December 2022 Newsletter

December 2022 Newsletter

Blessed Golden New Year One and All!

In the Way of the Forest

This year was another milestone in our greening of Arunachala and surrounds. It was our 20th planting season, our 19th year of mitigating fire damage. And oh, how the results are showing, with a canopy closing over many areas of the Hill and natural regeneration spreading into the remaining open patches. This means that on the slopes of the Hill we have shifted away from mass planting, and are working to nurture back into the landscape some of the rarer evergreen trees of the region, creating groves where the altitude and topography are conducive to their survival. These are now thriving and establishing living seed banks that will become self generating in the coming years.
We also expanded our planting on the fringes of Nedungavadi, Kosaalai and Aadaiyur lakes, and were given permission to begin work on planting in the Nedungavadi forest area. All in all, we ended up planting more trees than ever before (over 22,000), that too of record diversity, as the seed collecting team really took their work to a new level, spending countless hours in local forests and managing to find and germinate a number of species that have thus far eluded our efforts.

We are incredibly pleased to announce that The Forest Way is one of two recipients of this year’s Habitats Trust Conservation Grants, and the other recipients are our dear friends at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary.
This will be a three year support of our ecological restoration work, and we trust, a long and fruitful collaboration well into the future. Huge thanks to all those at the Habitats Trust who have recognised the value and authenticity of our years of ground work, and chosen to support its continued growth and blossoming into the future. We literally just received this news at the time of writing, and are still beaming with gratitude and excitement at how it will enable a deepening and expansion of our work in the coming years. Hats off to all the team who made it happen.

This type of institutional funding is new to us, and necessary given the current size of operations. But this is also a moment to again thank so many of you whose individual generosity has kept us going through all these years, and upon whom we still rely. We truly hope to remain largely funded by individuals who are personally touched and connected to what we are all doing together. It is the spirit of how the project began and has always run; organically, based on trust, with interconnectedness and a shared love for this place and the life that can flourish here. Thanks to all of you.

Plant Survey

With children we are monitoring the growth rates, survival and various other parameters of the different species comprising the evergreen patch, at regular intervals. This data will improve our understanding of questions such as which pioneer trees provide most nurturance to the slow growing evergreens, as well as it being a great way for the children to engage more deeply with the planting process and engage with nature through an ecological way of thinking.

Watering the Evergreen Patches

During the hot summer months, three of the older school groups volunteered to water the plants that are being monitored as part of the study.

For four days a week, groups of students, teachers and volunteers carried between 5-35 liters of water each up to the evergreen patches.

This is the first time we have attempted the herculean task of watering plants that high on the mountain, thus increasing their chances of survival during the delicate period post planting.

Our Tamil Bird Book got published!

This was long in the coming. After the success of the English ‘Birds of Tiruvannamalai’ it was clear that a Tamil version was due. The project got delayed because we kept spotting new arrivals to add to the book! The book is a great resource for people wanting to learn about the birds of the region. We have covered the identification, behaviour and ecology of 254 species of birds, along with photographs and illustrations and other interesting information on local names and ecosystems.

We hope this book helps spread the joy of connecting to the world of birds in Tiruvannamalai and Tamil Nadu!

To get a copy email

Marudam Farm School

Parents meetings

Through last year we’ve been exploring the topic of ‘Wellness’ with our diverse parents and teaching body. We tried to understand the expression of wellness through themes such as Relationships, Social justice, Movement, Creativity and connecting to Nature. We attempted to create experiential spaces to shed light on this important and too often neglected topic. We also started conversations about Child Safety with our parent community.

Crafts Week

After a two year break due to COVID we were delighted to host the event again in late October. Together with some 400 guests from various schools and places around Tamil Nadu and Karnataka we celebrated the joy of craft and art, shared and taught by artisans from near and far. The week ended with a grand Mela on a brilliantly sunny as well as rainy day…

Enjoy snippets from Marudam School Life over the past year

Picks from our Farm


This year has been a good rain year, yet again. The rains have been spread out evenly from May onward, giving the trees a long growing season and giving us an opportunity to spread our planting season. 

We have crossed 1200 mm yet again, without flooding of the land. It has been a delight to have a full well of water despite extensive planting of paddy. Feeling blessed.

Thamarai Kulam Updates

Work on the new park around the Tamarai Kolam lake has continued. The latest addition is the nearly completed outdoor calisthenics and parkour gym.

Interface with neighbouring Narikuravar and Irula communities

Wipro Foundation’s grant has greatly supported our work with the Irula and Narikuravar colonies relocated on to the land near our campus. Two teachers and a curriculum designer have been providing suitable academic inputs. Beside that we’ve been offering training in craft work as well as weekly park days and nature exposures, as well as basic health care.

Weaving Centre

Our weaving centre continues to make ecological-minded beautiful fabric, clothes and art. To allow for workshop events we’ve built an open space with a thatch roof. Please come and visit us! (at the Annamalai Reforestation Society not far from our school)

Eco printing has been a big hit, and even the Kindergarteners were able to make beautiful designs using this simple technique.

News Bulletin

Sanctuary Asia Awards

V. Arun, managing trustee of The Forest Way has been awarded Wildlife service award by Sanctuary Asia, and Suprabha Seshan, Forestway trustee AS WELL as managing trustee of Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, has been awarded the Green Teacher Award

We cheer and applaud them both!

Land protection

Thanks to collaborations with Quantum Data Engines, we’ve been able to procure a 2-acre plot adjoining Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Wayanad. QDE’s generous support has enabled us to extend the area under forest cover and extend our support to protect the biodiversity in that space as well.

New Community Members

Akira and Arya, mother and daughter are rescued ponies from Chennai

Space changes

The new block was completed room by room in the summer months. It comprises of a media room/class, a granary, an admin room, a small guest room, a garbage separation unit and a piano room. A hearty thank you for all the many who contributed towards it with their time, labour, expertise and financial support!

The new land to the south of Marudam, purchased by a group of friends and well wishers is getting spruced up at an increasing pace, with trees, vegetable gardens, and three houses in various stages of progress. We would like to extend a special big thank you to Krishna, our friend from Sittilingi, who’s been lovingly helping each house owner fulfil their dreams in the best style and ecological fashion.

At the Forest Park: Water tank is getting revamped; Nursery Wall; Got longer; a new toilet block

Time Lapse:

Wild encounters

Languid langur
Blue necked lizard
Olive Keelback (Atretium schistosum) – first time sighting in Tiruvannamalai


December 2021 Newsletter

December 2021 Newsletter

A photo essay

Most wonderful wishes and best regards to all, for the start of a fresh, healthy, environmental favoured and flavoured new year!

We are happy to share with you some pictures from the year past, together with some news – some good and some bad – from the life and endeavors of The Forest Way.

Always grateful for all your support and faith in us,

Enjoy the peek and stay in touch!

Good friends we’ve lost

The Covid wave which devastated India this spring/summer also hit close to home, for all of us at The Forest Way. Many lost close relatives and dear ones. Individually and as an institution, we struggled to keep up with the unfolding needs of the situation, as health services were stretched to breaking point. Efforts to mitigate the worst of the situation through community health provisions did not save three long-time staff members. With great sadness and gratitude to have known and worked with them, we remember them here. May they rest in peace.

Rajamanikam (Kannadikar), from Tiruvannamalai town, worked in the children’s park for more than 12 years. Previously he had worked for many years on the reforestation of the Hill. He was a warm, loving and humorous older brother figure to many at the park, and he brought care and an always young heart to his work. In the previous year he had lost his wife after nursing her devotedly through her final years. He was 75 years at the time of death.

K Lakshmi from Erikarai had worked in the nursery for the last nine years. She died at the age of 50. She was a quiet and gentle presence in the nursery. Her home life had not been easy and her work with the plants was a refuge that she cherished. She passed away in the Government Hospital.

K. Ezhumalai from Adaiyur, known fondly to all as Maappilai, was 45 years at the time of death, from a stroke after a debilitating bout of covid. He left behind a wife and 3 children. He worked as a manual labourer for the Forest Way for almost 17 years, mostly with a smile on his face. Whatever the work, people would be happy to have him on board as he made things lighter with his good cheer and positive spirit.


We’ve continued with COVID relief through the year, though at a slower pace. We’ve distributed provision packets in Tiruvannamalai area, Chennai, Nagapattinam District and for craft workers in Kanyakumari. During the latest rains we’ve offered assistance in some of Chennai’s flooded areas.

During the long summer months while the school was shut, parents from Marudam School initiated a small learning center to provide with extra-curricular activities to children from the area.


We delight in being rain watchers, which means we have been measuring rainfall in Tiruvannamalai every year and have data for over 23 years now.

We follow weather predicting sites and measure rainfall in 5 different places around Tiruvannamalai. You will be surprised at how much variation there is within these 5 places located within a maximum of 10 kilometers from each other.

Our well which is the best indicator of ground water in the farm is watched closely. It is the lifeline of the farm and the decision to grow crops is based on our assessment of continued availability of water from the well. It also happens to be the private swimming pool of the residents of the community and students in the school.

This year has been a fascinating year, with us all set to record perhaps the wettest year in the history of Tiruvannamalai. It is definitely the wettest year in our records. We have so far received 1780 mm of rain with our average being around 900 mm.

It all began steadily, with 7 days of rain each during July, August and September. October had 18 rainy days and 400 mm of rainfall and in November we experienced 23 days of rain and nearly 500 mm. (These two months alone had our average annual rainfall!)

Every water body in this region has filled and is overflowing. There are water birds flying all over. Suddenly it has become their world – a water world. While planning local travel we have to figure out which road is not under water! 

And the farm has turned into a swamp. We have multiple streams running through the farm and the road ways have turned into slush paths. There are fish in the most unexpected places. Some of us have taken to wearing rubber boots to prevent and cope with athlete’s foot disease. This looks funny and incongruous in Tiruvannamalai.

There came a point where we were looking skywards hoping for a day or two of sun! In Tiruvannamalai?! 

In the Way of the Forest

2021 has been an interesting mix of continuation and consolidation of our well-established greening work, along with some new themes and focuses.

We began planting in July and have planted about 12,000 trees in seven different locations, including plots on the upper side of three seasonal lakes, an ecosystem that we have been moving into in recent years. We’ve also continued our planting on the Arunachala Mountain, which is now clearly at its greatest level of forest cover in a century or more.

This year’s planting focused on a somewhat degraded area on the plain at the base of the hill, along with two locations on the upper slopes, where the focus was on creating patches of evergreen forest among the general mixed deciduous makeup of the emerging ecosystem. Shyam, returning from a four month apprenticeship in ecological horticulture at the Auroville Botanical Gardens brought a passion for the unique evergreens of the Eastern Ghats, and has now taken a key role as part of the vision and monitoring of the planting work.

Seed collection in Aalampoondi, Singarapettai, Melpattu, and Polur

Marudam Farm School

Facing the ever-changing Covid directives and wanting to explore educational possibilities where digital media is not the only player, we chose to leverage being an Environmental school and the fact that most of our students are from the neighborhood to increase our engagement with nature through a variety of projects and activities.


With standing water over most of the ground during the copious North-East monsoon, the vegetable gardens on the farm were hard hit. All of the papayas died due to water-logging, as did nearly all of the vegetables and even a few young fruit trees. Only since the end of November were we able to start picking up the pieces and start afresh, with the hope of seeing some produce in the coming months. Of course, water-loving paddy is a winner in this situation, and by now all our rice fields are planted with various degree of maturation, and we hope for a bumper crop in the coming months.

Thamarai Kulam Updates

Work at Thamarai Kulam has continued in bursts and spurts throughout the past year. Due to Covid regulations we are yet to open the park officially although some areas are ready to be opened to the public. Still, people from the locality come to watch the work and enjoy the space during working hours. Here are a few photos to give a taste of the beauty that is unfolding:

Over the summer our school kids were busy painting a large mural on Thamarai Kulam’s walls, at the guidance of Krishnapriya and Naren, Porkodi and other artist friends

ARS Weaving Center

These year we’ve discovered a whole new colorful and exciting world of embroidery.
We also experimented with up-cycling (using old material to create new artifacts) and learned a whole lot about natural dye. The children delighted in eco-printing, and one of the classes used the summer to design, stitch and embroider their own cloths!
All are welcome to come and see our work and put orders for stitching/craft of any kind.

Interface with the neighbouring Narikuravar and Irula community

It has been almost a year since our new neighbours – Narikuravars and Irulas – have settled into their permanent homes, built for them by the Government. Even before they shifted into our village, we visited them in their previous housing and discussed how we could best welcome them. We started by planting trees in front of their soon-to-be-new-homes, and our engagement with them has been ongoing ever since, planting more trees and taking classes for them to improving their literacy and numeracy as well as trying to impart environmental awareness to life around us!

News Bulletin

2022 Calendar

Kumar has collated a beautiful Calendar with some of his most stunning bird photos. You are welcome to put an order with him at (200rs + postage per calendar)

Dear friends departed

Ramu (left), our very first and oldest bullock, died this summer. Salim (right), son of Gautami that came together with Arun’s family from Chennai, died this November. Their presence is missed.

Space changes

The new School Building is at its final construction stage, already blending quite nicely with the surroundings:
And we also finished the building of a new woodshed and a home for agriculture processing machines (left) and a little hut for Pari and Harish (right):
And what a wonderous growth for the Aalamaram (Banyan) at the edge of the ground, planted just over 10 years back!

Wild encounters

Knob billed duck
Oak Leaf Butterfly
Gynandromorph Blister Beetle (gynandromorphism – an incredible phenomena wherein an organism contains both male and female characteristics)

September 2020 Newsletter

Nine months have passed since our last publication, but the world has turned round and round and up-side-down many a-times since…

…Nothing gave us an inkling that the whole world was about to go into the thralls of a pandemic, yet who can now remember a time when that wasn’t a fact of life?

The Halt which these events brought for us, at Marudam and The Forest Way, wasn’t perhaps as dramatic as it has been in some parts. Life continued to continue, and much has come to pass, still is passing, to land, to plants, to animals and to folks.

Here are some glimpses from that time:

Covid Relief

We were lucky to have the privilege to play a small supportive role for families under stress during the lockdown period. In response to our appeal we received around 15 lakh rupees and we managed to support more than 2000 families – some of them more than once – through this period. We primarily supplied families with rice, lentils and oil and, when required, with medical supplies. In addition to the families needing support in and around Thiruvannamalai, we also supported farmer and migrant families and crafts people in villages near Sirkazhi, and fishing community families near Chennai and Nagapattinam.


During the month of March, around the time the country was entering full lockdown, there was a spate of Forest Fires on the Hill. At great effort and personal risk, all were successfully put out by our team, with the help of volunteers and Forest Department staff, minimising the damage and keeping the forest safe. As always, the fire lines played a pivotal role in making it possible to contain the blaze.

It’s planting season

Yes, it’s that wonderful time of year when saplings leave the nursery and find new homes in the earth. In recent years, we have started to feel that the days of mass planting on the Hill are coming to an end, as the forest is now self generating.

So our work there is shifting towards a pure focus on protection, monitoring and education. But our drive to rewild the surrounding bio-region continues. This year we are working on a number of new and exciting sites:

Aadaiyur Eri
Aadaiyur village, 1km from the base of the Hill, is home to our planting and forest protection team. We are so happy to help with planting a grove next to the village

Kosaalai Eri
Two more forest patches are being planted at either end of Kosaalai lake, between Aadaiyur and Adiannamalai villages.

Nedungavadi Eri
Nedungavadi Village is also home to a number of our forest team. The lake next to the village is contiguous with a large scrub forest. The crew are delighted to be planting on home turf.

Samudram Eri
Below the earthen bund of the huge Samudram seasonal lake is an area of municipal land, already partly planted with trees. We have been invited to take on the project, and to create a mixed park including food forest for the village children, livestock fodder for livelihood, play and education areas, and patches of native forest. We’re very excited with this new venture.

Climate Change Curriculum

Marudam teachers, together with friends and associates and along with Socratus Foundation, have been hard at work creating a curriculum for climate change, aimed at 16 year olds and above. This is being offered as a free course, accessible to all on the Thinkific software platform. This is a work in progress – a few modules have been put up, the rest will follow in the coming weeks and months. This work has kept many of us very busy throughout the lock down. The Project has been supported and funded by SELCO.

Tamarai Kulam

Work on the park has continued pretty much throughout the lock down

Naama, our Artist in Residence, and some of her work


Sesame harvest
Ragi harvest
Rice planting
Vegetable garden

Thanks to corona and the extra time in our hands, the vegetable garden received generous doses of care and affection from adults and children of the community. We worked through the summer every morning, remaking beds, feeding them with compost and mulch and getting them sowing ready. Finally the rains graced us and we put new seed into the soil, fruits of which we are savoring on our plates during community lunches.

Weaving Center

At the weaving center, we continue to explore possibilities, designs and processes in the journey of turning seed into cloth:


Tremendous skies are the magnificent backdrop to our life:

and sometimes, if we are lucky, the same skies open up and feed us with life-giving life-affirming …


It has been a patchy season though this year with very low summer showers but also a relatively benign summer. We enjoyed a wet July with more than 10 rainy days though the quantum of rainfall was not high. August was disappointing – it is normally our second highest rainy month of the year. It started well with a good shower, but followed with three dry weeks. September has begun with our biggest shower in recent times. We are keeping our fingers crossed for good rains for the rest of the year.

News Bulletin

New Vehicle

More than 15 months after reaching out for funds to get a new vehicle for Marudam, we finally bought one a couple of weeks back. We bought a Force motors – Trax as per the original plan. Here are some photos. The vehicle is mainly to be used for the afternoon Kindergarten trip and for trips involving a small number of students. Thank you everyone for supporting us.

Post-harvest Machines

Recently we purchased three new post harvest machines for grains and pulses – one for cleaning, one for milling, and one for splitting. These machines help us bridge the gap between the field and the kitchen with our own crops, as well as with that of other small scale farmers in the area. Kamalakannan is happy to elaborate more to anyone who is interested. You can call him at 9940181247.


(some of whom can be seen in this photo from 2015)

We were happy and moved to see some of our oldest students leaving the familiar nest of Marudam. Over the past few years they have moved to a range of different pursuits after appearing for either State, IGCSC or NIOS examinations. The transition between school and what is next has been a different process for each student, and we wish each of them the best, while keeping in close touch and supporting when possible.

Dear friends departed

We have been extremely sad saying goodbye to two close friends, Pattu and Bindhu, who passed away recently. May they rest in peace.

Wild Encounters

Orchid blooming at the park
Sunbird nesting
Bulbul chicks
Caterpillar dressed for the Carnival

Space Changes

1. New Classroom Block

See a visual presentation made to detail the work done for the ground floor roof of this building here.

2. The land to the east of us was bought to be turned into plots 😦

Left: Before – vegetation growing wild, providing home to a myriad forms of life.

Right: After – all vegetation chopped, burned and flattened, leaving barren land, destroyed lives and us heavy hearted.

3. New neighborhood springs from nowhere

A government scheme to provide housing to two landless adivasi groups has resulted in a new neighborhood appearing just across the road from Marudam School. 75 families will move in to start a new life. We are offering to plant trees to soften their landing, and look forward to getting to know new neighbors.

January 2020 Newsletter

January 2020 Newsletter

A photo essay

Most wonderful wishes and best regards to all, for the start of a new year and a new decade!

Through photos and text we are here reaching out to you, with a few picks from the year past, and some news of our endeavors…

Enjoy the ride and keep in touch!

Forest Way Day | Aug 2019

On the last day of August, just before Ganesh puja, we gathered, over 100 of us; friends and relations of The Forest Way, to celebrate 16 years of its conception. We visited all the different venues and sub projects (Park and Nursery, Thamarai Kulam, the Weaving center, farm and school…) and learned from each other about everything that is going on. We then shared an elaborate meal together, and block printed our own design on a ‘Forest Way’ bag. A lovely day and a tradition to be continued!

Thamarai Kulam

Thamarai Kulam keeps gaining in green and stone cover, and we are attempting a completion of the first section to be opened to the public before summer.

Crafts Week

… & Mela

November saw the Marudam School host the 7th year of the much celebrated Crafts Week, with over 15 schools participating and over 30 skilled and talented crafts people holding sessions across 7 days. The week culminated in the Mela that was full of fun and festivity, with students performing their circus skills, the amazing silambam troupe from Pondy bowling us over with their raw vitality and gymnastics, and a parents and teachers food stalls extravaganza.

Planting on the hill

17,000 saplings were planted by the forest Way this year, along 4 different locations on the hill: Neranamalai (close to Katu Shiva); near Owl rock; along the Eastern slope; and by Kosaalai lake (near Aadayur). Around 100 people in all participated in the operation, which lasted from July till October.

…and fire line work

The arduous work of creating 25 kilometers of fire lines on the hill is now officially over! Hurray to the diligent labour force. Let us pray for a fire-free summer to come.

A Trip to Central India

The students from the Younger and Older groups went to an eventful, intense and perspective-opening trip this year. The trip started at Gram Seva Mandal, Magar sangrahalai and Anand Niketan near Wardha, Maharashtra, where they saw the entire process of hand-made cloth from seed to cloth. From there they continued to Bidawani (via Adhar Shila Learning Center in in Madhya Pradesh), where the Narmada Bachao Andholan office is located. After meeting Medha Patkar, the champion of the continued struggle against the devastating effects of the Sardar Sarovar dam, the group went on to see in their own eyes the crushing reality of the submerged villages and the Nisarpur rehabilitation center. Everyone was touched and overwhelmed both by what they saw and by the resilience and generosity of the affected locals. As an extension of the trip the students are working on a depictive drama to be performed to parents.

Weaving and Crafts Center

The weaving center was inaugurated towards the end of April by a small gathering and has since been fitted with three looms and five sewing machines. We then got busy figuring out the intricate vocation of growing cotton; ginning it (seperating the seeds); turning it into thread; and weaving it. Together with Sandhya, who is in charge of the complex operation, there are three women permanently employed at the center.


We were blessed to have good rains this year, 15-20% more than our long term average rainfall, over-all more than 100 cm . The rain was also nicely spread throughout July to October, with September receiving the highest rainfall this year. 
As has been the case for a while now, the North-East monsoon has failed to deliver much rain, so that most of our rain comes from the South-West monsoon. 
The stream ran for a really long time this year, filling many of the water bodies along the Forest and Children park.

Rice Planting… and harvesting

The generosity of the rains this year helped us with our rice crop. The farm had 6 fields planted with rice and January saw the harvest of the golden grass around the time of Pongal.

…. in combination with modern devices, the rice is being painstakingly sifted.

Apprenticeship in Ecological Nurturance : A course

This August we had good and enriching time hosting the first leg of a new course, dreamed by and conceived by us together with friends from Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary and Upstream Ecology. The ten month course came about from the need for more dialogue, experience and work around reviving the health of eco-systems around us. A small but diverse group of adult participants from all over the country have come forth to learn, share and live with nature. They are now at the sanctuary in Kerala, and will proceed to Ooty next month.

Clowns without Borders

A smashing performance by the magnificent clowns, acrobats, musicians and jugglers from ‘Clowns without borders’. The group visited the school in December and brought great joy and abundant laughter.

Wild encounters

As part of our work with the forest, we continue to keep a keen eye and document all new forms of life that we see re-entering the young and growing ecosystem. Here are a few highlights…

Red avadavat (seen near Aadayur Eri)
A winking Crested hawk eagle (sighted near the Park)
Lunar moth that graced us during the Crafts Week
(first recording in Tiruvannamalai)

Pongal celebrations 2020

Only chemical-free kolam powder was used this year, with stunning and affecting results!

Garden Bounty

Space changes

a. Construction commenced for a new classroom complex!

The block will include a sump for harvested rain-water; a granary; and a small office space.

Making compressed mud blocks

Sump excavation by JCB

b. New Oven built near dining hall

The new oven has a cylindrical metal drum that is fired from below, which means it uses less wood for firing.

Thank you and Good bye old oven!
You always served us generously with so many good things to eat…
And now with a pot on your head you give ground for a whole tree to come into being!

c. Altering well entrance

In July, while the well water was at its lowest, some work to enlarge it and strengthen the path leading into it has been taking place.

10 years of Marudam

This year we are honoring 10 years to Marudam. With so much going on we haven’t stopped to make a proper fuss over it, but thought we would mention it here…

Construction of the courtyard and school building (then)

Same place, flowering and at full capacity assembly (now)