use and occupancy. I guess Kattu Siva slept here.
Walking back from the cave, the sun has come out and the colors get brighter.
We are headed now to the area I call Sitting Rock, another place where I sit and meditate.
We have followed a path around the back side of this open area. It is marked by many holes where the Department of Forestry has planted trees during their big tree planting project this year. Maybe this will not be an open area in ten or twenty years.
To one side of this clearing there is a set of big rocks.
On one side there is a group of rocks with several places to sit. This is where I will stop. In the morning it is usually shady and pretty cool. This is my Sitting Rock.
I head back towards the road, being led by the doggies. They know where we are going.
I just follow the paths, and head away from the mountain.
This is a path marker I have set out. Follow the rock to the left to get to Sitting Rock, to the right to get to the Inner Path on the way to Papaji’s Cave. You will also pass by a new water settling tank that was built this year.
At the end of the walk, I see our present house, with the thatched roof on top. Every week we have a satsang here, listen to an audio recording of Nome’s teaching. Usually a few people join us. We do not post signs about it, figuring that whoever needs to find us will, somehow.
The next three photos were taken in January, when there was still water around.
This is looking at Arunachala over the new tank I wrote of, above.
Another look at Arunachala over the tank. The peak is in a cloud, as is often the case.
This is the small roadside tank when it is full of water. In these pictures you can get a bit of the feeling of what it is like when there is water as well as when it is dried out.
There are many of these small footpaths in the area that surrounds Arunachala. These are places that most people never see when they visit Tiruvannamalai. I invite you to follow these, or to go exploring yourself. You might find some new secret of Arunachala for yourself.