In the forests that surround about 3/4 of Arunachala, besides the Inner Path and new Yellow Path, there are many footpaths. The footpaths are rarely explored by the many people who visit Tiruvannamalai; they are used mainly by sadhus and villagers tending their cows and goats.
Recently I posted an article about footpaths south of Kaattu Siva Tank (see it here). This article continues the series, shows another set of paths, this time south of Parvati Hill. A few months ago we moved closer to this side of the Holy Hill. Most mornings I walk near Aruanchala. Recently I have been exploring these footpaths and the areas through which they go. This exploration gives me the chance to get to know more about Arunachala, and to see the Red Hill in ways that most people are not able to. These posts are an attempt to share this with you.
Most of these photos were taken on 28 April, 2011. It had rained several times just before this date. Rains are not usual for this time of year, called locally Agni, “fire,” the hottest and driest time of the year, usually with temperatures that get up to 106 F (41 C). But because of the recent rains there was water in creeks and tanks, and new green growth and flowers on many of the trees and plants.
This is Arunachala from our house. The day dawned with a few clouds which caught the red of the sunrise about 4:30 in the morning.
The map below marks the main part of the route shown in this post, labeled as “Footpath to New West Path.” I began walking at the small tank just above the label for “Pradakshina Road,” then headed generally NW until I arrived at the dirt road that goes to Kaattu Siva Tank from Pradakshina Road (shown below as the straight green line). I turned right and walked a short bit up the dirt road then turned left back onto the footpath and walked on it until I got to the Inner Path (shown as the red line). I then walked “backwards” on the Inner Path until I got to the Forest Shrine where I turned right off the Inner Path and headed again through forest footpaths to Kaattu Siva Tank. I finally took one of these footpaths back to the tank where I had started. I think the route is one that could be followed OK; when in doubt, head towards Parvati Hill.
After I climb over the short wall on the backside of the tank at the start of my walk, this path is what I see. I take it straight through the forest. One of our dogs, Freckles, is in the photo. Our dogs, as well as a few “Pradakshina Road dogs” usually go with me on these morning walks.
Arunachala looks over the entire route.
The path crosses a small creek. This one is dry. What does not show in these photos is all the spider webs that I walk through. I usually walk in the early morning, so I am the first one, most days, to walk these paths, (except when Carol walks with me and goes first). This means that I clear out the webs as I go.
I noticed fresh deer tracks in the streambed. When I walk in this area without dogs, I sometimes will see deer, but with the dogs, rarely.
Follow that path leftish here. The right fork will take you to Kaattu Siva Tank (if you make the correct turns).
Through the woods, merrily we go.
Bear right here. This all-black dog is Bebe. He lives with us at our new house.
This is the first view of Parvati Hill along this path, through an area of low rocks.
I see the dirt road to Kaattu Siva Tank ahead. I turn right.
Shortly, I make a left turn off the dirt road.
And see a path ahead.
I also see this red dirt mound. I used to think that these were termite mounds. After seeing snake holes at the Irula Tribal Women’s Welfare Society, I am not so sure now. These kinds of mounds are venerated by local Indians, who see them as a manifestation of Shakti, power. Often shrines and temples end up growing around them.
Through the forest footpath. I have walked here before with my pruning clippers, clearing away thorns and brush that block the path. I usually do this as I walk in new areas.
I am coming to a place where you can turn left or right.
To the left is a small rise.
Over the rise is a beautiful tank and banyan tree. I can see the tree from Pradakshina Road. I have never seen this tank before.
A local man told me that there is a samadhi of a sadhu, another Arunachala saint unknown by most people, under this banyan tree. Maybe his name has already been forgotten? I want to visit this samadhi. If you look closely in the photo below on the left you will notice a sadhu, coming to the tank for his morning bath.
Arunachala again, unmoved by all that is seen.
Back on the path, heading towards the mountain.
To the left of the path is a tangle of trees.
This area is marked off by a row of rocks. I am not sure why, but this land is marked off, and has many trees. Maybe this was planted more than 30 years ago, and the trees are fully grown now.
In the photo below you can see the line of this area, to the left of the path.
The path passes through an open area, going towards Parvati Hill.
Then up a big dirt berm, maybe 5 meters high. This is an old water catchment and settling tank.
The dirt berm is about 5 meters high and 200 long. This means there are about 500 cubic meters of dirt that makes up the dirt “dam” here. If, as was usually done here at the time this was built, this was made by laborers, carrying pans of dirt, there were about 1000 man-days of work needed to build this.
Coming down the dirt berm on the other side.
There is some water here from the recent rains, but not much. There are also some sizeable trees that have, I think, grown after this area was cleared for the water catchment tank. This is a pretty big tank.
On the far side there are a number of trees, all about the same size. Many are broad leaf trees, not common around Arunachala, that look to be planted in rows. I guess these were planted after the tank was built. It is a pleasant area to be in.
A small creek runs through it. The creek empties into the water catchment tank. The dog in the photo below is Pippi.
The Arunachala peak through the trees.
I follow a faint path that runs along the creek.
After a bit, I have to cross the creek. There is enough water in it that I have to step carefully on a series of stones to cross without getting my feet and sandals wet.
Looking upstream in the creek.
Further on there is another concrete water retaining wall. I think these were built to reduce erosion, by slowing down the water flowing though these creeks during periods of high rains.
Continuing on the path.
The path is getting close to Parvati Hill.
Through another area that is pretty open.
Here is a spot under a tree with a rock I can sit on. I stop and drink some water. I have also brought some dog food, and I give all the doggies walking with me a bit to eat.
There is another creek to cross. On the left, unseen in this photo, are a few rocks I can use to get across.
The dogs all have different approaches to the water in the creek. Some leap across it, some walk through it, and some just like to lie down in it, for a bit a cooling. The dog lying in the water is a street dog. I call him “Ajax” because he seems to me a grizzled old warrior.
Across the creek is a rock outcropping that you can walk up to get a view of the surrounding area. This is the forest we have just walked through.
And here is Parvati Hill, with a path heading towards it. We’re getting close!
I follow the path.
Across a another small creek. There does seem to be a lot of water running off the mountain after the rains.
Ahead is the Inner Path. My walking route has come out where I wanted to be. Parvati Hill is to the left, and what I call the “West Pass” is directly ahead. It is over this path that work is being done to restore an old route that was used before the Pradakshina Inner Path was cleared around Parvati Hill in the 1990s. For a long time, certainly in Ramana’s day, and probably for hundreds of years before, this was the main route in this area from one side of Arunachala to the other. I think the restored path will be open by the end of May, in a few more weeks.
I head back home, going “backwards” (anticlockwise, the opposite direction from that taken during Pradakshina) on the Inner Path.
I think this says, in Tamil, Om Namah Sivaya. Someone recently painted signs like this in Tamil, English and Hindi, in many places along the Inner Path.
This tank that the Inner Path passes is pretty full now, having benefited greatly from the recent rains. Before this it was almost empty. Often you see water lilies blooming in this tank. Now I guess the water has risen so fast that they are submerged.
By the tank is a forest shrine, built by local villagers. They say this spot is very holy, and that here you can hear the “footsteps of God.” Bebe is confused by the dog statue, and sniffs it.
I head back not on the Inner Path, but on another footpath through the forest.
A series of small dams stops the water flow on this creek. One of the doggies enjoys being in the water. I walk over the concrete dam. The color of the water shows that it is recent runoff.
Bebe has found a hole in the ground, and starts digging in. Ajax watches with great interest.
Now Ajax has taken over the digging. They do not catch anything, but they are having a great time. I am glad it is not my home that they are digging up. Talk about nightmares–a giant dog digging through your roof!
Near Kaattu Siva Tank is a water pump, put here while one of the reforestation groups had a tree growing operation here. They had to end this operation, because the woman who ran it could not get the right relationship with a new District Forest Officer that was assigned here a few years ago.
I head to Kaattu Siva Tank.
It is still early morning, so sadhus are bathing here.
While bathing, they wash their dhotis, and hang them to dry.
Heading towards the Kaattu Siva Ashram. It has not been used for more than 50 years, and the buildings are starting to fall down now. I think probably sadhus sleep in them.
Looking from the ashram towards the tank. This tank is on the Inner Path, so many walkers go by it. It is a main sight along the Inner Path.
Now I head back through the forest, on my way home. It is about 30 minutes of walking to get home from here.
When I pass through the “Cactus Gate” I will be out of the Kaattu Siva Tank area, and back in the forest. The paths here are shown in this post.
I so enjoy this exploration I am able to do now. I think the chance to do this is a special gift. Thank you Arunachala for the great blessing! I hope you have enjoyed coming along with me for the walk.