After the Fire on Arunachala

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I wanted to take a closer look at the burned area of the 23 June fire on Arunachala, and let the readers do so as well. So I took a walk up the “Spirit Path,” the path that goes up to the pass between Parvati Hill and the Skanda Hill in between Parvati and Arunachala.

Below is the Arunachala peak taken from the west side of Arunachala, about 6 AM.

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Here is a map I drew up from my estimates of the four big fires in the last few weeks. The 20 April and 8 May fires are shown in this post. In the present post we will walk into the area of the June 23 fire, the westernmost of them all.

Before June 23, there was another big fire in June, on the east side of Arunachala. Yesterday I went around that area, and then put the approximate area burned in the June fire onto the map. That fire was between Pachaiaman Koil and the knob that is the end of the trunk of ‘The Elephant.’

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Walking on the Inner Path, the first thing you notice is the burned side of Parvati Hill.

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Here is the turnoff for the Yellow Path to go over “Parvati Gap.”

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Here is Parvati Gap. You can see the charred hillside. 

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Looking closely at Parvati Hill, you can see that some of the trees survived the fire. Good!

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For the area at the east end of Parvati, it looks like the fire missed it. You can see a big patch of green trees below the summit. 

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The burned area is pretty big, though.

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The bushes shown below are badly burned. I do not know if they will come back. We will see as we watch them over the next few weeks.

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At the base of the trees, I see green. These are fresh new sprouts growing from the clumps of lemongrass. It has only been a week, and they are putting out new shoots.

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The hillside looks pretty devastated by the fire.

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Fire burned one side of the path. The other is green. The path here obviously acted as a fire break. That is good news.

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There are spots in the burn that survived untouched.

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The bark on the trunk of the tree is burned all the way around. Will the tree survive? I don’t know.

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Here the hillside has burned areas and a few patches of green, so maybe some of the trees are OK?

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In comparison, looking the other way, away from the fire, you see what the hillside should like like.

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After the fire.

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This side of the peak seems to have escaped flames. Burned area is right up to it, though.

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Looking at this makes me sad. Twenty years of work to restore the forests of Arunachala, and so much burned.

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Another charred tree trunk. Will it survive?

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Sprigs of green coming from the patches of lemongrass. If this grass survives OK means that its roots are fine, and will hold the soil in place during the coming rains.

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The path made a pretty good fire break.

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Another view of the torched hillside.

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I start seeing sticks on the path. These must be the remains of branches used to fight the fire.

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Yes, here is a tree with a fresh scar where they have torn off a branch.

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A branch lies on the ground next to the path, torn off, but never used.

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The path goes up the hill, burned on the left and green on the right.

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Another forest fighter branch, lying on the path unused. They must have used the path as a place to stand and fight the fire.

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Going up the path, still green on the right.

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Towards the top of the hill, it is burned on both sides of the path.

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Looking from the top towards the west part of Parvati Hill, I am so glad that some of the green forest remains.

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Another fire fighting branch. They must have tried to keep the fire from crossing the path here, but they failed.

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At the top of the path, we can see the Arunachala peak now, and the form of ‘The Elephant,’ so prominent on the north side of Arunachala.

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I notice a deepam lamp set out on a simple altar that has been set up at the top of the hill. Could something like this be the cause of the fire?

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I walked down the path on the other side. The fire continued for a short distance, then petered out.

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The fire just stopped spreading. Maybe the wind was blowing against it?

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Whatever it was, the fire just stopped.

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Here is another burned tree trunk. How could it survive this?

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Looking through the burn to the east peak of Parvati Hill.

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And the west peak. Both seem to have survived the fire just fine.

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Coming back down the path, I note that the area where the special pooja was done for the mountain spirits was untouched by the fire. Maybe the spirits kept the fire away from here? Cloth used in the pooja still hangs from the trees.

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Walking back down the path, I catch a glimpse of a sadhu walking through the bushes. I wonder, I have never seen a sadhu here before.

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Here is Parvati Hill again. After the walk up the hill into the fire zone, I do have some hope that everything will recover. We will see in the following weeks and months.

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As you can see from the map at the beginning of this article, fires have burned a major part of Arunachala this year. Besides what I have shown on the map there were also ten smaller fires so far this year.

If you are walking Arunachala’s Inner Path, or exploring its many caves, be extremely careful with fire. Do not smoke. I think you should not light deepam lamps or burn camphor either. Why take the chance?

Also to walk the Inner Path now you need permits from the Forest Department. Go to this post to find out more. 

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