Tiruvannamali turns out to be one of the most rewarding places I’ve been. And it’s the spirutality, but also, a very unexpected person.
I got to my guesthouse, Sunshine Guesthouse, and was told I should rest for an hour, everything was closed. Everyone in India always wants you to rest, relax, sit down - and I’m often the opposite, I don’t mind walking around in the heat of the day, but okay. I did some laundry in the bucket and put the fan on to dry it. (Exciting lives of backpackers!)
Then I headed out to the temple. It’s not just one temple, but a collection of a lot of temples. There were tons of Hindus praying, listening to the talks, getting ash on their forehead. I was the only Westerner that I saw inside, and everyone was very serious. I watched from a distance and observed.
After, I decided to walk to the ashram. Everyone in India thinks you should take tuktuks everywhere, but I like to walk. On my walk, I stopped to get a coconut, say hi to some children, pop into a few shops, relax. In front of the ashram, after buying some mala beads for a friend, I began to dodge traffic to cross the street - tuktuks and motorbikes driving like they were on a mission. A woman begging followed me.
And then I heard, “CHERIE!”
I turned around in disbelief, because really, who could know me? There was just one person in India who knew where I was (Ash) and he was back in Chennai.
I couldn’t place him immediately, but then I realized after he said, “Burning Man Ultramarathon.”
Yes, he was one of the runners! I remembered that he was from Hong Kong, and a pretty decent runner.
He introduced me to his fiancee and we chatted on the street for a while, during which more people asked for money. (Everyone does different things with giving money here...some don’t do it on principle that it will encourage people to beg more, others give to two people a day. I give to people that don’t hound or hassle me; I don’t want to encourage those people.) We went into the ashram, and talked more, and then listened to the chanting. Pure peace. Wonderful energy in there.
They mentioned they wanted to do the mountain walk tonight; did I want to come? Absolutely. I had wanted to go but didn’t want to do it alone.
After getting something to eat and dropping off at my room for a bit, I met them again. They were dressed in white, and I was dressed in sweat.
We began the walk. It was a pilgrimage where you stop at 8 lingas, these shrines basically, and there are other temples on the way. We imagined a lovely mountain trail; it was primarily a busy street.
There were lots of pilgrims, most barefoot, even though it was night and on stone-covered roads.
We talked about reforming the education system, love and pregnancy, food poisoning, marriage on the playa, being satisifed, conspicious consumption and consumption culture, how to be happy...the conversations were thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I was grateful for it.
We stopped on the way and ate some cauliflower dosa.
We walked some more. We stopped at lingas on the way, accepted ashes on our foreheads. We removed our shoes and watched as the pilgrims walked without shoes, bravely.
It made me believe in the miracle of travel, of the world. I was suppsoed to be in Tiruvannamalai the day before; I almost stopped in at some shops or a restaurant, but didn’t. So the timing of the stars led us to meet up at this perfect moment.
Burning Man is not just a festival, it is a community. And I’m grateful to have been a part of it.