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Overview

The sacred Arunachala Hill rises alone from the surrounding plains to a height of 860m. Geologically, the hill is an outlier of the Easter Ghats, a broken line of ancient granitic hills that run the length of the India's eastern side, and passes less than 30km to the west of Thiruvannamalai. Older, drier, and lower than the Western Ghats, the different ranges of the Eastern support a variety of forest types, home to innumerable plant and animal species.

Arunachala too would once have been covered in such forests, and ancient Tamil poems attest to as much. But years of wood-cutting and man-made fires left only pockets of stunted trees on a rocky hill covered predominantly in a single species of grass.


A view of Arunachala's bare Southern slope in the nineteen seventies 

The Forest Way grew out of work begun in 2003 to address this situation. Even earlier efforts by both the Forest Department and other local groups had shown that it was possible to grow trees once more on the Hill, but without dealing with the annual fires, the benefit of these efforts was always localized.

Our aim is not simply a return of tree cover to the Hill, but a broader restoration of its complex ecosystems. We know that life desperately wants of live. Nature has an immense power to heal itself if only given the chance. The best use of resources is usually to simply protect and allow the forest to return. At the same time, we strongly feel that people can have an active and positive part to play in helping the forests return. When people do this, it not only helps the forest, but gives great value to the lives of those who partake in this wonderful process.

So our work encompasses active prevention of fire on the hill, raising and planting out trees and other plants, protection, education, community action, continual observation and artistic enjoyment. We aim to let nature dictate our actions, and to let natural feedbacks prove or disprove those actions.

Successful prevention of fire has taken place through co-operation with the Forest Department and young volunteers. The result has been that forests are returning rapidly across the entire hill. Increases in bird and animal life further affirm that positive change is underway. Tree planting augments and speeds up this process, and bringing local schoolchildren to this young forest and allowing them to form a bond with it lays down further connections that will protect the trees in years to come.