— Text and photographs by Ishani Palandurkar
Being a traveller and trekker myself, I have become sensitive to the environment and surroundings. This sense of responsibility magnified when my feet touched the Himalayas. Being a part of the urban populace, we may not observe pollution and litter because it is pretty much everywhere, but the seriousness of the issue dawns on you when you enter a zone which is supposed to be clean and serene and we find traces of our irresponsibility in such areas.
Intentionally or unintentionally, our actions and habits have been degrading the environment. This problem is getting severe in the most pristine and valuable ecological zones of the world, including the Himalayas. The reality up in the mountains is quite different from what we see in photographs. I recall my first trip to Manali where I was shocked to see that the hill-station looks no different than any other city in the plains, because it is equally polluted.
My frequent visits to the Himalayan region made me realise that the local community is not as much to be blamed as the tourists. Most of the air, land and water pollution is caused by them and their ignorance. We may be adding to the economy of these regions (which are largely dependent on tourism) but there are certain things to keep in mind to graduate from being just a tourist to becoming a responsible traveller.
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While there are various environment and sustainability organisations working on this, we, as responsible travellers can be mindful of the following:
- Using Public Transport: The craze of driving our own vehicles in mountains is thrilling for sure, but it adds pressure to the environment by releasing greenhouse gases in that ecosystem. With increasing tourist activities, there is an increasing number of automobiles entering the cleaner zones and polluting environmental conditions there.
Thanks to urban planning, Himalayas now have better connectivity of buses and pool travelling. Try to opt for such means of transport than taking your individual vehicle; and if you are fit enough, opt for hiking if the distance is not too much!
- Avoid non-biodegradable items: Waste management system is not as strong in mountains as in cities. Therefore, avoid using or carrying items which generate non-biodegradable waste.
- Carry your own water bottles.
- Pack your food in reusable tiffin boxes, instead of buying packaged food.
- Even if you generate such waste, try and carry that waste with you to the city where waste disposal is easy and well managed, unless you are in developed Himalayan towns.
- Experience Waterfall, Don’t Litter: Waterfalls are easy attractions for tourists; and innumerable food stalls by the locals have been set up around these waterfalls to cater to the tourists. While using such services helps the local economy, littering the water adds to the region’s woes. People usually throw trash – including plastic containers, glass beer bottles and bio-degradable waste – which pollutes the water and all of this waste gets collected and produces odour in the area where water is stagnant.
Moreover, polluted water is absorbed by soil which in turn pollutes the soil and affects fertility. We don’t realise, our smallest of ignorance can cause greatest troubles.
- Pick and throw trash in dustbin: Please develop this habit and practice everywhere you go. Do this when you’re home and do this when you are elsewhere. Yes, there are thousands of people who remain (or choose to remain) ignorant, but adoption of such practices by an individual also counts. This is practiced by serious trekkers because on such off beat trails there is no authority to monitor and collect waste. If you find a dustbin nearby, dispose it there else carry it to the point where you find one.
- Say no to bonfire: Another thrill of being in mountains is lighting bonfires. As fun as it may be, it releases a lot of carbon dioxide in the air which is harmful for both environment and your lungs. Be prepared for the lowest of temperatures, warm yourself near a kitchen stove or where locals cook food. If you do not have an option, ensure you light limited fire is shared by as many people as possible; but try and be wise by not using it at all!