There are temple towns, there are mountain towns, and there are temple-mountain towns where God appears as a phallus of fire. Welcome to Tiruvannamalai. Set below boulder-strewn Mt Arunachala, this is one of South India's five ‘elemental’ cities of Shiva; here the god is worshipped in his fire incarnation as Arunachaleshwar. At every full moon 'Tiru' swells with thousands of pilgrims who come to circumnavigate the base of Arunachala in a purifying ritual known as Girivalam, but at any time you’ll see Shaivite priests, sadhus (spiritual men) and devotees gathered around the big Arunachaleshwar Temple. The area's reputation for strong spiritual energies has engendered numerous ashrams, and Tiruvannamalai is attracting growing numbers of spiritual-minded travellers. Around the main cluster of ashrams, on and near Chengam Rd about 2km southwest of the centre, you’ll find a few congenial cafes and sleeping options.