Yesterday our friends Satheesh and Bade sent us to visit V.K. Munusamy, an artist who makes traditional terracotta statues and sculpture, including traditional Tamil village horses and guardians. These statues are a familiar sight to those who have visited rural Tamil villages, and the making of them is a very old tradition. In Munusamy’s family, it’s a tradition that goes back 22 generations.
Munusamy lives in Villianur, about 7 kilometers from Pondicherry. It’s a pleasant village that is also home to a large and interesting Shiva temple, where we stopped for a quick visit along the way.
Gokarna is famous for having five beaches that spread southward from the largest of them, Gokarna Beach. Each is very different in character; we have visited four of them, not quite making it to the fifth. (You might want to read this overview post about Gokarna, which also has a bit about the temples.)
Gokarna Beach is easily five kilometers long from headland to headland. We’ve walked most of it, stopping at Namaste Garden a couple of times for breakfast or tea.
The cyclone that hit Kerala days ago, roiling the surf here at Gokarna, has finally arrived. We sit in the Prema restaurant, enjoying a cup of tea while we wait for our lunch to arrive. Wind drives rain against the small shops and tall coconut palms, and in sheets across the street. Deep puddles grow deeper, and even the vagrant cows huddle together under shop awnings, reluctant to emerge in such conditions. We drink tea, we eat slowly, we order more tea, as we wait for a moment when the rain pauses.
We love visiting Indian temples, whether living or historical (and sometimes, as at Pattadakal in Karnataka, it’s a bit of both). So we were looking forward to spending some time at the Sri Sita Ramachandran Swamy temple in Bhadrachalam – but we had no idea just how much time we’d end up spending there.
It took just one day in Bhadrachalam to make us decide we needed to stay longer than the three nights we originally booked. It’s a lovely small town, located upriver from Rajahmundry on the same side of the Godavari, offering plenty of temples, a couple of nice short walks along the river, and the chance to take a one- or two-day river trip among the scenic Papikondulu Hills. So we asked Mr. Ramachandran, the owner of the hotel where we stayed, if we could stay another eight nights.
During our time here in Rajahmundry, we’ve remarked on just how many men we see dressed in black. We know these are people going through the 41-day period of fasting and abstinence that pilgrims undertake before traveling to Sabrimala in Kerala, a temple dedicated to Ayyappa, or Ayyappan, as he’s also called.
I knew about these pilgrimages when I lived in India during the early 1980s, but I really didn’t know anything about Ayyappa. Today we learned a lot about this god when we stopped off in the early morning at the Sri Ayappa Swamy temple beside the Godavari River.
We spent the day we arrived in the charming city of Rajahmundry just walking around and absorbing the atmosphere, then decided we wanted to get on a bus the next day to Kakinada, to see a bit of the Godavari delta region. We like to have a focus for our excursions, so we chose the ancient temple of Sri Bhavananarayana Swamy. It’s located six kilometers away from the center of Kakinade, so after getting a late breakfast of idly, sambar and chutney near the Kakinada bus station, we grabbed a rickshaw and headed out to the temple.
Being here in Tiruvannamalai for a few weeks has given me the chance to do something I wanted to do for a long time: volunteer at the Arunachala Animal Sanctuary and Rescue Shelter, or the dog ashram, as I call it. It’s a place I first discovered when I came to India in 2009 (my first visit back since 1982), and briefly, its mission is caring for street dogs and other animals that are sick or injured, wild animals included. It’s a no-kill shelter: Every animal who can’t be returned to his or her territory, or who doesn’t get adopted by a human family, is allowed to live at Arunachala Animal Sanctuary for the rest of his or her natural life.
From the viewing rock on the way to Skandashram, we kept noticing a small temple to the east of the big Annamalaiyar temple in town. It’s located on top of a subhill on the southeast flank of Annamalai, and any approaches to it are mysteriously shrouded in dense foliage.
We decided that today we’d try walking up to Skandashram barefoot. That’s the traditional way to ascend to this holy spot, and many (even most) people do it that way. Alan had walked up barefoot many times in the 1970s, but on this visit, we’ve been wearing sandals or shoes everywhere except in the ashram or in temples. So this was going to be an interesting experiment.