This page now contains honest information for visitors - information that you will not find anywhere else. Not all of it is good news.
Since September 2005 foreigners are required by law to register with the local police upon arrival. The police are taking this very seriously. This new rule has been brought in to end identification problems for the police. Please obey the law and register upon arrival.
Fly to Chennai (Madras) and from there take a taxi to Tiruvannamalai, which is 105 miles away. This is the most trouble free and efficient way to do it. The taxi driver will receive you at the airport, holding a sign with your name on it. Also, you may want to change foreign currency into Indian rupees while you are waiting for your luggage in the airport. The airport foreign exchange banks are probably the easiest place to exchange currency, but you will probably get Rs. 5-10 less per Pound, Euro, Dollar depending on which one you go to.
If you are staying at Sri Ramanasramam they can order a taxi for you and have it meet you at the airport upon arrival (the charge is now Rs.2100 for non-air-conditioned). There are many other taxi services in Tiruvannamalai who can meet you at the airport.
A new taxi service owned and operated by the Sri Ramana Supermarket in Tiruvannamalai is now available, you can contact them via this link - Satguru Ramana Maharshi Travels
There are also buses direct to Tiruvannamalai from Madras, the fare is Rs. 60, but in this case you should try to catch the Express service and not the normal service which stops at least a hundred times on the journey and is always crowded. This service runs from 5.00am.
You do not need to bring many clothes with you and what you bring should be summer wear only. A sweater may be required in the winter months (November to January) when the temperature can drop to 13 or 14 degrees centigrade at night. Clothing is very cheap in India and the quality is very good. Those who intend to stay for long periods usually have clothing made for them at the local tailors shops.
Other items of use include mosquito repellent (very important), a voltage converter for any 110/120V appliances (it is 230V there), a towel, your credit cards, travellers cheques, a good quality padlock, medicines for loose bowel movements (often Westerners have a short bout with this problem). If you wish you can also take some small special food items that you are used to, however, there is now a well-stocked store offering Western foods and toiletries opposite the ashram ... you can now buy items like good quality toilet paper, personal sanitary items, toothbrushes and toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorants, cleaning liquids, soap, shampoo, good washing powder .... packaged cakes and biscuits, sweets, chocolate, plus a large variety of food items such as pasta, baked beans, powdered and canned soups, canned fruit and lots more.
Food and water
What follows is for the benefit of foreigners or those who have spent their lives outside of India.
Our bodies are very susceptible to the pathogens that proliferate in India and extra care should be taken where food, drink and personal hygeine are concerned. In 2001 after two bouts of dysentry I consulted a local well-respected Indian doctor. He gave me the following advice: 'Do not eat any food handed to you by an Indian, they think they are already clean, but they are not! If possible prepare and cook your own food.' This is of course not possible for the majority of visitors, so the following advice has particular importance.
The food available in Tiruvannamalai is generally vegetarian, but is usually lacking in nutrition and is often unclean - a fact of life in India. Visitors are advised to supplement their diet with dry food purchased from supermarkets. The local water is not safe to drink and recent reports in 'The Hindu' newspaper have stated that there is no safe drinking water in the South of India, including most bottled water. The safest is considered to be bottled Pondicherry water, but you must be careful to ensure that the bottles you purchase are properly sealed before you buy them ... if the cellophane seal is loose over the cap, insist on opening the bottle and sniff at the water, if there is any odour do not purchase the water - also, destroy the plastic bottles by crushing them after you have used them to prevent the locals from refilling them with tap water. According to government advice, the safest thing to drink is bottled fruit juice - mango, orange and the like.
Since 2007 a number of new cafes catering to foreigners have opened and these are much cleaner than the average place. During my six-month visit over 2007 and 2008 I took my food outside every day - the only time that I had eaten outside of an ashram since first travelling to Tiruvannamalai in 1997. Normally I would suffer from food poisoning or other painful digestive problems five to ten times per visit, but this time I did not fall ill because of food poisoning - which came as a surprise to me. I took my food every day at Sadhu Om's place and can recommend it highly, the food is freshly cooked, served hot on metal plates (yours or theirs) and is very low-cost. However, I did fall very ill on one ocassion because of some fake bottled water - my only error in six months.
Malaria, Chikun Gunya, Denghue Fever and Typhoid
The risk of malaria, chikun gunya and denghue fever has greatly increased in Tiruvannamalai due to the vast crowds that now come on full-moon days, and during this past few years a large number of Westerners and Indians have caught the diseases - including myself in 2006. In 2007, the 'Hindu' newspaper reported that Tiruvannamalai has now joined India's malaria hotspots.
Devotees visiting Tiruvannamalai should obtain the correct anti-malarial drugs for their needs before leaving for India and follow the recommended regime throughout their stay and after they return home - alternatively they should purchase high-quality mosquito repellant and use it daily. All of the above diseases are transmitted by mosquitos - chikun gunya and denghue fever are from the mosquitos that bite during the daytime - these mosquitos only breed in clean water, so the most dangerous period is during the rainy season. Malaria comes from the mosquitos that bite during the night - these mosquitos breed in contaminated water, so their season is longer.
There is no known preventative for chikun gunya or dengue, but homeopathic medicines relieve the symptoms in some people. Typhoid is also very common in Tiruvannamalai and in recent history Cholera was also a problem. These latter two are due to the open sewers that proliferate and contaminated groundwater.
If you get into difficulties or have some problem, then consult one of the Westerners who reside in Tiruvannamalai, or ask at one of the stores near Sri Ramanasramam. They will be helpful and will guide you in the right direction.
Do not confuse anyone in Tiruvannamalai with Bhagavan - There is no similarity whatsoever. Also, do not take anything that you are told at face value - many things are not what they appear to be at first sight and I speak from eleven years of experience.
There are many unpleasant things happening in Tiruvannamalai today and these are dealt with on the News pages of this site.
When you travel to Tiruvannamalai for spiritual purposes then attend only to that. Do not get involved in anything, just dedicate yourself to Bhagavan and Arunachala and you will return home with your faith intact. It is most certainly true that for those who aspire to deepen their spiritual experience and establish or fortify a personal link with the guiding presence of Sri Ramana Maharshi, a visit to Arunachala is certainly worth the time and expense.
Information is now available on this site - click here.
Since the start of 1999 the number of visitors to Tiruvannamalai has increased dramatically. It is very important therefore to book accommodation at least three months in advance, otherwise you will be disappointed. There are a number of new hotels and guest houses in Tiruvannamalai, but these vary in quality and price. All will demand full payment in advance for your anticipated stay and none of them will give you a refund if your stay is curtailed for any reason whatsoever. It is therefore advisable to pay on a daily basis or no more than three days in advance - you have been warned!