वक्रतुण्ड महाकाय सुर्यकोटि समप्रभ
निर्विघ्नं कुरु मे देव सर्वकार्येषु सर्वदा
The first thoughts for the morning were set on having a cup of filter kaapi in davara-tumbler. Staying in a traditional Agraharam house which included two oonjals (loosely translated as Swing which I feel does not do justice for the wonderful piece of furniture), it’s nothing less than a Divine experience to sip a cup of filter kaapi relaxing on the oonjal.
Asking for a coffee, when we must be grateful for the stay in the first place, looked very greedy and out of place for a ‘spiritual aspirant.’ The stars seems to be good to me though! The ladies of the house had woken up at 3:30 AM to get our coffees ready in time for our 5:00 AM departure. It was the first of many unexpected surprises in the trip and shows the extent that people respect the traditions and religious practices in India irrespective of who undertakes it or what form it takes.
Our start got delayed by few minutes and we made our way towards the Ganapathy Temple situated next door. The temple was opened slightly earlier to help us offer our salutations to Lord Ganesha ahead of the trip. After the customary breaking of coconut (strangely, no one rushed to pick the pieces), we proceeded towards Thingaloor by a mini-bus where we were scheduled to start the run.
Thingaloor, as the name suggests, houses the temple of Chandran (Moon), one of the Navagrahas. Located about 8Kms from Ganapathy Agraharam, it was a tiny hamlet possibly famous for the temple alone.
A small temple with Lord Shiva as the presiding deity, but the attraction has of late shifted to that of Lord Chandran and there were significant crowd at about 6 AM in the morning. We offered our prayers and proceeded to start the run. At about 6:45 AM, we started the Navagraha trip with a marathon. As mentioned earlier, I did not look at the schedule in detail and was made aware of this fact, only the previous evening. It included a brief halt at Manniyar Thalaippu for our breakfast.
The run started well after the sunrise denying us the benefit of a pleasant early morning weather conditions. That said, most of our route was well covered with canopy of trees protecting us from direct sunlight. Eleven out of the thirteen runners started the morning run with Bala and Vishwanathan (‘Hubli Express’) set to join us later. I chose to be ‘extra-cautious’ from the very beginning and found an appropriate company in Ram to run with me. Ram was still recovering from his niggling problem with his plantar fasciitis. More about that in his blog here. He was yet determined to do the run for his ailing brother-in-law and sister.
We ran past Ganapathy Agraharam and soon had the first sight of the river Kaveri (also spelt as Cauvery). The river was in its full bloom with copious water from the South-west monsoon. Had we run this route a year back, we would have been deprived of this beautiful sight. Our breakfast was arranged at Manniyar Thalaippu, about 12 Kms from Thingaloor. Most of the distances are approximates as there weren’t many runners who opted to switch on their GPS devices. You can view the route here.
Manniyar Thalaippu is a scenic location where River Manniyar branches out of river Kaveri. Encouraged by Selva, most runners opted to take a dip in the river Manniyar which was shallow.
I refrained from choosing to take a dip simply because I wasn’t confident that I can run another 32 Kms to Alangudi after that. It would have been a great experience to take a dip, follow it up with the sumptuous breakfast of pongal, vadai, coffee and then head to Ganapathy Agraharam for a nap in the Oonjal. On narrating the same, Krishna endorsed it by saying, ‘That is life.’ Sadly, that wasn’t the choice we had for that day.
The place also features iron shutters, used to regulate the flow of water from Kaveri to Manniyar, installed way back in 1850. We had our breakfast on the banks of Kaveri and resumed our run under blazing sun, knowing well that I have another 32Kms to run towards Alangudi.
The next town that we reached was Papanasam, famous for a temple of Lord Shiva and also the birth place of Poet Papanasam Sivan and as I learn from Wikipedia, Sri Sri Ravishankar of the Art of Living. The group disintegrated quickly into smaller groups of varying speed and energy levels. Ram and I were amongst the tail-enders and progressed slowly towards our destination.
We were soon joined by Krishna who did well to run about 5K with us. At times, I did feel like telling him that some day, I will make him run as much as his dad made me to run now! Krishna was a sweet kid who helped us a great deal during the trip. Initially, he looked a little upset on missing his vacations. But, soon found ways to enjoy himself during the trip, be it running with us or helping us with water/electrolytes or those wonderful massages with his foot in the evening.
Our guides informed us that the next places that we need to look forward to was Valangaiman. The mile-markers (or KM-markers) did not provide adequate information and we relied on the distances provided to us by the passer-bys. We usually chose to accept the estimates of the person offering us the lowest number. On being asked where we are up to, we offered the answer Alangudi and it didn’t surprise many. It looked like many undertake similar tours although not clothed like us.
The heat on that day made the run a massive challenge. Neither Ram nor I had run beyond a 10K in the previous one month (in case of Ram, it was more than a month). At one point, we found running any more really tough and looked for a place to take rest. We reached a nearby house and sought permission to rest on their pyol (thinnai in Tamil). The standards of hospitality were so high that they also offered a bottle of ice-cold water.
காலத்தினால் செய்த நன்றி சிறிது எனினும்
ஞாலத்தின் மாணப் பெரிது.
Most traditional houses have a pyol on the front which is used as a meeting place, receive visitors (unknown ones, the known ones are directly taken inside the house) and importantly, offer a space for rest to passer-by’s. Today, cities have apartments worth crores and yet don’t even spare an inch for the benefit of general public, not even the public space mandated by the Development authorities.
We reached the town of Valangaiman from where we have to take a deviation towards Alangudi. We took the guidance from our support crew and moved towards Alangudi. At one intersection, we saw Durai and Vadivel running towards us from the opposite direction. They had lost their way ended up running another 3 Kms. Although, it did provide us with some ammunition to have a hearty laughter then, I have to admit that a 3K ‘extra run’ on a day like that would have put me off from proceeding with the tour. Appreciation to Vadivel and Durai for moving ahead and finishing the tour.
The next hamlet was Semmangudi, famous through the Carnatic musician, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer. A couple of Kilometeres further, we hear the war cry, ‘Ram chandra Ki’ and it was our Bala and Vishwanathan who caught up with us despite a two and a half-hour late start.
They did make us feel that it is high time that we pull up our socks and finish the run soon. Bala and Selva had originally promised to be the ‘sweepers’ during this run. Given the difficulty of the run that day, they cannot be expected to keep up their promise though. We had to watch out for a ‘temple under construction’ on the way. It was also our clue that we are close to Alangudi. The temple wall seems to eye-catching at a height of at least 30 feet!
We finally reached the Alangudi at about 3:00 PM after getting completely roasted in the heat. You can view the route here. We were housed in a Wedding hall where we could comfortably have bath, lunch and some stretches from our Physio Mani. On most occassions, that would have been end but this was only an end of the beginning. Few minutes after closing my eyes, I was told that it’s time for the next round. We visited the temple which houses the Lord ‘Guru’ (Jupiter) and paid our obeisances. Another 12K to go to reach Thippirajapuram, the final destination for the day. Vadivel and Durai accompanied me and Ram for some distance before getting tempted by a pool of water, well, for bathing. We continued our pursuit towards Thippirajapuram with an interesting encounter with a ‘philospohical’ drunkard. He was riding a cycle bit haphazardly that prompted me to warn him about the oncoming traffic. He started his philosophical rant that he is not worried about his life and death, purpose of life, earning money and what not. Asked if he is drunk, he replied affirmatively and added he is on his way to the next town for another round!
Once it got very dark, we resorted to more walking than running constantly cribbing about the recklessness of the drivers – high beam, rash driving, lack of civic sense and total apathy towards any social good. Tamil Nadu registers the highest number of deaths in road accidents and yet everyone drives thinking that he is definitely not the next one to meet the same fate.
The night halt was arranged at Narayan’s home in Thippirajapuram. We were hosted and honoured by Narayanan, his friends and relatives. There was a press meet arranged and our run got featured in two Tamil News papers. That was the first time, I got recognised since moving to Pondicherry as both papers carried my name as ‘Puducherry’ Balaji!