This winter, why not go on an offbeat vacation and plan a trip to Sabarimala? This south Indian pilgrimage town is considered to be one of the holiest places for Hindus. It is true–Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple doesn’t allow women in the age group of 10-60! It is strange–the temple authorities consider it a sin to allow women to worship here. One of the holiest Hindu temples in the country, Sabarimala shuts its doors for women in the reproductive age group stating that the chief deity, Lord Ayyappa is celibate. Owing to this, allowing women in the temple premises is a sin.
Every year, Hindu men start preparations for the pilgrimage 41 days in advance. During this period, men take an oath of celibacy and refrain from eating non-vegetarian food, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, cutting hair and shaving. The men wear traditional blue or black clothing and bathe twice a day.
The temple is situated atop a hill in the Periyar Tiger Reserve at a height of 1,535 ft. The best way to explore the Periyar Tiger Reserve would be by taking a boat ride on the Periyar Lake. Nestled amidst 18 hills, the place is an example of nature at its finest. Sabarimala is the place where Lord Ayyappa is believed to have meditated after killing the demoness Mahishi.
Vehicles are allowed only up till the Pamba River. Upon reaching Pamba River, the devotees begin a steep trek on the mountain path of Neeli Mala. There are emergency stops and medical aid is provided along this route. There are men who carry the elderly on bamboo chairs for a nominal fee.
How to Reach:
Since the temple is located in the forested area of the Western Ghats in Kerala, the nearest airports would be the ones in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. From these airports, one has to cover a significant distance on the road to reach Sabarimala.
Sabarimala is not connected by any direct rail line. Kottayam, Chengannur and Thiruvalla are the nearest railway stations. Chengannur station is located around 53 km away. From these stations, one can easily book a cab for an easy and hassle-free journey.
Devotees and pilgrims coming to Sabarimala usually arrive by road. Thrissur, the central part of Kerala serves as the rest-stop from where one can take the Muvattupuzha-Kottayam Road. Sabarimala is approximately 210 km from here and the journey is dotted by breathtaking scenery. For a shorter route, one can halt at Alappuzha and take the Changanassery-Erumeli route. Kozhencherry and Pathanamthitta are some of the en route destinations, and the distance to Sabarimala from here is 125 km. Buses also ply to Sabarimala at regular intervals, but tickets are very hard to obtain during the pilgrimage season, so make sure to book in advance.
Where to Stay
There are many budget hotels and dharamshalas near the Sabarimala Temple. There is a pilgrim complex adjacent to Nadapanthal. For a more lavish stay experience, you can check out hotels near Sabarimala. These hotels are nestled in the lush green belt of the Periyar region or open on to the lush hills.
Where to Eat
Even though the pilgrimage route is dotted with stalls selling water and medical aid, it is advisable to pack and carry your own food. The best option is to eat at the hotel you are staying at, since good restaurants are located mostly in the city.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Sabarimala is between November and January as it is the peak pilgrimage season. This season is known as the Mandala Kaalam and sees millions of devotees every year.
Situated on the outskirts of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kumily is a plantation town. Bustling with spice and tea plantations, the place is approximately 105 km away from Sabarimala. Plan a trip to Kumily if you are visiting Sabarimala. Most plantation stays offer guided tours of the fields and the factory, where you can take part in tea making and tasting processes.
The hub of Kerala’s spice and rubber industry, Kottayam is a beautiful retreat nestled between the Western Ghats and the backwaters. Situated at a short distance of 95 km from Sabarimala, Kottayam hosts the Thirunakkara Utsavam Festival in March. Plan a trip to Kottayam and opt for a canal cruise to Alleppey to explore more of the coastal town.
Located around 110 km from Sabarimala, the journey to Kumarakom is scenic to say the least! Go birdwatching or sail over the pristine backwaters on a houseboat, there many interesting things to do in Kumarakom. Also, there are many resorts in Kumarakom built alongside pristine lakes, giving you a truly rejuvenating vacation.
With a trip to Sabarimala, you not only explore the devotional, spiritual side of Kerala, but also the quaint coastal lifestyle which has been known to enchant many. So pack your bags and break the monotony in the lush countryside.
About the Author:
A wordologist, Etti Bali loves playing around with words, creating a world of absurd. In an ideal world, she would never wake up as she thinks slumber is the answer to all world problems.