Sabarimala, one of the most famous pilgrim centers in India, is located in Pathanamthitta District
. It lies in the Western Ghats
and is at an altitude of 3,000 ft. Sabarimala is covered by dense forests and the Pampa River
flows through the foothills. Sabarimala shrine is a 6 km trek from Pampa
, which forms a base camp. Erumeli
is the ideal base camp to visit Sabarimala.
Lord Ayyappa is one of south India’s most revered deities. The Lord Ayyappa Temple, popularly known as Sabarimala Shrine, is visited by millions of people from India and all over the world.
Every year, between November and January, thousands of Hindu pilgrims converge on Sabarimala, after a rigorous 41 days of abstinence and penance. Devotees, each with a sacred irumudi - a cloth bag which contains
puja items such as coconuts, dry fruit, sandalwood paste, turmeric and the like - set off on the trek up to the shrine, chanting all the way. The temple stays closed during the rest of the year except for the first five days of every Malayalam month and during
Devotees take a ritual bath, before climbing up the hill in the holy river Pampa, which can wash away the sins of a lifetime. The devotees carry irumudikettu (bundle with offerings to Ayyappa) on their head, climb the mountain ranges and cross the forest bare footed repeatedly chanting ‘Saranam Ayyappa’, which means seek refuge in Ayyappa. The journey culminates in the `18 steps’ - the Patinettampadi - a flight of steps, which lead up to the shrine.
People of all castes and creeds are permitted into the temple. However, women between the age of 10 and 50 are not allowed in this temple. Aravana is the main vazhipadu of the temple. Mandala Puja and Makaravilakku are the two main events of the pilgrim season.
There are three routes to reach Sabarimala - the Erumeli route, the Vandiperiyar route and the Chalakayam route. By road, the two main routes to Sabarimala are Thiruvananthapuram – Kottarakara – Pathanamthitta – Pampa route and the Kottayam – Manimala route. The normal path of a Sabarimala pilgrim is to reach Erumeli before proceeding to Pampa through the Mannarakulanji - Chalakkayam Road. One of the easiest routes to reach Pampa is the Kottayam – Erumeli route and trekking the forest to reach the shrine.
The airports nearest to Sabarimala are at Thiruvananthapuram (150 km) and Kochi (78 km). The nearest railway stations are at Chengannur, Thiruvalla and Changanacherry. Buses ply till Pampa from where the trek is short and easy. For the physically indisposed or challenged, there are special carry chairs available that are carried by four people.
Besides restaurants, teashops and chemists, there are guesthouse and other accommodation options. During the Sabarimala season, the
Southern Railways and State Bus Transport corporations operate special trains and buses for the hordes of pilgrims.