The Land of Agastya. Part-2: The Southern Sage.

The Cosmic sound dwells in two levels, the manifest and un-manifest. The creation arises from the un-manifest.

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Agastya arises during the time of crisis. He does not interfere with the cosmic law nor its evolutionary activities. He intervenes when the cosmic order is disturbed and provides guidance.

He is like the Batman choosing to act and change through his influence and intervention.

Agastya is the Siddha available for those who seek him.

Agastya has lived through all the Yugas and has mention in the four Vedas. He existed in the past and continues to exist in the present Yuga. There are numerous stories associated with him in each Yuga and several to do with his intervention during a crisis.

A cycle of Yugas is 26,000 years. This is the precession of the earth’s axis that completes one circuit in 26,000 years and is Agastya’s lifespan.

And this happened 5000 years back.

A battle witnessed by beings in the cosmic planes.

A fierce and prolonged battle was about to begin between Rama and Ravana in Treta Yuga. Rama is fatigued after a long battle with the glorious warriors of Lanka.

Agastya appears before Rama and reveals ‘Aditya hrdayam’. He encourages him to internalise the hymn and meditate on Surya.

Aditya hrdayam describes Surya as the consciousness and that the one pervading outside and inside is no different. Rama attains the strength of Surya. This ensures him victory in the battle field.

It is said In the Gita that humans desirous of an aura around them should recite Aditya hrdayam.

It is preparation time now to begin my incredible journey to Agastya’s centre in the earthly plane. This mystical journey will take me through the lofty mountain ranges to his abode.

The trek will be through the peaks of Western Ghats ranges far away from human settlements. I will walk through the forests with rich concentration of biodiversity filled with abundance of rare herbs, plants and wild animals.

There is a hurdle to get over.

The trekking is permitted for only 53 days in a year beginning 15th of January each year. The numbers are limited and one hundred entry passes are provided on any given day.

The entry passes are issued through an online system by the Kerala Forest Department. The passes get exhausted within two hours for all the days as soon as the online booking opens.

I was monitoring the Kerala Forest Department website for a month to ensure I do not miss the opportunity. I had also asked my accompanying friends to monitor the website regularly.

It is advisable to register in the portal well in advance to obtain user identification and password. It is a rush when the booking window opens for the entry passes.

The forest department posted a notification a day before the commencement of online application for entry passes. It said the window will open at 11:00 AM the next day.

I was glued to my computer at 10:45 AM the next day armed with necessary information and payment details.

The booking opened sharply at 11:00 AM and I can sense a frantic rush. You get to see real time how the passes are grabbed. Seventy percent of the entry passes were gone within 15 minutes. I managed to successfully confirm our passes during the last permitted week of the trek.

The forest department sent me a formal communication in an email confirming the date with instructions. I should be present in their forest office in the foot hills at 7:00 AM on the given day to complete the formalities.

I will begin the trek along with my friends on Feb 23rd. Three days in the forest and mountains with awakening sights and sounds in the mountains should be exhilarating.

It had been a year since I formed a group called Cosmic Prayana with my close friends. The mystical journeys are open to anyone willing to step out and connect with the natural state to experience life deeply.

The creation existed and gods came after (Rigveda).

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My journey begins today.

This is a backpacking trip and planning is essential.

The thumb rule for backpacks is not to exceed 30% of your body weight. I am within limits. The other trick is to place the heaviest item in the top to ensure balance and lessen strain on shoulders.

My backpack has two sets of clothes, two towels, a medicine kit, air pillow, shawl, sun hat and snacks to munch on the way. Snacks that I packed are nuts, dry fruits and granola bars. Sleeping for two nights in the open will need preparation.

I will be flying Jet Airways today from Bengaluru to Thiruvananthapuram. The night stay will be in a hotel.

My trekking will start the next day from Bonacaud 60 KMS from Thiruvananthapuram. I must present myself at the forest office along with my accompanying team at 7:00 AM.

Three days in the forest and mountains with awakening sights and sounds in the mountains should be exhilarating. Evening discourses are planned to step out and connect with the natural state to experience life deeply.

The Guru.

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It was easy commute to Kempegowda International Airport considering the Bangalore traffic. We managed to reach the airport on time for our 6:00 PM flight to Trivandrum. There was ample time to relax after we checked in our backpacks.

Our flight touched down in Trivandrum at 7:00 PM. We briskly walked to collect our bags and boarded a taxi towards Padmanabhaswamy temple. It is 20-minute drive to the temple situated in the city.

The sage Agastya’s Samadhi is located beneath the feet of the Padmanabhaswamy idol. This is Sukshma sarira of Agastya, his subtle or the astral body. Sukshma sarira is the body of the mind and the vital energies that keep the physical body alive. Patanjali describes Samadhi as dissolution of personal identify and the experience of the universe as the self.

It was 9:00 PM when we checked in at the Capitol Hotel in Trivandrum city. After a light dinner, we retired to a room as we pondered the unknown and what lay ahead. We arranged for a car to pick us at 4:00 AM the next day morning to Bonacaud. Our trek will begin from Bonacaud as we head towards Agastya hills.

The Search begins.

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I woke up at 3:00 in the morning. I had ample time for a refreshing shower and meditation. I was running with mild fever since the time I had started from Bangalore. The paracetamol I took the previous night before bed made me sleep better.

The car driver we had arranged the previous evening promptly arrived at 4:30 in the morning as we started our travel to Bonacaud.

Bonacaud is about two hours’ drive covering 60 KMS from Trivandrum. The route takes you through narrow and winding roads offering spectacular views of the mountain ranges. You get a glimpse of Agastya mountain ranges as you near Bonacaud.

An abandoned tea factory what once used to be a magnificent tea estate welcomes you as you enter Bonacaud through the plains, forests, hills and valleys.

A battered road takes you from the ruined tea factory as we arrived at the forest check post at 7:00 AM. The car driver dropped us here and returned.

The cafeteria at the forest check post serves simple breakfast and warm herbal water. We had idlis for breakfast and bought packed lunch for the trek.

The Kerala Forest Department does a phenomenal job in maintaining the bio diversity of the mountains. Plastics are strictly prohibited. Our bags were thoroughly checked for plastics. We were asked to repack our snacks and food items in paper bags and abandon plastics. One hundred rupees’ deposit is held by the forest department for every plastic water bottle you wish to carry. This deposit will be returned to you on completion of the trip and upon return of the plastic bottles.

The forest department finally let us go into the forests at 9:30 AM.

The Mystical Path.

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Twenty-four kilometers must be covered one-way to reach the summit. The return trip takes about three days.

The forest biosphere reserve is abounded with elephants, tiger, deer, wild boar, bear, wild cats and giant squirrels. The king cobra thrives in the region. The forest department cautions you to watch out for wild animals. Elephants can cross your path during mornings and evenings.

It takes 40 minutes to reach Lathimotta camp traversing through thick forests. There is a open shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha here. An opportunity to seek blessing before continuing the trek through the thick jungle. Trenches can be found on either side for protection from wild elephants.

We stopped near Karamanayar river after a long and tiring walk through the magical forests. Its cool water is refreshing as you stand dipping the ankles. An open shrine dedicated to the mountain god resides here close to a forest camp.

The sun was intense as we continued our climb through the rocky path. The view of towering mountains on either side is majestic.

The river Vazapaithiyae is further away with a mesmerising waterfall. It is an opportunity to take a break and dip in its cool waters.

River Attayar is nearby. We rested here for a while and finished our packed lunch.

It was midday when we entered the grasslands. The sun was beating down. A small stream along the ways comes handy to fill the water bottle. It is a long winding climb now on. The amazing grasslands are filled with rare herbs. The peaks of Agastya hills can be spotted far way amidst the majestic mountains.

We had trekked close to 8 hours to reach Athirumala camp in middle of the forest. This camp has sheds for travelers to rest.

Our night halt was at the Athirumala camp.

We parked ourselves in the middle of the shed. The shed was nearly full of 50-70 people. A small stream runs a kilometer from the camp. It was a tiring day and the bath was refreshing. I later meditated in the shed for half an hour among the crowd.

A cafeteria here serves a simple meal. The menu is rice porridge and lemon pickle.

A big journey awaited the next day to the summit as I lay flat on the floor and slept.

The Presence. 

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I had slept reasonably well on the hard surface. I woke up at 5:00 in the morning.

The cafeteria in Athirumala camp serves steaming chukka kaapi. Chukku Kappi is a mix of jaggery, basil, pepper powder, dry ginger, thippili in boiling water. It is delightful sipping kappi and enjoying the serene peace of the mountains.

We resumed our journey at sunrise. It is advisable not to move out of the camp before sunrise due to elephant crossings. We were asked to be cautious about bears and to avoid conflict.

The path towards the peak is steep, tough and expected to take about 5 hours. We left our bags in Athirumala camp and carried just a water bottle. The weight can make the climb difficult.

The first part of the trek is through dense bamboo forests and huge boulders. Two hours of climbing takes you to a point from where you can see Athirumala camp deep down. The Agastya peak is clearly visible at some distance as we reach Pongalappara.

There are number of water streams flowing around Pongalappara. This is a place for rest and snack. The journey from here is adventurous and mostly steep rocks. Ropes are provided in numbers of places for support to climb. This can be challenging.

The final climb is at 60-70 degrees to the peak and is the toughest. It is advisable not to look back as you crawl and inch towards the top with the support of a rope. Deep down you can see vast valleys and mountains on either side with winds blowing at high speeds. The winds can push you down if you are not alert.

The Agastya shrine is located on the peak. It is blissful experience when you reach the top. The energy and experience cannot be described. I sat down for an hour in front of the full-size Agastya idol. Guru Agastya’s presence is felt all around.

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An enduring trek and worth the effort as I started the descend. I continued to crawl slowly holding the ropes coming down the peak. It took four hours to reach Athirumala camp for another night’s halt.

It was a long journey the next day from Athirumala camp to Bonacaud. We started the trek after sunrise to reach Bonacaud in seven hours.

An old couple at Bonacaud invited me to their thatched hut for lunch assuring it is pure vegetarian. I enjoyed the meal and their hospitality.

The bus to Trivandrum was ready outside the hut. The state transport corporation runs few bus trips between Bonacaud to Trivandrum at two-hour gap. The bus was packed and I comfortably sat down on the floor for the journey. It took three hours to reach Trivandrum airport right on time for my return flight to Bengaluru.

The Conclusion.

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This trek was filled with mystical experiences.

A magical moment in the forest when someone appeared and handed me a bamboo pole. I had refused to carry a pole offered by the forest office in Bonacaud. Bamboo poles are popular among trekkers for support in the mountainous terrain. The person insisted I keep the pole. The pole assisted me and was of immense help throughout the trek.

As I descended the summit, I noticed a group of men carrying ceremonial items heading in the opposite direction. The summit is 60-70 degrees steep and difficult part of the trek. A lead person in the group walked briskly with a framed portrait of sage Agastya mounted on his head. I wondered at his endurance to carry the weight up the mountain. I said to myself this will be my last trip to Agastyamalai. Just then the lead person who had gone past some distance turned back and said loudly I should consider coming back next year. This was amazing. Did he read my mind or was this a mere coincidence?

Today is Shivaratri. The trek is closed for public from tomorrow. I had made it a practice over the years to stay awake during Shivaratri night. Today was different. I was eager to reach the base camp quickly for rest and sleep. The base camp was four hours away. I will be tired by the time I reach. I noticed someone behind me, a middle-aged man who seemed keen to pick a conversation. He spoke of several things while I listened. He asked me to join in the festivities and dinner in the forest close to the basecamp around midnight. He said I should try to be awake tonight and be with nature. Divine messages can arrive in any form.

This is an herbal mountain. There are occasions when you are gasping and require few minutes rest to energise. Some men would walk up to me with scared healing plants for a sniff. Their ginger, clove and lemony smell is bound to energise.

I am glad to have some met wonderful people during the trek.

I may come back in the future for yet another experience.

For the moment, I am planning my next trip to the Himalayas.

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