Non-customary practice of dumping clothes by pilgrims pollutes Vellingiri Hills

Updated - May 10, 2023 01:14 pm IST

Published - May 08, 2023 07:31 pm IST - COIMBATORE

Clothes abandoned by pilgrims lying at the sixth hill along the trekking route of the Vellingiri Hills in Coimbatore district.

Clothes abandoned by pilgrims lying at the sixth hill along the trekking route of the Vellingiri Hills in Coimbatore district. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The practice of pilgrims abandoning their clothes after taking a bath in the Andisunai stream in the Vellingiri Hills in the Coimbatore district is polluting the reserve forest which is part of the ecologically-important Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR).

Though a board at Andisunai advises pilgrims not to dump their clothes after taking a dip in the water body, the majority leave the clothes they wear in the stream and resume trekking with another pair. The dumping - a non-customary practice - continues despite the advice made by the frontline staff of the Forest Department stationed at a temporary camp near the stream during the pilgrim season.

The primary duties of the frontline staff are to ensure the safety of the trekkers, prevent them from straying from the pilgrimage route and protect the wildlife, but, they are now loaded with the additional work of preventing people from dumping clothes and removing them, said a Forest Department official.

The six-km-long trekking through the reserve forest of the Boluvampatti forest range, which is home to key species including tiger, leopard, elephant and king cobra, starts from the temple at Poondi at the foothills. It culminates at the top of the seventh hill where Lord Shiva in swayambhu (self-manifested) lingam is worshipped. The staff screen the pilgrims and prevent them from carrying single-use plastic materials, banned substances and inflammable items to the hills. 

According to R. Chandramathi, Executive Officer of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) Department for Poondi, the practice of dumping clothes in the stream is not customary. However, it has been ongoing for some years.

Though an official notification of the Forest Department allows the trekking only in the months of March and April, usually from Mahashivaratri to Chitra Pournami, pilgrims are allowed to trek the hills till May 31 this year.  Thousands from across Tamil Nadu and other States trek the hills during the pilgrim season every year.

District Forest Officer N. Jayaraj said efforts would be taken to curb the practice. The Forest Department has set up four camps along the trekking route before the beginning of pilgrim season. Around 20 volunteers also help the department in removing clothes from Andisunai and for other works. 

“Some pilgrims say it is difficult for them to carry wet clothes while going to the temple, leave them behind and forget to collect them. Last year, HR&CE requested the Collector to have the Forest Department handle the disposal. HR&CE paid for these services. This time, the crowd was much larger than in the earlier years. The quotation for the labour and other services from the Forest Department would be requested at the end of the special darshan season on May 31,” said Ms. Chandramathi, adding that the HR&CE would erect a board at the foothills asking pilgrims to not leave their clothes behind.

K. Kalidas of the Coimbatore-based non-governmental organisation ‘Osai’ wanted the dumping of clothes at the hills curbed as a proposal for declaring the ecologically sensitive forest area comprising Vellingiri hills was long pending. “Pilgrims have the obligation to keep the hills clean. They should think that anything against nature is also against God,” he said.

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