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The Yanaimalai hills of Madurai

The best way to go on an adventure is to fuel up and go on a long drive in your own vehicle with no time restrictions and no particular direction to head to! But do keep a phone and GPS handy anyway…

You might have heard of hills shaped like tortoises or horse faces, but have you seen one that’s elephant-shaped? It’s a marvel to see and just in case you are interested, it’s called the Yanaimalai hill and is located in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, about 10km away from the Mattuthavani Bus stand; don’t be too worried about finding it as it’s easy to locate with its majestic height of 300 feet and a long stretch of almost 3 kilometers; there is no way you can miss it. You could even be forgiven for calling it the Great Wall of Madurai as it rises like a giant fort wall along one side of the city!

The hill derives its name from the Tamil word ‘yanai’ meaning elephant and ‘malai’ meaning hill; this name has been in existence for more than 2000 years and represents the hill looking like an elephant in a sitting position. It has two rock-cut temples and Jain caves and sculptures cut into the rock face. You can even see some flat rock beds that the Jains used to rest on…how comfortable they were would be anyone’s guess though! Currently it is a protected monument under the Tamil Nadu government and is revered by the local villagers; every shop and home has a picture of the yanaimalai hill placed in a prayer space as the villagers consider this rock their god. They are staunch believers in maintaining the wealth of nature and fought hard to prevent the government form building a sculpture park on this hill.

The hill provides great trekking opportunities for the enthusiasts to go discovering historical signs of the earlier Jain monks’ lives here. The serenity and tranquility of the location beckon to the adventurer to spend some quality time here. Sadly some parts of this hill have been damaged by illegal quarrying of granite with which the hill is richly endowed.

An interesting legend regarding this hill goes that the Chozha king sought the help of the Jain monks to help him win the battle against the Pandya ruler; so using their mystical powers they made a giant elephant to kill the Pandya ruler. But the Pandya ruler prayed to lord Shiva to intervene and save him, and the lord is believed to have used his own divine powers and turned the giant elephant into a hill…which is what we see today! Of course you are free to believe what you want…

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