Yesterday morning, Yogi Mayuranatha and Yogi Jayanatha set out at 4:30am to climb Siva's sacred mountain of Arunachala. This 2,671 foot hill rises up from the otherwise flat land just around it.
At our hotel we met Sivan, a young man who says he climbs Arunachala almost every day. He regularly guides visitors up its slopes, and was happy to take us. We started well before sunrise, arriving at the base of the hill at about 5:15am. Starting early ensures that you get up and down the mountain before the midday heat sets in.
For the first 30 or 40 minutes, we hiked up the dry, rocky slopes with flashlights in hand, after that the pre-dawn light was enough that we could see without them. We then hiked the remaining 20 or so minutes to the top. Sivan was quite helpful. He showed us quick and safe routes over the rocks while giving us occasional advice such as "Be veeeery careful right here, many, many snakes in this spot."
Overall the hike was quite demanding, as it is such a steep ascent. Thankfully our Yogi's are young and healthy. According to Sivan, our team made really good time, reaching the top of the hill in about an hour. While the goal was the top, a beautiful point in the journey was just as we began. The landscape was dark, the moon was high, and the temple was gleaming from below. The city was void of its daily sounds of horns and bustle. All of its religious people had just awoken and had began their practice. Temple bells and Vedic chants echoed up the mountain side, accompanied by the less prominent, but beautiful singing from several muslim minarets. There was an all-encompassing feeling of purity and a focus on the Divine.
At the top of Arunachala it smells like ghee. The whole area is covered in it from the massive lamp lit on Karthigai Deepam each year. As we arrived, we were joined just two minutes later by the deep-red sun, rising up from the east. Perfect timing.
After staying a while to meditate to the sunrise, and perform a short puja the the stone footprints of Siva, we headed down the mountain. We soon stoped at Ramana Maharishi's Ashram, which is along the way. It proved to be quite a powerful place, with daily worship, devotion and introspection still taking place constantly. It is the only real structure on the mountainside. We didn't take any photos, so you'll have to go there for yourself if interested. Overall, it was a wonderful and sacred experience.
Aum Namah Sivaya