When 60-year old PJ Varghese established the one-man Tourist Desk in 1990 to promote tourism in Kerala, he had only one goal in mind -to work towards responsible tourism.
Varghese is really busy these days, having distributed a potted plant each to 800-odd autorickshaws plying on the Kochi roads.
Beginning on Friday, many who hailed an auto in the city were fortunate to commute in the company of a lovely little tulsi or mint plant that brought a smile to the face.
Tulsi or mint was the preferred option, as these do not require much sunlight to grow. Planted in petite bamboo-shoots, these are placed in the space between the seats of the driver and the passenger.
All the plants are sourced from Varghese's home-garden and are distributed with the help of sponsorships by several organizations. Drivers too are paid a nominal sum of Rs. 25 for ‚Äėmaintenance‚Äô.
A die-hard campaigner of Green Tourism, Varghese has over the years launched several cultural tourist initiatives, while also coming up with innovative tour plans.
A former employee of the Ernakulam Collectorate, Varghese claims to have had the support of the state Tourism Department for all his initiatives till date.
Speaking to The News Minute, Varghese talks about his latest initiative that seeks to spread the message: "We are with Nature‚Ä¶.you too can be.
Ask him why he chose autorickshaws as the medium, Varghese smiles: "More often than not, the masses tend to perceive auto-drivers as rude, always raring for a confrontation. But that is not always true.
With the presence of the plants in their autos, we intend to pave the way for the drivers to be more responsible in their approach. Autos are moreover a major cause of air pollution, emitting noxious fumes.‚ÄĚ
This however is not the sole reason why he chose autos.
"When you look at it from the tourism angle, you realise that majority of the tourists in Kochi rely more on autos to take them places. They seldom travel by buses or cabs. In such a scenario, tourists will naturally be impressed by the native commitment to maintaining greenery in our surroundings," Varghese grins.
His line of thought was proved just right, when an auto-driver walked into his office a few days ago, with a new Rs. 100 currency note.
"He was one of the first I gave a potted plant to. He had come in to tell me that a tourist had given him an extra Rs. 100, after learning about the initiative," Varghese sounds downright pleased.
He is now gearing up to approach auto-unions to expand the reach of the initiative.