For many in our group, the trek to Ugra Sthambham, was something they had been looking forward for a long time, especially since our incomplete trip of 2012, for some like this writer, it was a trek they had been dreading ever since the place was spotted on the internet ! Every blog we read seemed to highlight one thing – the trek was strenuous, risky and only God’s grace could see you through safely ! Our guide, however, assured us that it was perfectly safe and with that faith, we embarked on this trek.
Pillar of Anger !
The Narasimha Avatar of Lord Vishnu is probably the most interesting one, Lord Vishnu finds a way through every loophole in Hiranyakasipu’s boon to eventually kill the demon, it is definitely an inspiration for those in the legal profession, finding loopholes in laws ! The creativity of the story is amazing. The avatar also represents the destructive anger and ferocity of the Supreme Being and no better place to relive the story than Ahobilam, more specifically at Ugra Sthambham or the Pillar of Anger.
Before we began the trek, we met a few old men on the way to the Jwala Narasimha Temple, they looked at us and laughed when we told them we were going to the Ugra Sthambham, they told us it was an almost impossible trek, especially for women but ironically, while his wife was away on the trek, he was cooling his heels waiting for her ! What do you do while on one side your friends are raring to go and on the other side, there are people like these old men to fill your mind with doubts? We decided we’d go for it and see it for ourselves !
A trek to remember !
The Ugra Sthambham is a huge rock jutting out of a mountain cliff, it is believed to be the pillar from where Lord Narasimha emerged. The trek begins just a few meters from the waterfall near Jwala Narasimha Temple. One look at the starting point of the trek is enough to drain all the resolve from the minds of people like this writer, for, there is no pathway, just a steep climb on a terrain like this !
The trek is a steep climb at almost 80 degrees incline, when you look up, it is like one straight vertical line. If not for the force of gravity, there doesn’t seem any way you stay put on the face of the hill ! You have to find your way through rocks, interspersed with loose soil here and there. While it is not as dangerous as it sounds, you ought to be careful, watchful of your step, if you slip, there is no saying if it is luck or God who will save you !
Our regular photographer gave up on the camera, too busy paying attention to noise the racing heart was making. These pictures are from another camera, whose owner had a brave heart to stop to take pictures while negotiating the terrain !
In most places, you don’t have anything to hold on to, the sticks that you carry are helpful at times to get a grip. At times, you would find an odd tree trunk or a branch or hanging roots for support as you haul yourself up, sometimes you go on all fours and clamber up like a giant lizard ! From the blogs we read, some people seemed to have gone on this trek during or just after the rainy season, because in such slippery conditions, the trek becomes dangerous !
After about half an hour of climbing, we again spotted the Ugra Sthambham high above us, true to its name, it looks angry and uninviting !
A closer look through the zoom lens shows the dangerous looking spot on the edge of the rock that is supposed to be destination of the trek, a small shrine with figures of Lord Narasimha’s foot prints.
Around this spot, our guide told us, we were half way through our trek ! The path ahead looked steeper than before but somehow we weren’t as tired as we expected, whatever strain we felt had more to do with being careful or a little scared than actual physical exertion.
Thoughts on spirituality in the wilderness
We also spotted a group of people returning from Ugra Sthambham, people of all age groups, women clad in sarees, people wearing flimsy sandals, most unsuitable for treks like these. When you look at them you’d think there is no way they could have made it all the way up, yet, there they were, tired, some scared, some limping through their way down, there was just one thing common in all of them – the chanting of Lord Narasimha’s name, their strength came from their faith !
Then, there were people like those in our group, who were out on an adventure and enjoying themselves, their strength came from their faith in themselves, their ability to scale the difficult terrain. Out there in the wilderness, surrounded by nature, thoughts on spirituality cross your mind, is there anything as right and wrong, truth and illusion, belief and non-belief, Supreme Being or just what exists before you at that moment !
Know your place in the Universe
Just as we seemed to get slightly comfortable with the terrain, we reached the last leg of the trek, there is a climb over a few rocks, going right over the edge, a little tricky and it helps not to look down from here ! No, we can’t show you how it looks, the camera lay in our bag, forgotten for a while !
A few meters later, there is another scary looking path. A three feet rock bridge with no support on either side, except a sad looking railing built with some sticks and an abrupt drop to the cliff on either side ! Most blogs we read had warned us of this and it was really a heart in your mouth moment while crossing this bit, the smooth, slippery rocks add to the chills and the thrills !
The camera had to come out now, to show the world that this path had been treaded upon by us and we survived to tell the story ! For the photographer, it was one of those “I too did it” moments !
From the above spot, the trek leads to the rock that is supposed to be the holy pillar. To reach the actual shrine, there is another steep climb down the rock. There are no steps, just a few rocks that serve as steps, no railings to hold on to and you are already on top of the highest point of the hill range !
Despite several assurances from our guide and encouragement from our friends, a few of us decided we had already stretched our limit to the maximum and did not want any more adrenalin rush. The rest of the gang began their descent while we stayed at the top of Ugra Sthambham but lost ourselves in the middle of those giant, green, wall of hills in front of us !
There was no other sound except the wind finding its way through the hills. From where we stood, there were hills in front of us, behind us and deep valleys in between. When our group reached the final point, we could see them in the distance as tiny specks with those gigantic hills in the background.
Sort of gives you a perspective on where you stand in the universe. So much for our bloated egos, burdening problems and our stories, it all boils down to this, we are not even a speck in the grandeur of the Universe ! You must stand there and let the feeling sink in, for some reason it is liberating to think you are just one of the zillion other things that simply come and go !
The group that went down told us it was not a very tough descent except at a few places where you needed to be a little watchful of your step and not be afraid of heights. At the tip of the cliff, you can do a Pradakshina around the footprints of Lord Narasimha, the Pradakshina takes you right to the edge with just a few feet between you and the valley, thrilling and nail biting for ones actually doing it and for those watching from above.
It was a fulfilling experience for the devotees and the adventure seekers alike, the reasons seem different but the end is the same for everyone, happiness !
Trekking back – Another story in itself
It is not a happily ever after once the visit to Ugra Sthambham is over, not yet, you still have to climb down the steep hill and that is as treacherous as the ascent, in fact much more tricky. The steep descent gives you a feeling that you are going to roll down any minute, while climbing down is always considered easy, here, it is definitely the difficult part.
At some places we found it easier to sit and climb down, finding a balance was better this way. Strange thoughts come to you in times like these, what if you are stranded in the middle of nowhere, what if you sprain an ankle? Left out in the open, at the mercy of nature and your own luck, you realize at some point you will think of God or some force beyond you and that is what keeps us going, whether an adventure trek or life.
In the end, all was well, the trek was completed successfully. We were tired, no doubt, but excited and thrilled at what we had accomplished, even our bodies felt good after all the exertion.
It was almost lunch time when we reached our hotel and checked out before heading to Hyderabad. We stopped for lunch at Hotel Abhiruchi near Allagadda, our second visit to this hotel and it did not disappoint us, spicy, rejuvenating food after a strenuous adventure. It took us almost 8 hours to reach Hyderabad after struggling our way out of the bad roads between Nandyal and Kurnool.
We took pride in our stamina that we were cool after such a difficult trek. The next day we realized we had spoken too soon. Extremely painful thigh and calf muscles meant it took this writer 3 days to walk normally !
One more visit is due to Ahobilam to visit the Bhargava Narasimha Swamy temple. We hope to do it sometime for sure, may be after the roads are in a better shape.
– Ahobilam, being an important pilgrim centre is connected by bus from most major towns in Andhra Pradesh. Nandyal is probably the nearest railway station.
– The temple has a few cottages/guest houses for accommodation, the Malola Guest House being the most preferable of the lot. The best option is AP Tourism’s Haritha Hotel, bookings can be made online through AP Tourism’s online booking website.
– You will need two days to complete treks to all the 9 Narasimha Swamy temples and the Ugra Sthambham. It is always advisable to take a guide along as the treks take you deep into the forests and you could lose your way.
– Start your treks as early as possible so that you have enough time and do the difficult/long ones first so you have energy left for the others.
– Except the trek to Ugra Sthambham, all other treks are relatively easy but tiring. You need to have a good amount of stamina and an interest to explore the places.
– The Ugra Sthambham trek is definitely worth going, we wouldn’t say it is dangerous but strenuous and looks scary. If you want to go, make sure you trust yourself and be careful. Avoid it if you can’t take physical strain. Do not risk going on this trek during the rains or just after the rains. It could be the ultimate adventure experience but it is way too risky in that season.
– Take enough water during the treks but don’t start the treks after a heavy breakfast or lunch.
– Be responsible enough and don’t litter or throw garbage in the forest.
– The treks are a trekker’s paradise and you can have a lot of fun as part of your adventure but do remember that Ahobilam is a holy place and respect the sanctity of the place.
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