Tag Archives: tiruvannamalai


Dani’s twin sisters are in India, along with appropriate significant others. Holger was also in Bangalore due to a business trip a couple of weeks ago, when this story took place. So we all piled into the car and drove to Tiruvannamalai to show them the temple there. It started off well. The drive there is always beautiful, we stopped at the roadside at one point to let the kids collect Tamarind and we had a nice biryani (rice based casserole) for lunch at a restaurant in Tiruvannamalai. Then we went to the temple.

The Shiva temple in Tiruvannamalai is magnificent, as I have said before. We strolled in took in the architecture and atmosphere and went straight to the temple elephant so that the kids could get blessings from it. Shortly before reaching the elephant, a beggar woman approached us. Somehow, we managed to get past her without her following and we reached the pachyderm safely. Charlotte emptied my pocket of coins; giving one at a time to the elephant. It takes the coin, gives it to its handler and then touches your forehead with its trunk in blessing. Sammy was too frightened to try it.

Just as we were about to move on, a man smiled and stepped next to me. He loitered for some time. This is usually the signal that he is the insidious bastard type of tout. Then he started with a song and dance about how he needed 100 rupees to get back to Chennai. I told him to get lost. I loathe professional beggars with the fury of a thousand suns. Any able bodied person who consciously chooses to beg instead work is not a good person in my book. Tellingly, the one phrase in Kannada that I know is to tell such people to get a job.

He left to look for another mark and I continued on my merry way.

A while later, we were lounging near one of the small shrines near the eastern gopura. I stepped away to photograph temple monkeys. Another fellow came up to me. This one was wearing the saffron (orange) dhoti of a devout Hindu sadu. He started to tell me that he lost his pass and needed help. I mentally groaned. “Here we go again. Why won’t these people leave me alone?” Saffron dhoti or no, my patience was at an end.

You would not do this if I was Indian!

I turned and walked away.

He stammered…

I am not a beggar! All Indians are not beggars!

Then he walked away.

A short while later, he returned. I had moved over to the tank (artificial pond) to watch a kingfisher hunt, but the others had remained in place. He pointed to me and said to Holger.

Your friend said that all Indians are beggars! We are not beggars!

He went on accosting Holger for a few minutes. I never said that and don’t think it, so I don’t know where he came up with that idea. As far as I could tell, there are four possible reasons he acted that way:

1 – He was just unbalanced.

2 (the cynical version) – he was just using it as a psychological lever to pull at our heartstrings and do a scam. After all, nobody wants to think of themselves as bigots and people may be inclined to try and prove that they are not under such conditions.

3 (slightly less cynical) – He was trying to scam me, but was still genuinely offended at my gruff response.

4 – He was genuinely the engineer that he claimed to be and genuinely in need of help and had no clue what a riff-raff magnet foreigners are. Middle class Indians are often shocked at some of the experiences I’ve had. I distinctly remember Siva being wide eyed about the guy asking for my socks. If he does not personally know any foreigners, he may be unaware of this and not understand my reaction.

I do wonder what it was.



Hiking and being asked for my socks was not the only thing we did during our Tiruvannamalai trip. My copy of Lonely Planet describes Tiruvannamalai as one of the hidden gems of Tamil Nadu. I’m inclined to agree. It is a temple town with a huge Shiva temple and a number of ahsrams in and around the city. It is also a major pilgrimage center. In fact, Daniela’s boss during our time in India is a Brahman who goes to Tiruvannamalai to meditate as often as he can.

I enjoyed the temple complex mostly because of its architecture. As I understand it, Hindu temples are supposed to be pure and peaceful inside. From my observations, they can best be described as manmade caves. When the kings of old wanted to build a fancy temple, they could not make the temple itself fancy, so you don’t see anything at all like cathedrals or mosques… with the temple building itself. But what they could go crazy with was the rest of the temple grounds and especially the gates.

The Tiruvannamalai Temple Grounds

Inside the temple grounds, there was an elephant with a big shiva tikka taking donations. You walk up to the elephant and give it a coin. It takes your coin with its trunk, drops it into a basket and then blesses you by touching your forehead with its trunk. Charlotte went through most of our loose change this way.

Along with this, I was probably single handedly responsible for any future rules at that temple banning westerners. The temple complex actually has several temples; mostly small ones and one big one. We were inside one of the small ones and the priest was giving out blessings. I leaned over to our companion, Shiva (we went to a Shiva temple with a woman named Shiva) and asked.

You don’t suppose that he would let me take a photo, do you?

Let me ask.

She conferred with the priest, then told me that it is okay. They would not allow it in the larger temple, but here is okay. The part I did not “get” was that I was supposed to wait until he was done giving blessings to the current crowd.

Uh oh...

Boy was he angry!

I hustled right out of there! So if you ever visit the place and are not allowed in. Feel free to blame me.

Perhaps the sock man was karma…

May I have your socks Sir?

No really, a guy actually asked for the socks I was wearing!

Among other things, we went hiking yesterday. The location was a near a pilgrimage town in Tamil Nadi, called Tiruvannamalai. There is a holy mountain there called Annamalai. It has an ashram (monastery) at the top of its 600 meter (2000 ft) high peak with a small trail leading to the top. As the trailhead was in a city, it was not quite the wild adventure of the Ranganatha Swamy Hill trip, but was a fun hike anyway.

The hike itself was “unsuccessful”. We hiked in 35 C (about 95 F) temperatures under a blazing sun with no forest canopy, which we had been expecting when we chose the location. So in climbing about halfway up, we managed to consume 9 of the 11 liters of water that we had brought with us. As the prospect of running out of water and risking heatstroke did not appeal, we turned back. On the way down, we ran into a barefoot man who had apparently walked up the hill to catch up with us – on a side note, I really, really, hate this. We are searching for solitude while hiking and are out to commune with nature, not talk to touts.

He stopped and smiled, dashing any meager hope that he might me heading for the Ashram further up the trail. He tried to talk us into taking him on as a guide; after all, we have to be careful on the way down. One of our hiking companions (neighbor from Palm Meadows), a Tamil woman named Shiva more or less told him to get lost because he was useless anyway; yet he lingered. Jeez I hate touts! After she told me about the “we have to be careful” bit, I made it a point to do my mountain goat best and leap between rocks just drive home the point that being a westerner does not make me some fragile doll who needs someone to hold his umbrella and carry him down the mountain.

He smiled and complimented me on my jump. Then he asked me.

Sir, may I have a pair of socks?

I only have one pair of socks. They are on my feet. They are also sweaty and stinky.

Sir may I have a pair of socks? Just one pair! I have to work on the trail every day and I have no socks.

After I did not give him the socks off my feet, the smile vanished instantly as it always does when one of these toutish types realizes that we’re not going to be his personal ATM machine. He then went away and walked back down the hill.

But really… the dude coveted the socks off my feet!