This week I traveled to Tiruvannamalai, a small town located in Tamil Nadu. It is around 900 kms from Hyderabad and is quite a quaint location to stop by for a few days. Here is my guide to how you can enjoy yourself with a budget of less than Rs. 5000/- per head.
In this article, I will be covering the following points…
- Tourist Attractions
There are two main reasons why people come to this town and the first one of these is the Sri Ramana Maharshi Ashram.
This is a picturesque ashram that I suggest for everyone to visit at least once. It is the most peaceful place I’ve ever been to. With peacocks walking around you, the moment you enter the gates, you are welcomed by a breath of fresh air. On your right, you will find a bookstore that contains the work and writings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. It is beautiful and also has posters, badges, picture cards as well as notebooks. I must have spent at least an hour here. When you visit, make sure to get the Arunachalam Guide that gives you the entire details about the temple.
A little heads-up here, if you would like to spend a few days inside the ashram, you can book a room six to eight weeks in advance at the main website. They provide free food and accommodation for you to enjoy the prayer hall, meditate and sit within the library to know more about Sri Ramana Maharshi.
It is to mention here that there are multiple other Ashrams in Tiruvannamalai such as Skandashramam, Seshadri Swamigal Ashramam, etc. You can check them all out too if you please.
About a kilometer and a half from this Ashram is the Arulmigu Arunachalam Temple. It is believed that Lord Shiva is on the large hill that is behind the temple. One must do a pradakshina around the hill before going into the temple for a darshan. There are many ways to do this pradakshina considering that it is 14 kms long. The first way is by auto. It costs 300 – 400 rs and half an hour of your time to go around the hill once. The second way is by a cab / private vehicle. Considering that this pradakshina must be done on the street and not from the wilderness, this is another option. But the third, and the most difficult, is the bare-footed walk around the hill – the traditional way like you would do in any temple.
I will talk about the third method because that is the one that I did. We started at six in the morning with a namaskaram outside the main temple and a packet of camphor. We were full of high spirits and enthusiasm. Around the hill, the 14 kilometers contain eight Shiva temples and multiple other temples as well. The main purpose is to go into each of these Shiva Temples, light two – three camphor tablets at each and resume the walk. Each of these temples is roughly 1.5 kms – 3 kms distant from one another. You can ask each of the pujaris the distance you covered so far and how many more kms you need to go, though I will tell you from experience that they will ALL tell you different numbers. There are no direction boards but as long as you walk with the hill on your right, you will know where to go.
Another tip from experience… Unless you don’t mind the blistering heat, do NOT go in the summer like I did. While the roads are empty and the walk is uninterrupted, you may faint, bleed from your feet or just want to die. However, if you do go in the winter, you will be accompanied by over two lakh people – so choose your battles.
Being the city dwellers that we are with zero walking experience, the whole walk took us EIGHT hours, with numerous pit stops for drinks and food. I know that is an incredibly long time to take but note that we were bare-footed and also had no clue what we were doing. We kept resting on the cemented benches that burnt our skins, drinking boiling hot lemon soda because the concept of a refrigerator is extremely rare and eating filthy stuff that my mother would have NEVER bought us had we been in Hyderabad.
Overall, it was a memorable experience though only ONCE in a lifetime. I truly felt like I had seen God (excuse the joke!) but I don’t regret any of it. Okay, maybe I regretted it a bit when a monkey stole my biscuits mid-way! Once you are done with the eighth and the final Shiva temple, you are only two kilometers away from the main temple where you started from. Along the way you will see the Ramana Ashram, probably the hotel where you are staying and also 90% of the town!
Two other attractions I’ve heard about but didn’t get a chance to visit are the Virupaksha Caves and the Santanur Dam. While the first is about 3 kilometers from the railway station, the second is around 35 kilometers. The caves are known for their buddhist energy, powerful meditation and are 1000 years old. The Dam is supposed to be a beautiful sight with a lovely park as well. You can spend an entire day there if it interests you.
You can just google how to get to Tiruvannamalai, but I took two trains from Hyderabad to get to there. If you are from Hyderabad too, the least stressful option is to go via Chittoor or Katpadi Junction to Tiruvannamalai. It will take you a total of 18 to 20 hours inclusive of the time gap between the two trains. Meanwhile, you can explore the adjoining station. We got off at Chittoor and ate at ‘Hotel Sindhu Towers’ which had excellent food, before boarding our next train to our actual destination.
Hyderabad (KCG) – Chittoor (CTO) / Katpadi Jn (KPD) – Tiruvannamalai (TNM)
However, if you have the time, the energy and the interest, I would definitely recommend for you to get off at Tirupati, have the darshan there and then make your way to Tiruvannamalai.
Within the city, the primary mode of transportation is autos and let me tell you one thing… they’re extremely expensive…
Since Tiruvannamalal is a tiny town that centers around the Arulmigu Arunachaleshwar Temple, you won’t find a lot to do. Picking the right accommodation is vital for you in this case, because you will need your bit of rest. The best one that I saw there was Hotel Arpanaa, which is very close to the Temple and the other Tourist Attractions as well. Other than that, we have Hotel Nala Residency (Closer to the Railway Station), Hotel Ashreya (In the outskirts of the town) and quite a few other three star and above restaurants. We stayed in Hotel Ashreya which I DO NOT recommend because of its distance from the town, the terrible food and the super-expensive auto charges. Consider yourself warned.
We ate at over six restaurants within the town and found Arpanaa to be the best, but also a bit expensive in comparison to the rest. Make your choice from Goibibo, Cleartrip or any of those sites. We got quite a good deal from there.
Update: The Dreaming Tree is supposed to be the most beautiful restaurant / resort there is, so maybe you can check that out if you’d like.
There are multiple options for food here, my favourite being hotel Arpanaa. I ate at 5 – 6 different restaurants including the one in Hotel Ashreya where we stayed, but personally really disliked it. Some of the good restaurants are Ananda Bhavan, Abhirami and brindavanam which are all located in a couple of kilometers radius of the main Arunachalam temple.
You can try a variety of them out. They serve their meals in banana leaves and the rates in the larger hotels are all equivalent to those in Hyderabad. Throughout on all streets you will find coconut water, lemon soda and sugarcane juice as well as the traditional ragi malt served in cute little pots. However, the most favourite here is a drink known very well to us all… Coffee. Don’t leave Tiruvannamalai without drinking their coffee which you will find everywhere.
This part of the trip doesn’t really have much scope. There are a few stores, fancy jewellery and clothes shops but you won’t find much to buy. The most famous kind of shopping here is the ‘buy anything for 10 Rs.’ shops so you can just enter one and see what you like. Other than that, there are small theatres if Tamil movies are your thing.
This marks the end of the guide. All in all, I loved being here and it was a completely different atmosphere from the Hyderabad City Rush. Everything is calm, serene and just so peaceful. You won’t find traffic signals, fancy cars, suits & ties or any hurry. I found that to be the most fascinating part of the journey.
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