With the most straightforward intention of measuring the most pressing environmental concerns, a journey on foot was taken on the roads of Leh-Ladakh. From soldier training for a year to cover 3120 km, an attempt to measure the detrimental impact of the most widespread species of humans on one of the most vulnerable & exposed parts of the planet. This expedition, on one hand, does raise red flags on the visible traces of disaster but also signals how the human race could come full circle, to work towards achieving ecological balance. There are countless ways to tend to the environment- they chose walking.
Our protagonists of this story, Nikhil and Paridhi, are a married couple and have found yet another common goal in the life that they share together; protecting the environment. Coming from corporate backgrounds, they reached a point in life where they felt the need to step out of their routine life of deadlines and project goals and examine the state of our planet. And that is exactly what they did! They walked thousands of kilometres, met hundreds of people, gathered chunks of information, and assessed the countless problems to understand the setbacks that these mountains have come to face, all this while breathing the fresh air of the high terrain and witnessing the heart-throbbing landscapes of a deteriorating region, Leh-Ladakh!
How often do we come across plastic waste simply lying on the roads or blocking our city canals? Or how often do we doubt the segregation of wet & dry waste while giving out daily garbage in our homes? Humans are vulnerable, sensitive creatures, and we raise concerns and doubt everything far too easily but when it comes to fixing the problems or taking a stand, we’d prefer an easier way or for a little more ease- no action at all, we would rather turn a blind eye! That is also the crux of the problem of a developing economy.
The couple shared that due to Climate Change, they and the world is seeing fewer glaciers (striking change in temperature), more polluted cities(a growing reliance on petrol & diesel), largely abandoned farmlands (water shortages), and severely growing plastic waste in the highlands of Leh-Ladakh. Throughout their journey which ended on 27th September 2022, they saw fewer feet and more wheels on the roads; the growing shift from raw or directly sourced foods to packaged snacks, and much more. Besides, the tourism industry brings more packaged snacks and carbonated drinks to the market as compared to locally sourced ones, waste management then becomes an added problem that the remote cities of this region find themselves facing. All these compound to ill effects and imbalance in the economic as well as social development of the area.
The impact of climate change has surfaced after decades of polluting environments done by us as a convenient way to drive through our missions for a need-based lifestyle without delving much into the consequences that the planet will bear. Hence, the solutions will also require time-based activities that will go beyond meeting rooms and inked policies on papers to stretch across years of practical work to simply recover.
What they wish to create and achieve are a few streamlined things:- Preservation & Growth of the region. Touring a place should be all about its culture, food and exploration rather than grabbing the same packaged foods that you get back in the cities. Then comes the preservation of cultural heritage, being a shared responsibility between outsiders and locals. An act as meagre as carrying your own bottles of water while you step out for the day of wandering the city streets, and refilling it will save one money and saves the place- another bottle of plastic. A material that will take 500 years to decompose, hence, we will be doing ourselves a favour.
They also calculated a daily budget for one:
For 6 days, average daily consumption= 3 liters i.e. 3 bottles
i.e.6 X 3= 18 bottles
18 bottles per tourist either go to the street canals or the dump yards or back to their own cities. On average, at least 1000 people land in Leh each day and the math is horrifying the couple states.
What could add to this is work done for the Growth of the region. Caring about and voicing your opinion aids the hunger inside and produces ways to deal with problems, efficiently. This practice helps them earn confidence in themselves and the rising concerns about the hazards to their region. The couple followed a similar strategy by planting local seeds around every stay. Further, they also encourage people to go for branch planting and indoor flower plants that do not die in the winter. “One can just ask the villagers to do it, they would be more than happy to give you the seed/ the branch/ the pot/ the land to plant”, the duo expresses.
The growth of the region also comes under giving the power to the right hands. This would mean providing the right to education and opportunities. The concept can be called Education v/s Literacy. The exposure to “having the right knowledge” to choose your career could help build the economy of the region. Such attempts could result in a holistic improvement of the nation, eventually leading to a healthier environment for the planet.
This blog can be closed by putting forward thoughts to bring everyone’s attention to the dire & desperate need for sustainable tourism. Being responsible for the environment is required by each and every one of us.
All of us have to understand that people visit Ladakh for a reason, will they still be willing to go if the place looks like their own bustling city?