Navagraha Ottam – Part 4

Day 3 looked daunting for both runners and support team alike and there was a mountain to climb. For runners, it was about covering the total distance of 49 Kms in 4 stages – 13, 14, 8 and a final leg of 14 kms and for the support team, it was to ensure that none of us run more than planned. Any deviation from the course will lead to drastic increase in distance and can lead to more woes for runners. The team got ready earlier than other days and we started the run much earlier than the daybreak.

Our first destination was Vaitheeswaran Koil and route was fairly direct from Mayiladuthurai. It was quite tiring initially but soon found the rhythm to keep moving at a steady pace. Vaitheeswaran Koil has of late, become famous or infamous for its nadi josiam or Palm leaf astrology. I had frequented the place on many occasions, the most recent being in May 2013 when Srini and I cycled all the way from Pondicherry for a weekend ride. To keep the conversation going, I started boring Ram with ‘facts’ like I have been visiting this place with a different mode of transportation each time – train, bus, car, cycle and now by foot!

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We reached Vaitheeswaran Koil in about 2 hours and few minutes. I have plenty of pictures taken in this place on the previous two occasions I visited and the place doesn’t seem to change much to prompt me to take photos again. The place housed the Sevvai graha(the equivalent in English is Mars). My earliest memory of this temple was those red beads, salt & pepper offered to Lord Vaitheeswara (the doctor) for curing of diseases. His consort was Thaiyal Nayagi which Srini referred to as Surgeon in our previous trip. I called up home to remind them that I am a dutiful scion of our ‘clan’ as I placed my obeisance to the family deity!

After our breakfast, we started our next stage of run towards Thiruvengadu. The route was supposedly a mystery although we were sure of the direction to be followed. The crew did an excellent job in positioning themselves at appropriate places to guide us safely.

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Expected a better reaction!

En route, we saw Shreya having the world’s best ‘kuchi’ ice. Sadly, she gave a bad expression when asked for a picture of her with the icecream! Shreya, daughter of Bala, was the youngest member of our support crew. She was enthusiastic all through the trip helping us in every possible manner. Her assistance with the ‘dry fruits’ deserve a special mention.

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That’s what heat does to you!

Before Thiruvengadu, we had another gentleman who offered his house for us to rest and also showed us an easier route to the place. It was a welcome rest as the day was getting really tough on us. We finally reached Thiruvengadu at about 11:30 AM in time to have a dharshan of the Lord Budhan (Planet Mercury). A rest house (constructed in 1960s and still serves well) was arranged for us to refresh and have our lunch. The facilities were excellent for us to recover from the heat and plan for the rest of the afternoon run.

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Thiruvengadu Temple

After a brief rest, I and Ram started our run earlier than the rest of the team. The next destination was Keezhaperumpallam, easily the most complicated name we encountered in the whole trip. To ensure that we remember the name well, we broke down the name into two parts and ensured that each one of us remember at least a part. The route was towards the historic town of Poompuhar or Kaveripoompattinam as the next destination was located close to the town.

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Wonder no feminist has ever bothered to protest!

The road was filled with arches in memory of the characters from the Tamil Classic ‘Silappadikaram.’ A week before the trip, I was trying to explain the importance of this story to a group of children only to find that there weren’t any. A mediocre story, hyped up by the politicians and the key protagonist of the story, Kannagi has more importance in the recent political history of Tamil Nadu. I also found that a memorial was built for her although the name Patthini Kottam sounded regressive for me. The arches in memory of Kovalan, Kannagi, Madhavi (yes, Madhavi) sounded absurd and made me wonder if a treatise like Silappadikaram deserves materialistic flamboyance in these forms.

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Kannagi Arch

Further down on the road was this site apparently important from archeological perspective. A layman view would have been that it looked like one of those unfinished construction sites in Chennai. Nevertheless, it is archaeological site and we have to attach importance to it.

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Just before entering the town, we take a diversion towards south to reach Keezhaperumpallam. We cross the river Kaveri for a final time during the trip. The river becomes very narrow and hardly resembles the majestic look that it had in earlier places. We also a had a view of the Poompuhar light house.

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The last view of Kaveri

Keezhaperumpallam, which wasn’t far away from Poompuhar, houses Lord Kethu. It was one of the smallest temples we visited during the trip. After offering our prayers, we set out for one final run towards the final destination for the day – Sembaranar Koil, where we were scheduled to spend the night.

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The ever present crew at the final turn

 The final leg of the run was mixed with tiredness and a sense of satisfaction that much of the run for the day is over. The initial route looked a bit confusing but it was fairly easy once we hit the Poompuhar-Mayiladuthurai road. As always, I and Ram started our run earlier and let most of the runners go past us. Durai and Vadivel chose to accompany us and we had some interesting conversation with Durai on some myths vs reality when it comes legal profession. You can read Durai’s report on the trip in his blog here –

There cannot be any complaints about the food, electrolytes or water offered to us on the run as well as off the run. Our crew tirelessly worked towards squeezing dozens of lemons to prepare fresh lemonades for us every day and Shreya did her part in ensuring that I get my dry fruits when I wanted it! Three days of ‘runners’ diet can be excessively boring. Running past through small towns, one cannot miss the fragrance of the Bajjis and bondas being fried in roadside shops. The next time, the crew passed us asking our needs, I had the temerity to ask for a Vazhakkai Bajji evoking laughter amongst my fellow runners. Few minutes later, the car passed us with a hand raised out of the window offering me a vazhakkai bajji neatly wrapped in a news paper (yeah, that’s how it is and also helps is absorbing excess oil). Shanti (Bala’s wife) and Bhanu (Vishy’s wife) had stopped their car and managed to get a freshly prepared vazhakkai bajji for me. There wasn’t a better inspiration for that evening run!

Meanwhile, the ‘speedsters’ – Srikumar and Neville haven’t yet run past us leaving us to wonder what’s happening to them. On seeing Chakra run alone, they have dropped their pace and chosen to accompany him till the end. Running is never a solo feat; it has always been a team show. The last few Kilometeres were navigated in the dark thanks to the incessant power cuts in those region. The night was spent at Sembaranar Koil.

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