A friend’s father mentioned that he frequently goes for his morning walk to a small hillock in Srivilliputhur. “It is very energising,” he said, “and on Sunday mornings, I often take my grandchildren.”
This got my attention because those visiting the small town in Virudhunagar district complete their recce with the Andal temple, the Grizzled Giant Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary and the palkova outlets. Tharagumalai sounded like a less visited place. I wasn’t wrong. There is a church built on the hillock there called Thirumalai Matha Koil.
So one morning I reached Srivilliputhur, and from the bus stand headed towards the North of the town, with the imposing Western Ghats in the background. Luckily, I hitch-hiked a ride with a student from the nearby Bell Institute in Sivakasi. Young Shanmugaraja was going to Thiruvannamalai, the Perumal temple on the adjacent hillock.
ALSO READ:THE TREASURY OF TULIPS IN KASHMIR
A smooth ride on a five-kilometre stretch took us to the village of South Thiruvannamalai. In that 15-minute drive, only a lone cyclist and a biker passed us. The road was empty and silent. At a small junction, Shanmugaraja and I parted ways. He turned left to go to Thiruvannamalai and I moved along the right curve to arrive at Tharagumalai. Before that, Shanmugaraja reminded me that I should not forget to see the temple from the church on my hill top. Tharagumalai and Thiruvannamalai , are almost like twins separated by less than a kilometre. I spotted a few people on the temple road, but the one on which I had embarked on was totally deserted. The sun shone bright and the heat slowed me down. I took another 20 minutes to reach the base of Tharagumalai.
As I looked up I saw a mass of snowy clouds rise above the church’s spire in the clear blue sky. The climb was to a good 1,000 feet hight. The first 200 steps were easy to conquer. They were long, flat and easy to climb.
As I climbed, it became even quieter and I seemed to be the only one moving up. The initial lot of white-washed steps suddenly disappeared and I found myself on a narrow twisted pathway that encircled the hillock. The steps turned rocky and alternated with a steep cobbled stone foot path. Parts of the walking trail may not be suitable for older people unless they have help.
I counted the steps and there were 1,239 of them! The fact that I was alone was liberating as I could stop for multiple breaks, take as many selfies as I wanted to and pant as much as I needed to!
Once at the top of Tharagumalai, the elation is worth all the 45 minutes I took to climb up the 1,000-plus steps (it was more than twice the time my friend’s father takes). I felt as if time had stopped and couldn’t get enough of the sweeping view.
Outside the Tharagumalai Thirumalai Matha Koil was a granite plaque that dated the church to 1976. The story goes that two shepherds from Srivilliputhur had a vision of Christ and Mary here. The church was built with donations from people. In sharp contrast to the Vaishnav temple on the neighbouring hill, this place of worship is less known and therefore less crowded. The Thiruvannamalai temple is at a lower elevation, (It has 175 steps to reach it) and it is clearly visible from this hillock.
The silence was calming and I sent up a prayer to the heavens and it didn’t feel so hot after a while. I started my descent after two hours of solitude. Tharagumalai provided the perfect half-a-day experience.
How to get there: Srivilliputhur is 75 kilometres from Madurai. Tharagumalai is five kilometres from Srivilliputhur bus stand. You can take a share auto to the place or cycle there.
ALSO READ:8 POPULAR TREKKING POINTS AROUND PUNE