CLIMBING THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
We were led by a woman from the sangha who had made the trek numerous times and was confident about where we were going. As we started to ascend, the grasses got thicker, the shrubs larger and more menacing—some had thorns on them an inch and a half long—and the terrain rockier. I am an experienced hiker, but I had never before on a hike felt like I did this morning. It was as if my mind were disabled. I couldn’t do anything but focus on putting one foot in front of another. It could have been fatigue, but I attribute it to the powerful energy of the mountain, which works its magic on each person in different ways.
We hiked about halfway up, by now climbing over and around large boulders and through somewhat intricate passageways. The only markers were intermittent stacks of three or four rocks serving as guideposts--otherwise it was not at all clear where to proceed. I was so comforted by the fact that we had a reliable guide because I could never have done it on my own.
When we were almost halfway up the mountain, the quiet was broken by the sound of a voice hailing us.. From atop a high ridge far off behind us, we saw a small figure waving and yelling. We concluded it was Daniel from the sangha. We waved back and continued on our uphill trek. The next thing I knew, I heard footsteps behind me, looked around and saw that it was Daniel. How he had closed the gap so quickly between where he was when he waved and falling in line behind us, I’ll never know. He must be part mountain goat.
Finally, we stopped about halfway up the mountain atop of an enormous boulder with a small stream trickling through it. Tiruvannamalai, shrouded in a blanket of smog, lay below us in the distance. We put down our packs, took of our shoes and washed our feet in the refreshingly cold stream. I enjoyed an apple and an energy bar and then sat and meditated. There is no denying the vibrations on this mountain: My mind could barely move, so powerful was the energy.
After an hour or so, we descended. I had to pay careful attention to every footstep. It would have been so easy to get my feet tangled up in the tall grasses and take a fall. I was again grateful for our more experienced hikers, for I could not have easily retraced our steps. We rejoined our friend who had stayed at the bottom. She, by now, was totally in bliss. We made it back just in time to grab breakfast, take a shower and make it to morning satsang. I am disappointed that I didn’t ever get all the way to the top of Arunachala, but that was not to be on this trip.
Members of our group began feeding the puppies, though this was discouraged by the ashram officials, who didn’t want the dogs on the grounds. Nonetheless, many in our group disregarded their wishes, fed and attempted to befriend them, which proved to be generally unsuccessful. One man even got bitten. Nonetheless, over the time we were there, we could see that their health was improving; we could no longer see their ribs, and their coats were looking healthier. We were concerned, however, about what would happen to these pups when we were not there to feed and protect them. Two women in our group had heard about an organization, the Arunachala Animal Shelter (www.arunachalasanctuary.com/index.php), that takes in sick and dying dogs and provides medical and/or hospice care for them. The two paid a visit to this shelter and came away impressed by the love and devotion of the people involved. While the shelter could not take our pups, they did agree to at least give them the necessary shots to give them a better chance at survival, which gave us some comfort. Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to them after we left.
Next: Winding Down