Char Dham Yatra: Is Increased Pilgrimage Taking A Toll On Fragile Mountain Ecosystems?

Posted on May 30, 2013 in Environment

By Swadha Bharpilania:

How many times have we heard our grandparents express their wish about making a pilgrimage to the one of the many Himalayan shrines in our country? Their old age, in no way acts as a deterrent when it comes to their desire of experiencing the divinity of these places. They are ready to brave the cold climate, walk miles just in order to be acquainted with the exhilarating feeling of being able to thank God for the life they have lived.

himalayaBut nowadays almost every member of the Hindu committee feels the need to travel to one of these places, because their religion states it as one of the most important things a devout person needs to do in the course of his life. So does increased pilgrimage to these holy places have an adverse effect on the mountain ecosystem?

In recent times there has been an anomalous increase in the number of pilgrims to holy shrines like Amarnath, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Mansarovar, Vaishno Devi, Gangotri and Yamunotri. These places apart from being sacred Hindu worshipping sites, are centres of fragile ecosystems where maintaining a balance in use and replacement of resources is crucial. Many of these peaks are the origins of glaciers which feed major rivers in India and a major part of South Asia. The glacier in Amarnath for instance is the major source of water for the river Indus which flows along the North Western face of our country. Now due to human population slowly encroaching upon these glaciers, they have grown to be highly polluted. The glaciers are no longer the snowy white colour they once used to be. Their raw beauty is now spoiled by hoards of garbage, most of which is non-biodegradable, unthinkingly strewn around due to our carelessness. What we see now is not pure ice but a dirty mass with plastic bottles, packets and horse dung most graciously deposited there by the animals which carry pilgrims on their back in the long and arduous journey. These pollutants ultimately reach the rivers fed by these glaciers.

But widespread pollution is not the only side effect; research has proved that human body emits radiations at certain levels which increases the temperatures in these areas leading to slow but constant melting of the glaciers. Also, the mobile phones that we carry emit radiations which again contribute to the rise in thermal readings.

Moreover, now that the number of people travelling to these places has shot up, we see the number of vehicles plying in the areas increase as well. This causes greenhouse gases to be released into the mountain air, which again contributes to the rise in mercury. Concentration of suspended particulate matter in the air also increases, which causes the deterioration of quality of air.

So with the number of pilgrims increasing by the day, fragile mountain ecosystems are being harmed. We are causing pollution of all kinds, thereby compromising on maintaining a healthy environment in the place which could easily be called a major reason for an active ecosystem.

How can this destruction be put to a stop? The government, in the wake of the now visibly dangerous problems, needs to take steps to put a check on inscrutable pilgrimage and tourism. There is a need for specific norms to be laid down regarding usage of natural resources in these areas. There could easily be strict rules against littering; vehicles plying in those places could be run on electricity. Small steps like these can go on to make a big difference.

Hence, it is our responsibility to maintain, take care of and respect not only these mountain ecosystems but also all components of the biosphere. After all the Gods wouldn’t be too happy if we were reckless towards the world that they so artfully crafted, would they?