Here are some pictures from Swamiji's climb up the Annamalai hills at Arunachala and a light-hearted testimony of the climb by Bhagyshri who is with Swamiji on the pilgrimage:
''Next on our agenda was hiking Arunachala. We were told that it would be approximately a 3-4 hour hike and that you should not go if you couldn't handle that, also out of respect for the group. But happily, no one felt daunted by this advice and everyone registered to go. So our group was very varied from big to small, thin, heavy, old and young.
We left at 5 in the morning to avoid some of the heat. We drank a chai at the corner shop and then we began with Guruji and the guide leading the way. Guruji was like a professional, basically running up the mountain; he set a hard pace for the rest of us. And eventually we gave up trying to keep up (maybe his plan all along :). But there he was at every rest stop waiting for the rest of us, somehow encouraging us. "Come on Bhagyshri! What are you like 90 years old or what???" And so, he was our cheerleader. There were about six guides with us and they were truly amazing, carrying heavy backpacks, supporting us that we don't fall, and even later, carrying some of us!
Arunachala itself is Shiva, and so every step you take on Him is sacred. When we got to the top, Shiva's head, it was truly amazing. They were large flat rocks, charred black from the annual yagnas that are held there. The wind was high and the sun was hot. Out on a ledge at the top, were the footprints of Shiva and we all were able to make a small pooja to them. Swami went first, then the guide and then the rest of us. After this Swami sat down on a big rock to meditate, maybe 15 minutes or more. Only his hair was moving in the breeze and it was truly very beautiful.
13 people of the group stayed on the mountain and the rest of us came down. And oh did we discover that going up was nothing compared to the descent. With legs shaking from exhaustion we tried to navigate our way down without tumbling off the mountain.
At this point, our amazing guides became extraordinary. Swamini Dayamati was making here way down very bravely but also ever so slowly, so one of the thin guides, wearing only a tiny dhoti and with thin strong arms glistening with sweat, bowed humbly to our Swamini and asked, "May I carry you down?". And Swamini Dayamati agreed, knowing that she was too slow for the group. Then we who were in front with Swamiji were shocked to see Dayamati - now she was the fastest! The little man even passed us, springing from rock to rock, as she waved to us goodbye.''
Next the group travelled to Kanchipuram, one of the holiest sites on earth for devotees of Maa, so lookout for that report coming to you very soon!