We expected a small town, or even village, from what the Lonely Planet was describing – not even close (and thank you again Lonely Planet for your useful maps, of which for Tiruvannamalai there was NONE). This place is very noisy and dirty – I thought I’d seen a lot of cow-dung in Hampi but this was just as bad, if not worse. In Hampi they at least cleaned the streets every now and then, so the manure wasn’t left there. There is also a near constant sewage smell everywhere in Tiruvannamalai, and there is the channels of waste-water along the roads that are all just full of rubbish as well as the smelly water. Up to half a million people take the pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai for the Karthikai Deepam Festival in November/December because of the town’s spiritual significance, and one of the rituals is to walk clockwise around the mountain – and this walk have special importance and is supposed to boost your success in life as well as heal your body… (if I sound a bit sceptic, please excuse me…) Also, the way Lonely Planet described the spiritual walk around the mountain we expected it to be a footpath at the base of the mountain, which sounded like a nice tranquil trek – how misleading is it possible to get? The “spiritual walk” is along a dusty main road, and although it’s got a sidewalk to walk on for most of the trip it’s nothing like what we had expected from the Lonely Planet’s description, also worth mentioning was the amount of beggars along the way – they even look coordinated with the same colour dress – almost like a uniform, and if that was not bad enough one decided on giving us a free strip-show shaking his “bits” at us as we walked past. We circumnavigated the mountain – despite its disappointing settings – on a Friday, which should bring us prosperity, so “bring it on!” I say (not sure if I’m in the right spiritual mindset to receive and appreciate it, but hoping for the best). I would not advise anyone to go to Tiruvannamalai, except maybe if you have a very strong “spiritual” reason. If you stay in an Ashram and don’t go outside and venture around you might be OK.
As we arrived in Tiruvannamalai, on the bus that nearly broke every bone in our body, we rolled past the Arunachaleswar Temple and our first thought was “that looks amazing”. It’s apparently one of India’s largest temples and it does look impressive when you drive past. I Have to say I was disappointed when we finally got inside of it – after being sent back out twice (first because I was wearing shorts – fair enough, although it’s not been an issue in the countless other temples we’ve been to so far… The 2nd time it was because I had a laptop in my bag – no explanation on why exactly laptops were forbidden, just had to accept it and go back to the hotel a second time). Inside they’ve done a very good effort to ruin this once beautiful temple. Rusty steel structures everywhere and ugly cables crisscrossing and hanging everywhere – it all looks a complete mess. It doesn’t help that for every second step you take there is a beggar coming up to you – it seems encouraged by the Hindu religion, but it has not been so in our face in any temples before. There has always been some around, but this was just ridiculous.
We stayed in a fairly OK place called Annamalai Lodge just next to the temple – it was cheap and cheerful, and maybe the only thing that was true to its expectations in this place. Along with Shanti Cafe it might be the only thing I can recommend in Tiruvannamalai.
We also found the food not up to the standards we’ve come to get accustomed to. Hampi had very lovely food in all the restaurants, while wherever we went in Tiruvannamalai it seemed there was not much choice available, and the flavours were quite bland. One exception would be Shanti Cafe where we had a lovely baguette sandwich, cake and coffee – not very Indian I know – while hooking up to their Wi-Fi to check our emails and such. We’re looking forward to get to our next stop Mamallapuram and hope there we’ll have a better experience – we’ll just have to survive the bone-rattling bus journey.
I’m hoping to have a much more positive addition to my next blog-post – have to stay positive!