When we want a break from our monotonous lives in our polluted cities, what do we do? We escape to the mountains. Trekking, all around India with its various hill ranges, has caught on as a healthy, fun and adventurous alternative lifestyle, with a lot of youth especially finding it the best escape from their usual daily life. We run to the hills because they are pure, they are pristine, because they offer us peace and they give us clean air. We trek because it rejuvenates our very souls.
But what are we doing to the mountains in return? The answer lies in the amount of garbage that is being accumulated all over the Himalayas, all along the Western Ghats, and many other mountain ranges. The answer also lies in the massive carbon footprint each of us generates on our trekking and exploration trips. We often destroy the things we love, and that it is not just a cliché.Image Source: Bikat Adventures
A prime example of the heavy burden being put on the hills is the very popular Roopkund trek. A mesmerizing nook of the Himalayas, with a most rewarding trekking experience, it has now come under severe pressure of ecologically unsustainable practices, which we are all used to. Being a trail which sees heavy traffic of travellers all year round; many activists, authorities, and the locals are concerned about the impact such traffic will have on the natural flora and fauna there.
So on whom lies the responsibility of ensuring that the mountains are taken care of? That the way we explore and trek the mountains is environmentally conscientious? The answer, of course, is us.
The first and foremost thing that needs to be done is creating awareness- among the travellers sure but also among the locals. It’s not that most travellers do not care about being ecologically sensitive, it’s that they don’t quite understand the magnitude of the problem they are helping in creating. Locals too are an important factor in mitigating any ecological damage to the mountains. The importance of preservation of the natural habitat, resources- both natural and cultural, and beauty of mountains has to be explained to all the stakeholders. Various government, non-profit and even for-profit trekking agencies have taken up such initiatives in this field that should go a long way.
On an individual level though is still where most responsibility, and most scope of improvement lies. Each one of us can make a difference, and that too would require only certain tweaks in the way we trek. So here is a guide of the top 8 things you can do to help you trek responsibly and in an environmentally conscientious way:
- Start at the very start– Minimize your carbon footprint on the mode of travel to and from the starting point of the trek. Public transport is always the most carbon-effective way of travel, so make sure you take the bus or train or the like.
- Manage your waste– Waste management while on the trek is often the most crucial aspect of responsible trekking. Segregation of waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable, right at the source is the first step in this direction.
- Managing biodegradable waste– Dig, dig and dig, that’s the best strategy to deal with the waste so that Mother Nature can take care of. Dig a pit, dump your biodegradable waste into it- it is not only an effective way to manage such waste but in fact gives nourishment to the soil and thus helps better the health of the ecosystem.
- Managing non-biodegradable waste– Here is the trickiest part. Waste like plastic bottles, paper and beer cans is such that if left in the hills, it will probably stay there for a long time, long as in hundreds of years, and act as a pollutant for all that time. It can even enter into the food chain of the local fauna there which is even more dangerous. The goal thus has to be to bring back whatever you took with you. Carry a gunny sack or any other bag which will act as a mobile trash can/ litter bag, and discard all your non-biodegradable waste in that bag. Bring it back to the starting point or the municipal waste management center most easily accessible, and dispose of it there.
- Use and Re-use– The mantra has to be ‘reuse’. Be it water bottles or food containers, carry the things that you can reuse. It will also minimize the waste collected and thus lighten your litter bag.
- Keep yourself clean in a smart way– Showers are not always an option on a trek, but sometimes one gets blessed with natural water bodies like lakes and streams, in which you can take a very pleasurable dip. But it’s important to keep in mind that using soaps and shampoos in such water bodies is essentially you polluting them. Consider, these water bodies are also a source of drinking water for locals, other travellers and maybe even you.
- Carry the essentials for hygiene– Lots of underwear, lots of pairs of socks, reusable water bottles, organic food, biodegradable wet wipes, toilet paper, sanitary pads and tampons are all very helpful personally as well as in keeping your trekking environmentally responsible.
- Usage of wood– There is a lot of ignorance about using wood. For cooking as well as for the ever-favourite bonfire, traditionally wood from the local trees is used. But this is a huge contributor to deforestation as well as air pollution in the mountains. Carrying more efficient fuel like kerosene for cooking and a portable stove is the way to go. And as for bonfires, give that a miss. They sure are fun, but not at the cost of depleting the ecosystem.
It is the duty of each one of us to ensure that our future generations get to experience the mountains the way we do. After all, the nature we live in is not ours to possess, but to protect; we trek the mountains not as their owners but their trustees- we trek them to redeem our souls, and we want to make sure that future generations are not robbed of the same possibilities.