By Ishita Jalan:
All of us have been well acquainted with the nature’s wrath after the disaster in Uttarakhand on June 16. Serene waters of the Alaknanda and Mandakini were no longer able to bear the injustice to their heavenly home, the Himalayas. Thus, the inevitable consequence led to massive scale disaster claiming thousands of lives.
In India, the “Char Dham” located in Uttarakhand includes the four temples namely Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. These temples are the epicenter of religious activities in North India. The sanctity of this place was polluted by the visitors who took the fragile Himalays as just another place for tourism or as a dump yard. The Himalayas have maintained a delicate balance in its ecosystem for which they belong to ecologically sensitive zone. A little interference is enough to cause a catastrophe and we, in the name of pilgrimage, continue to do so. The disaster at Uttarakhand was a trailer for the world to witness what future holds for us if we continue with the current lifestyles full of selfish greed and callousness towards the environment.
The disaster in Uttarakhand is not limited to the boundaries of the state. If we open our eyes we would realize that the problem is far more extended to almost all parts of India or rather we can say, the world. The Vaishno Devi Shrine is another example where the present situation of environment is not very pleasing. The way up-to shrine is led by a treacherous pathway through the Himalayas and majority of the road is prone to landslides giving us a clue about the fragility of the mountains. The Vaishno Devi Mandir holds a lot of importance for Hindu pilgrims and approximately eight million worshipers visit the shrine every year. In order to cater to these huge numbers of visitors, innumerable shops have opened on the way from Katra to the Shrine. These shops offer all kinds of packaged foods and drinks in PET bottles. Inevitably, this has led to a lot waste being generated. The efforts by the “Shrine Board” which has taken charge of the entire area well by opening up their own outlets for food and water as well as accommodations is commendable. Their subsidized food canteens provide food in reusable utensils and also drinking water to refill cans or bottles. But too many privately owned shops have created a mess and at the same time it is appalling to see the insensitive pilgrims throwing garbage on the mountains, a sheer disrespect to nature. The mountains are piled with the waste which causes soil contamination leading to loss of flora thus making hills more prone to landslides.
I am sure all of us who have visited the holy site of Mata Vaishno Devi have memories captured with us which leave us in profound ecstasy and we are left to wonder about the expanse of nature’s beauty. Any damage to the place will only leave all of us with guilt and helplessness. There can be measures taken up by the Shrine Board to mitigate the deteriorating conditions in Vaishno Devi. The number of private shops should be regularized, as well as the sale of packaged food items packed in non-biodegradable materials should be banned. Even the Shrine Board canteens should provide food such as breads or cakes in paper bags instead of plastic. There is also an urgent need to improve the waste disposal facility of the place. We would have never experienced the dire outcomes in Uttarakhand if this fact would have been realized that harmony of mankind with nature is essential.