Home > English, Hindu, India, Meditation, Monks, Teaching, Travel, Trekking, Yoga > Last State on the Horizon

Last State on the Horizon

Our last few weeks spent in India were in the southern region of Tamil Nadu. Elaborate Hindu Gods greeted us from atop colourful temples and the French dropped in to make some complaints about the lack of Frenchness in their small ex-colony of Pondicherry. First we visited Mamallapuram, a small beachside traveller enclave where we attempted to regain our ability to talk after repressing the urge for a full ten days, (see previous blogs for details). But after finding only dead fish giving us the eye from restaurant entrances, we decided to make our way inland to the spiritual tourist town of Tiruvannamalai.


Famous for the Sri Ramana Ashram, Tiruvannamalai welcomes spiritual seekers from across India and beyond. Westerners dressed in saris and white smocks seep out of every crack in every ashram, shrine and temple, and gurus galore set up Satsangs, (spiritual talks) to cater for them. This is spiritual tourism at its most rampant in what was once a small, rugged Indian town. Our highlight however was not meeting with an Indian called Mooji or an American with a beard called Jesus-ji who stared deeply into their victims eyes until they surrender themselves to him. No, it was instead visiting the small caves hidden within the holy Mt Arunachala that sits behind the small town and then meeting my friend Malar and other Vipassana survivors on the way down.


A walk half way up the mountain was testing in the burning sun but we were rewarded by beautiful views over the town with the friendly yet imposing Arunachaleswar temple taking centre stage. We stopped and sat on a rock up in the peaceful greenery of the mountain, looking down at the usual Indian chaos below, then walked further up to the small meditation caves that had been converted into shrines for Sri Ramana, a guru that passed away in 1950 after almost 50 years in contemplation. We sat amongst Indians and Westerners and paid our respects by completing a short meditation in one of the caves. They were very peaceful places; no rivalry or ego, just simple and peaceful. We emerged into the hot sun feeling refreshed and at ease.


On our way down we bumped into Malar, the Indian girl I had sat and meditated next to every day for ten hours on the Vipassana course. At the end of the course when we were allowed to speak we’d both ironically been a bit lost for words but felt very connected to each other. We’d hugged and Malar had said that she was sure she’d see me again. I didn’t expect it to be 3 days later but she was right! I was really pleased to see her and she me, now we could actually talk about our experience. Malar lives in Tiruvannamalai, she has a house but doesn’t work for money, she only volunteers teaching in the local orphanage. Along with two others from the Vipassana we went for lunch and talked about India. It was very refreshing to talk to Malar who was probably the smartest and most content Indian we’d met on our journey; not because she followed any particular spiritual path (she is inclined to call herself an atheist), but because she followed her intuition and lives simply by the laws of kindness. She told us how Tiruvannamalai used to be before the influx of Western tourists, a time when the number of beggars on the street was less than half the current population. With the influx of spiritual Westerners came money and handouts. When those making a small but honest living saw that beggars were often making more money than they were, they logically turn to begging themselves. The homeless are fortunate in Tiruvannamalai as the Ashram offers them both food and shelter, but it is struggling to cope with the constant influx. Malar’s message to tourists is to not give handouts but help practically by volunteering; help educate the disadvantaged to help themselves. She added with a note of distress that unfortunately many poor Indians do not want to work for money or educate their children, as the attitude of poverty is so entrenched in their caste system and national psyche. It is a problem that Malar is attempting to solve. Hopefully one day we can help her. We said our goodbyes as Carl and I were leaving for Pondicherry the following day.


An unusual mix of, or should I say clash of, Indian and French cultures makes Pondicherry high on the culinary tourists agenda… a mushroom and cheese croissant awaited the Veggie Bus here (www.theveggiebus.org). The French quarter has a half decent promenade next to the ferocious ocean and a dozen upper-class restaurants, all full with French people wondering why they have come all the way to India for what is essentially a dire imitation of their own culture. The Indian quarter is basically where all the rubbish is kept and where the homeless cows, goats and humans reside. The streets where the two quarters meet are the most interesting. Where else in the world can you step out of a brasserie and find a woman threatening her drunken husband with a brick, (we actually concluded that the quarrel was in fact in regards to ownership of said brick), and a man causing a huge traffic jam having sat down in his bin liner to eat his lunch in the middle of a busy highway? Ok maybe Cardiff…


So that was India. We couldn’t believe we were leaving yet we couldn’t wait to say goodbye. We boarded the bus to Chennai and got off near the airport. A tuk-tuk driver told us it was 5k to the airport so we agreed on a fare of 50 rupees and got in. 600 meters later we were at the airport having a familiar argument. We paid him 40 rupees (which was still too much) and left, sad to walk to the airport with a bitter taste of a country we had come to love. Once everything was checked in Carl commenced his usual task of spending the last of our currency. I requested a bottle of water for our flight. Carl came back with a doughnut and a Yorkie bar. ‘Where’s the water?’ I asked. As he’d already eaten half the doughnut on the way over Carl smiled, remarked ’oops’ and attempted to take back the Yorkie bar and exchange it for some water. I saw him giving the woman at the counter what he likes to call the ‘Chapman Charm’ (which is essentially a cheesy grin followed by a questioning ‘eh, eh’ sound). To my surprise he then waddled back with both a bottle of water and a Yorkie bar. He sat a few seats away from me, winked at the woman and told me to pretend I wasn’t with him. This last act of kindness (on the woman’s behalf not Carl’s) is what we’ll remember about India, a country that will roll you in cow dung, chew you up and spit you out, but will always offer a helping hand.


  1. August 10, 2011 at 10:55 am

    What a fantastic blog. Great to read it 🙂

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