I wasn’t sure if it would be insensitive to upload a travel related post on Uttarakhand at a time when the region is reeling from the aftermath of flash floods and landslides.
Besides, it would currently not look as it appears in my pictures taken in the first week of June, 2013.
Then, I decided to go ahead with the post as a way of venting my sorrow at how we (Indians) are failing to recognize the fragility of nature. And how commercial interests are swooping in to ravage any habitat that shows signs of tourist activity, regardless of its deleterious impact on the ecosystem or the way of life of the local populace.
This led me to the thought that as tourists, are we not just as responsible as the real estate and hotel industry for ruining the hills? If we didn’t fill them up the hotels wouldn’t exist, if we didn’t curse every time we bumped along a kuccha (unmetaled) road these roads would not be there.
If we didn’t marvel every time we found Punjabi/Gujarati etc. food at some hanging off the cliff shanty, they wouldn’t be ‘hanging in there’ and if we didn’t want to own a ‘personal retreat in the lap of nature’, real estate vultures would not descend on these hapless valleys.
Then again, am I being too naive? Yes, I am. And I know this from conversations I have had with the locals.
On my recent visit to Mussoorie, I was chatting with the driver and he told me how he is now able to earn a largely steady income thanks to tourists and how failed crops can no longer ruin his future. Does this mean he has completely switched to the new way of living?
No, he says.
He still owns ancestral fields and orchards, but now employs local labor to tend to them. He still bathes with water gushing out of a spring next to his house, but uses modern kitchen appliances at home. He has found a way of amalgamating the new way of life with the old.
The good news is it’s not just him. Mussoorie has quaint heritage homes and ordinary cottages that blend in with their surroundings rather than standing out like concrete sore thumbs. Their owners have struck a balance between the need to cater to modern day demands and that to conserve what is good from the past. We stayed at Padmini Niwas, which has stuck to the multilevel, terraced layout that is commonly used by locals and makes sense in this terrain.
They use rain water harvesting to harness water that we know (post the recent cloud burst experience) can cause so much damage. Their delightful landscaping ensures that you are enveloped in green all across the property. (Note- I have not been paid in cash or kind for this endorsement)
At the same time, sustainable tourism should not be an excuse for service providers to charge sky high rates or pass off shabby construction as ‘eco friendly habitat’.
As for structures like dams, at some places they might truly be required. We visited the Tehri dam on this trip and once we had passed the ugly concrete and rubble portions, the beautiful green water flowing between the mountains took my breath away.
The dam itself continues to be a point of debate to date with a few people saying it prevented greater havoc from the June 2013 flash floods and others saying that if the danger mark was breached, a dam burst could have caused untold damage. Still, will the current frenetic pace of dam construction not cause ecosystems to crumble?
An official audit cited recently in the Guardian reveals that in some parts of the upper Ganges basin there is a hydroelectric project planned for every three to four miles of river. Do we really need so many?
What I am trying to say here is we can make things work if we have the right sensibilities. Should all stake holders truly appreciate what Mother Earth has given us, build around it and not draw more resources than she can support, there would be no reason for tourism to be a ‘dirty’ business in India.
So, if you are in Mussoorie, why not drive down to Dhanaulti and follow the nature trail at the Dhanaulti Eco Park?
You could pause to think if there is such a pressing need to shop at Mall Road for woollens that come from Delhi, and carpets that come from Ludhiana.
Why listen to truly deafening drum beats on the car audio when you can enjoy the peace and quiet. Would you rather watch a movie when there are so many fascinating bird species to spot?
A yellow vented bulbul in Mussoorie (Red vented bulbuls are more common around Indian cities)
Having your drinks literally ‘on the rocks’ is ok but, breaking beer bottles on them – don’t you think that is disrespectful?
A few might consider such thoughts moral policing.
Human rights activist and Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) winner Medha Patkar has been called an ‘eco warrior’. I would also rather be labelled one in saying that people who choose to ignore the impact of their actions on the hills and their ecosystems need to truly pause and introspect.
Why should we as tourists litter every place we pass by?
Why should hotel owners mirror city dwellings when they could impart so much local flavor and character to their creations?
Why should we not experience what it is to be one with nature?
There are so many questions which might be answered differently if we could just recognize and respect the delicate balance of nature. And the world would be a better place. What do you say?