This will be a useful read if you are planning your trip to Sabarimala.
Here is the link to list of routes to reach Sabarimalai,
Here is the link from which you can download and print Vazhinadai saranam for the Sabarimalai trek (English),
ஐயப்பன் வழிநடை சரணம் தமிழில் இலவச PDF பதிவிறக்க,
The Erumeli route is the same route used by Lord Ayyappan himself when he ventured in to the forest to kill Mahishi. This is the traditional route taken by devotees for centuries and is also called the Periya padhai (61 KM).
Erumeli is about 56 km from Kottayam. It has Lord Dharmasastha temple and Vavar Swamy Dharga (Vavar was the Muslim lieutenant of Lord Ayyappa).
The first time you take this pilgrimage for the first time to Sabarimala, you are called as Kanniswamy. Kanniswamy and their group perform Pettatullal from Vavar Dharga to Dharmasastha temple. Pettatullal denotes getting ready for the war that Ayyappan was preparing for. It is performed by applying color powder on ones face and body, carry a imitation weapons made of wood or bamboo and dance on the street. Few groups would also arrange for music on the way during Pettaithullal.
The goal is to give away ones ego and surrender to Lord Ayyappa. Once you are done with Pettaithullal, you take a bath on the nearby river and start your journey from Erumeli after praying in Dharmasastha temple for getting approval to take on the journey to Sabarimalai.
Perur is a river which is 4 km from Erumeli. Lord Ayyappa took rest here during his expedition. The inclination starts from this point. Giving food here is important. By giving food here, one gives away of the dharma and prepares to seek moksham from Ayyappan. The forest beyond Perur Thodu is poongavanam (Ayyappan's garden).
Kaalaketti is another 10 km from Perur Thodu. It is believed that Lord Shiva, father os Lord Ayyappa, came on his to witnessed Lord Ayyappa killing Mahishi. He had tied his Ox in this place while he witnessed the killing. That is the reason this place is names Kaalaketi which means 'Kaala' - Ox and 'Kati' - to tie. There is a small shrine where the pilgrims pay their respect, light a camphor and break coconuts as an offering.
Azhutha is another 2 kms from Kalaketti. Azhutha river is a tributary of Pampa river. From here you can see the steep Azhutha hill, which is a challenging path in this trek. Pilgrims take a small pebble from this river to be thrown away at a later point. The climb is for 2 km on a very inclined mountain path. It tests even the fittest of the fittest. Government and NGOs set-up medical camp on this stretch to help anyone in need.
At the top of Azhutha hill is Kallidumkunnu. The pilgrims stop here to drop the pebble taken from Azhutha river. This is done to cover the mortal remains of Mahishi.
After Kallidumkunnu, the next important point is Inchipparakota. Kotayil Sastha shrine is located in this place. Devotees offer prayers here and break coconuts. From here the path descends until Karimala thodu (canal). The path is slippery and needs to be crossed with care. This is a scenic path with Azhutha hill on one side and Karimala hill on the other. This is an ideal place to take rest.
This is the junction between Azhudha route and Ariyankudi. Ariyakudi is a bypass to avoid Ayudha hill. Devotees would need to take a left right before Ayudha river, cross the river, go around the Azhudha hill and reach Mukkuli.
Karimala is surrounded by elephants which often visit Karimala canal to drink water. Devotees light the fire torch or campfire to protect themselves from wild animals and cold weather. Karimala hill has seven levels and is climbed in stages. It has a total ascend of 5 km, this is one of the challenging portion in this whole trek. Devotees constantly chant Saranam or Vazhinadai Saranam to be able to climb this part of the hill.. On top Karimalai the surface is leveled and devotees rest here after the hard climb. Here you can see Nazhikkinar - which is a a well within a well with fresh spring water. Prayers are then offered to Karimalanthan, Kochukaduthaswami and Bhagawathi, all deities. From here after the route descents to the Pampa river which is 5 kms away.
Pampa is a significant holy spot on the way to Sannidhanam. It is here that Lord Ayyappa was found by King Rajasekara. Many consider that Pampa river is as holy as the Ganges itself. The Pampa water purifies ones body and mind.
Devotees who come to Sannidhi via Chinna Padhai, start their trek from here.
Rituals performed as Pamba.
Pampa Annadhanam and Pampa Vilakku are important rituals performed by devotees at the bank of Pampa. Pilgrim groups prepare food with the provisions taken on their Irumudi. Larger groups provide free food for thousands of devotees. A large pappad is displayed outside the cottage to show that food is being offered in a cottage. Kanniswamy's are served first, as they are considered to be Lord Ayyappan himself. After the feast respect is shown to the Guru swamy by prostrating before him and offering him with Gurudakshina.
Kanniswamy's move from kitchen to kitchen collecting the ashes left from the charred wood which were used for cooking. This is considered to be sacred. It is believed that Lord Ayyappa would have had the feast in one of the cottages in the disguise of a pilgrim. Hence the ash is taken home as prasad.
Lights and lamps are set outside the cottages during sunset at the banks of Pamba. It is believed that Lord Ayyappan will be present at the banks of Pampa. Small floats are set-up on which lamps are positioned and left in the Pamba river. This is called as the Pamba vilakku.
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.
Trek from Pampa to Sannidhanam
This is where a tent was set-up where Shri Sabari, during Ramayanam times performed tapas. Devotees worship here breaking coconuts, firing crackers and lighting camphor.
Saramkuthi is where Kanniswamy leave the wooden arrow they picked from Erumel.It is a belief that Ayyappan had agreed to get married if there are no Kanniswami visit him in a year. To denote the arrival of a Kanniswami, the arrow is left on the tree.
This is the last landmark before reaching the Sannidhanam. Pathinettupadi can be reached in 15 min from Sarankuthi. The 18 steps are made out of Gold. Pilgrims chant Saranams at the sight of the Pathinettupadi. A coconut is removed from the Irumudi Kattu and is broken here before climbing up the pathinettupadi.