ARS has planted hundreds of thousands of trees on the hill over the years. Only indigenous trees that belong to this region are planted on the hill. The tree saplings are raised in our own nurseries. In addition to the tree saplings planted on the hill, other saplings are given to other institutions like schools, colleges etc.
How do we decide what to plant?
The Thiruvannamalai hill is an off shoot of the Eastern Ghats and has had similar vegetation in the past. The Javadi hills which are part of the Eastern ghats is a mere 40 km away and still has thriving forests. By studying the tree species in the forests there, we get to know the type of forest that would have existed here, on this hill.
In the upper reaches of the hill some of the trees have managed to survive in a stunted form. For example Pterocarpus Marsupium, called Vengai is found in the upper reaches. Similarly we also find Terminalia …….. , called Pillai Marudu. Also in parts of the hill which are regenerating certain species are self seeding and thriving. For example, one of the most common trees on the hill is the Chloroxylon Swietenia, commonly referred to as Purasu in Tamil. Some of the other species planted are Terminalia Bellerica, Madhuca Longifolia, Gmelina Arborea, Bambusa etc.
The initial years
In the initial years of tree planting the conditions were very difficult as the top soil had been washed away and the hill was rocky, As there was very little soil, there was barely any water retention. In the initial years the survival was very poor due to harsh conditions. There was heavy grazing on the hill and also frequent fires which destroyed all vegetation. We had to transport soil from below for each sapling planted. In addition we had to create stone walls around each sapling to protect it from grazing and fires. This was a lot of hard work and took a long time to establish survival of trees.
Only certain species are able to survive in such conditions and are called pioneering species. The two species which served as very good pioneering species on the hill are the Pterocarpus Santalinus, commonly called Red Sanders, or Santhana Vengai in Tamil and Hardwickia Binata, called Aacha in Tamil. These two trees managed to grow well in the harsh conditions and provide the conditions for other species to be introduced. The trees planted in the initial years have grown well and today stand as mature trees.
The results of the afforestation is there for all to see. The path to Skanda ashram is now well wooded and has a very good diversity of species and is the oldest part of the regenerating forest. It has a stream running through it for many months and provides a good habitat for 120 bird species.
Painted spur fowl families with chicks are often found on this path.
At the base of the hill and on the lower slopes we have a growing population of spotted deer. We also have other animals like porcupines, pangolins, jungle cats, civet cats beginning to inhabit the growing forest.
There were reports of Pangolin on the hill, but there was no concrete evidence of it, until one day one Pangolin chose to visit the Ramana Samadhi and walk around there in the evening.
In other words, after being barren for nearly 80 years a forest has begun to return to Arunachala and it is becoming a home for many species.
Now a days after each monsoon, several streams flow from the young forests in the mountains. With increasing forest cover, each year the streams flow for longer periods of time. These streams in turn charge water bodies at the base of the hill and when they fill up, the over flow water runs in to more distant water bodies. This helps increase the ground water in the whole region, which of course will help the farmers and other residents.
The forests are changing the very appearance of Arunachala. The hill used to sprout a light green look during monsoons from the lemon grass that used to grow on the hills and a brown look during the other months. Now the hill is getting a dark green look of the forest. Moreover the vegetation instead of being just one metre tall is beginning to grow several metres tall providing deep shade and a canopy for many other species. As a result of all this, the climate of Thiruvannamalai, is changing from Arid to a more gentler climate.
We maintain our own nursery where we generate more than 10,000 saplings each year. This involves seed collection, germination, transplanting, packeting, repacketing etc. We have our own skilled labourers for such work who have been working with us for many years and now their work intimately.
In addition to planting trees on the hill we also supply other institutions with saplings.
How you can help
You can contribute towards planting of each tree, raising of each sapling or a number of saplings.