Virupaksha Cave and Skandasramam are two popular attractions for visitors in Tiruvannamalai, especially those with an interest in Ramana Maharshi, the 20th century sage most closely associated with the Arunachala.
There are two ways to get to Virupaksha Cave and Skandasramam. If you are on the Giripradakshina path, instead of going to the carts on Car street in town (the next point of interest after the Big Temple), you can go from the beginning of a street near the northwest corner of the Big Temple to end at the back gate of Sri Ramanasramam to complete your Giripradakshina. Instructions are given in the Points of Interest section of this eGuide for finding the beginning of this street.
This path essentially shortcuts the main Giripradakshina path, going a substantial ways up the slope of Arunachala, traversing it sideways for a short ways, and then gradually going down to the Giripradakshina road, ending up at the Sri Ramanasramam about 2 kilometers farther down the Giripradakshina path from where you started.
The other way to arrive at Virupaksha and Skandasramam is the reverse of the above. You start at the back gate of Sri Ramanasramam (open 8.15 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.), go up to Skandasramam, and then walk down to Virupaksha. From there, you can continue down into town. Going in this way cannot be considered part of doing Giripradakshina, since you are walking counterclockwise. This way is best if you are just visiting these two points of interest. This path is treated in this eGuide as a completely separate path from the official Giripradakshina path for the following reasons:
Instead of following this path (whether part of Giripradakshina or not), many just go up to visit Skandasraman from the Sri Ramanasramam back gate and go back down the same way. This is a gentler climb and a nicer path than the part of the path that comes up from town. It has spectacular views. However, this avoids visiting Virupaksha Cave. If one does continue the path down to Virupaksha Cave, one joins the main road in town that goes past the Big Temple. From there, one can take an autorickshaw anywhere one likes.
As with the Giripradakshina path, you are encouraged to walk this barefoot. This is not as hard as it sounds, because you are walking most of the time on smooth stone steps or cobblestones. These were laid by hand by Ramaswami Pillai, a devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi in the middle of the twentieth century.
From Sri Ramanasramam (west side of the path)
Go to the back gate of the Ashram. It is just to the right of the shrines of the famous devotees of Sri Ramana Maharshi. It is visible from the courtyard outside of the Ashram dining hall. This gate is open 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day of the week.
Go through this gate. Walk directly up across some smooth boulders until you see a path. Follow this path a short ways until it makes a right turn. Do not go straight ahead on the heavily wooded path. The correct path, to the right, is marked with a sign pointing to Skandasramam. Follow this path for about 30 minutes. It is not that steep, but can be physically challenging in the hot sun. Some parts are shaded by trees, but not all. There is a large rock outcropping where you can rest and enjoy the spectacular view about half of the way up.
From the northwest corner of the Big Temple in town
Go to Pey Gopuram street (Route 66), which goes along the west side of the Big Temple, and go to the corner of the temple where the west and north walls meet.
If you are coming out of the main entrance to the Big Temple on the east side (the tower over it is called Raja Gopuram), go to the left. Go all of the way around the east wall and then turn left again to follow around the north wall. From the corner of the north wall and west wall, go across the street and about 100 feet to the right and look for a paved street on the left that is marked with a sign for Virupaksha Cave.
Go up that street a ways until you see signs indicating the narrow street on the left that takes you to Virupaksha Cave. Ask someone if you are not sure. As of this writing, the sign is not very prominent.
Follow the street on the left until you start climbing steep stone stairs. Go up those stairs until you see a small cowshed on the left. There is a huge boulder in front of you. To the left of it is the short set of steps to Virupaksha Cave. To the right is the continuation of the path up to Skandaramam.