Palamalai – nourishment to one’s body and soul


India is known for its hill top temples and devotees who climb these hills by foot to worship their God. My grandmother would say that the lord has to be above all and so temples were built on hills. My mother would thoughtfully say that it was intended to combine physical fitness and health with worship, so that self discipline is emphasized parallel to divinity. However my brother would argue that temples those days were used to accommodate citizens during war and floods , so they were built on hill tops for protection. I have no idea why many temples sit at the tip of a mountain, but I know that one can find his God in its true sense in the journey when you climb a mountain by foot.

Though not a profound believer (Euphemistically)  of religion or theism, hilltop temples have always been my favourite destination for many reasons. This is an account of my experiences while climbing Palamalai. I would say that the hill and the Ranganathar (Lord Vishnu) shrine that crowns it is one among the natural treasures of Coimbatore, a beautiful city of Tamil Nadu in South India. My uncle used to take us there as children. He climbs the hill every Sunday to shed some sweat and to nourish his spiritual faith. I loved tagging along with him often in the company of cousins. It was more like a picnic and a stride out of school routine. Nevertheless, it is more than just a picnic if you pay attention to your surroundings and trek up, taking pauses and detours when your instinct asks you to.

The hill is situated on the road from Periyanayakanpalayam enroute to Govanur. It is a good drive and if you sit back and enjoy your drive you will probably miss the right cut-road and go on to climb the hill by your vehicle. So ask for directions from anyone around there (Anna GPS!!!) or ask your google map for “Palamalai foothills bus stop” and it will direct you to the starting point of the trekking path.

It is a three kilometer trek if I am right (I am not so sure!!). But forget the distance, do not ask anyone on the trekking path, “How much distance more to the temple ?” because it spoils the fun and tests your perseverance. When we kept asking that to my uncle he would just say, “we are almost there” from the beginning to the end.

In the beginning of the climb there is a small God under thatched roof whom you worship before you set your journey up to the Ranganathar.  For first time or rare trekkers, the climb would be absolutely exhausting, tiring, your mind would be so convinced to give up. Despite my advice, you would ask someone there, “How much more should we go?” ten minutes into the journey. Yet, it will turn out to be a very exhilarating experience that you would recount to many in time to come. I am confidently throwing these to you, in my own experience of taking friends and family there on random weekends.

It is neither a full-fledged trek, nor a simple hike. The path has steps and steep climbs and uneven tracks in the middle of a forest. It would be quite a lonely and scary path on weekdays whereas many habitually climb the hill on weekends at early morning. We start climbing by 06.15 am (maximum) so that we can go up before it gets too sunny and no one would want to miss witnessing the sunrise from half way up. Lot of cacti and thousands of trees constitute the forest. There also steep cliffs  a few feet away from the main path. Once, we took a side route at the beginning itself,and spotted a herd of deer grazing the plains (I was too lame and too late to pull out my camera as a friend called out to another friend chasing them all away in a glimpse!). Many animals, especially elephants are often seen there by locals. A silent climb will treat you to the chirping and singing of hundred of birds and insects. Well, I guess I have not told you yet! Palamalai is a promising stop for Ornithology enthusiasts and such people have camped there before with zoom lens to spot the winged buddies.

We always wear tracks and Tees with proper shoes without which your feet will fall prey to the stones and thorns strewn all over the journey.  But there are devotees who climb on bare feet and there are athletes who run up the mountain building their stamina. The hill also houses local tribe who own livestock and do farming.

We took a couple of daring detours that took us to down to a beautiful water log. Poops of deers, elephants and even carnivores can easily be spotted there. When we spotted fresh poop of a deer, we had goosebumps and the very fact that a predator also could be around, sent shivers up our spine and we ran back to the main path after we heard something jump and run amidst the forest. So honestly, it is not all that safe to take long detours on your own.

A small whitewashed empty building and a stone bench signifies that you have covered the major part of the journey. It is called the thaneer pandhal (they used to give water to the trekkers from that building in olden days). Eyes start searching for the tall white Gopuram of the temple from there. From that point it is ten minutes to reach the hill top! A very frustrating thing about the whole journey are the number of plastic bags and covers that lie scattered on the path. Whenever we climb up I make sure I pick up as many plastic as I could and carry it up to dump it with other trash. But two pair of feeble hands cannot clean the irresponsibility of so many so called devotees to God.

When you reach; when you hear the temple bells ringing or the bajans being chanted; best of all, when you smell steaming raagi vadai, potato bonda and sukku kaapi  in the air – God manifests in your heart. All the fatigue is swept away in the fresh breeze and whatever tiredness is left of it is washed away when you drench your feet and wash your face in the temple water. I love the temple there for its cold stone floor, the chandan slab where we can grind chandhan and apply, the Poovarasan tree that mightily stands as the thalai vriksham (holy tree of the temple) and the beautifully decorated statues.

If you choose to climb on a Saturday a ready annadhanam (free food) and resounding bajan will welcome you and never miss the ragi vada and sukku kaapi that a paati cooks outside the temple. We devour the delicacies and feed the calfs and pups there filling our stomachs and hearts mutually. I can never forget a balck – brown calf who would not leave my side wherever I go. She kept nudging me with her face for more bananas even after I gave her half a dozen.

Here comes, yet another elating part of the temple. About a kilometer from the main shrine, they have the theppa kulam, temple pond. The walk to the pond is very beautiful as the path has yellow flowering trees lined on both sides and as you reach, a humongous banyan tree spreads its branches across creating lot of shade. I always visit there for two reasons. One is to climb on the branches of the magnificent tree. She is indeed an old woman but she grew in strength and lets you walk on her arms and sit by her breasts. She has no bias and her generosity knows no end. The other reason, is to go down the steps to the waters and immerse my feet in it. A thousand odd fish swims to your feet and nibble away. A free and efficient fish pedicure? Nay, its a million kisses for pure joy!

If you are a native to Coimbatore like I am, or if you ever visit the city, never miss this natural and spiritual bounty. Forget your religion, beliefs and ideals because at the end of the day you cannot miss a beautiful experience for nothing. This may not be Mount Everest, but it teaches you the first lessons of perseverance.


Footnotes:

*Anna GPS – In Tamil , Anna means brother. When we call men on the road to ask for directions where GPS does not work or has no clue, we call it Anna GPS. It is just a slang amidst youngsters here.

*Gopuram – Monumental tower which is above the temple.

*Thaneer pandhal – A place where people give water or buttermilk to the travelers when they come to rest there mid-way of their journey.

* Bajans – Spiritual songs

* Raagi Vadai – A snack made out of red millets

*Bonda – A snack

*Sukku Kaapi – Dry Ginger Coffee

*Chandhan – Sandal wood  paste

*Poovarasan tree – A particular variety of peepal tree. Its fruits are said to cure skin problems.

*Thalai Vriksham – Holy tree of the temple

* Annadhaanam – free food served for devotees and the poor who visit the temple

*Paati – Grandmother/ old woman

*Theppa kulam – Holy pond of the temple

 

The photo ride begins!

 

The trekking path !

The trekking path – walk with the soul of earth

 Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/400 seconds // F-stop : f/5.6 // ISO : 200 // Focal Length: 135 mm // Flash : No

 

A lonely dry tree on the path...

A lonely dry tree on the path…

 Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/400 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 18 mm // Flash : No

 

A single orange tree contrasting amidst all the green with tiny birds dancing on her branches ! We found her on a very small detour

A single orange tree contrasting amidst all the green with tiny birds dancing on her branches ! We found her on a very small detour

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/200 seconds // F-stop : f/5.6 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 100 mm // Flash : No

 

A lonely house on a mountain top - a view from the main trekking path

A lonely house on a mountain top – a view from the main trekking path

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/400 seconds // F-stop : f/5.6 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 135 mm // Flash : No

 

An early morning view from the edge of the path where there is a cliff fall

An early morning view from the edge of the path where there is a cliff fall

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens) // Exposure time : 1/3200 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 18 mm // Flash : No

 

A little long and daring detour into the forest took us to these water logs..

A little long and daring detour into the forest took us to these water logs…

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/125 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 21 mm // Flash : No

 

The Ranganathar temple

The Ranganathar temple – an outer view

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/1000 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 21 mm // Flash : No

 

The temple cart  (Kovil thaer), it is dragged by devotees on special occasions)

The temple cart (Kovil thaer), it is dragged by devotees on special occasions)

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/125 seconds // F-stop : f/4.5 // ISO : 200 // Focal Length: 31 mm // Flash : No

 

The Bajan Mandapam

The Bajan Mandapam

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/640 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 21 mm // Flash : No

 

Paati and the steaming sukku kaapi!

Paati and the steaming sukku kaapi!

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/60 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 200 // Focal Length: 24 mm // Flash : No

 

Hot and delicious bondas!!

Hot and delicious bondas!!

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/125 seconds // F-stop : f/5.6 // ISO : 200 // Focal Length: 135 mm // Flash : No

 

Annadhaana Koodam (free food hall)

Annadhaana Koodam (free food hall)

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/400 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 18 mm // Flash : No

 

Festive colours at the temple grounds.. An intentional blur of the shrine

Festive colours at the temple grounds.. An intentional blur of the shrine

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/1250 seconds // F-stop : f/5 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 42 mm // Flash : No

 

A temple priest

A temple priest

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/200 seconds // F-stop : f/5.6 // ISO : 200 // Focal Length: 24 mm // Flash : No

 

The path to theppa kulam (temple pond)

The path to theppa kulam (temple pond)

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/160 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 18 mm // Flash : No

 

A beautiful cactus bloom on the hill

A beautiful cactus bloom on the hill

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/250 seconds // F-stop : f/4.5 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 36 mm // Flash : No

 

The mighty old banyan tree near the temple pond - spreading her arms of generosity!

The mighty old banyan tree near the temple pond – spreading her arms of generosity!

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/125 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 21 mm // Flash : No

 

The temple pond - theppa kulam

The temple pond – theppa kulam

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/200 seconds // F-stop : f/7.1 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 38 mm // Flash : No

 

An old unused madapam beside the temple pond

An old unused mandapam beside the temple pond

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/200 seconds // F-stop : f/4 // ISO : 200 // Focal Length: 24 mm // Flash : No

 

Fish kisses!

Fish kisses!

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/40 seconds // F-stop : f/7.1 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 87 mm // Flash : No

 

A goat quenching his thirst at the pond

A goat quenching his thirst at the pond

Camera : Canon 600 D (18-135mm lens)// Exposure time : 1/250 seconds // F-stop : f/5.6 // ISO : 100 // Focal Length: 135 mm // Flash : No

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6 thoughts on “Palamalai – nourishment to one’s body and soul

  1. “When you smell steaming raagi vadai, potato bonda and sukku kaapi in the air – God manifests in your heart.”
    Now, that’s a very atheistic way of looking at things besides being funny.

    Most travelogues suffer from two distinct issues. They either get too much into the nitty gritty details of the facts. The other case is where the author starts describing the scene and you’d wonder why the blog post isn’t adopted as a feature film yet. The Palamalai (Balamalai with a B?) experience strikes the middle zone like a boss.

    I’ve not visited the place. Yet, now, I want to take a day off and make a trip down to Palamalai and look at the hundred fishes kiss my feet while I kiss the air at the top of the mountain.

    • Thank you for quoting gopal.. You should visit the place.. U don’t even need a while day for it.. Start the trek by 6… As you ll be going for the first time.. You will want to stay and look around for longer.. So you ll be back by noon max… Otherwise.. We get back home by 10.30 am and all… It’s a short detour from life.. But a beautiful one!

  2. Hey Srinidhi,
    That’s a nice narration. Every regular trekker will agree point by point. Beautiful pictures to support!
    I love the picture of the trail that leads to theppakulam. Looking forward to more from you.
    Best wishes
    Rajamohan

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