Thursday, 2 January 2014

Mad about an an airport

This is how the government of Kerala describes itself-this is from its tourism website.

Kerala, God's Own Country

 "With the Arabian Sea in the west, the Western Ghats towering 500-2700 m in the east and networked by 44 rivers, Kerala enjoys unique geographical features that have made it one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Asia. An equable climate. A long shoreline with serene beaches. Tranquil stretches of emerald backwaters. Lush hill stations and exotic wildlife. Waterfalls. Sprawling plantations and paddy fields. Ayurvedic health holidays. Enchanting art forms. Magical festivals. Historic and cultural monuments. An exotic cuisine... All of which offer you a unique experience. And what's more, each of these charming destinations is only a two hour drive from the other - a singular advantage no other destination offers."

All of this is completely true but go back and read the last sentence.
And what's more, each of these charming destinations is only a two hour drive from the other - a singular advantage no other destination offers.

 If you open any travel guide book or google the famous  Aranmula Boat Race (Kerala’s oldest river festival) – this is what you are likely to find  in the "Getting There" section.

Venue: River Pampa in Aranmula
Location: Aranmula
District: Pathanamthitta
Getting there
By road: Chengannur, about 10 km
By rail: Chengannur, which is about 11 km
By air: Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 km

Now does Aranmula need another airport ?:

Aranmula is a heritage village - it is famous for its snake boat race, the oldest river boat festival in Kerala.The boat race takes place during the Onam festival, (the harvest festival),near the 1800 year old Parthasarathy Temple in Aranmula. The long traditional Kerala boats are used in the races. Each boat comprises of 150 men of which four are helsmen, 25 men are singers and 125 are the actual oarsmen.These boats are no ordinary boats - they are constructed as per specifications taken from the Sthapathya Veda, an ancient treatise for the building of wooden boats. An auspicious day and time is chosen for the boat to be built.

Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

When complete it resembles a snake, long and slender,that tapers at one end to appear like a snake with its hood raised. Each boat is meticulously crafted and belongs to individual villages located near the river Pamba. Barefoot and bare chested, the oarsmen, dressed in their traditional  mundu  and turnban, sing traditional boat songs, yet  deftly steering their boats. One mistake by a single person can disturb the balance and overturn the boat - symbolic of the need for harmony and unision with nature.

If you read more about Aranmula  you will learn that apart from the snake boat race, that is held on the holy river Pampa ,Aranmula in Pathanamthitta District of Kerala, is noted for its ancient temple dedicated to Lord Krishna (Parthasarathy -Arjuna's Charioteer).In fact,it is said that the idol was brought here in a raft made with aru (six) pieces of mula (bamboo) which gave the town its name, Aranmula.It is one of the most important Krishna temples in Kerala and is associated with the Mahābhārata .The temple is on the left bank of the Pampa River. The temple has four towers over its entrances on its outer wall.The eastern tower is accessed through a flight of 18 steps.The 57 steps from the northern tower leads to river Pampa. The temple is noted for its architecture (vasthu) and fine mural paintings which dates to the 18th century.The culture and heritage of the village is nourished by and around the temple.
Temple at Aranmula

Aranmula is also famous for its craftsmanship - the unique  Aranmula mirror, is made here .Metal mirrors were made and used during the Vedic times and Arnamula is the only place in the world today where metal mirrors are still made.  The craft of making metal mirrors, a combination of copper and white lead ,in right proportions, is now practised, and kept a secret preserve, by a few families of Viswakarmas. The craftmanship is inherited - a family gift that is handed down through generations.Today, a few families remain that have the skill and know the secret of making a metal mirror. 

Aranmula mirror - made from metal
 All these treasures and traditions are made even more special by the green Aranmula Puncha (paddy field) that surrounds Aranmula - a tributary of the holy River Pampa runs through the puncha, and carries the water that is collected in the fields during the monsoon.

It was but natural for UNESCO to declare  Aranmula as a global heritage village - in fact,Aranmula  is the epitome of Kerala heritage. It has the most beautiful and magnificent of Hindu symbols from  temples, to traditional craft and sport, to great Vedic centres of learning and practices traditional agriculture. Above all it is blessed with abundant natural resources .Aranmula stands for all that is good and clean.
But a shadow is creeping over Aranmula - the Kerala Government has plans of building an airport in Aranmula. The Government has earmarked 1500 acres of fertile land  for the airport, of which 80% are paddy fields  - the effete MoEF has given its clearance for constructing the airport - a totally unnecessary airport  that will be built on the canal,which is a tributary of the Pampa leading to destruction of  wetlands, (which will destroy the breeding ground of certain fish species) , sacred groves,acres and acres of fertile land will be lost to a runaway, paddy fields will be killed, hills are to be razed,which will cause devastating damage to the ecosystem and flow of water. Not only will the airport destroy the surrounding natural environment, the airport will required the flag mast of temple to be reduced and the main entrance (Gopuram) to be removed from the existing place.The temple mast of Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple, situated 905 metres from the proposed runway, ia 30.08 metres high but the permissible elevation is 23.7 metres.If sanctioned the Temple mast will be have to be lowered

The Kerala government in cahoots with the private KGS Group, have hatched up plans for this nonsensical airport but far worse is its plan for a modern township,for which thousands of acres of land is being grabbed - this unwanted modern township will  have a soul-less mall, a speciality hospital for the richest, an international school ,shopping complex, luxury hotels and other uninspiring structures. For this undesirable and totally unnecessary airport and  township, thousands of families will have to be evicted, irreparable damage to Aranmula's ecology and the spirit of the temple will be disturbed.

So who wants this ? Who wants to create an airport and a township  ? Whose  idea was this ? Whose greed is this ? Certainly not the local communities, not the local artisans or farmers - no one is Aranmula wants this airport - but the Kerala government is hell bent on going ahead  despite all the protests by the local people who have been protesting for over a year. These protests have been led by Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council patron,Kummanam Rajasekharna,  and has gained full support by all the local people. The protests are growing  and getting louder, the movement getting bigger. There will be more such protests and more such confrontations -  because for the people of Aranmula all that glitters is not gold and their inherited wisdom tells them that their wealth and well being is in the rivers, the streams, the hills, the diety, the paddy fields,the clean air, the unpollutted river and time old traditions.

It is this wisdom and tradition of Aranmula that has to be protected and it is our dharma to protest this airport.

Local people protesting against the planned airport at Aranmula

Now go back and read what Kerala government has to say about getting to Aranmula
Getting there
By road: Chengannur, about 10 km
By rail: Chengannur, which is about 11 km
By air: Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 km