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We walked around Mt Arunachala with Ram and Bhakti, on the inner path. The outer path is on the road, all the way around the mountain. The inner path is higher up, and is a track through the bush, away from the noise and busyness of the streets. This inner path goes about two-thirds around the mountain, then you come to the town and back into mayhem again. We left early at about 7am and walked for a bit over two hours, ending up at a restaurant in town for a really good breakfast of idli (rice cakes) and dosas (crispy savory pancakes). 

Every full moon thousands of Indians come by the busload from all over to walk clockwise around Arunachala. On full moons that are considered particularly auspicious the road is so filled with people that going with the crowd is the only option. On the February full moon we set off to walk part way around the mountain and then branch off and go have dinner, not being up for an all-night walk of over fourteen kilometres. There are many small temples along the way where people worship and pray and dance around flames, and then continue walking. Crowds and crowds of people, most barefoot, and all with the same purpose – the ritual full-moon circumambulation of the great Mt Arunachala. It felt like a party, though I imagine that after ten kilometres or so the mood changes. We walked for about two kilometres, just to get a little taste of it, before branching off.

We went for the day to Puducherry, formerly Pondicherry, and still known as Pondy. It’s by the sea – it was so wonderful to be by the water again even if we didn’t go in. Pondy was ruled by the French before independence. We wandered around the old French quarter which is so different from the rest of the town, and from Tiru. And we discovered pokodas: deep-fried vegy balls that are seriously good – the Indian equivalent of fries maybe, but way nicer.

Our days are quiet and slow – we really have slowed down here, partly because I’m still not well, though that’s another story. We laze around home – reading books and playing on the net, having naps and doing small essentials like making meals. Once a day we do the hot and dusty twenty minute walk to town – a combined trip for meditation in the ashram and grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping is done in a variety of small stores depending on who has what available. Vegetables commonly available, though we don’t necessarily eat them all, are potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant, green beans, okra, cucumber, beets, green onions, and limp green leaves. I’ve seen cauliflower maybe three or four times. Only once did it look fresh enough to buy. The same goes for broccoli. There is a lot of good fruit available – papaya, the best bananas I’ve had in years, pineapple, oranges, apples, watermelon, limes, lemons, grapes and pomegranite. We buy boxed milk which is the safest, and can actually get rice cakes, good non-wheat pasta, and good boxed fruit juice. We eat out occasionally, but mostly we eat at home, and eat well. We eat a lot salads. All fruit and vegetables go straight into a bowl of water with some grapefruit seed extract to disinfect them from anything that may be on the skin.

There’s no garbage collection so we take our garbage down the road to a kind of dump at one end of a large playing field on the way to town.

Or to another dump at the other end of the playing field,

where it gets recycled

Eventually these piles of garbage are burnt. Sometimes the cows carry on eating anyway, giving a whole new meaning to the term smoked beef.

We spend a lot of time here:

Beggars: From the impressions I had gleaned of India over the years I had expected that there would be many beggars here. In fact there are no more beggars here in Tiru than there are in Vancouver. Initially I treated them the same as I treated the beggars in Vancouver; largely ignoring them and occasionally feeling compelled and/or inspired and/or open-hearted enough to give one or other of them some money. I have been aware for a long time of a small but persistent inner contraction each time I would see a beggar, as if I somehow had to arm myself against them. Then one day last week I suddenly saw it in a whole new light.

It appears that we have choices in life. According to the choices made some people sink, some swim. Some thrive, some barely survive. Some make “good” choices, others, not so much. But where we apparently don’t have a choice is the circumstances we are born into, and the circumstances we are born into have a huge impact on the range of choices available to us later in life. So according to our circumstances, when we grow up we get the best kind of job we can. It suddenly occurred to me that beggars spend all day asking people for money. That’s their job. That’s the best they were able to come up with given their circumstances. Of course fund-raisers also have the same job – asking people for money, usually including their own salary, but it’s all dressed up in a much more attractive and socially acceptable package. Anyway I suddenly saw begging in a completely different light. These people are just doing their job. I was also faced with what I knew – that for me to give 10 rupees to every beggar I saw every day would be nothing for me. Nothing. Ten rupees is 20 cents! Why on earth was I being so tight? So now when I go out I carry a pocket full of 10 rupee notes and give one to anyone who asks. Don calls it my Lady Bountiful money. It feels great.

Next blog: Two days in the international hospital in Chennai – overwhelming experience. And Don’s story of a massage in Tiru.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.