I took this picture a week ago in Fort Cochin, Kerala.
If you have visited this busy port and spice centre, you cannot fail to have noticed the gigantic trunks of these simply beautiful Rain Trees that line the main square, just across from the famous Chinese fishng nets. They are a reminder of Cochin’s colonial heritage as the first European settlement in India established by the Portuguese in the 1503 and inherited by the British, who governed for 400 years before Independence.
Rain trees are just a one example of the diversity of plants and animals that thrive in Kerala’s tropical climate.Tucked away at the southern tip of the sub-continent, and lapped by the Arabian Sea, this beautiful state is something of an oasis of calm when compared to the heat and hustle of the rest of India. One of the smallest states in the country, it feels quieter, calmer and generally more relaxed than the loud and lively tourist-attracting areas of the north.
Perhaps this is because Kerala is largely rural, great swathes of its land being taken up by marshy backwaters, tea plantations, rice paddies and lofty mountains. And while its cities are hardly one-horse towns, they are notably bereft (in Indian terms at least) of the sheer claustrophobic weight of numbers found in Mumbai or Delhi. Even its temperatures, though sizzling by European standards, are tolerable and restrained when considered alongside the frazzling fieriness that can build up in the interior. This attractive climate and stunning scenery has positioned Kerala as one of the most popular tourist destinations in India.
During my visit I discovered that the diversity of plant and animal life found in Kerala is seriously under threat from the rapid growth of tourism. In 2006, Kerala attracted 8.5 million tourists–an increase of 23.68% in foreign tourist arrivals compared to the previous year, thus making it one of the fastest growing tourism destination in the world.
The famous backwater network which includes five large lakes linked by 1500 km of canals, both man-made and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually the entire length of Kerala state, is threatened by increased pollution due to the rising number of tourists.The backwaters are also having to adapt to fluctuating monsoon rainfall patterns in recent years as well as the catastrophic Tsunami which had its fourth anniversary whilst I was in Kerala on Boxing Day.The fall out from this event is still being felt today:
Peaceful scenes such as this are becoming rarer on the backwaters of Kerala due to the amount of tourist trafic that uses large boats to cruise the extensive network of rivers. Many boats do use solar power which is obviously better for the environment but the state government is very aware that it needs to make sure that the success of its advertising campaign “Kerala -God’s own country” does not turn this paradise into a nightmare.Eco tourism is thankfully on the increase in Kerala .The state’s future may even be saved by the current economic crisis and recent events in Mumbai which have seriously lowered the number of overseas visitors in the past two months of 2008.
With 91% literacy as opposed to an average of 65% for the rest of India, Kerala will need to rely on its human and natural resources http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Kerala to weather future environmental and economic storms http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/572.
Check out these web-sites for more information about climate change and tourism in this stunning part of the world.