Monthly Archives: July 2010

No place for old men

By Ajith Lawrence


Muscular and suntanned with a rapid gait, Shanthappan does not look 65 except when he gets lost in memories. Once an all-season fisherman, he recalls his forays into the sea, for ‘thangal’ (stay-over) fishing in his catamaran.

A five-day trip twice a month would fetch income to take care of his family often.

 “After 10 days rest and enough preparation, we used to go with a lantern each in our three catamarans,” Shathappan recalls.  “We would keep cooked lemon-rice to eat with fresh fish curry – or we would just barbecue a big fish.”

The catch comprised big species like rays, sharks, seer fish and local varieties knows as Thamba, moda, thala, thalava.

 The fishermen would keep the catch of live fish in the water in net bags called ‘omal’ and ‘kachal’ till they return – so they bring a fresh lot for people waiting on the shore, yelling and cheering as they approach.

 “And when we come back after five days, there would be a good catch worth Rs 10,000 to 15,000 or sometimes even more,” Shathappan recalls.

 “At home we had various seasonal recipes made with different kinds of fish we brought. The taste of all those recipes is just a memory now. Now we have just one fish molley or some curry with coconut paste and the like.”

 The fishermen had their own fishing grounds around underwater reefs. “Reefs like ‘pakal paru’ (day reef) and Chiraman Thura paru used to feed us throughout the year.”

 “We never had any problem of high tide or any such rough season, that had prevented us from going for fishing. It was joyous trip for us.”

 “We used to cover some around 31.5 fathom ( 11-15kms) in our catamrans  with a sail. Now sail is made of polythene and people are increasingly using outboard engines. And fishing has been made very easy.”

 For Shathappan and veterans like him thangal fishing was the high point of their career. Now nobody goes for thangal fishing as there are no reefs. Even if some one goes the catch is dismal, as reefs have are no more fertile, Shathappan notes. Species depletion in the coastal waters is a real threat, according to fisheries scientists.

 Alex and Stephan, two brothers who used to go for thangal have now shifted based to Kollam, a neighbouring district, for fishing in out-board engine-fitted boats.

 Besides, catamaran fishing is becoming out of fashion with the advent of machines. Shathappan also finds sandy shores disappearing as more constructions and sea walls take away the coastal space. “In many places you just have no space to land safely anymore,” he notes.

Walk along the coast of Kerala and you will find its sandy shore being replaced by rocks and bricks. There has been construction along the coasts over the past years. Only a quarter of the shore are freely accessible of late, notes a new study by the Centre for Resource Management Studies.

 Thangal is just on practice of traditional fishing that is becoming a memory. A whole lifestyle might be just a part of history soon, many veteran fishermen fear.

Mountaineer shoots vanishing glaciers

By Sunil Kupperi

In Bangalore

It is tough enough to scale a summit like Everest. Then it is difficult to shoot high-quality photographs from such a cold, risky, low-pressure place that tests the limits of your body and the camera’s. Photographer and mountaineer David Breashears has overcome all these challenges and even more to produce his latest exhibition. He has retraced the steps of famous mountain photographers of the past century to recapture images of the Himalayan mountains and glaciers from exactly the same vantage points where they had shot from.

The outcome is Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalaya, an exhibition at Asia Society and Museum in New York.  In this project undertaken in collaboartion with the Glacier Research Imaging Project (GRIP), Breashears shows his photos alongside corresponding historic images.

vanishing glaciers

Main Rongbuk 1921: Main Rongbuk Glacier, Northern Slope of Mount Everest, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. 1921 (Photo: George L. Mallory, courtesy of Royal Geographical Society)

So they reveal the alarming loss in ice mass over the intervening years due to climate change. It is a strong statement on vanishing glaciers and global warming. Camera does not lie. So this daring act of photo documentation is a contribution to scientific research into the Himalayan glaciers.

vanishing glaciers 2

Main Rongbuk 2007: Main Rongbuk Glacier, Northern Slope of Mount Everest, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. 2007 (Photo: David Breashears, courtesy of GlacierWorks)

David Breashears, 54, is an American moutaineer and filmmaker, who has made eight expeditions to Everest, five successful. He guided mountaineer Richard Bass to the summit of Everest, thus helping him complete his ascent of the Seven Summits. He has worked for feature films such as Seven Years in Tibet and Cliffhanger, as well as the documentary Red Flag over Tibet. He is the recipient of four Emmy awards for achievement in cinematography.

In the latest project, Breashears has retraced the steps of the 1921 British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition Team. He used photos taken by surveyor and photographer Major Edward O. Wheeler and amateur photographer George L. Mallory, who would later perish attempting to reach Everest’s summit in 1924. Returning to the same vantage points, Breashears has meticulously recreated their shots, pixel for pixel.

“Many of the Greater Himalaya’s glaciers are in China, and the rivers that flow out these mountains and from these frozen reservoirs will help determine the fates of people from Afghanistan to the North China Plain,” says Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations. “What the world chooses to do about climate change, will determine the fates of these glaciers and these peoples.”

 Known as the “Third Pole,” the Himalaya are home to the world’s largest sub-polar ice reserves. The meltwaters of these high altitude glaciers supply crucial seasonal flows to the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers, which hundreds of millions of people downstream depend on for their livelihoods.

Images of special note include a photograph from 1899 by Vittorio Sella, and 55-inch video displays of two gigapan photographs (ultrahigh resolution panoramic images at a size of over one billion pixels that are comprised of multiple photographs stitched together), showing

extraordinary detail, and two 21 foot wide panoramas, comprised of six photographs. Additional video footage is also included in the exhibition and its accompanying website featuring interactive gigapan photographs.

Since 2007, David Breashears has been trekking and photographing in the greater Himalayas, most often to the glaciers surrounding Mount Everest. His goal is no longer this highest peak, but a series of ledges and outcroppings scattered among the glaciers. His photographs reveal a startling truth: the ice of the Himalaya is disappearing. A strong statement that would make climate change skeptics silent.