The early hours of the day are wonderfully special, sprinkling magic on deserted roads and the few people about ; infusing them and oneself with a special halo of briskness, zeal and industry.
Walkers in pairs, surprisingly many are women, a few sweaty joggers swinging their T-shirts around, dog walkers, people who have to be at work rushing to catch their bus, a few people off the train trying unsuccessfully to get a lift, milkmen, newspaper distributors – one feels a strange camaraderie , one of a special band.
I pick up Miriam and we are at the foot of Marudamalai in Coimbatore, at 5.30 a.m. while darkness shrouds the countryside and the hills above. Bright lights on the roadside, in the tea shops, in the buses that start pulling up alongside unburdening streams of green clad men and boys dispel any sense of loneliness or fear.
We start climbing briskly. We don’t talk. Partly because we are lost in our own thoughts ; partly because we can’t. Oxygen barely fills our lungs. All the fears I had before I started, of pain in the knees, joints, ankles, tiredness find no room. We stop for a minute to let our lungs rest a couple of times. Otherwise its a smooth steady climb.
In 30 minutes we are up at the temple and we have a good unfettered darshan of the vibhuti covered brightly decorated Muruga. Afterwards, we stroll around in leisure examining all the little nooks we never have had time before to investigate. We join other people sitting in meditation in front of the shrine to the pambu siddhar. We go around the Pillaiyar with 5 heads, consecrated under an old tree which is actually 5 different species of trees growing together. We happily slurp up the prasadam which a generous devotee offers.
And then we are going down at a faster clip. We see a one legged man slowly hopping up, shaming our fears. And we meet with a woman who is painstakingly anointing each step with chandanam and kumkumam and lighting a bit of camphor on each of the thousand and more steps. So much of faith! Will it ease her backache on the morrow?
A wonderful trip to a temple I have been to so many times but never quite like this.