Cleanliness in Mountains
I opened the box a few days ago and what caught my eye was the next item screaming out loud - CLEANLINESS and RESPECT.
If you are a regular trekker , say hello to the kiwi bag. For those who are not aware, kiwi bag is a tiny bag attached to the main bag. It is used to throw wrappers / used paper rolls etc rather than throwing such items into the environment. Wow! You would be thinking , that is so thoughtful of people to do. However, the kiwi bag tends to get displayed in selfies with placards standing in the wilderness that talk about keeping the environment clean. It doesn't get used as much as it should.
I love the pictures on Facebook which show “Leave No Trace Behind” , but the picture , trust me , is a showoff. Trace gets left behind. The mountains aren't that dirty, to be honest, we are the ones who have been carrying the dirt from time to time.
WHEREVER YOU RESIDE
Global warming is REAL ! The Himalayas are getting affected ! We can be wiped out very soon ! If you wish to do something about it, You don't need to pack your bags to save the Himalayas, you only need to take care and follow guidelines in your surroundings to save the Himalayas. Yes you had read that right….just your surroundings !!!!
WHY A HERO?
Since we took out cleanliness from the box and have been talking about it, let me also burst your bubble of being a heroic figure. Why would you call yourself a “Hero” or feel heroic about cleaning the Himalayas? Isn’t it your duty to do so? What joy is it to get that selfie clicked with the kiwi bag when you have not even thought about how to clean your surroundings or not venture into the Himalayas with already kept trash in your bag ?
There are certain forest officials who count the amount of plastics you enter the forest with and make sure you have the same number on your way back. But why do we need a lathi on our head to keep the Himalayas clean? Is it that difficult?
Awareness amongst the trekkers would do the work to begin with.
Anyways, I would like to share my experiences on cleanliness from the box we have reopened. The box will also have RESPECT and whole lot of information about the enchanting Gangotri Glacier
The floods in 2013 in Kedarnath had created havoc and irreparable losses for people and their businesses in Uttarakhand. Very few brave souls could think of visiting Uttarakhand or to trek to Gaumukh. It was during this time that I started my career as a trekking guide, Indians, foreigners, people who trekked for religious purposes, professionals from the trekking field - I trekked with them all - gathering a myriad of experiences.
The journey from Gangotri to Gaumukh is 18 kms and is also quite famous. Gaumukh is the snout of the Gangotri Glacier. It is the source of river Ganga which is also known as “Bhagirathi”. I have witnessed drastic changes with my eyes in the glacier over the years. It has left me feeling scared. When you hear environmentalists screaming out loud about leaving scarce resources for our future generations, I assure you they are right. What are we leaving them with ? Damaged Nature! And mind you nature knows tricks to revive itself but humans unfortunately end up paying a price for it.
Tapovan is a meadow just ahead of this glacier. It is also considered to be a sacred place for sadhus who come here for their sadhana. It is the base camp for peaks like Shivling and Meru, where you will find trekkers habitating the spot. The sadhus would cross the glacier with their naked feet, just because their sheer respect for Mother Ganges would not let them cross it wearing shoes. My granny had narrated the same story about her journey to Tapovan, where she mentioned taking her shoes off before crossing this holy glacier. Mind you, the chances of frostbite is very high when you cross the glacier bare feet however these people walked with unbreakable belief and respect. Contrary to this, I encountered episodes of people urinating on this glacier. Human urine works as manure on soil NOT on snow.
I would like to share another incident in the Tapovan area. A river by the name of Amar Ganga joins Gangotri glacier. Many campers would use this river’s water for everyday rituals such as cleaning and washing. Observing this, a baba who had pledged to remain quiet, had communicated through gesticulation to the campers , “Please take water in a bucket from this running river water and then wash your utensils. Do not wash them directly into the flowing water.” As a guide, I have also seen toilet paper floating in this part of the river. Do we really not understand basic hygiene rules or is it just convenience and adamancy that takes over our common sense?
Each one of us lives by our own belief systems. Respect will need to be earned if you wish that it is reciprocated. The beliefs of the locals especially of religious places such as Gangotri must be acknowledged and honoured. This was one of the most important learnings I had during my training at the mountaineering institute. I am not generalising it but all I wish to communicate is that if you respect what the locals believe in , your journey is going to be not just pleasant but also productive. My only intention is to create awareness amongst trekkers and seekers.
Many foreign travellers or even mountaineers are unaware of the pious activities and sacredness of the Himalayas. I wish to let them know that the Himalayas and the rivers flowing from it are worshipped as Gods in India.
The entire purpose here is simply to create awareness amongst the ignorants.
Now the question arises, how do we know about such pious activities or religious beliefs? Who shares them with us while travelling? Of Course the localities but also the mountain guides who are not just trekking professionals but are also equipped with the cultural stories of the areas they travel in.
This leads us to the next question- So how does one appoint a guide? How do we know if they are genuine or fraudsters? There will be another blog dedicated to this topic.
Let us return to CLEANLINESS.
So who or what are the real pollutants? HUMANS obviously !
In my opinion, there is too much of the following
1.Too much of Human Interference
Human body is not made to survive at high altitudes. We are not supposed to be present at those altitudes. There is a book written by Junko Tabei, the first woman in the world to scale Everest. This Japanese mountaineer wrote in her book “Honouring High Places”,
about how human urine is a big pollutant for glaciers. Nature’s call is not truly beneficial to nature itself apparently ! But not urinating is also not possible, is it? So then? Fortunately there are saviours of nature. There are certain organisations which have created tools which can be used to urinate and also carry it back till wherever required. Apna Gandh Khud Uthao :)
Plastic has been the deadliest so far to Earth and its earthlings. It cannot and will not decompose no matter which mantra you might chant ! So please, I request you to follow NO PLASTIC living as much as possible. Starting from your homes, nearby surroundings to the treks that you wish to do.
Well I read somewhere that we are the first generation to witness Global warming and are the last ones who can actually do something about it. Mountains are as badly affected as the oceans and forests. So let us not climb them only to get our social media accounts popular but also to cherish and protect them.
An advice, whenever you wish to trek mountains, please do so with the purpose to keep it clean as responsible beings of this earth. Please dump your waste in a planned manner. This can be discussed and planned with the agency you would have made your bookings with.
Step 1. When you hire any agency, always inquire and discuss about arrangements they have for dumping the waste. Do Not let it pass.
Step 2. Always hire extra porters who could help in carrying trash while on your way down. I have seen multiple groups with no porters who leave their trash. When clients ask agencies or their trek leader regarding the trash, they are promised that it will be taken back in their next trek or the next trek or the next time but that doesn't happen. Thus, it is your responsibility to enquire and figure out the waste disposal system during your trek from your agency.
Step 3. You must have heard that song we used to play in our childhood - Fire in the mountain- run run run ! Well don't worry you wouldn't need to run because there cannot be human made fire on mountains. Indian Forest Laws have strict guidelines if they catch anyone breaking this rule. Yet people burn their trash ! Mind you they think it is one of the best ways to dispose. My dear friends, burning trash in the mountains is NOT the right way to dump trash.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT?
My journey of 6 to 7 years in the field of Mountaineering is that of valuable learning while staying closest to nature. Unfortunately mountaineering has now become commercialised like any other industry. Uttarkashi holds about 150 trekking companies. Each one competing against the other. Nature has been at its receiving end. People rant, “Oh nature will balance itself , don't worry '' YES,it will but it doesn't give us the right to pollute it. This horrific pandemic should be a lesson enough to understand that Nature throws back at us in greater intensity. However, companies and competition would only understand the language of their profit. Well to be able to ride high on that profit, you need Nature to protect you, and for that to happen you need to protect it with even greater pursuit.