Three More Caves near Skandashram on Arunachala

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During these last two years, most of the new caves that I have posted about have been shown to me by a Frenchman, “G.” G was inspired by this blog to start exploring Arunachala, and he has been climbing all over it. In his explorations he sometimes finds caves (“G’s Cave” on Arunachala’s Northside  and  Climbing to a Cave High Above Ramanasramam ) and then will ask if I want to see. He will then take me to these caves, so I can photograph them and write about it on this blog.

This year he had found two new caves, on this hillside past Skandashram, at about the same level. This morning we are going to go find them.

I really appreciate G’s kindness. My legs are not good enough anymore to do this kind of exploring on the Arunachala mountainside, but I can still get to these kinds of places when led there. With these new caves, it’s up to thirty-three that I have visited and photographed. The other thirty can be found in this post.

G intended to show me two caves that he’d discovered, but on the way back we located a third one that neither of us knew about.  (On these maps where I focus in on one area, I often remove some of the yellow path lines that show mountainside trails. I do this to make the map less confusing.) On this map there are several paths not shown, including from Skandashram to Seven Springs, and several going up the hill used at Deepam to carry ghee up the mountain for the ten-night Deepam oil lamp.

Below is a map of the area with the three new caves added. (Click on map to enlarge.)

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I met G near Skandashram.

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He headed a few steps down the stone stairs towards Virupaksha cave, then turned left onto the path that goes up the mountain.

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After you cross a small stream, fed by a spring that flows year round – the reason that Skandashram is built here – you come to a large rock face. Traverse it upwards to get to the path that goes to Seven Springs and the mountaintop.

Instead, we headed downwards. You cannot really tell from the photo below, but it is pretty steep. I used a walking stick to keep from slipping and falling. Otherwise I would have had to slide down on my bottom.

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At the bottom of the rock, we had to climb back up, to the left, through loose dirt.

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Fortunately, the way were were going was just recently cleared by the good people who create firebreaks on the mountain. This is done, I think, every two years. It is not done by the government, or the Department of Forestry (which is responsible for Arunachala), but rather by private people, and, I think, mainly funded by Westerners. This is a big project, and costs about Rs 10 lakhs (1,000,000 rupees, about $25,000). These firebreaks limit the spread of any fire that does start on the mountain. This is one key to the fire suppression that is essential to the greening of Arunachala that has been done over the last 20 years.

The photo below shows piles of plants that have been pulled up to make the firebreak.

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Here is the resultant cleared area of the firebreak. It is about 20 feet wide.

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Though the terrain is rough, it is still pretty good to walk on the firebreak. Here is G walking ahead of me.

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It is early morning, and the city below is covered by a mixture of water vapor and smoke. The Big Temple, Arunachaleswara, is below us, barely visible through the smoke.

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G standing on the edge of the firebreak. Compare the cleared area to the grass and plants to his left.

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After a short walk, we see stone steps that climb up to a doorway.

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This is the first cave we come to today. On the map I call it “Cave near Skandashram.”

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The face of the cave has a well-built concrete wall, with an iron door, a window with iron bars, and iron shutters. This is the only cave we have seen with this kind of window. There are a few caves we have seen (associated with ashrams) with iron doors.

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Inside the cave is a concrete floor and concrete shelves. There are some items on one of the shelves, making me think that this cave is still being used. I did not see a sleeping mat, though. There is no water here, so any water has to be carried from Skandashram. I also saw no evidence of fires or wood stoves, so I don’t think anyone is cooking here.

The thing about all the concrete work is that everything has to be carried up the hill. The cement would have been separated into about half bags that would each be carried, a long climb with a lot of weight. The water had to be carried from Skandashram. The iron doors and window had to be carried, too. This is not a small project. I am sure that it was not done with any kind of approval. There is little risk of the Forestry Department discovering the work, since their people almost never get out on the walking paths on Arunachala, and this is not even on any path. I don’t think this cave is very old, judging by the lack of apparent aging on the concrete and rust on the iron doors and window.

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I like this rock that protrudes into the space, with concrete shelves on both sides.

The cave seems waterproof, so one could stay here through the monsoon or other rains.

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It is high enough that you can stand up. The door and window are behind G.

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Looking out the doorway.

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It is not clear from this photo, but outside the door is a flat area made with a rock wall, and filled with dirt. Now plants have grown inside it; it needs to be cleared. If I lived here, this is the next thing I would do.

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After we left the cave we continued walking on the firebreak towards the next cave.

We saw a plant I don’t know. It has long pods that grow two at a time. Their bottoms are joined, so the two pods grow together at the stem and at the bottom.

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Up on this hillside is a tree, growing on the rock.

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This closeup shows that the tree grows right in the rock face.

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G is trying to make out something to the east of us. It is early morning, so he is looking right into the sun.

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Behind us is the small hill that you pass walking up the hill to Skandashram. The path to Skandashram goes between this hill and Arunachala.

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G is far ahead of me. Now he is standing on a big rock way off in the distance.

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Here is a closeup. I think that the next cave is at the base of this boulder.

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The boulder stands on a large rock face that is bare of plants. I am pretty sure that this will be visible from the satellite photos that Google Earth uses, so I will be able to find this cave for the map. (This was, in fact, the case.)

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At the base of the rock, there was a crack, maybe five feet high, with space enough where two people could climb in. This is today’s second cave. I call it “Cave Above Tortoise Rock.”

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G is inside with me.

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This cave has shade all day long, so is a nice place to stop. When we were there, there was also a good breeze blowing through it, so it was cool. The shade and cool are precious on Arunachala during the heat that is present most of the year.

There is a nice view from the cave. In the distance to the left, partially obscured in the photo below by the tree growing from the cave entrance, is Pavala Kundru. From stories we know that Ramana walked by this area every few weeks, when he went to Pachiaimman Koil for his oil baths. I wonder if he stopped to rest in this cave? We know that he did in the lower Tortoise Cave.

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The Big Temple from the cave area. The air is a bit clearer now, so you can make out the gopurams better.

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Here is a clearer view of Pavala Kundru, in the middle ground in the photo below. In Ramana’s day, this marked the end of the city of Tiruvannamalai. To the left of this small hill were no buildings when Ramana would come here. Now there are so many buildings that it is hard to even imagine the older, smaller city.

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Looking back towards Ramanasramam.

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As we return, we are going to go down one of the paths used to carry ghee up the hill for Deepam. I thought is would be an easy walk, since so many thousands of people walk it each year. Boy, was I mistaken. Though the path is pretty wide, it is hard walking, even going down. What about for the people carrying their load up the path?

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Here is one view of the nearby mountainside. There is a nice green tree cover over these hills.

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Compare the photo above with the bare hill that is seen in all the Ramana photos. This is evidence of the great success of the Arunachala reforestation efforts. Begun in earnest 20 years ago, Indians working together with Westerners began the process of restoring the natural green cover that Arunachala once had.

G is waiting in the shade, sitting in the cool until I get down this path. He is very patient, since I now travel pretty slowly on these mountain paths.

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Partway down the path, we encounter a group of Langur monkeys.

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Further down the path we see one more cave that neither of us knew about.

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Another cave with a concrete front with a iron door. This is right above what I first knew of as Palamaram Ashram, on which I previously posted this article.

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Down the hill there is a nice lingam built into concrete under a tree next to the ashram. You can see that someone is taking care of this lingam, since it has fresh flowers.

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Here is the ashram from the side.

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In the center of it is a large rock, with a cave beneath it. Recently this Nandi has been painted onto the rock.

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Concrete steps lead up to the ashram.

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This new sign calls this place, “Thiru Arutpal Gugai” (I think) which is nothing like the name I had heard before, Palamaram Ashram. Anyone know about this?

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There is a dirt path that leads towards Virupaksha Cave. I have taken this path before. There are also stone steps that lead down the mountain. We take these today. If you walk the same way each time, you will never find anything new.

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Soon we are in the edge of Tiruvannamalai. One of the gopurams of the big temple is visible from here.

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We walk down a street. This is so nice after all the walking we have done through rough terrain today.

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Behind us, the Arunachala peak stands, silent as ever.

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We started out today to see two new caves. On our way back we took a different route and found one more. This makes 33 that I have been to and photographed so far. I heard somewhere that there are 70 or move caves on Arunachala. I do not know how many more I will be able to visit. I have told G of where I think several more might be. Maybe he will go exploring, and take me on another cave walk?

13 Responses to “Three More Caves near Skandashram on Arunachala”

  1. Tushar S Kshirsagar Says:

    Richard … Thanks for sharing these details .. Regards Tushar

  2. David Cardoso Says:

    hello richard! i have been in thiru since july’s full moon, and we have some mutual friends 🙂 a couple days after my arrival, i was coming down from the summit of arunachala when i happened upon a cave in the dark (the sun had already set). i could not find any arrows leading to it, but on the face of the cave were arrows all around it pointing to the large opening. was this part of seven springs? (i haven’t gotten up to seven springs to see for myself) i believe it was up from the palamaram ashram, as this is where i came down to. perhaps we can talk about this and other stuff regarding the mountain sometime! 🙂

  3. Senguttuvan Raja Says:

    Doing Gr8 Job Richard…
    I have visited this “Thiru Arutpal Gugai” before which is taken care by Siva Sreenivasa swaamy for the past 13 years… You can contact them in this mail id : mahalingodhbavar@gmail.com

  4. Babu V. Yogi Says:

    I visited the “Cave near Skandashram” in May 2003 with a group of friends. The iron door was locked.
    This time one Russian yogi lived there.
    Namaste

  5. Nikhath Mohammed Ismail Says:

    Its really a splendid journey as I see the photographs and the narrations given which creates a peace in my mind and creates an urge to join you in the exploration.

    Seshu, RKMVC

  6. karthik Says:

    Thanks for the posts,
    The discoveries of new caves raises few questions.
    Some of the caves in photo where you mention were neatly covered with concrete, does it tells us that the caves were once used and now abandoned .
    A question raises that where other sadhu doing Bhagavan Ramana times were used to live in those caves.
    I’m sorry I’m not asking for Indiana Jones dairy but its just curiosity when one discovers new caves and tries to know its histroy.
    Thanks

    • richardclarke Says:

      The cave with the cement is, I think, being used now. In Ramana’s days and for at least two thousand years before, sadhus have lived in many of the caves. the signs of this are pretty clear to me.

  7. cspacenz Says:

    Excellent explorations Richard.

    I think we could spend years combing Arunachala and still be surprised on a regular basis.

    Thanks

  8. Srimat Sadhananda Swamigal Ashramam, Alapakkam - Sadhanandapuram, left turn before perungalathur police station Chennai. 600063 Says:

    Thank for you Guid ,If ‘HE’ call me ,i will be there..

  9. anuragebirgit Says:

    What a wonderful expedition… Thanks again for sharing your adventures and taking me along !

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