Paruvathamalai

Paruvathamalai is a Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu built 2,000 years ago on top of a Paruvathamalai, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple, #drbarryindia, Lord Malikarjunaswamy, India travel experience, bLifeNY, MOHAN Foundation, Dr Chris Barrymountain 3,500 feet above sea level. My friend Jango hadn’t been there but he wanted to go with his friends and invited me along. He thought we could leave at 6pm and get back by midnight or 1am so I said sure. Jango didn’t know that Paruvathamali was 300 kilometers from Chennai. Kumar the driver picked us up in T. Nagar and drove us to Palavarum where Jango’s friend Mani and his crew were waiting. So in the truck packed Mani, Logesh, Balaji (1), Amal, Kathi, Balaji (2) and Rajesh along with the original three and off to Thiruvannamali District 3 hours away. We stopped for dinner (400 rupees or $6.55 to heartily feed 10 guys) and stopped to fix a flat tire. We arrived at the base of the mountain at midnight. It was raining a little. Jango said “take off your shoes”. Okay maybe a nice leisurely stroll up to the temple on smoothly paved paths. Or maybe not. How about gravel roads, dirt paths, lots of rocks and boulders? It started out innocently enough with the gravel road at a gentle incline but my feet were killing me with the little stones. It was excruciating at times. Then came the steps. Step after step after step. Then came the rocks. It felt more comfortable to walk on the larger rocks but my feet were killing me. So many rocks going all the way up. Paruvathamalai, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple, #drbarryindia, Lord Malikarjunaswamy, India travel experience, bLifeNY, MOHAN Foundation, Dr Chris BarryAlong the way were many makeshift huts selling food, water, and junk food. We stopped frequently to rest and smoke. Lots of nicotine and ganja among the young men pilgrims but the many women and children pilgrims did not partake and Mani’s crew hid the ganja when the women passed by. Apparently, Lord Malikarjunaswamy (an avatar of Siva), likes to smoke weed as well, so many people really like him for that. No alcohol though. You can’t go inside a Hindu temple if you’ve been drinking. Thank Siva for that. Alcohol would just make for many broken bones and closed head injuries along the path to Paruvathamalai. No shoes no booze. Higher up, things got downright treacherous but it was too late to turn back. I didn’t want to anyway. Wet rocks giant rocks boulders with little footholds and metal bars Paruvathamalai, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple, #drbarryindia, Lord Malikarjunaswamy, India travel experience, bLifeNY, MOHAN Foundation, Dr Chris Barryto pull yourself up and up and up. Some of the bars were loose. Logesh kept chanting “Go slow Krish, be careful Krish”. Sometimes Jango would say “Don’t talk Krish” because he was terribly afraid that I would fall down and hurt myself. Mani, Balaji 2, Logesh, and Balaji 1 all followed suit and tried to hold my hand along the way but this was making it hard for me to keep my balance (that and the water bottle they insisted that I carry with me until I said enough and made the crew hold it for me in their backpack). I was unsteady because of the pain in my feet. I told Mani that I’ve climbed many mountains in my youth but always with boots on. “Don’t the shoes make you slip?” I explained big hiking boots like army boots and he understood but we were barefoot as a sign of devotion to god. We were walking up Paruvathamalai, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple, #drbarryindia, Lord Malikarjunaswamy, India travel experience, bLifeNY, MOHAN Foundation, Dr Chris Barrythe mountain in the middle of the night in the rain as a sign of devotion to God. Barefoot. Mani’s crew included Jango and Mani was in charge (a few years older) of the crew. Jango was the special crew member tonight because he brought along a real white man from America. Apparently, some Indians just want to touch me or speak with me because I’m so different and idealized. The kids in the crew, aged 18-21 (don’t get me wrong: the best way to do interesting and fun things in India is to hang out with young, unmarried men because they have the time), were not upper class. They were a little rugged but so kind. Kathi had some impressive tattoos (no big deal in America but fucking awesome in India). Logesh painted Paruvathamalai, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple, #drbarryindia, Lord Malikarjunaswamy, India travel experience, bLifeNY, MOHAN Foundation, Dr Chris Barryhis left fingernails and two toenails bright pink—a simple “fashion statement” for rough kids. Balaji 1 was a beautiful boy but with many scars. Rajesh had some East Asian blood in him so his pals teased him about not being able to grow a moustache. Balaji 2, dressed like a movie star, served as my bodyguard on many occasions on the way up the mountain. Amal (“Michael”) was quiet and sophisticated and looked like he didn’t quite belong, but he was there all the way with us. They all took care of me and I stayed with them. Then it got more intense: ladders, both stone and metal, going straight up, up ,up, forever up. I thought at one point we were getting closer but it was just the makeshift hut people entertaining their guests in the distance. Very close to the top it was only one person at a time. Everyone waited patiently for their turn. Scaling the open rocks and looking down oh so far I was never afraid. But this was insanely dangerous! How did I get here? I decided to never mind and focus on the mission: I have to go see Lord Siva at the top of the mountain. We got to the top probably around 3 am (my phone battery died long before) and it was warm inside. Many pilgrims sleeping peacefully on the floors. We snaked our way to the inner sanctum to see God. I am not a Hindu, I am a Buddhist. But I know when I’m in a holy place, so I clasped my hands in front of me in prayer and devotion to the energy of the universe. I didn’t enter every sanctum in the temple because I just don’t know enough yet. Maybe when I come back again (Jango doesn’t want to come back once is enough for him). The Hindus among us entered the inner sanctum and took pooja with the Priest, one by one. The pilgrims made their offerings (one rupee suffices) and in turn were allowed to perform ancient fire prayer rituals after which the Priest donned their foreheads with brightly colored parallel streaks in devotion to Lord Malikarjunaswamy and all the other billion or so Gods in India. Then I thought and asked: “Is there any other way down from Paruvathamalai, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple, #drbarryindia, Lord Malikarjunaswamy, India travel experience, bLifeNY, MOHAN Foundation, Dr Chris Barryhere?” I was in no mood to go through this again. Or so I thought. We stopped outside the temple to light a fire with petroleum based fire tablets called “karpuram” in Tamil. Such a small, cute fire even with several pellets. But the heat! Jango asked Kathi to ring out my t shirt which was soaking wet with rain and sweat. I thought it wasn’t going to help but between Kathi’s expert wringing and the little karpuram fire, I actually started to get a little dryer and definitely felt warmer. Amazing little fire. So we were ready to go down. The insane stretches of the trail seemed less insane and were easier to negotiate going down. By the time we had gotten to the steps, we were ready to start running. Stopped for breakfast on the trail down including coffee and these amazing deep fried rice cakes with gravy oh my god. We stopped to look at the mountains around and the land below and the sky above. We walked back to Kumar waiting for us in the car. I tried to sleep and maybe got a few minutes here and there out of pure exhaustion, but I couldn’t quite sleep yet. My feet didn’t hurt anymore. My muscles were starting to get stiff I’ll be sore tomParuvathamalai, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple, #drbarryindia, Lord Malikarjunaswamy, India travel experience, bLifeNY, MOHAN Foundation, Dr Chris Barryorrow. We stopped for lunch just outside of Chennai around 1pm. Another delicious and inexpensive meal for everyone. We dropped Mani and the crew off in Palavarum, one by one school bus style. We all said goodbye and I hoped that I could get my photos to them somehow even though they weren’t on facebook or whatsapp. I thanked Mani especially for his leadership of a kind crew. Jango argued with Kumar on the way back to T. Nagar about his fee. We settled on 6,000 Rupees ($98 USD) and I was prepared to pay him more so I gave him a little tip for his good driving. I still couldn’t quite sleep when I returned to the GLM Meridian Hotel. I had never experienced something quite so different and intense in all my life. And I’ve seen and done a lot of things. The Hindus want to see God. I saw God that night in Paruvathamalai. I saw God in many ways.

About Chris Barry

I am a transplant surgeon, researcher, entrepreneur, and champion of organ donation awareness. I am particularly interested in liver cancer genomics, fatty liver disease, and saving lives through transplant and organ donation awareness.
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