Monday, January 02, 2017

Checking Out The Coast

On January 1, travel writer Thommen Jose embarked on a 590 km walk, along the coast of Kerala, to study the effects of global warming

Photo of Thommen Jose by BP Deepu

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a weekday afternoon, the Delhi-based travel writer Thommen Jose stood on the banks of the Yamuna River and stared at the water. For some reason, he thought of sea erosion. And then, suddenly, an image from the past came swirling up. It was about his 12 km walk, along the Kerala coastline, in 2001, during the time he was doing his post-graduation in journalism.

I walked from Shanmugham to Kovalam,” says Thommen, while on a recent visit to Kochi. “I followed the coastline. It took me the better part of a day. Along the way I interacted with the local people. At Kovalam I went out on a boat in the high seas, with a group of fishermen. We caught fish using nets and smoked a cheroot.”

A few months later, Thommen did the walk again. “I grew fond of the journey,” he says. “But I got a shock. Because when I retraced the path, I saw that large slices of the coastline had been eaten away.”

These images sparked an idea in Thommen. He decided to do a walk from one end of Kerala’s coastline, to the other, a distance of 590 kms. With that aim in mind, Thommen flew to Kochi to do research.

He met up with the Minister for Fisheries and Harbour Engineering J Mercykutty Amma, who gave him disturbing news.

She said that 50 per cent of the coastline is artificial,” says Thommen. “That means, at these stretches, they have built sea walls, and groynes (a low wall which juts out into the sea, in order to break the tide, and reduce the ferocity of the lashing).”

The future is grim. “According to global warming researchers, by 2040, we can sail across the Arctic Circle in a boat because all the ice floes and glaciers would have melted,” says Thommen. “This means that the water levels will rise up, and many coastal cities, all over the world, including those in Kerala, will go underwater.”

To create awareness about the environmental damage, Thommen plans to write a book. But when he approached major book publishers, they only wanted a positive story about his walk. “But that would not be a true account,” he says.

According to plan, Thommen set out, on January 1, from Kollamkode. He has taken along a camera, laptop, books and clothes. Every day, he is planning to aggregate 15 kms. “I will not be walking continuously,” says Thommen. “Along the way I will stop and hear stories from the people about the impact of global warming.”

And these will be used in his book. Thommen has spent the best part of the past decade travelling in many parts of India and the world. His previous books were on Agra and Chhattisgarh.

Travel opens your mind and heart,” he says. “It also makes you happy.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)  

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