Sunday, December 21, 2008

Acharapakkam again!

We were on NH 45 again, this week end, and guess what, yessssss, it was the iyyiru otel in Acharapakkam again, that saw us trooping in, early in the morning for breakfast and late in the night for "light tiffin" instead of 'meals'. The idlis were still steaming and the vadas were not yet made; we were offered 'boori' and pongal, but no, we preferred to wait for the idlis and vadas.. and boy was the wait worth it! never have i eaten such super vadas, i tell you. as the men in the family would say it, we "cannot, means cannot" make such vadas "at home". as they would have it, ours drip with oil, they can squeeze out the oil..etc!! secretly, i have to agree to this observation, galling though it is. the hot-hot idlis, vadas and sambar-chutney went down the hatch in no time at all, and shamefully, i had room for a boori also, as it turned out. so that too was despatched quickly, washed down with coffee..yummy....
i thought i would not be able to eat a morsel more for a week. but no, i didnt reckon with that organ i call a is just a huge inflatable baloon, i tell you. i have to remind you that i am on this weight loss mission. or so i would have everybody believe. not if you had seen me in action yesterday. i ate like it was my last breakfast and last lunch. yah, the lunch i must tell you about that too....we went to Vaitheeswaran koil you see. and after devoutly offering prayers, (of course, after consuming sambar with vengayam and all that, but we are convinced that the manasu should be suttham -the mind/heart should be clean! that is important) we traipsed off to this small mess close to the temple. there is this mami there, who makes these heavenly meals. when we went though, they were prepared to shut shop. they told us that if we were willing to have sadaam, sambar and extra appalam, they would serve us food, but there was no kai (vegetable side dish) left. if we would wait just a few minutes, rice was 'just' getting ready and we would be served food in '10 minutes'( the mami went off to make some kootu also, we saw her carrying away some cabbage) we agreed with alacrity and sat ourselves at the bench. no sooner than the banana leaves were spread in front of us, (those were our 'plates'- in most of the messes and otels they serve food on banana leaves and quite hygenic that is too), than another group walked in followed by a boisterous leader. seeing that a large clientele had gathered, the quanties were increased in the kitchen i suppose. the 10 minutes stretched on and on and after an eternity, but it was only an hour, food was served. steaming hot rice, boiling hot sambar which had almost no dal in it, appalam,hot kootu, hot rasam and watery buttermilk and lime pickles. just you try serving food like that at home and pralayam (massive floods, actually, disaster) would strike, but there in the mess, we all ate the saapadu like we had been starving for a week. the worst culprit was I. gosh, how i ate! all calorie counting went out of the window and i ate the rice and irrigation (watery sambar and more watery rasam), like it was devamrutham (nectar for the gods). and ate and ate, all the time chiding myself for hogging like a pig. i kept on at it though, telling myself that i would "make up". anyway, i must record here that i thoroughly enjoyed myself, letting go like that after a long time and since it was all rice i didnt feel as guilty as i would otherwise have felt had it been not rice, even 4 cups of it, but 6 pooris. yes of course, breakfast was conveniently forgotten about, i was struck by this short bout of amnesia in that regard and i ate with gusto. lunch over, and feeling satisfyingly fit to burst, we loaded ourselves in our car, which had it been human would have cried from the sheer extra weight of its passengers, we went off to a couple of other temples, Angarakan and Budan.
On our way back we stopped off for a cup of tea, yes, at a way side tea kadai with the shiny copper boiler. and then set off toward chennai. come night we trooped in again at the otel for, as i said earlier, 'lighta tiffin'. this time i didnt have amnesia, and remembered the lunch with the correct quantity of shame and i had already in-my-mind decided that i really ought to skip dinner however light it might be. also the stomach for a change displayed the existence of a firm mind and refused to accept a morsel more, and so the day was saved with no more food being consumed by me. but the thought of coffeee was irresistible, and human that i am, i partook of that heavenly drink and patted myself on the back for turning my back on the lovely sinful looking dosas and oothappams; instead while the rest of the gang ate their dinner, i marched up and down the sidewalk and got closer to the 10,000 step mark for the day. actually my target for a day is 14,000 steps, but yesterday, despite all that temple walking, i could not manage more that 10500. reaching home close to midnight, the last thing i wanted to do was walk 4000 steps more! forget it i told myself, walk extra tomorrow!

and yes, i have made up, so to speak. i got up at 5 and walked 10,000 steps, skipped a cooked breakfast and stuck to a guava, some papaya, a banana and a glass of milk. and i am back on the bandwagon after that acharapakkam otel visit!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tiruvannamalai Girivalam

On Saturday last, we went to Tiruvannamali to 'do' the Girivalam. Tiruvannamalai is a town about 180Kms from Chennai city in the State of Tamil Nadu in India. There is the Arunachala hill at the foot of which is situated the shrine of Lord Arunachaleswar. Devotees from the world over throng this temple town especially during the tamil month of karthigai, which falls in November-December and worship not only at the temple, but also circumambulate the hill which is the Girivalam- Giri means mountain and valam is circumambulation. the girivalam path is about 15kms, which is just a little short of 10 miles. it is especially auspicious to do the girivalam on karthika pournima, but girivalam is done the year round on pournamis, ie full moon nights.
we made it a point to avoid karthika pournima; devout though we are, we also shy away from crowds and bodily discomforts. on karthika pournami, zillions of devotees arrive in tiruvannamali and the girivalam which normally takes about 3 or so hours would take on that day close to 6 hours we were told, coz the crowd would move inch by inch. we baulked. so we landed the next evening. we arrived around 730 in the evening and after finding our bearings set off on the girivalam path at about 815 in the night.
it was a pleasant night, the moon seemed almost full, it shone bright with nary a cloud. there was a super breeze. we walked barefoot, that is the only way to go and started off without having dinner. now, the devout, again, do the girivalam after fasting the whole day. we ate the whole day and skipped dinner!! well, seriously, after evening tea, we consumed nothing. this, i fear was not for religious reasons but practical thoughts reigned our minds... full stomach, would we be able to walk 15kms?
the start of the path was not so bad, the road is nicely paved, tarred and all that, and we didnt find it at all difficult. we were a group of 7, and of the 7 i was the city born and bred, not used to walking barefoot on roads anyway; still it was not at all difficult. the breeze was so fresh, so cool, something that we have become strangers to in the city. there was a portion of the road where the street lights had failed, but we didnt really miss them, the silvery moonlight was strong and lovely. no wonder the 'elders' had laid down that girivalam should be done on pournamis... where were the electric lights in those olden days? they had good reasons for everything, our elders sure did....
all along the path you find hundreds of maths, ashramams and temples. of note are the 8 lingam temples where you are supposed to worship- i suppose that gives one a much needed break. also along the path are many wayside shops selling tea, coffee, bottled and packaged water, cool drinks and coconut water straight from its God-made container!! ah for the tea... the shiny copper boilers dispensing hot water for the tea. whoever has had the experience of drinking tea from a way side tea kadai in tamil nadu would swear by the tea. our family tours often, making these kutti-kutti pilgrimages. and a number of "mamas and mamis" (uncles and aunts) from our village join us and we have a jolly good time eating in way side 'otels' (hotels) and drinking tea in the tea kadais.... there is a small hotel in acharapakkam on the NH45 which is a great favourite of ours. my friends from the world living in america and europe would cringe to enter a place like that, i suppose coz it seems so unclean... frankly, i cringe too!! but not only do i enter it, but happily hog the hot idli sambar and poori that is served there without fear or favour. 'agattum parthukalaam' is my motto then (let it happen we will see). to tell the truth, so far nothing untoward has happened to my tummy. does it speak of the inner cleanliness in the otel or the inner lining of my stomach? oh but i digress.. to come back to the girivalam.... the path was horribly strewn with empty coconut shells, plastic cups, donnais and leaf plates, sugar cane chewed till it was not possible to extract another cc of juice and so forth. surprisingly, considering that such an ocean of humanity had passed that way just the previous day, you would think the smell of urine and sh.. would be overpowering right? but no, the latter was remarkable by its absence and the former, well there seemed some assigned special spots were the odour was so overpowering that it was intolerable, but otherwise, not at all what one would expect. in fact again remarkably, ok.
the last two kilometres of the valam are to my mind the worst. they are in the town and the road tarred though it was, was strewn with tiny pebbles and we were slowed down considerably by that fact. where we were able to walk 13 kms without even thinking about it, the last two were very trying. in the process, we took the right side of the fork rather than the left to go to the temple and thus missed out on the isana lingam temple, worshipping at which is essential, it is believed, for the girivalam to be poorthi (complete). i fretted a bit at that; but after a late night snack of barotta-kuruma-coffee, or set-dosai as per choice, we did the girivalam once again, this time "car-walking"- when you go around the hill in a car it is car walking, and the elderly or those that cannot do it on foot resort to this! and why not? how else can you possibly do something if you are not able to? (i endorse the "doli" concept also, which you find in sholighur for the same reason- more so, coz it puts bread, or rather rice in a family's mouth!) and when we did the car walking we took the right turn, this time the left fork and saw the isanalingam temple and for the record the girivalam was completed. i am filled with wonder at the training and conditioning of our minds- i actually had walked 15 kms around the hill, not a jot of doubt about that but, since i had not seen the isanalingam temple, i was fully prepared to accept that i had not "completed" the girivalam!! mind you, i am supposed to be highly educated and in a "good position"!!
its not a bad idea to carry a bottle of water and apart from some money and small change to give to the mendicants who are found all along the way, you dont need anything more to do the girivalam.
oh by the way, when we went around the giri the second time, we found a whole lot, a whole lot more people on the road, and that told us that people started out even later than we did. so it would seem that at least in the month of karthigai, maybe girivalam is done on all nights. dont know about other months, though.
we saw the jothi atop the hill.. in fact even as you approach thiruvannamali, you sight the jothi. it is such a magnificient sight.
i am thrilled that He saw fit for me to do the girivalam and see the jothi too..been wanting to do this for a long time, but that it should happen in karthigai, and during those very ten days when the jothi is lit..... thats the blessing.