Armamalai: A visit to the ancient caves

by Arun Bharadwaj (India)

Making a local connection India


When I was scanning through Google Maps, I happened to find this amazing ancient Jain caves marked in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. We quickly planned this trip and started at around 6am from Bengaluru. We stopped at A2B near Krishnagiri for breakfast and proceeded towards Vaniyambadi. We followed the directions towards Vaniyambadi town and crossed a few villages. We visited an old temple at Thennampattu which had a Shiva Linga inside the sanctum, but the temple is now being renovated. The temple is marked as a Jain temple in Google Maps. We followed Google maps to a non-descript village only to be lost, and even the locals did not have a clue where the caves were. We later turned back and found a small narrow lane leading towards the hill. Luckily, a few people helped us with the directions. We parked out vehicle near a house and started walking as guided by the villagers. Fortunately, a couple of enthusiastic small kids accompanied us till the caves. It is a pretty easy trek and we reached the caves in around 20-25 minutes. The caves had some pre-historic constructions with brick-and-mud fillings. We couldn't date the age of the construction but it looked old. On the ceiling of the cave, we could see some worn out paintings, similar to the ones in Ajanta Caves. The paintings are barely visible, barring a few colours. The caves are locally called as Pandava caves, as it is believed that they stayed here during their exile. Historians have dated the cave paintings to around 8th and 9th century CE. There is another cave a few metres uphill, but is protected by barricades and visitors are not allowed to go there. On the way, the boys showed us one species of flowers which, when mixed with milk and consumed, would cure diabetes. Overall, a good visit but feel the need to provide better accessibility and protection to the caves. Directions: From Bengaluru, take the Chennai road, and after the Vaniyambadi toll, look out for a left turn towards the town and drive towards Thennampattu. From Thennampattu, follow the road till you reach a rather sharp right turn. Take the left at this junction and proceed towards the village. The roads are very narrow so be cautious if you have a big vehicle. At the end of the road, one can park the vehicle and walk towards the hill. Food/Accomodation: No options for food at this place, so better to carry water and fruits before starting the trek. Nearest big town is Vellore, around 63kms. Krishnagiri is around 70kms.