Thursday, March 23, 2006

Shabari Malai Trip

Things happen for a reason.
Different things happen for different reasons.
These things are continued for different reasons.

And so it is regarding the Shabari Malai experience.

When Avi and I went last year, we had different reasons in mind. By different I mean that they were different from this year’s. But between us, the reasons were similar.

And now, it is something else that drives us both. And that is no expectations. It somehow helps the whole thing.

Ok…I am done being cryptic and here I go easy.

Avi and I decided to do the entire “Shabari Malai” seriously. We came up with a set of rules after sufficient research, conversations, discretion, and a bit of convenience as well. From our observations, around 90% of the pilgrims follow 10% of the rules. These are rules that we did our best to strictly adhere to:
1. Continence
2. No alcohol, no non-vegetarian food, no smoking
3. No onion, garlic, drum-stick, radish
4. No footwear
5. Sleeping on a mat. No pillow
6. No shaving. No hair-cuts
7. Bath twice a day

After 40 days of deeksha, we (Ganesh, Ganapathy, Niranjan, Avi & me) left for Shabari Malai on Friday night by the Kanyakumari Express. There are two stations where most pilgrims generally get down – Kottayam and Chenganur.

We got down at Chenganur at 12:39 PM, a delay of one hour, and were heading to catch a bus, when we were swarmed by taxi-drivers. The fare ranged from 1800 to 2000 bucks for a to & fro journey. But there was one benevolent soul who agreed to drop us at Pampa for just 500 bucks…with just one hitch; he was drunk. Avi vehemently refused to get into the vehicle if it was the drunk who was doing the driving. I didn’t have a problem, as I was of the opinion that the man generally spoke in a slurred manner, and walked a bit clumsily. I didn’t want to get too judgmental.

So, he made us wait under a shop, and realized that jeep had already left. So he tells us, “Don’t worry. Only 2000 rupees. I will get you a Tavera. Get into it. Ok?”, before we could object. So we just walked back to the bus-stand, and surprise surprise, he was waiting there asking us to get into a bus. Apparently the bus went to a place called Pathanamthitta, and from there plenty of buses plied to Pampa.

So, the drunkard did his job. In a way. He even closed the door of the bus for us. Very kind of him. From a jeep to a Tavera to a bus, he had shown us all avenues. Very versatile indeed.

We got down at Pathanamthitta, which is around 29 kms from Chenganur, and walked to the KSRTC bus-stand. That was when we faced a problem that kept recurring. With no footwear, and hot tar roads, our soles were literally baked. For me, it was almost walking on the sands of Devbagh beach once again. We braved that and managed to get into the Pampa bus.

Now, the river Pampa, I’ve been told, is very dirty during the peak season. But in March, it was quite clean. Atleast, as clean as a river where 1000s bathe can be.

We finished our quick dip, put the irumudi on our heads and began the climb up the hills. Now, a special mention on how the hills are.
People who’ve climbed up Tirupathi would know that there are steps well laid-out. There are a lot of lights along the way, and other basic amenities. Shabari Malai is quite the opposite.

The climb up is basically stones and gravel. You have a few steps, and these are made of cement and more stones. You then have a few more steps made of very big stones, and quite slippery, and very definitely do not qualify to be called a step. After the first half of steep climbs, comes the trek through a forest. Again, with stones and mud. Only difference is that the stones are sharper now.

I mention all this in a bit of unwanted detail only to emphasise the importance of the 40 days of austerities. Walking barefoot for those 40 days, as stupid or illogical as it may seem to a lot of people, goes a long way in hardening your soles. They are able to withstand more heat, more sharp stones with only the minimal registry of pain.

We reached the foot of the temple at 8:30 PM, and there in front of us were the hallowed 18 golden steps. Those who don’t have a maalai and irumudi aren’t allowed to climb up these steps; they have a side entrance.

The beauty of the temple lies in its simplicity. You climb up the 18 steps. And there is the God right in front of you. That simple. We finished the rituals and after a very good dinner (by Kerala standards) found a room to stay. I shall get to the food problem in a bit more detail later on.

The next morning, couple of the guys went for another darshan, and then we began our climb down. And people who think that climbing down is easy are mistaken. It is easier…yes. But definitely not painless or strenuous. As you come to the steep portions, your legs begin to shake and your calf muscles ache. That is, if you attempt to walk down. Instead, just run. And that’s what Ganesh and I did. We were lucky to not trip over a stone or some person. But those were risks worth taking.

We waited below sipping on some hot tea, as the others slowly came down. Avi, who climbed up the fastest (without a break), was incidentally the slowest to get down. And my case was the opposite.

Now about the food. Given the strict restrictions we followed, it was almost impossible to eat anything. Vada has onion. Sambhar has drum-stick, onion and garlic! And this plight continued even on top of the hill, which was quite strange. We managed to get a plate of meals, and I went for a cup of rasam and asked him, “I hope the rasam doesn’t have garlic”, to which he replied, “It is garlic rasam only!”. Sigh!

On the way back, we decided to go to a temple at Aranmula, which apparently gave some very good prasadam. This place was just 9 kms from Chenganur and on the way as well. We asked the guy at the temple what was the prasadam, and he said, “vella pongal”. So, we bought 5 plates of this, and it turned out to be plain boiled rice! We had also bought half a litre of paal-paayasam, which we mixed with the rice and ate. And that was the last solid stuff we ate for the next 15 hours.

Slept through most of the train journey, while all the other pilgrims around us enjoyed biriyanis, porottas, and what not. We had bread with milk at Palakkad, and that tasted like nectar to our starving stomachs.

Back in Bangalore on Monday morning, and went to the temple to get our maalais removed.

Thus ended another successful trip.
And back to…err…not that much of a difference actually. To modify Chandler’s quote, “my entire life is a Shabari Malai”.



At 8:56 PM, Blogger Punk Floyd said...

I forgot to ask you guys to pray on my beahlf this year. Pretty much same reasons. Just that i proably dont have it me to go thru the 40 day ordeal...

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Little Devil said...

you have a hard sole but a soft soul

At 9:28 AM, Blogger laksnj said...

I dint like you summing up the whole spiritual journey as a "trip".
But anyways my interpretation neednt be same as your perception!

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

Punk Floyd:
That's ok. I prayed for all of us. :)

Thanks for reminding me of my "golden quote".

Honestly, the entire spiritual cleansing happens during the 40 days of the austerities. We (and I speak for Avi as well) look at the actual trip as just that - a trip. That was the reason for the title. The entire journey tells you that the final destination needn't really be something outlandish; just a simple temple in small premises. Ashte.

At 1:21 AM, Anonymous Anirudh said...

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At 4:42 AM, Blogger Dhanush said...


Beaing a Malayali myself, I am not sure about the Point No 3 in your rule. I have been to there a couple of times, my uncle is a Guruswami. I have never heard of that rule of eating no onion and garlic.
So it is understandable when you were served Garlic Rasam.

Sabarimala is a great place to be in, you should go up the hill in night, then you will know the wild forest thats around you. And it is good to keep the 'Vratham' even though you are not able to go. I do keep it every year in the month of Vrischika. I really cleanses you.

May Lord Ayyappan help you to climb Mala umpteen times.


At 11:23 PM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

I've had that doubt myself. But I hear a lot of people stressing on that rule, as well. Hence the confusion. Anyway, since we guys started off before realising the uncertainty, we don't want to skip that rule now. That's all. :)
After all, it's just another 2 days.

Thanks. Wish you the same you as well.

At 1:31 AM, Blogger pophabhi said...

Chilli - Great read. Had the experience of going for the trip myself.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger ancientmariner said...

reading ur blog made my reminisce the days which i spent in kerala....chengannur is my home town...n yea aranmula is the temple i hv gone to regularly...u shud be goin there during the snake boat race...wud luv to go on the sabarimala trip once more...pbly if avinash goes next tme i ll join him...:D...

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

Thanks da.

I would love to watch the boat race. In fact, I was talking to Avi about buying a house along the backwaters. :)

At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone, starting from Sridhar to all(who placed their comments). This was quite a informational blog i have come across as i am making a visit to the temple with few of my relatives and parents. Though my father has made almost 15 visits to the temple, this is his first time in the train, so information is all the more useful in all senses. Thanks again.


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