Himalaya has been popularly called the "Abode of the Gods".Not only have the holy men been meditating in these cool and serene heights butthere are many pilgrimages located in these high mountains. In fact, a sayingof the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius highlights the fact of thespiritual ambiance. The quote says, "Wise men find pleasure in water and thevirtuous in mountains!" There are many pilgrimages in the Himalaya likeKedarnath and Gangotri in Uttrakhand, Amarnath and Gangabal in Kashmir and soon. Going on these pilgrimages gives a spiritual uplift to the pilgrims.Kashmir is also full of many Muslim shrines dedicated to famous religiouspersonalities. In fact the valley is dotted with shrines of the saints, mysticsand rishis who have been meditating on the heights on various religious mattersgiving the valley a spiritual background.
Apart from pilgrims the mountains are visited by trekkersand mountaineers. In order to keep the serenity of the Himalaya it is essentialto keep these mountains clean. It is not difficult to clean the mountain trailsof pilgrimages as these are known and can be cleared by mounting cleaningexpeditions. 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 delicateand sensitive mountain ecology. Often they consider themselves to be the lastpeople visiting these places! Every year tons of non-perishable garbage istaken out by the Ministry of Tourism in Nepal from the Everest trek and thebase camp.
There have been similar problems on various trekking trailsin Ladakh especially in the Markha Valley and also at the base camps of somepeaks like Stok Kangri, Nun and Kun. The Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering andHiking Club have been organising regular cleaning expeditions in these areas. Anumber of these expeditions in which some mountaineers go to these place withponies and porters at the end of the season to bring back all thenon-perishable garbage have been funded by the Indian MountaineeringFoundation. Unfortunately in recent times climbing a peak like Everest ortrekking some famous trails has become a prestigious fad. People are payingthousands of dollars just to be virtually physically being taken up to theEverest top! Recently about ten mountaineers were killed due to overcrowding onthe summit ridge of Everest.
There have also been reports of mass trekking in differentparts of the Himalaya. These mass trekking expeditions involving continuousgroups going on pre-established night halts is neither enjoyable nor give thereal spirit of the mountains. One enjoys the mountains both for climbing aswell as for trekking if one goes in a small group, establishes removable campsfor night halt and moves on. Kashmir used to be very popular with trekkers fromall over the world. Some of the most famous treks have been the Kolahoi trekinvolving visit to the base camp of Mount Kolahoi, the highest mountain in thevalley and the lakes of Marsar and Tarsar. However, the most frequented trekhas been to the high altitude lakes of Vishensar, Kishensar and Gangabal. It isalmost a week long trek from Sonmarg to Naranag/Wangat and one can see almost adozen high altitude lakes. Due to the turmoil of nineties most of the trekkingin the valley had got restricted due to disturbed conditions. However, with thereturn of normalcy a number these treks including the famous Gangabal trek havebeen revived. Recently, a number of foreign groups have undertaken the Gangabaltrek. There have been reports that some organisations are conducting masstrekking 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 theorganisers of such mass programmes. The entire thrill and joy of being in the mountainsalone 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! Thisis probably being done to promote mass tourism. Tourism is supposed to be agolden hen but the destruction of the campsites by garbage kills the goldenhen!
Kashmir's delicate ecology demands promotion of sustainabletourism and not mass tourism. Whatever people may say, Tourism has never beenthe back bone of Kashmir's economy. The back bone has always been and presentlyalso continues to be the agriculture. Tourism has been and will continue to bean additionality! We welcome tourists from all over the world but not at thecost of our environment. Tourism department needs to reorient their planstowards sustainable tourism to ensure not only mountains remain clean but ourentire environment remains well protected. That is the only way we can pay ourtribute to the "Abode of the Gods!"