Just after the sun set behind the endless horizon of the Arabian Sea, I arrived at a simple little beach hostel in Alapuzzha, also known as Alleppey, on the south-western Indian coast in the state of Kerala. I checked in and went to a nearby food place for some Gobi Manchurian, tomato rice and chapatti. It was my first day of 4 weeks of solo travelling while Mia was doing her yoga teacher program. While I was sitting there, reading and listening to the waves hitting the shore, the fact that I would be on my own for the next month suddenly became real. It felt strange, yet satisfying and deliberating knowing that we were both dedicating ourselves to our own interests for a while. After a mediocre but filling dinner, I went to bed early. When I woke up the next morning, I went straight to the beach to go into meditation. I was struck by all the trash that I found all around me but I found a seemingly clean spot, closed my eyes and meditated. After more or less successfully watching my thoughts come and go for about 30 minutes, I went for a run on the beach. Of all kinds of runs, beach runs are one of my favorites. Your bare feet sinking in the soft wet sand just after the water of the last wave has retreated leaving footprints behind you that are soon to be washed away by the next big wave. You look ahead and all you see is sand and water and maybe the end of the shore…or not. You have no decision to make where to turn, just when to turn around. You just run under the bright yellow sun listening to the soothing sound of the breaking waves and watching crabs rushing back in the water as soon as they notice you. Beach runs are meditative in their own way. The run on this particular morning, however, was a different kind of beach run. As I started running, I was shocked by all the garbage that was spread along the entire width of the beach in front of the hostel. With the hopes that conditions would improve further along, I kept on running. However, it only got worse. Plastic was everywhere and in all sizes. Bottles, bags, wrappings…you name it. The Indian beaches are also home to many stray dogs, some in better, some in worse condition. A young puppy, just a few months old, was chewing on a piece of foamed polystyrene. Other dogs were digging through a big pile of half burnt garbage, desperately trying to find something to eat, inhaling the toxic fumes coming out of it. At the shore groups of young people were taking funny selfies with the ocean in the background. No trace of all the trash that is being pulled in by the tides everyday. I kept on running. After a few minutes I saw a knot of people standing on the beach. As I came closer I noticed that they were circling around something with rather devastated faces. At that moment I had a terrible presentiment. As I approached the mass of people, my feeling proved to be right. What everyone was looking at was a dead body, which was being investigated by a few police officers. (It wasn´t the last dead body I would see. The next day I found a dead dog that was lying peacefully close to the water. Shortly after it was being taken apart by hungry crows.) I wasn´t interested in any further detail and didn´t want to be perceived as the nosy white guy, so I kept on running. By that time I had more than enough but I still went on further until I reached a stretch of sand with much less garbage. But my excitement lasted only briefly, as I soon realized that the stretches of sand, which are less populated, serve as the locals’ morning toilet. So in the morning when there´s low tide they dig a little hole in the sand, do their business and when the high tide comes, the waves will take it back in the ocean. That´s natural I suppose and much better than the plastic for sure. However, it kind of spoils your beach run. I finally turned around and ran back.
There is different ways to reacting to such an experience. Either you blame the supposedly ignorant and primitive Indians who don´t know nothing about waste disposal and the damage that is being caused to the natural habitat by disposing chemical waste in it and you pity them for not having proper toilets. OR you take a step back and analyze your feeling of resentment and disgust. Obviously my romanticized and western image of white sandy beaches, fisher boats and small local beach shacks stood in large conflict with the reality I found. But you can certainly not point your finger at the Indians. I mean it was us Europeans – to be precise the British – who brought the capitalistic mindset to the Indian subcontinent in the middle of the 18th century and who eventually manifested their power in 1858. Us Europeans made the world ever more connected through international trade. The Indians (as well as the Pakistani and Bangladeshi) were exploited for nearly 200 years, before the British retreated in 1947 (more or less peacefully) and split the Indian subcontinent into two, letting them figure out the path of their future on their own (which resulted in the displacement of about 15 mio. people and the death of about 1 mio.). I mean we are talking about 1,4 bil. Indians today who want to take part in this game called capitalism. Can you blame them? But they could at least dispose their garbage properly, you might say, right? But isn´t that a bit arrogant considering the fact that until recently Europe has been deporting 87% of their plastic trash to China and now that China decided two years ago to not take our garbage anymore, Europe is shipping it to Malaysia and other Asian countries who are now starting to ship it back to the western countries?? Thinking about this ludicrous human logic for too long will make you completely mad. And who invented plastic after all? That´s right. The Europeans did. An Englishman invented it around 160 years ago. When products started to be packed in plastic and shipped around the world, there was no manual in the package on how to decompose the wrapping, nor was their any law or regulation that gave penalties to the countries that did not comply with correct disposal.
Hence, we have been witnessing the uncontrolled and unconscious destruction and harm of Mother Earth for more than 100 years. So who are we to finger-point? More than anything else we need to create awareness. But before that we need to develop a much better consciousness of our own actions and habits – at home and when we´re traveling. Only then can we set an example and contribute to a global higher state of consciousness.
A few days later, I was at a different beach at a small fishing village. I set down to watch the sunset. Fishermen were coming back to the shore with their catch, eager to sell to the waiting merchants. Families and groups of friends were eating ice-cream, playing in the water and taking countless selfies. As I was watching the sunset, I couldn´t ignore any longer how the plastic was being drawn back into the ocean by the coming tight. So I got up and started collecting garbage. Some people looked very irritated, some just ignored it. Then a guy came up to me smiling with his phone in his hand asking “Selfie?” I was totally perplex and almost incapable of saying anything. I just looked at him baffled showing him all the garbage in my hands and thinking “Really?!” I wanted to invite him to join me in my effort to clean the beach, but I let it go. Politely I said “No, I´m sorry. Got my hands full.” I turned around and continued collecting trash. When I couldn´t carry anymore and was looking for a place to dispose my collection, a guy said “Hey”. I looked up and he gave me a thumbs-up. We desperately need a change in consciousness on every part of this planet. And if my doing only changed the awareness of this one guy who gave me a thumbs-up, then it´s a start…I guess.
The next morning I went on another beach run adventure. I ran in the direction where there seemed to be nothing. And nothingness I found. Yet at the same time I found abundance, an abundance of natural beauty. Seemingly endless kilometers of yellow sand untouched by human hands. Behind thick grasslands spotted with a few cows that were wandering around. And then, just when I turned around to run back, a dolphin greeted me only around 40-50 meters from the shore. For the next half hour he swam next to me – or I ran next to him… We had exactly the same pace. It was beautiful. When I arrived at my little fishing village, I sent him off and he continued his journey along the shore. It was a different kind of beach run. This time in a positive sense.