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Blessings of Arunachala: A Serialized Travelogue - Part 5 of 12

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

Dear Map Lady, I Need a Horse to Enter the Forest

Just like I suspected, the road had not been used because it did not go anywhere. It soon came to a dead-end.

“Go straight,” the map lady instructed.

I told her, rather politely, that there was no road ahead. But she wasn’t in the mood to listen to me.

“Go straight. Go straight.” She insisted.

“Dear map lady,” I said, “I need a horse to enter the forest.”

“Go straight. Go straight. Go straight.” Her insistence had turned to a demand.

By now, I had lost my patience and shut down the map software.

The place where I had taken the u-turn had a petrol pump and a garden restaurant. A little irritated with the map lady, I thought it might be a good time to take a bio-break, have coffee, fill fuel, and retrace back on the highway to the place where I had missed the left.

But first, I sat in the car for some time, enjoying the deserted road and greenery to my left.

I also learned an important lesson. Regardless of how good technology gets, the best backup is and will remain, for the foreseeable future, paper and pen. I really should have printed the map and made a note of all the places where I needed to take major turns.

After relaxing for some time on the unused service road, I had a coffee at the garden restaurant, filled fuel, and set out on the highway retracing my route to where I had missed the turn.

Filter Coffee did its magic and my relationship with the map lady was restored. Her voice boomed in the car again.

“Continue straight…”

We were both happy that we were getting on well with each other, but in that joy, she became a bit over-zealous and did some re-routing magic. It seemed she had found a shorter route. I could see the horizontal bar at the bottom of my mobile screen rapidly progressing as map lady changed the route to take me through a supposed shortcut. I didn’t know if she meant well or if a silent grudge was still alive.

For a moment, I wondered if I should stop to ask a “real dependable human” about the best route to Tiruvannamalai. However, it didn’t seem like a good idea. Being alone in a completely unknown place where I did not speak the language made me hesitate. I didn’t want to show that I was lost.

I pulled over onto the shoulder of the road to examine the map software. I didn’t know which road it was taking me through, but it did lead to Tiruvannamalai. Under the circumstances, I thought it best to trust the map lady and follow her directions without risking another quarrel.

And so I meekly followed her directions, going straight when she said and taking turns at her behest.

Very soon I was off the highway on a small dusty road with cars, busses, bikes, and small tempos. On the left were a few shops scattered far and wide, with lots of open countryside behind them. The small tempo ahead rattled as it negotiated the road rather slowly. Seated at the back of the uncovered tempo were two women, one man, and two small kids. The women wore colorful pink and green saris. The man wore a white lungi and a blue t-shirt. The kids were asleep. They were trying to get some rest -- at least whatever rest was humanly possible in the open -- on a hot afternoon with the sun blazing down.

After a few more kilometers, the map lady asked me to take a turn onto a road that soon became very narrow. It was a one and half lane road that passed through a village but there was something strange about this village. There were small houses on the left and fields on the right, but not a single human in sight. Well, there was one. Just one. An old woman with a pile of sticks on her head. Maybe everyone was indoors because of the afternoon heat. I don’t know. It was just weird.

My mobile signal was also a bit flaky and the map lady announced “GPS signal lost…” a few times. All I knew was that the road eventually led to Tiruvannamalai and so I drove on with faith.

Eventually this small one-and-a-half-lane road ended, and I was once again on a small highway bustling with life.

After a few kilometers on this highway, the road quality deteriorated drastically. At first, there were small potholes, which later became large potholes, but after some time there were only potholes and no road. I felt like I was in a boat tossed around by the waves of a stormy ocean. Fortunately, the storm didn’t last too long, and I was on mostly flat land after fifteen minutes or so. I drove ahead on these unfamiliar roads until I spotted the name of a familiar town: Chengam.

Chengam is a large town just before Tiruvannamalai. I was almost there. It was a beautiful feeling that filled me with renewed energy, despite the heat. I could feel my spirits soar with renewed joy and enthusiasm.

At 4:45 PM, I saw, at a distance, the wonderful hill “Arunachala”.

Arunachala from a distance


This modest hill is of great prominence in Hindu mythology. It has two very famous legends of Lord Shiva associated with it.

It’s also the hill where Ramana Maharishi spent the greater part of his life after arriving in Tiruvannamalai. It is said that he refused to leave Arunachala and did not step away from the hill even once after he had taken up residence there.

I was finally in Tiruvannamalai.

The journey from Pune to Tiruvannamalai


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