The Himalayas are dying. The ecology cannot sustain the huge amount of tourist influx that the regions of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Ladakh are facing. Every year, new hotels, cafes and co-working spaces (a modern trend) are coming up and so are the number of trekking companies who are exploiting the middle-class tourist’s #TravelGoals and ‘wanderlust’.
In 2016, I went to the Hampta Pass trek. Contrary to pictures, the place turned out to be a massive garbage dump. A spot outside Chattru had so many plastic bottles that it would cross the height of Mount Everest if arranged properly. These trek companies charge around ₹2000 as a part of their ecology sustenance program, but leave without cleaning the garbage that they have generated.
I got in touch with Waste Warriors, an NGO operating in Dharmashala with the sole aim of reducing the amount of garbage plastic consumption in this beautiful spot in Kangra Valley. They needed someone to take care of their content and I found a nice opportunity to do so. Soon, I realized that sitting in Delhi and sending articles on a monthly basis won’t change anything. So I left my job in June 2017 and joined the NGO as a volunteer.
I spent the next six months working at different Himalayan organizations who are working towards restoring the Himalayan Ecology without harming the tourism industry in different parts of the Himalayan states in India. Here are some of the NGOs I worked with, and how you can contribute your part.
The beautiful Mcleodganj is highly affected due to tourist boom in the last five years. This small town in Dharamshala recently shut down more than 30 hotels declaring them illegal, so you can guess the scale of the issue.
Waste Warriors has been working in Mcleodganj for the last five years. They have been doing weekly drives for Triund and Bhagsu along with local education drives in the schools.
I joined Waste Warriors to help them out with their content but the biggest issue that they have been facing is the lack of volunteer turn up during their clean-up drives. The team usually consists of eight people who have to collect almost 10 kg of waste during a four to eight-hour cleanup drive. During long weekends, this amount increases to a greater number, and if it rains then it becomes worse. Lack of funds and the attitude of the local municipality and Public Works Department (PWD) do not help.
How can you help them – As a volunteer, you can connect with Waste Warriors to join them for one of their cleanup drives. They clean Triund on Monday and Tuesday and then Bhagsu Waterfalls on Thursday. Apart from that, you can also join the NGO for an internship, research, or if you have any educational or art campaign in mind. You will also have to contribute towards the office and kitchen if you are planning to volunteer for a longer term.
You can find them on Facebook.
Offbeat tourism has ended up destroying the local ecology of a lot of places. When Manali and places around it got heavily crowded, these companies started exploiting Tirthan Valley, a small region with a such a fragile ecology that the Great Himalayan National Park was declared a protected site by UNESCO.
Jibhi is an hour away from the main valley and while not a part of Tirthan, it is also being exploited in the name of tourism. The new hotels and hostels in Jibhi have contributed highly towards surrounding the place with plastic bottles. Since the locals are not aware, they contribute towards the issue equally.
Since the garbage issue in Jibhi is still in its growing stage, the requirement of educating the locals was higher than going on a cleanup drive. For this, Mr Lalit Kumar came up with the idea of a cleanup and education campaign and invited volunteers from all around the country. On the day his program started, a total of six volunteers turned up. Amazing, right?
After we had a meet and greet session with the locals, we were joined by more than 20 people who came with us to clean a local waterfall where the number of plastic bottles and chips packets was the highest, thanks to new campsites coming up. Education is important than a once in two-months cleanup drive because then, the locals don’t have to depend on outsiders to come and clean their garbage. They take the charge and make sure that their home is clean.
How can you contribute: The garbage accumulation in Jibhi is still in its initial stage so if you have an educational or an art campaign in mind then you can connect with Lalit Kumar and he’ll happily help you in taking it forward.
You can get in touch with them on Facebook.
Apart from the garbage issue, another issue that the tourist influx is creating is the way it is driving away the animals from their natural habitat. In South India, elephants and snakes are the biggest victims of this issue. In the Himalayan regions, the Snow Leopard has almost left the Indian mountains and moved to the higher sides where they can hardly survive.
Snow Leopards like to stay hidden but thanks to a zillion trekking companies operating in Ladakh, their habitat has become endangered. To restore the balance between these elusive cats and mankind, SLC India has come up with a number of programs. While my work at SLC India was primarily content along with working for their campaigns and newsletters, I had also joined them for one of their programs in Western Ladakh where the Snow Leopard was hunting and killing livestock.
Ladakhis depend on their livestock as a primary source of income, but lack of resources prevents them from making solid predator-proof enclosures. This allows Snow Leopards and even wolves to enter inside and kill the livestock. The volunteers of SLC India had to take material from Leh to these villages and help the villagers build a big community enclosure where the Snow Leopard wouldn’t enter.
My work included lifting iron bars and wooden logs. Trust me, even after cleaning mountains, this was the most difficult thing I had to do.
How can you help SLC India – Snow Leopard conservation program requires a huge amount of dedication from their volunteers, and you have to contribute for at least a month. The job requires a lot of office work in Leh and travel only depends on how soon their campaign programs get approved. You can join SLC India as an intern, research scholar or a researcher. And if you are hoping that their campaigns will show you Snow Leopards then keep your expectations low. They invite volunteers only in summers when the sightings are the least.
(Be prepared for an extremely late reply as the internet connect of Leh is very erratic and slow).
Contact them on Facebook.
Ecovita is a small NGO with the aim of restoring balance in the villages making the locals dependent on other ways of earning their livelihood, as farming has failed in recent times. More and more villagers are taking up jobs as trekking guides, porters, or starting rafting companies in Rishikesh.
Ecovita came up with a tree plantation drive in a small village called Singtali with the idea that the ingredients of Triphala, that grow on different trees, will help the villagers develop a skill and start manufacturing the product by themselves.
I spent the September and October of 2017 helping them with their blogs and social media. They are working with farmers of Mukteshwar and Haridwar.
How can you help – Ecovita needs volunteers for their plantation drives and social media campaigns. If you want to be a part of the team then you can connect with them and join them for their upcoming campaigns.
They can be found on Facebook.
Remember, you don’t have to spend a month at an NGO to bring visible change. You can stop using plastic bottles, beer bottles and chips packets. Even if you use them, try to carry the waste to a place where you can dump it properly. Instead of hotels, stay at stay homes and try to spend some time speaking about the harmful effects of plastic consumption. Encourage locals by purchasing products from local artisans. If you are a blogger or someone with a huge following on social media then you can also spread the message of responsible travel from time to time.