We’ve developed a regular morning routine here in Tiruvannamalai. We get up early, go to the ashram to meditate, eat a quick breakfast and then head out for a couple of hours, before the heat becomes overwhelming. (On a cloudy day, we can last longer.)
We’re lucky that our apartment is on a small dirt road that’s very close to the open fields south of the ashram – and we’re lucky there still are open fields. The open flat valley, about two kilometers wide, used to be either empty or cultivated. Now it has a lot of big houses on it, and more are under construction.
As we head south and west, we see people plowing, and planting rice. It’s interesting to watch how they cultivate the rice. There’s usually a grid of fields with narrow bunds in between, so each field can be flooded as needed. One field gets very densely planted with rice; then when it reaches the right size, the young plants are pulled up, gathered into bundles, and carried into the other adjoining fields, where they are spread out more thinly. It’s both similar to and the opposite of how I was taught to plant vegetables, where you seed densely and then thin out the seedlings to give the remaining plants room to grow.
I also enjoy seeing the traditional plowing methods side-by-side with new ones.
Eventually we reach a village on the western edge of the open land. The village stretches out along a narrow road that runs perpendicular(ish) to the road running around the base of Annamalai, south to the next main road.
West of the village is a large irrigation lake that right now is completely full. Between the village and the lake is a tall bund, and we enjoy walking along there, looking at the lake, the reflection of Annamalai in it, watching birds. Lots of other people use the bund too, either to travel along by bike or motorbike, or just walking for the enjoyment of it.
There are a couple of small temples along the lakeside. One has a line of stone gods and an unusual stone statue of a sage, with glittering metal eyes staring straight across the water to Annamalai.
Walking through the village itself is always a pleasure. In the mornings, people are outside doing their morning chores: cleaning the yard, winnowing rice, taking the cows out to graze, grooming children’s hair for school, having a nice gossip on the front porch.
This walk through the fields and village, and along the irrigation lake, gives me things I love most about India: friendly people who return our greeting, “vanakkam,” with folded hands, a bow of the head and warm smiles; huge open skies and water; tiny temples where people offer their devotions freely; fields burgeoning with butterflies; lush green growth; and the reminder that even with motorcycles, internet and cell phones, India is still India.