We set out on the inner path late in the afternoon, under a hot sun blazing through gaps in the monsoon clouds overhead. In the distance sounded a faint clap of thunder and a wash of walking rain curtained the horizon to the south. “I wish it would rain down on us,” said one of the party. As we sat upon a rock to catch our breath while climbing over the western saddle, her wish was granted, briefly and gracefully. We weren’t carrying umbrellas. On the other side of the Mountain lay the reward of tapas. Glancing up towards the peak we were greeted by this vista.
Sunday dusk, the Mountain merging into the night, but this evening there’s a shocking difference. The hillock by Yama Lingam is ablaze.
Tall lemon grasses, dry as tinder in the height of summer, burn fiercely, flames shooting up into the darkening sky. It appears visually spectacular, smoke billlowing from the extended flanks of the fire line. Lower down, the lights along Perumbakkam Road lend a sense of scale.
No need to sound the alarm as it’s not Arunachala that’s on fire and the “Annamalai Fire Fighters” can stand down. Putting out these fires is a physically punishing job and it’s best to conserve limited resources for the protection of the Mountain itself. There are no other responders.
To quote the local government District Forest Officer on the recent major forest fire on Arunachala, “Volunteers and forest department personnel are working hard to control the fire. It will subside once the lemon grass was completely eaten by the fire.” [The Hindu, April 21, 2012, “Fire reduces greenery in Tiruvannamalai hill to ashes” ]
So yes, on this Sunday, eventually, a few hours later the sweeping fire burns itself out and all is still and dark again.