The pristine blue water stares right back at me. The wind is the right kind of cold, and the sky is the perfect kind of blue. Everywhere I look there is just me and the deep blue lake. I feel a sense of tranquillity washing over me, as I try and pry my eyes away- But how could I! Such was the beauty of Ladakh!
My inner thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a car honked loudly. As I opened my eyes I realised I wasn’t really standing at the place where I was just imagining. This was a different place – yes the sky is the same, even the lake is vaguely familiar- but this isn’t the Ladakh of my dreams. This was a different Ladakh. This is a Ladakh post the 3 idiots effect.
The small town in North India had often been praised for its amazing beauty, yet a long time ago not many Indians travelled here. It was a place out of limits, and too distant to travel to. But, that one scene from the Superhit Bollywood movie seemed to change everything. If Ladakh knew what was going to happen, as Aamir Khan reunited with his college mates at its picturesque blue lake- it would have strongly opposed the idea of any movie being shot there.
After the movie, Indian tourists started heading over to this exceedingly beautiful lake and flocking it in hordes.
It was estimated that before this film was released- around 400,000 Indians visited Ladakh– but after the release of the film, the figures doubled and have still been growing at an exponential rate.
The Pangong Lake – which became the hub of tourists was once untouched by humanity, yet today it is cluttered with cafes, washrooms, and props from the movies. All this is done to further boost tourism in the city. What this has led to is a staggering effect on both the environment and on the lives of the locals.
The once crystal clear waters of canals in Leh, are now filled with plastic water bottles, that were casually thrown there.
There are no traffic jams in a place where cars were a rarity once. Due to the upsurge of these cars plying for the tourists, the air now has an acute pollution issue. It is no more the kind of air that can cleanse your soul.
Yet, the problems don’t end there- it runs deeper. Ladakh’s drainage system is a little different since it is a mountain area. Traditionally they have always used dry compost washrooms which are suitable for their geographical location. Off late, to cater to the needs of the public, the dry washrooms have now been replaced by metal shed washrooms complete with Western-style toilets. The water is then flushed into the streams and rivers, and the already scarce water problem gets worse. Flush toilets have also severely hampered the water issue here in Ladakh- since these toilets use a lot of water to flush. During the off-season, these metal sheds are dismantled and the naked Western Toilets just lay there exposed.
Another grave issue that Ladakh is facing is the idea of OFF-BEAT travelling. Tourists are often trying to be adventures and going off the road with their vehicles to experience the majestic landscape of Ladakh. While these roads are filled with gorgeous sights and mesmerising revelations, but they are extremely harmful to the environment.
Ladakh is home to a lot of small animals, that rest in these remote off beaten regions. With more and more vehicles trespassing their territories they not only feel threatened but their shelters are also destroyed. These cars or bikes erode the topsoil and render the place lifeless and destroyed.
What is really concerning is what’s happening on the outskirts of Leh. One can see a huge landfill filled with garbage that is slowly reaching the height of a molehill. Leh is kept clean for the public, whereas the outskirts have become the dumping ground.
There are trash pickers who have to make about 20 trips per day just to go through the massive pile. They allege that the hotels and restaurants are the major producers of the wastes. Many hotels still don’t have proper sewage facilities and continue to pollute the local water bodies. The main sufferers, in this case, are the locals. As their daily water is being polluted they are being left to find even a few drops of water for their daily needs. Ladakh is now no longer a place where everything is recyclable.
Another issue is the growing demand for energy and electricity that has led to an acute problem. Tourists are demanding all kinds of services like heating, cooling, transportation and lighting. This has forced Ladakh to use up their coals to generate this increasing demand. The fumes from the coals have further led to serious pollution problems.
Ladakh was once a town that prided on being fully sustainable and eco-friendly, yet with this recent influx of tourists, things have changed for the worse.
One of the major pollutants in Ladakh are the water bottles that are littered all over the town. These plastic bottles do not decompose leading to several environmental problems.
Carry your own bottle and keep refilling it, you will find many local water refill places from where you can get water easily.
Make sure whichever hotel you are staying at they have the dry washrooms instead of the flush toilets. While this might be something you are not used to, it does save a lot of water and it also makes sure that the rivers are not polluted.
The recent upsurge of tourists in Ladakh has not only led to environmental changes but also cultural changes. A lot of foreign products have entered the town, this has hampered the local shops greatly.
To support them and to get authentic products to make sure you buy souvenirs from the locals. Not only are the products organically made but are also authentic.
Ladakh is a town which is best experienced by walking. Try and walk wherever it is possible, and don’t use any vehicle. This will not only help you truly appreciate the beauty of Ladakh but will also help you to save the environment by keeping the polluted smoke from the cars at bay.
Embrace the true culture of Ladakh. Due to the influx of tourists, Ladakh has now become filled with English cafes and American food chains. All these places are only filling the pockets of the Multinational companies. Head over to an authentic local restaurant and help the locals.
As a tourist, there are several ways in which you can avoid creating too much waste. One way to do is to refuse hotel hotels and carry your own. Make sure you have biodegradable products which will help in keeping the water bodies clean.
Try not to purchase chips or chocolates as snacks, since this will just create waste in the form of wrappers. One can also find several chocolate wrappers just flying around. If you are hungry buy dry fruits from the street shops, which are even more delicious.
Do not litter. Ladakh has several designated placed where you can dump your trash, ensure that you do not throw it anywhere else.