Last year, I was sitting at a cafe in Kasol. The artwork on the walls of this chic restaurant attracted me enough to visit and spend some time – until I noticed something that irked me. I noticed that the restaurant was dumping its waste into the Parvati river. Upon asking, they replied, “Sab karte hain, toh hum bhi kar rahe hain (We do it because everyone else is doing it).” It was startling to see that this cafe was not even being run by the locals but by an educated-looking lady, probably from Delhi, who was spending her sabbatical period hiding in this beautiful valley (and possibly ruining it).
The influx of tourists in Himachal Pradesh is increasing every year. The mountains of Manali, Shimla, Rishikesh, Mcleodganj are only a few of the destinations which are crowded by tourists every year. The trekking trails of Kheerganga, Triund, Hampta Pass have been destroyed and are now filled with plastic bottles and packets of chips and instant noodles lying everywhere. Worse, you can even see used tissue and toilet papers flying in the air right next to the camp sites.
Today, there are a number of NGOs in Himachal and Uttarakhand that have sprung up to make sure that these trekking trails remain the way they are supposed to be. One of these NGOs, Waste Warriors, is battling with the rapid tourist commute in Mcleodganj, which is killing the ecology of the place.
My first experience of working with Waste Warriors was in the year 2014. We went to Triund with a group of 15 volunteers, removed the garbage from the trail and then returned with a victory smile. We returned to Triund the next week and collected the same amount of garbage.
Three years have passed since then. When I started working with them in the summer of 2017, I saw things getting worse.
Despite installing dustbins in the major trekking areas of Mcleodganj, many tourists prefer to dump their bottles wherever they empty it. Walking a few steps looking for a dump site sounds like an impossible task for them. Many locals contribute to making this worse. They have set shops at different points with makeshift tarpaulin sheets, without proper garbage dumping facilities. The plates of Maggi and bottles of Coca Cola continue to lie around their shop, in the hope that the cleaning group will come and take them away.
The best way to overcome this issue is by educating women and children. Somehow, they seem to be the ones who are able to grasp the value of garbage disposal and segregation and pass it on to others. On the other hand, many male tourists take a lot of enthusiasm in trashing the place and are even ready to fight when asked not to.
Avoiding plastic bottles is the best way to make sure that the ecology of these regions are not damaged in the long run. A 500 ml thermoflask is equal to several mineral water bottles – and will only cost you around ₹200. The hills have fresh water in the rivers, waterfalls – and many shops even offer refills for a nominal price of ₹10 or ₹20. Adopting this small practice will only save the environment of the place from getting ruined. If you cannot find a dustbin, then the best way to prevent the accumulation of trash and garbage is to make sure that you don’t buy anything worth throwing along the road in the first place.
According to the volunteers of the Waste Warriors, the biggest hurdle in cleaning these trails is the lack of sensibility among casual tourists. They have made graffitis, artworks and even conducted street shows to overcome this issue – but their achievement seems so little in front of the hurdles they face on regular basis.
This year, Triund saw more than 4000 people during the Independence Day weekend. Come winter, the condition of these trails will improve as the footfall of tourists goes down in the mountains. But soon, summer will arrive and so will the hectic work schedule of these NGOs, short of volunteers and funds – and yet trying their best to keep the ecology of the place unharmed.