Himalaya has been popularly called the “Abode of the Gods”. Not only have the holy men been meditating in these cool and serene heights but there are many pilgrimages located in these high mountains. In fact, a saying of the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius highlights the fact of the spiritual ambiance. The quote says, “Wise men find pleasure in water and the virtuous in mountains!” There are many pilgrimages in the Himalaya like Kedarnath and Gangotri in Uttrakhand, Amarnath and Gangabal in Kashmir and so on. Going on these pilgrimages gives a spiritual uplift to the pilgrims. Kashmir is also full of many Muslim shrines dedicated to famous religious personalities. In fact the valley is dotted with shrines of the saints, mystics and rishis who have been meditating on the heights on various religious matters giving the valley a spiritual background.
Apart from pilgrims the mountains are visited by trekkers and mountaineers. In order to keep the serenity of the Himalaya it is essential to keep these mountains clean. It is not difficult to clean the mountain trails of pilgrimages as these are known and can be cleared by mounting cleaning expeditions. This is being regularly done on different pilgrimages. However, the difficult part is the trails of trekkers and some important mountain peaks. Unfortunately, the trekkers and mountaineers do not take care of the delicate and sensitive mountain ecology. Often they consider themselves to be the last people visiting these places! Every year tons of non-perishable garbage is taken out by the Ministry of Tourism in Nepal from the Everest trek and the base camp.
There have been similar problems on various trekking trails in Ladakh especially in the Markha Valley and also at the base camps of some peaks like Stok Kangri, Nun and Kun. The Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club have been organising regular cleaning expeditions in these areas. A number of these expeditions in which some mountaineers go to these place with ponies and porters at the end of the season to bring back all the non-perishable garbage have been funded by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Unfortunately in recent times climbing a peak like Everest or trekking some famous trails has become a prestigious fad. People are paying thousands of dollars just to be virtually physically being taken up to the Everest top! Recently about ten mountaineers were killed due to overcrowding on the summit ridge of Everest.
There have also been reports of mass trekking in different parts of the Himalaya. These mass trekking expeditions involving continuous groups going on pre-established night halts is neither enjoyable nor give the real spirit of the mountains. One enjoys the mountains both for climbing as well as for trekking if one goes in a small group, establishes removable camps for night halt and moves on. Kashmir used to be very popular with trekkers from all over the world. Some of the most famous treks have been the Kolahoi trek involving visit to the base camp of Mount Kolahoi, the highest mountain in the valley and the lakes of Marsar and Tarsar. However, the most frequented trek has been to the high altitude lakes of Vishensar, Kishensar and Gangabal. It is almost a week long trek from Sonmarg to Naranag/Wangat and one can see almost a dozen high altitude lakes. Due to the turmoil of nineties most of the trekking in the valley had got restricted due to disturbed conditions. However, with the return of normalcy a number these treks including the famous Gangabal trek have been revived. Recently, a number of foreign groups have undertaken the Gangabal trek. There have been reports that some organisations are conducting mass trekking with pre-established night camps on this famous and most scenic trek. There are reports of garbage near the high altitude lakes of Kishensar, Vishensar and Gangabal. That is not only very sad but a reflection on the organisers of such mass programmes. The entire thrill and joy of being in the mountains alone with nature is taken out by this pre-established type of trekking. Moreover, it destroys the serenity of the Himalaya, the Abode of the Gods! This is probably being done to promote mass tourism. Tourism is supposed to be a golden hen but the destruction of the campsites by garbage kills the golden hen!
Kashmir’s delicate ecology demands promotion of sustainable tourism and not mass tourism. Whatever people may say, Tourism has never been the back bone of Kashmir’s economy. The back bone has always been and presently also continues to be the agriculture. Tourism has been and will continue to be an additionality! We welcome tourists from all over the world but not at the cost of our environment. Tourism department needs to reorient their plans towards sustainable tourism to ensure not only mountains remain clean but our entire environment remains well protected. That is the only way we can pay our tribute to the “Abode of the Gods!”