Archive for March, 2010

Reflections – climate change

Botanic Gardens at Ooty - now warm enough for crows.

Because India normally has a reliable climate (unlike ours in the UK), variations are easier to spot. For us, the fact that we’re going to have snow tomorrow even though it’s late March isn’t necessarily indicative of anything: I remember in the year of the Isle of Wight Rock Festival (?1969?) we had a snow shower in AUGUST! And that was probably well before climate change had reached the scale it has today.

In India, however, these things show up. And they did. We were continuously reminded of changes that have taken place or continue to do so:

  • In Ooty we were told that the crows in the botanic gardens were recent arrivals – they have only been arriving over the past 5 years or so. Before that, being 2,600 metres above sea-level, the climate was too cold for them.
  • In Munnar the owner of the plantation residence told us that he was having to consider installing air-con in the chalets – they were only built a few years ago, but at the time they perceived no need for it as the weather was always cool.
  • In Palakkad the temperature was 39degC and humidity was 98% – unheard of in March (and extremely uncomfortable).
  • In Tamil Nadu we were told the monsoon, which normally runs from May to September, continued last year until late November – almost 3 months extra! – which jeopradised one of the rice crops.
  • In Kumarakon we had to divert our boat journey because the lake was completely covered in water hyacinth – always a vigorous grower, but recently more so than ever before.
  • And Nimmy Paul, in the cookery school in Cochin, told us that when she was a child they had a huge grapefruit tree in her mother’s garden – but now it is quite impossible to grow grapefruit in that region.

A lake covered with water hyacinth in Kumarakom

Everybody was aware of climate change. There is a significant agricultural element in India’s economy, of course, which makes it more immediate.

The jury might still be out on whether these changes are man-made or not, and whether we can do anything about it. But there was a definite feeling wherever we talked about it that the third world is suffering from past excesses of the developed world, and a resentment that the West is so reluctant to take the steps necessary to ameliorate things.

Just coming over the horizon, of course, is the next big crisis – water. Water shortages are exacerbated by climate change and will hit the poorest in the world first and hardest. This resentment will grow and could become quite poisonous.
Seen from an Indian perspective they really are the low-impact victims of high-impact indulgence. They don’t like it, and I’m sure we wouldn’t either. Added to the pivotal importance of water, there are political clouds on the horizon which could affect us all.

Cochin – final stop

We have reached the final location of our trip. Tomorrow we will fly to Bangalore for the night and then leave for London. We have had several days here, first at the Arches Hotel and then on to the Taj Malabar Hotel for a bit of R&R.

We spent the first day having a look around Cochin. By far the most touristy stop on our trip, but with a rich and varied history. Vasco da Gama was buried here (though later they dug him up and took him back to Portugal). The Dutch and British also took their turns at ruling the place, and there are many signs of these various eras in the city.

View gallery

There was also at one time a thriving Jewish population, located in the politically-incorrectly named Jew Town. However when Israel was founded in 1948 most of them emigrated there and now there are only four families left. And no rabbi, but a lovely and fascinating little synagogue.

There is much talk of religious tolerance here and certainly as far as we can see there seems to be remarkably little tension between the Hindus, Muslims, Christians (both Catholic and Protestant and many other colours in between) and, presumably, Jews who inhabit the place.

We visited the Chinese fishing nets in the morning, Heath Robinson contraptions that lower a net into the water and then raise it again hoping to catch some fish as they surface. Many of these were damaged by the tsunami.

Bijou showed us round various places including the Parade Ground (once used by the Dutch and then in turn by the British), basilica/cathedral, spice market, bishop’s house and so on. We were introduced to a lot of interesting vegetation – the most intriguing in my view is the Rain Tree, which folds up its leaves in the monsoon rain so rainwater collects in them, and then unfolds them when the rain stops to release a continuation of the rainfall beneath it.

Not an over-picturesque place and so rather limited photo opportunities. But we went for a sunset cruise one day and a farewell dinner outside by the water’s edge the next which were fun. Then we moved hotels to the Taj Malabar.

That evening, on the recommendation of our driver, we visited a Hindu temple where there was a festival going on with a promised 21 elephants. Too good to be true, of course – there were “only” 13, but pretty impressive nonetheless. Took millions of photos!

View gallery

Today was spent by the pool until teatime when we went to a cookery class run by a wonderful woman called Nimmy Paul and her husband Paul (or that might be a wonderful woman called Nimmy and her husband Paul, I’m not entirely sure.) She’s a slightly eccentric lady living in a lovely old house and really knows her stuff – as evidenced by the fact that of all the people involved in the tourism industry that we met, she is the only one who has not had a bad start to the year. Indeed, by the end of February she said she had only had 2 days off in total!

The food was delicious and we left feeling we’d learned a lot and made some new friends.

Although the holiday is over, we will keep this website up for some time and probably add to it over the coming weeks. We have some reflections on our trip, plenty more photographs, and we have been making “collections” of coloured houses, coloured clothes, quirky signs and so on. So come back soon!