I started my journey in India in Trivandrum, Kerala. From there i went to Kovalam, then Amritapuri, then Ooty, then Mysore, then Tiruvannamalai (via Bangalore. I just like to say Bangalore), and now i'm in Auroville, just north of Pondicherry.
I went to Tiruvannamalai on kind of a whim - okay, i went almost everywhere on kind of a whim, i only planned to do Kerala and Auroville. I'd heard of it, it's supposed to be a very sacred city, and one of the major Shiva temples is there. The city lies in the shadow of Mt. Arunchula, where Shiva purportedly appeared in a column of fire, and the mountain is revered as a manifestation of the god.
The temple, Annamalaiyar Temple, at the foot of the mountain is amazing. It's centuries older than the gothic cathedrals of Western Europe and rivals them in both size and beauty. Leaving my shoes somewhat nervously at the entrance, i was greeted by beggars and monkeys as i walked into the first part of the temple complex. I was wandering through, slack-jawed, watching devotees do puja, drawing mandalas in colored wax on the temple floor, and prostrating themselves on the ground in front of Nataraj, Ganesh, Parvati... I was given permission to go even into the inner sanctum, which non-Hindus typically aren't allowed to do. It was incredible, but my most wonderful experience came as i was passing through one of the minor sanctuaries. I looked to my left and there stood....
An elephant. Her face was marked with both the bindu and the three white horizontal stripes of the Shaivites. As i stood gawking, someone approached her, held out a coin, which she reached out and took with her trunk! She swung her long nose around, gave the coin to her handler, then swung back to the person in front, and gently bonked him on the head.
Of COURSE i was next in line. I got a little elephant snot on me, but it was totally worth it. I got blessed by an elephant!