There are three routes to Sabarimala (0929 North 7706 East)

(a) The Erumeli route – the most arduous – the pilgrims cover about 61 km on foot through forest and hill track.

(b) The Vandiperiyar route – starts at 94.4 km stone on the Kottayam – Kumily road.

(c) The Chalakayam route. – the easiest of all. Chalakayam is near Pampa river. Sannidhanam is just 8 km from here.

From Tamil Nadu:

1. Shencottai – Punalur – Pathanamthitta –170 Kms.
2. Kumily – Vandiperiyar – Erumeli – Plappalli–180 Kms.

Description of Erumeli Route

The Erumeli route, used by Ayyappan himself during his forest expedition to kill Mahishi is described here.

1 Erumeli It is about 56 km from Kottayam. There are shrines for Lord Dharmasastha and Vavar Swamy (the Muslim lieutenant of Lord Ayyappa).
The first timers to Sabarimala, called Kanniswamy, perform pettatullal. Pettatullal is painting the face with colours and dancing with wooden weapons to make one look odd.
The essence of this practice is to give up ones’ ego and surrender to Lord Ayyappa. They go round the Ayyappan Temple and Vavar Shrine and later bathe in the river.
Then the temple is visited again to seek authorization from Lord Ayyappa to tread the sacred hill Sabari. Later the pilgrims leave Erumeli under the guidance of their Guru for Sannidhanam.
2 Perur Thodu It is a river about 4 km from Erumeli. Lord Ayyappa rested here during his expedition. It is from here the rise begins. Giving alms here is important. By giving alms, one is disposing of all dharma and seeking asylum in Ayyappa. The forest beyond Perur Thodu is poongavanam (Ayyappan’s garden).
3. Kaalaketi About 10 km from Perur Thodu is Kalaketti. The legend says that Lord Shiva, Ayyappa’s father, came on his ox and tied it here and witnessed Lord Ayyappa killing Mahishi. There is a shrine where the pilgrims light camphor and break coconuts.
4. Azhutha Azhutha river, a tributary of Pampa, is about 2 kms from Kalaketti. On the far side of the river is the steep Azhutha hill, famous for its arduous track. In the 2 km of steep ascent there is hardly anyone who does not shed tears. At the summit of Azhutha is Kallidumkunnu. The pilgrims drop the pebble taken by them from Azhutha river here. This is done as the mortal remains of Mahishi was cast off from here and filled with stones.
5. Azhutha River
6. Kallidumkunnu
7. Inchipparakota `The next important place is the Inchipparakota where there is Kotayil Sastha shrine. Pilgrims offer prayers here and break coconuts. From here the pilgrims descend the slippery path carefully. The descent ends at Karimala thodu (canal) with Azhutha hill on one side and Karimala hill on the other. Pilgrims rest here for a while.
8. Mukkuli
9. Kariyilam Thodu
10. Karimalai Karimala is the abode of elephants which visits the Karimala canal to drink water. Pilgrims light the aazhi (campfire) to protect themselves from wild animals and cold weather. Karimala hill consists of seven levels and is climbed in stages. As the ascent of 5 km is difficult the pilgrims continuously chant saranams. On top
of Karimala the terrain is flat suitable for the pilgrims to rest. It is interesting to see the Nazhikkinar – a well within a well with fresh spring like water. Prayers are then offered to Karimalanthan, Kochukaduthaswami and Bhagawathi, all deities. From here after the exhausting descent one reaches the Pampa river that is about 5 kms.
11. Periya Annai Vattam
12. Seriya Annai Vattam
13. Pampa Nadi Pampa is the most important and holy spot on the way to Sannidhanam. It is here that Lord Ayyappa was found by King Rajasekara. The Pampa river is as holy as the Ganges. The Pampa water purifies one from curse and evil.

Trek from Pampa to Sannidhanam

Pampa Feast : Pampa Annadhanam (feast) and Pampa Vilakku are important rituals followed at the Pampa bank. Pilgrim groups prepare feast with the provisions taken from the Irumudi of the pilgrims. Thousands of pilgrims are fed at Pampa. When a group of pilgrims are ready to feed the fellow pilgrims they display a large papad outside their cottage. It is usually the kanniswamy who are fed first, as they are considered to be Lord Ayyappan himself. After the feast the Guru is honoured by pilgrims prostrating before him and offering him the Gurudakshina.

Kanni Ayyappas move from kitchen to kitchen collecting the ashes which are considered to be very sacred. It is done with the belief that Lord Ayyappa would have had the feast in one of the cottages in the disguise of a pilgrim. The ash is taken home as prasad.

Pampa Vilakku : At sunset the pilgrims believe that Lord Ayyappan will be present at the banks of Pampa and the cottages are decorated with lights and candles. Small floats are decorated with lights called Pampa Vilakku and are let in the Pampa river.
The next morning after a dip in the cold Pampa river and performing pitru darpanam (offering to ones’ departed soul) the pilgrims start their ascent towards the hill Neelimala after worshipping at the temple of Lord Ganapathi, Lord Rama (avathar of Balaji) and Lord Hanuman. On the foot of the Neeli hill is the representative of the King of Pandalam. The pilgrims offer their respects to the representative. After seeking the permission of the representative to visit the shrine of Lord Ayyappa they proceed with their journey. From here the Sannidhanam is about 6 km. The neeli hill is as difficult as the Azhutha and Karimala. The top of Neeli hill is called Appachi medu. Here there are two abysses – Appachi kuzhi and Ippachi kuzhi. Kanniswamys throw rice balls here to calm down the evil spirits present around the place. From this point the ground is almost even. Some distance from here is the Sabari peetam.
Sabari Peetam : This was the Kota where Shri Sabari, in Sri Rama’s era, performed Tapas. Pilgrims worship here breaking coconuts, firing crackers and lighting camphor.
Saramkuthi : Half way between Sabari Peetam and Sannidhanam is Saramkuthi. Kanniswamy leave the wooden arrow they picked from Erumeli here.
Patinettampadi : The holy Patinettampadi (18 steps) is 15 minute walk from Saramkuthi. The Golden steps is such a magnificent sight. Pilgrims chant saranams loudly. After breaking the coconut they climb the 18 steps to have the darshan of Lord Ayyappa