The spiritual getaway
Sabarimala is a prime pilgrimage of India which is located amidst the Western Ghat mountain ranges in Kerala. The place is a part of a reserved biosphere and since the pilgrimage is seasonal, it attracts up to 30 million people every year thereby making it the biggest pilgrimage of India and second biggest worldwide after Haji pilgrimage of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The mountain range is famous for its Ayyappa shrine which is situated at the hilltop and that area is known as Sannidhanam or Holy Abode. Moreover, the vicinity around the temple which is marked by eighteen mountains, lush greenery, free-flowing streams, and gurgling rivers is known as Pookavanam or Holy Garden of Lord.
The journey to Ayyappa temple is a 3km trek through the dense forest and the Pamba river which adds to the place's spiritual and aesthetic value. People believe that the trek is one sole point to thirst their desires, wishes and a point which reflects unity and harmony bringing together people from every sphere and section. There are three major trek routes which lead to Sannidhanam
- The Erumeli route – the most arduous – the pilgrims cover about 61 km on foot through the forest and hill tracks.
- The Vandiperiyar route – starts at 94.4 km stone on the Kottayam – Kumily road.
- The Chalakayam route. – the easiest of all. Chalakayam is near Pampa river. Sannidhanam is just 8 km from here.
Out of these, the Erumeli route is traditional and covers multiple small and big shrines, each has its own significance, as it was the route followed by Lord Ayyapan during his campaign against Demoness Mahisi. Many pilgrims still use the traditional trekking route, all by foot. The Chalakayam route is recently developed, where a base camp has been set up by government and devaswom. Vehicles can drive up to here and from here, one needs to trek to Sannidhanam.
Sabarimala town derived its name from Sabari (a mythological character from Ramayana). The name means Sabari's mountain range. It is situated within the Periyar Tiger Hill Reserve which characterize and personify the beauty of Kerala. The range is famous for its dedication to Lord Ayyappa and the shrine built in his name. Also, there are many historical references attached to the place. It is believed that Ayyappa, son of Shiva and Mohini(incarnation of Lord Vishnu) killed demoness Mahishi who got a boon that she will be killed only in hands a son born to two male gods. This empowered her and she stages many wars and fights against Gods and people on earth. This destruction led Lord Shiva asking for support from Lord Vishnu who came in form Mohini, the enchantress. Thereby their union resulted in Ayyappa who was the destructor of Mahishi. Lord Ayyappa in his early age of life leave the worldly pleasure and resides in forest life but only for his father gave 41 days to his subjects. These 41 days is the time period of when the shrine traditionally opens during the Malayalam Month of Vrishickam (November-December) and one week for Makara Sankranti celebrations (January). People these days leave the nonvegetarian food and devote themselves to Lord Ayyappa's service.
There are many rituals and customs within the Ayyappa temple but what is most fascinating is it is one of the most secular and liberal places and just on the side of the temple is a shrine devoted to a Muslim saint known as Vavar. But on the other hand, it is also a gender-biased place which restricts the entry of females within the age group of 12-50 years. The pilgrimage is a highly sacred process as it includes many vows like a vow to not to engage in fraudulent activities, do good deeds, take permission from the family for pilgrimage, vow to involve oneself with an elderly person who has been to the pilgrimage to guide him in preparing for pilgrimage and so on. One also has to abstain himself from drinking, smoking or any desire ridden activity. Hence, it is a one devoted and a sacred process binding one to a full commitment visit.
How to reach
There is almost every commute facility available for the city including flights, trains, buses, and cars. Though they are not directly connected but via Cochin International Aiport, Chengannur railway station, buses connecting via Sabarimala Basecamp from other cities. But the transportation faculties provide the visitors with special flights, trains, and buses during the pilgrim season so as to fulfill the needs of the devotees.
How to Reach by Flight
The nearest airport from the place at the proximity of 104km lies Cochin International Airport. There are direct flights connecting not only the Indian cities but worldwide places as well. There is an Ayyappa Special Service Counter in Domestic Arrivals and Central Block, during the Pilgrimage season, to provide services to Ayyappa devotees for their convenient and flexible visit.
How to Reach by Train
Chengannur railway station is the nearest railway station from the town with a distance of 26km. During the pilgrimage season, the broad gauge is well connected from Chengannur or Thiruvalla to other metropolitan cities. The railway services run a special train with the Ayyappa images on the train and these stations are also connected to Sabarimala bus services. There is also a project in progress to connect railway lines to Sabarimala Railway Station.
How to Reach by Bus
The state offers private luxury buses from major cities including Mumbai, Bangalore to Sabarimala Basecamp. Bus services are quite convenient for people living in nearby places. Karnataka STC and Tamil Nadu SETC facilitate the visitors with special services to provide a smooth traveling experience during the chaotic and congested period of pilgrimage.
How to Reach by Road
Roads are a comfortable journey for a place like this. It allows flexible mobility. National Highway 66 connect cities Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore through Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai and National Highway 44 connecting Coimbatore through Thrissur.
How to travel within
The town is a reserved as well a small space hence automobile within the place is implausible and hence, by foot is the remnant option. But for the old people, a special palanquin service known as Dolly operates. Fare for dolly costs Rs 1000. Also, there is some kind of animal rides as well but people prefer trekking by foot as they come on a pilgrimage for self penance.
The town of Sabarimala has not much of sightseeing spots. The place is a perfect getaway for pilgrims or to enjoy an aesthetic pleasure amidst the serene nature. Its humbleness makes it an ideal one-day location. One could reach Sabarimala early in the morning, freshen up and begin the trek. The temples are nearby and after that finish up visiting the little bit of the place in the evening. Therefore, there is not much to travel and you could enjoy your one day visit. The itinerary exculdes the traveling time.