Posted by: Claire Frances | March 17, 2010

Be As You Are

Posted by: Claire Frances | February 8, 2010

Walking on the Mountain

Walking up Mt. Arunachala from the Ramanashram to Skandashram (the caves where Ramana Maharshi spent many years in meditation) is an extraordinary experience.  The path begins at the back of Ramanashram and goes uphill for about a mile (I could be wrong about the distance … I don’t have a very strong sense of how long this walk was).   It’s a very rocky path as you will see with a few vendors along the way who sell stone carvings.  Along the way are lovely views of the larger Shiva Temple, lots of monkeys, an occasional dog and beautiful plants.  At the top we were able to meditate either in the caves or outside around them.

"Please keep Arunachala Clean & Green - Don't Throw Any Plastic: 'Love Arunachala as You Love Yourself'"

Along the way a few vendors sell stone carvings.

Outside Skandashram waiting for the gate to open.

Skandashram gate.

KEEP SILENCE - Place of Meditation - Do Not Use Cell Phone

Just outside the cave.

Resident pup.

Resident pup #2.

View from Skandashram down to the large Shiva Temple

These boys, along with a group of girls and several teachers had run up the path and were running back down when they stopped to ham it up for the camera.

The monkies were all around on this day... we were told not carry food or to look 'em in the eye... so I just kept on moving.

This fellow is holding 3 little carvings that I'm about to purchase from him.

Hopefully this gives you some idea of what walking the mountain is like. All this happens pretty early in the morning, before the day heats up. The cave is very small and very dark and not to be photographed so, hopefully, you can simply imagine it until you get there yourself :-).

Posted by: Claire Frances | February 3, 2010


Ramanashram was just up the road from our hotel and it was my very favorite place in Tiruvannamalai.  Mornings were my favorite time at the Ashram, I loved hearing the young Brahmin priests-in-training chanting the Vedas between 8 and 9 every morning.  Such a peaceful, serene place right up against Mt. Arunachala.  Actually the path to Skandashram (the caves where Ramana Maharshi resided for many years) begins right at the Ashram.

Ashram entrance from the main road that runs through the village.

Just inside the entrance you can either leave your shoes or check them if you're concerned they might not be there when you are ready to leave.

A map of the Ashram and list of points of interest.

A map of the Ashram and list of points of interest.

The Ashram Bookstore... you wouldn't believe how inexpensive books and CD's were here!

Looking back towards the Ashram entrance gate.

Daily Ashram schedule

A small shrine near the ashram entrance: I'm not sure what it's significance is.

Beautiful, old tree near the entrance.

Masses of bougainvillea along the side of the Ashram book store

This is one of several samadhi shrines for senior students of Ramana Maharshi

Peacocks just outside the room where Ramana Maharshi left his body on April 14, 1950

Shrine to Ramana's beloved cow, Lakshmi.

Elephant stairway decor... love it!

Another view of the Ashram's main building.

Ramana Ashram's main hall: visitors enjoying the young Brahmin's chanting.

Ashram main building.

Young Brahmin taking care of morning duties.

View of Mt. Arunachala from the Ashram.

Posted by: Claire Frances | February 2, 2010

Gates of Tiru

All over town there are these beautiful gates… I love them!

Posted by: Claire Frances | February 1, 2010

Signs Around Town

I just loved the signs and took lots of photos of them…

Posted by: Claire Frances | January 31, 2010

Tiruvannamalai – The Village

View from our hotel roof

Relaxing cows just down the street from our hotel

Surya Pharmacy

The papayas were so delicious... I couldn't get enough of 'em!
Beautiful saris everywhere!

Buying flowers right outside our hotel to take to morning puja at Ramana Ashram

This lady was taking very good care of her cow... tending to her with healing balm of some kind

Mt. Arunachla from our hotel roof.

Posted by: Claire Frances | January 27, 2010


This evening our retreat is officially over.  Miranda held her last public satsang this morning, then the afternoon was open so I spent a bit of time shopping and packing.  I’d hoped to take nap but that didn’t happen… no surprise, there’s so much to do here!  This evening the group met for a final time and it was bittersweet… having spent so much time doing such deep work together for the past 2 weeks really bonded the group and the thought of leaving was mixed for most everyone I think. 

It was fun to see everyone dressed up in their Indian finery tonight… colorful saris and salwar kemeez and, of course, lots of flowers. 

We had a final meal on the roof of the hotel under the almost-full moon.  Lovely Indian food!

This will be a short entry as I am actually on my way to the airport in Chennai in about an hour.  I have decided to come home now as opposed to staying and traveling.  This time in Tiruvannamalai has been deep and rich and at this time traveling just does not appeal to me.

I’m looking forward to some down time at home to integrate both the retreat experience which was beautiful and profound, as well as the experience of India herself.  Hopefully I will soon be able to share photos with you.

Om Shantti,


Posted by: Claire Frances | January 26, 2010

Glimpses… more

Almost everywhere I turn there’s something amazing to see and share… I suppose after awhile I would stop being in awe… but I’m not staying long enough to reach that state I don’t think.

~ When we got back from our trip to the Shiva Temple on Friday our 4 or 5 richshaws pulled up in front of the hotel just in time for the most ear-splitting, extended explosion of this HUGE box of firecrackers right out front!  This, apparently, was preceeding a funeral procession which, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see.  But the firecracker display was quite something to see/hear… mustve’ been a minimum of 500 pops!

~ Almost everyone on the retreat, myself included, has had some minor tummy issues.  Luckily we have many healers in our group, including a wonderful acupuncturist/herbalist from Philadephia who came fully prepared to take care of the the entire group and she has been such a blessing to everyone!

~ I love the flowers here… everything and everyone is decked out in flowers.  Most of the women wear flowers in their hair and, of course, the temples and shrines abound with garlands of flowers in every shape and size.  Often the buses, trucks, rickshaws  and bicycles are garlanded.  The jasmine is so fragrant and is everywhere.  One of my favorites is the bougenvillia (sp?) that grows in massive displays on porches and rooftops and along the roads.  Mostly it’s pink but also comes in a yellowy color that I’d never seen before.

~ On the complete other hand there are also open sewers and trash everywhere which, I think I mentioned before, is awfully sad to me.

~ And back to the other hand… there are wonderful charitable projects going on here in Tiruvannamalai.  Since Tiru has become more popular with westerners in the last 5 or 6 years, many westerners have genersously funded all sorts of development and educational prujects here.  It’s really wonderful to see the giving-back.

~ Today I bought a fantastic papaya from a woman who has a rickety old cart at the end of our street.  She has 2 dogs that she takes care of that are quite rotund and are always sleeping under the cart.  I wonder what she feeds them… maybe they eat papayas too.

~ Today when I walked up a side street that has a couple of shops on it that I wanted to check out.  The traffic was backed up and when I made my way to the top of the street I discovered that the reason the traffic wasn’t moving was because there were 5 or 6 bullock carts with huge slabs of stone on them that had stopped.  The bullocks are beautiful to look at and it was amazing how calm and patient the folks in cars and rickshaws were as they waited for the bullock carts to move on.

~ Lots of little kids here must be learning English in school because they often giggle and ask, “What’s your name?” as they walk by.  If you respond and smile they just beam and laugh together.

I could go on and on and on… every moment is a snapshot.  I can’t believe our retreat is over tomorrow… it has flown by!

Blessings from Mt. Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai.


Posted by: Claire Frances | January 25, 2010


Most of you know I’m not a big shopper… I’m a go-in-and-get-what-I-need kind of girl.  But in India shopping, like most everything, is not so simple.  First of all, of course, I don’t need anything so the only reason to shop is for fun and occasionally to buy practical things like water, fruit and such.  Other than that I’ve purchased a few Indian-style clothes, mostly Punjabi-style and quite a number of things that I hope you all will like as gifts. 

So… you see something hanging or sitting outside a shop and you step towards it, only to look.  The shop-keeper immediately asks what you’re looking for and whatever it is he assures you that he has it, and lots of it, inside.  So at that point it seems kind of rude not to take him up on his offer to see what he might have… not to mention it’s intriguing.   You take off your shoes (here you never go inside anywhere without taking off your shoes… this includes the grocery store and everything else) and step inside.  Most shops in Tiruvannamalai are quite small and filled with things that are geared towards western tourists (mostly, but not completely). 

The second you show interest in one particular item the shop keeper immediately starts opening up and unfolding dozens of things he/she thinks you might like.  Even if you say, “no, no, I”m just looking” he continues to open package after package in the hopes that something will catch your eye.

Once you decide that you’d like to purchase something there’s the issue of the price.  Generally speaking whatever price you’re told first is quite high (even  tho’ it’s nothing compared to what things cost at home) and acting a bit astonished at the asking price is part of what’s expected.  Then the shop keeper acts slightly insulted that you would challenge his reasonable rates.  Then you offer a little less, he asks for a little more and a deal is struck.  It’s all part of the way it is and everyone ends up pretty pleased (although may not act that way 🙂 and I’ve got something lovely to wear or take home… fun!!

This does not apply at the grocery store and there are a few shops where price is non-negotiable… one I was in today is run by a women’s cooperative and it’s quite relaxing because no one pays much attention to you until you’ve decided what you want to purchase and then you can completely forego the whole bargaining thing. 

The Indian culture is filled with color and every shop is a feast for the eyes even if there’s nothing there you really want.  So much beauty and so many talented craftspeople all over India that there is temptation at every corner (and I mean that literallly!)

Om Namah Shivaya!


Posted by: Claire Frances | January 24, 2010

Walking up the Mountain

This morning I walked up the mountain trail (at my own, very slow pace) to the cave where Ramana Maharshi meditated, mostly in seclusion, for 17 years.  It’s quite a powerful place and just walking on Mt. Arunachala is considered a great blessing.  It’s an extremely rocky trail and I was very happy to have my wonderful western shoes… many people walk the trail either barefoot or in flip flops… I don’t know how they do it!

It’s not a long walk but it is completely uphill.  About a third of the way up is this wonderful older fellow who sits on one particular rock, wrapped in his dhoti, ash on his forehead,  and greets and welcomes everyone who comes up the trail with a big, “Good Morning!”.  He seems to be able to say it in many languages and also seems to know lots and lots of the trail-walkers by name.  I sat on a rock next to him for quite some time on my way up and on my way down.  We chit-chatted about this and that and believe-it-or-not he actually knew what an Interfaith Minister is… and, of course, he knows Miranda as does everyone in Tiruvannamalai it seems!

I spent some time sitting both outside of the cave and inside of the cave.  It’s a very powerful place with a steady stream of people from all over the world coming and going and meditating.  And, of course, a dog… I took his photo.  There were lots and lots of monkies along the trail today and they were being a lot more bold than the last time I was up there.  One just sat in my path and looked at me… seemed like he was daring me to walk past him… which I did and he scampered away.  I could also hear them in the trees above and around me which seemed a bit odd as generally they seem to want to keep more of a distance from people.

On the way down I stopped at a few of the trailside vendors who sell mostly little statutes of the deities… many of these fellows craft the statues themselves and they’re really very nice.  I bought a few small things to bring back but not too much as carvings are a bit heavy for packing.

The trail begins and ends at the Ramana Ashram and I love walking through the ashram grounds and hearing the beautiful chanting.  I plan on returning to the ashram this evening for the 6 PM puja and more chanting!

As I sit here in this Internet Cafe (which is cool and comfy) I can hear India outside the door… a bit muted but definitley the unique sound of this place.  In a few minutes I will walk back out to the cows and beggars and noise outside the door and will shake my head to re-orient myself after sitting here at the computer for an hour.  Over the years I’ve heard many of my friends tell me about India but until I got here I really had no clue.  It’s so, so far from life in the US and yet the people are the same in all the ways that really matter.  Lovely, kind, striving to live… tears come to my eyes at least 10 times a day… some sad, some happy… it’s true what “they” say about India being a land of extremes and being here takes you to your extremes…  especially on the inside.

Love from Tiru,


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