Fort Kochi is the face of urban tourism in Kerala, the face of Kerala for tourists coming from far and wide into the country. Those who come here expecting wide beaches and Chinese fishing nets, as detailed in glossy brochures that are often used to lure them, find the situation of the beach quite appalling because of the filth.
Fort Kochi beach is now being encroached by thick vegetation, reptiles and stray animals. Those who come to spend some time here in the evening often have to keep an eye out for dogs and snakes and the number of people who have been bitten by snakes is increasing. If authorities are not careful enough, the beach will soon earn a negative reputation.
Debris is the biggest curse of the beach, which is so much in quantity that visitors are easily dissuaded from entering the waters. In addition, the water hyacinths, decaying and dry, degrade the visual appeal of the beach. The other debris, including bottles and plastics only add to the problem. If the debris were not enough, activities of antisocial elements, including sale of drugs, in the night makes the beach very unsafe. To top all these is the challenge posed by snakes.
The small hedges and shrubs along the one-kilometre beach is a haven to reptiles and dogs. The tiled walkaways are located close to the shrubs and snakes can jump out into the walkways any time without notice. Poisonous sea snakes often lie low in the debris that are washed ashore by the waves and they pose a danger to the unwitting tourist.
Recently, two people were bitten by snakes and the fire force had captured a python from the vicinity. Dogs are also a menace and many people, including foreign tourists often leave the beach with scars inflicted by dogs. Even domesticated animals are let loose on the roads and they pose dangers to the traffic and often restrict movement of people and tourists.
The beaches in Fort Kochi are divided into three: the North Beach that is close to the estuary, the Middle Beach that is close to the government guest house and the South Beach where Mahatma Gandhi had once visited. Out of these, it is the North Beach that is in the most despicable condition. The wild hedges and shallow ponds near the walkaway are definite turnoffs and one cannot walk without closing one's nostrils. Even though efforts were made last year to reclaim the pond, work was dropped half way and now the pond is back to its old state of being a refuse dump. While the North Beach is being encroached by thick growth, the south beach has become the favourite of tourists. However, it is here that a girl was recently bitten by a snake.
The beach, which is periodically beautified during special days or by willing organisations, often reverts back to its old state in days. While the beach was cleared on Gandhi Jayanthi day, the debris that was collected during the day has been sitting on the beach.
With the lights on the walkaways not functioning, the beach has become the haunt of anti-social elements. Only the 20-odd solar lights provide some light in the night. The lack of washrooms and adequate staff to keep an eye on the unwary tourist who does not know the depth of the beaches have also to be solved. Unless authorities make a combined effort, the beach will soon die a natural death.
Shameer Babu says, "I visited the beach with my wife and kid at about 6pm and while we were walking to the beach, my daughter stepped on a snake that bit her. We took her to the hospital. Since those in the beach had trapped the snake in a plastic cover, we were able to give effective treatment to the child fast. I hope this does not repeat."
R Prakash, an ice cream vendor says, “I got bit by a snake about six months ago, while I was clearing the debris in the evening. I had to be admitted to the ICU and was lucky to survive."
Ramesh, a vendor says, " Snakes, which hide in the debris washed ashore, come into land in the evening and bite people. Unless the debris is removed, we would not be able to do our business. It is always advisable not to go into the beach in the evenings."