ONE THE  most famous 0pilgrimage centres in India, Ibarimalai lies in the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 m (2,999 ft). The final 14-km (9-mile) approach from Pamba, through dense forest, is made on foot.

The focus of devotion here Is the temple dedicated to the popular deity, Ayyappa. The temple stays open from November to mid-January, in April and during the first five days of each month of the Malayalam calendar. People of all religions can worship here, but women between the ages of 10 and 50 are restricted from entering. The final 18 sacred steps (each representing a sin that a devotee renounces on setting foot on it) are sheathed In panchaloha, an alloy of five metals, and lead to the sanctum. Only those who have observed 41 days of penance (celibacy, wearing black and and not shaving) are entitled to undertake the pilgrimage.

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