Update on Arunachala Inner Path Closing

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For Carol and me, the Inner Path was one of the real joys of Tiruvannamalai. We walked it several hundred times before it was closed. It was the base of our Arunachala exploration. From it we ranged up many small foot paths found on all sides of Arunachala. We found (and photographed for this blog) about 1/2 of the 70 caves known to be on the mountain. It was a big part of our life for our first five years here.

Partially because of the Inner Path, and the access that it gave people, visitors came to love Arunachala. The now-successful Arunachala reforestation effort was started over 30 years ago by some of these visitors, Westerners who love Arunachala, working with locals. Now the Forest Department wants to push these people away from Arunachala. How short sighted!

The Inner Path was closed in 2012 and remains so to this day.

I don’t think the Path will ever open again until and unless someone powerful, who understands how much Westerners contribute to Tiruvannamalai, and wants Westerners here, orders the Path to be opened again. 

 History of the closing

During the hot months of 2012 there was the worst fire season in anyone’s memory. There were at least six big fires that covered more than 1/3 of Arunachala. By August the Forest Department, under pressure to show some results in stopping the fires, banned walking on the Inner Path. Since then it was remained officially closed.

I don’t really know why it was closed. The Forest Department, in their press releases, said that it was for fire protection, due to the number of fires that season. There were many other causes rumored, including one saying that I was the cause. Now the current press releases say it is to keep all foreigners out.

The Situation Today

Here is a tidbit offered by a local Facebook friend after recent interactions with the local Forest Department: :

I petitioned for a one-afternoon pass this month directly with the Forest Department for my pilgrimage group (last year I got a yes, with lots of baksheesh), The reply I received from this year is that they that received from the Forestry Dept higher-ups 6 memos in the past months emphasizing to make sure they enforce the ban on the inner path. They said they are watching by satellite to make sure they are doing their jobs. The threat was pulling foreigner’s visas all together.

There was also a recent article from The Hindu that said:

Two foreigners going past a newly drawn paint marking made by miscreants in the inner girivalam path in the reserve forest around Tiruvannamalai hill.

Foreigners visiting Tiruvannamalai prefer to take the “inner girivalam path” despite the forest department’s ban on that route.

Since the 14- km-long Girivalam path that goes around the Tiruvannamalai Hill is urbanized and commercialized, foreign tourists and devotees tend to get into the reserve forest and make a circumambulation close to the hill.

Over the years, this practice created a foot path inside the forest. Some tourists have made markings with paint on the rocks and trees along the ‘inner path’ to guide others.

Nature lovers fear that the practice might attract vendors to set shops thus disturbing the tranquility of the forest. In order to avoid this situation and also to contain repeated incidents of forest fire, forest department declared that nobody should use the area for girivalam .

The announcement initially helped contain the practice. Entry points that lead to the ‘inner path’ were closed with thorny twigs.

But with passage of time foreign tourists and others began using the inner path.

A member of a ‘Friends of Forest’, a brigade of volunteers authorized by forest department to protect reserve forest, told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that if a volunteer stopped an intruder, they do not pay heed to their warnings.

Though the foreign tourists do not cause any harm to nature, it is an act of defying the law. Of late locals too are joining them. This may put pressure on afforestation drives,” he said. When asked about the phenomenon, Divisional Forest Officer Rajendran told The Hindu ,

“The ban to enter the inner path in the forest exists as ever. We don’t permit anybody to enter forest. We’ll look into the issue as soon as possible. ”

Shortly after this article ran, the Forest Department must have felt empowered to ramp up their efforts to keep people out. The photo below shows what they did to the Inner Path recently: Pushing rocks into the path to make it very difficult to walk (photo from Facebook):

inner path destruction

Walking Arunachala

Actually, all the time since the cloture people have continued quietly walking the Inner Path, trying to avoid being noticed by the Forest Department. Some have been caught, and these stories run wild among the Westerners who live there. 

Foreigners are not the problem

The Forest Department now has a policy that excludes ‘foreigners” (Westerners) from the Inner Path. This started as a solution to the many fires. Except that the fires were NOT set by Westerners; this was surely done by Indian people.  The Forest Department seems hostile to all people, especially tourists, who want to use this public land. In many places in the world they have figured out how to balance saving the forests with public use of them. Not apparently in India. (Maybe because foreigners can’t figure out who to bribe?)

The Inner Path is a precious resource and one of the few places in the world where spiritually-minded people can just walk for a few hours in quiet nature, basking in the power of Arunachala. The Forest Department is now preventing this use as if it is somehow harming Arunachala. Before the closing the Inner Path in 2012, it had been used for decades with no problems. Now it is closed, even though (as said in the Hindu, above) “The foreign tourists do not cause any harm.

Indian needs tourist money, and the Western tourist brings millions of Rupees into the local economy each year.  I know for a fact that some of these tourists are now making other choices than coming to Tiruvannamalai because of this closing. The closing of the Inner Path is short-sighted, it does not solve the problems of preserving Arunachala, and threatens the support of the very same group that brought about Arunachala’s reforestation. 

I personally feel that preserving Arunachala is worthwhile and needed. What the Forest Department is doing does little to accomplish this goal. I think a working group between the local government, the Forest Department, Arunachaleswara Temple, Ramanasramam, and a selected group of Westerners could be a big help, IF AND ONLY IF the Forest Department would ever follow the recommendations of such a group.  But in India I cannot see this happening; people (like Forest Department officials) would have to share power, and one’s power is closely guarded in India.

So what I think is needed is for Indian citizens to get upset and petition the national and Tamil Nadu state governments to open the Inner Path. I say Indian citizen because I believe that only political action can bring about this change, and foreigners (unless they bring a lot of money) don’t have much political influence, so citizen-voter action is needed. The order to keep the Inner Path closed comes from officials high above the local Forest Department ;eve;, so pressure needs to be applied at this same high level. People need to get active with the Tamil Nadu state government officials, and at the national level. This is a black mark for India and its attraction to tourists. Only the Indian government can change the rules that they themselves have made to close the Path. But instead of change, the Forest Department threatens to punish these seekers who want only to quietly walk the Inner Path as a spiritual experience.

If the Forest Department is concerned about vendors setting up on the Inner Path, the Forest Department has the power they need to stop this. All that is needed is a little enforcement, one Forest Ranger occasionally patrolling and dealing with offenders. To preserve Arunachala by banning walking Arunachala is a little like the USA in Vietnam saying they had to “destroy the village in order to save it.”

I have left Tiruvannamalai and India to live in another country. I can now write about this without the fear that the Forest Department would try to “pull our visa.” Because of this risk I was told by many people to be silent about the closing of the Inner Path. I need be silent no longer!

Take care of Arunachala. Return the historic access to Arunachala that Westerners (and Indians) have had since the days of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Let people love this ancient holy mountain.

If you are motivated to do something, please take whatever action you can.; band together and organize

Inner Path Photos

Here are some photos we took of the Inner Path, a bit of what you’re missing. Enjoy.

Arunachala near Children's park

Arunachala from Children’s Park area, near the start of the Inner Path

Leopard Rock

Leopard Rock

 

Carol at Kattu Siva Cave

Carol near Kattu Siva’s cave

 

 

Kattu Siva Tank

Kattu Siva Tank

 

Lillies in Arunachala pond

Water Lillies growing in Lily Tank

 

 

Parvati pass path

Parvati Pass path over Arunachala on a foggy morning

 

 

The Elephant rises above the clouds

 

 

Elephant when water in the storage lake

The Elephant above a water-filled tank, the “Northside Lake”

 

 

Carol on side path on N side of Arunachala

Carol explores a side path on Arunachala’s north side

 

 

Trees on North East side

Entering the Trees area on the northeast side

 

 

Arunachala from Trees area of Inner Path

Arunachala from Trees area of Inner Path

 

 

Naga shrine and cave near IP

Naga shrine and cave near Inner Path in Trees area on Northeast side

 

 

Horses and Warriors at Pachaiamann Koil

Horses and Warriors at Pachaiamann Koil

 

 

Peacock hill above Pachiaimann Koil

Peacock hill above Pachiaimann Koil

 

 

I say again: Take care of Arunachala. Return the historic access to Arunachala that all people have had since the days of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Let people love this ancient holy mountain.

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9 Responses to “Update on Arunachala Inner Path Closing”

  1. Itinerant Yogi Says:

    I personally feel that the number of pilgrims coming to Arunachala are increasing to exorbitant numbers, and the peacefulness and quietitude of the inner path should be respected and maintained. Crowds will become unmanagable and the environment and wildlife habitat will be ruined if the inner path is opened to the public.

    • cspacenz Says:

      I don’t believe it was ever an issue because most people never actually walked the Inner path, likewise, how few people ever actually climb the hill beyond Skanda Ashram. Even at peak times there was only really ever a handful of people walking the Inner path, I know because being the contrary type that I am I walked it in the opposite directions many times or would just sit out there on a big rock for hours at a time, I ran into very few people. Most visitors if they walk around the hill do so on the road along with the maddening crowds on a full moon for that particular experience. In case you hadn’t noticed, whilst they like the idea of it, not a lot of people seek peacefulness and quietitude at the best of times.

  2. Sandy Veepooshanan Says:

    Hi Richard
    Me and my wife live just outside Las Vegas, in Henderson, about 18 miles from the strip. If you like to visit Las Vegas in the future, we would love to have you stay with us.
    Regards
    Veepooshanan

  3. marilynsandperl Says:

    I wonder what Ramana would have done had they banned him from the hill? It is a travesty that they have done this. I am glad you are speaking up now. What a shame that you and Carol felt threatened. Sol and I didn’t let this stop us last year, but the threat of being caught and losing our visas was very real. And what doesn’t make sense is that they allow people to walk up to the top of the mountain, but not around it? How sad that they have nothing better to do with their time than haul rocks onto the path.
    Yet how blessed that you and Carol had five years freely walking the inner path without any fear.
    Thanks again for the wonderful pictures.

  4. drsundaram Says:

    thank you richard so much. let good wisdom prevail upon the concerned

  5. cspacenz Says:

    I’m pleased that on my earlier visits to Arunachala that I was able spend a couple of months at a time wandering around alone on the Inner Path, watching the sunrise or sunset, just being there and disappointed that on my last few visits that I was unable to do so. There is something truly magical about the foot of the hill as it was always quiet and serene and just far away from the noise and psychic junk that accompanies the busier areas out on the roads. So I am fortunate that I have that experience deeply imprinted in my memory and I will continue to treasure it.

    With regards to the closure of the path I know there are also many theories but it’s always interesting to follow any money trail, the trail of greed you might say. Now I am sure that Richard is not the cause of any closure but from two extremely reliable sources in Tiruvannamalai my understanding is that it has nothing at all do with fire risks, that that’s just a convenient excuse and easily enforceable. There is little doubt in my mind that the local landowners and farmers have more to do with the issue than anything else, that they have increased their usable land as close in towards the bottom of the hill as possible, erecting various fences which ultimately block access along the Inner Path and so forth. Greed so often wins out in the long run because those with the motivation usually also have the money with which to pay those that need paying, thus turning it into something of a political issue. I’m sure there have been fires on Arunachala for thousands of years, fires are very healthy for vegetation, heck, they even light a giant fire on the top of the hill and they certainly won’t be banning that in a hurry.

    Those of us who know will never forget the Inner Path around Arunachala. Thanks Richard and Carol.

  6. Layena Camhi Says:

    Thank you Richard.
    My guess is that Ramanashram grand nephews could do something about this. Releasing situation to Arunachala in good faith.
    Namaste and love to you and Carol……..
    Layena

  7. Ronald Faraldo Says:

    thank you Richard for tihs sad aritcle. Thank you for the beautiful photos, which bring back so many memories. I walked the inner path every morning for many months ,ending up at the Ramana cave , resting and returning home late afternoon.This ,as I said I did every day. It truly became part of my life and I will never forget what it did for my mind and body; (it was hard work as I am 68). I was planning to return with my wife and spend 5 months a year there and doing this walk together everyday.
    I had written you several times asking for information about the band; but you never responded. Now I understand why.
    With all the Visa problems added to this, I have many friends who would never dreamed of going anyplace other than Mother India , are now going other places; less spirtual , but also less hassle and more forigener friendly.Sad really.
    I hope you find Mexico a fine place to live. I live in a small village in the south of France; also two hours away from children and grandchildren in Sweden. I know how much such closeness means.
    Again, thank you for all the hours I have spent sitting in Europe reading about you and your wife and your adventures through intellegent, truly anthropologcal understanding,of what you were experincing.
    Roads go ever ever onwards.
    Om Namar Shivaya

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