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Blessings of Arunachala: A Serialized Travelogue - Part 12 of 12

Parag is a software developer turned writer who loves travel, the open sky, animals, books, and writing.

Return to Pune

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The days in Tiruvannamalai passed by rapidly, and my month-long stay was soon coming to an end.

However, I ran into health issues a week before the day I had planned to leave. I had a very high fever that refused to subside even after three days of complete bed rest and max doses of paracetamol. I was also unable to eat anything which left me very weak.

Bala and his family helped me a lot during this time. One of his cousins, who owned an auto-rickshaw, took me to the doctor and arranged for medicines. Bala also arranged for a maid to came home every day for cleaning the house and washing clothes. She also cooked a bit of khichdi in the morning. A katori of khichdi was about all I was able to eat without throwing up.

My body refused any kind of solid food in the evenings. Fortunately, there was a terrace restaurant in the lane behind the apartment where I stayed. I used to visit that restaurant often because of the quiet ambiance and the natural greenery around it. In these frequent visits, I had spoken to the brothers who were caretakers of the restaurant on several occasions. When I was unwell, they delivered a bowl of soup every evening. It was very kind of them because, as a practice, the restaurant did not do home deliveries.

It was impossible to travel back in that state of health. As a result, I had to extend my stay in Tiruvannamalai. Once again, Bala was very helpful. He said I could stay as long as I wanted and could also leave when I was in better health with just one day’s notice. In effect, he blocked the room indefinitely on Airbnb and also allowed me to leave without any prior notice. A super kind gesture on his part for which I still feel grateful to him.

After the doctor’s visit, I started on a regimen of heavy antibiotics that helped the fever to subside in a couple of days. However, it took a few more days to regain enough strength to walk around in the apartment.

A few days after that, when I thought I was doing well, I decided to visit the terrace restaurant for dinner instead of getting the meal at home. I was keen to go out and get some fresh air. However, after walking about fifty meters, my head started spinning, and I walked on the street like one of those drunken masters you see in old Kung-Fu movies. The only difference being I was neither drunk nor a Kung-Fu master.

Anyway, I made it to the restaurant and had a full plate of khichdi which was quite an achievement considering my diet from the past few days. On my way back, I was able to walk like a normal sane human being.

From that day, however, my health improved steadily but I still wasn’t in a state to drive back to Pune, so I decided to stay in Tiruvannamalai for a few more days. Unfortunately, Tiruvannamalai was beginning to get very hot by then, and I felt like the heat was making it difficult for me to heal.

I decided to leave after a couple of days. My health was much better although I still got stomach cramps and felt a bit weak. So, just to be safe, I asked Bala if it was possible to find a good driver to take me to Bangalore. Bala spoke with his uncle who had earlier helped us find a mechanic when the squirrel had chewed my car’s fuel pump wires. His uncle helped us out once again by arranging for a good driver.

With these arrangements done, I was keen to reach Bangalore because I felt that Bangalore’s milder weather would help me recover faster. I left for Bangalore after two days with the driver taking the wheel.

On the way, we first stopped at Ramana Ashram for one final visit before leaving Tiruvannamalai and continued towards Bangalore, where I had booked a homestay for two days. The images below show open fields outside Tiruvannamalai on the way to Bangalore.

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After reaching Bangalore, I dropped the driver at an interstate bus terminal in Shantinagar, from where he could get a bus back to Tiruvannamalai. The homestay was about three kilometers from there.

Once at the homestay, I switched on the AC and slept like a log till evening.

Fortunately, I got a lot of rest that day. The driver had managed the car very well from Tiruvannamalai to Bangalore, giving me the confidence to sleep while he drove. Further, I was also able to get very good sleep at the homestay in Bangalore.

This homestay was near one of the entrances to Lalbagh, which is a massive and famous garden in Bangalore. After waking up in the evening, I decided to sit in Lallbagh for a couple of hours to relax in nature.

Fortunately, I was able to find a good seat in a secluded part of the garden. The only people who passed through that path were joggers and evening walkers who went about their exercise quietly. Two hours of sitting under a tree in serene nature made me feel a lot better. I felt that I could leave Bangalore the next day itself instead of staying back for an additional day.

I paid my dues to the homestay host at night and informed him that I might leave the next morning if I felt good enough.

When the alarm rang in the morning, I woke up feeling very refreshed and decided to leave for Belagavi right away. The drive from Bangalore to Belagavi was peaceful and uneventful. I stayed at Abhi’s homestay in Belagavi for a day and left for Pune the next morning. It was the same homestay I had stayed on my way to Tiruvannamalai.

On the way to Pune, just after crossing Kolhapur, I was stopped by a group of four traffic cops at a point on the highway where they had put up those barricades that force you to slow down and drive zig-zag. It seemed they were doing routine checking.

One of them walked up to me and asked for my license and car papers. I gave him my license and the pouch containing the car papers. He examined everything carefully with a taciturn expression. The license was good, the car registration was good, the insurance papers were good. His expression did not change until he held the PUC certificate in his hands. That’s when I noticed a faint glimmer of joy which immediately transformed into the original taciturn look. The PUC certificate had expired three days back. I had forgotten to check it before leaving Tiruvannamalai.

I tried to explain, to him, that it had just expired a couple of days back and promised to get it renewed in Pune. I also showed him the stack of all past PUC certificates as a proof that I always had my papers in order. However, my explanations did not help much. He insisted that I pay the fine. Not seeing much value in discussing the matter further, I paid the fine, took the receipt, and moved ahead towards Pune.

On the way, at a particularly empty stretch of road, I reminisced about the one and half month stay in Tiruvannamalai.

Three desires had converged to make this trip possible. Ever since my grad student days in USA, I had a strong desire to do an adventurous long-distance solo drive. The second desire was to spend at least a month in a place like Tiruvannamalai or Rishikesh, where I could stay away from city life in relative solitude. And finally, I harboured the desire for a spiritual experience.

I got the adventure and the solo drive. I also had an opportunity to stay in reasonable solitude, away from city life. However, the spiritual experience that I had hoped for did not happen. Instead, I found peace while looking at Arunachala from my terrace and in Virupaksha cave. I also experienced kindness from strangers who helped me deal with various challenges that came up from time to time.

It felt like Ramana Maharishi was winking at me, saying: “Relax buddy, I gave you what was best for you!”

As I drove on towards Pune, there were patches with mountains, patches with open fields on both sides, the sky above me, and the road moving rapidly below. My mind took a flight from the more mundane matters of the world and started planning the next solo trip—this time from Pune to Pondicherry.

© 2021 Parag Shah 333

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