Mountain of Medicine
By Govinda Bowley
After living in Tiruvannamalai for almost five years, in July of 2003 my daughter was born in our little house. During the night of her birth the long dry summer was broken with a fantastic storm. I decided to give thanks for this event, by planting a few trees on the Hill. However, this small act somehow got out of control and as a result the Mountain of Medicine project was born in September of that year.
What began with a few trees one rainy July day is now a multi-faceted project working toward a long term and sustainable regeneration of the forests on the Holy Hill. The focus for this is the creation of a sizeable ecological park at the foot of the mountain, just to the west of Sri Ramanasramam. It is our aim to turn this into a place where we may introduce people to the particularly rich indigenous forest of this region, and its fascinating complexities, variety of life and myriad benefits and uses to all.
We feel that this process of helping people make friends with the forest is an essential part of the specific goal of reforesting the Hill and wider goal of preserving fast disappearing ecosystems on this earth. The message of conservation will be put across through a combination of ancient Indian wisdom and teachings on ecology, and education on the present day environmental crises facing us all, and what both ancient wisdom and modern science may offer us in dealing with this.
We will also focus on demonstrating specific uses of the forests, particularly in the field of traditional medicinal systems, which are a great part of India's cultural and scientific heritage and are still very much alive today - giving primary healthcare to the village poor as well as enjoying resurgence among the middle class.
Moving up from the foot of the Hill and onto the slopes, we have been busy planting and protecting. The park features a nursery where we raise a large cross section of the species native to the Hill (there are an estimated 200 tree species native to Arunachala). These are then planted according to our observations of soil, aspect, slope etc., and how these affect species makeup in nearby forests. Results so far are extremely positive, with survival rates around 50% after two years. The planting season is a wonderful festival of activity, with lines of up to 100 workers snaking high onto the upper slopes, heads laden with trees.
However, joyful as that is to behold, I feel that our main work and main accomplishment, has been to combat the fires that have always raged each summer, leaving the Red Mountain black. While many are of the opinion that the slopes of the Hill are near barren, a little time spent wandering on them, will reveal the opposite to be true. There are countless remnant pockets of the forests that would have once covered the Hill. All over the slopes small trees are regenerating naturally, both from root stock of cut trees, and from seeds born by birds and the wind. If this regeneration process is allowed to carry on unhindered, it dwarfs any efforts that we can make through our own plantings.
With this is mind, in conjunction with other local concerned bodies and individuals, we have put a great deal of effort into a variety of strategies to prevent the Mountain from burning. So far our efforts have resulted in a drastic decrease of mountain fires - in 2004 less than 25% of the Hill was burned, in 2005 less than 15%, and so far this year less than 3%.
Back at the foot of the Mountain, we are nearing completion of a playground for the children of Tiruvannamalai, situated on five acres of land adjacent to the eco-park (land previously used as a municipal dumping ground). Mountain of Medicine has also been involved in re-planting and watering the avenue trees around the Giri Pradakshina road, and is taking care of and reforesting twelve acres of municipal land at the Samudra Lake, about a mile from the mountain.
Republished, with kind permission, from the Arunachala Grace Newsletter. http://www.arunachalasamudra.org
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