Himalayas, one of the largest ecosystems of the world, have been standing tall as a natural shield to the northern part of India. Not only do they protect us from invasions by foreign land, they also regulate the climate around us , giving us a calm and serene, peaceful and green surroundings.
One who belongs to the Himalayan land also believes in the fact that there cannot be a better and beautiful way of living than to be amidst the Himalayan land. No matter how challenging and tough the daily life seems to be, it is the pure and divine air that attracts everyone to this place. From tourists to locals everyone believes, Himalayas, the abode of Lord Shiva, is one of the most magnificent landscapes on earth. No wonder people from all across the globe visit Himachal Pradesh to witness the greatness of the land.
As tourists, as pilgrims, as travelers, as trekkers, everyone has a reason to visit the holy as well as adventurous land of Himachal Pradesh. Unfortunately, a lot of people in India do not have the highest of regards and respect for the most loved and the most popular destinations that they visit.
It is very interesting to note that tourism in India would have not been a success without religion. Most tourists in India visit as pilgrims to the places of their belief. However, it is disappointing to see that people do not put in any effort to keep their sacred places clean. In fact, not only the sacred places but most of the worth visiting places.
Himachal Pradesh is one of the states in India, which generate large revenue from tourism business in India. While this should be a matter of pride, it is gradually becoming a matter of concern, at least for the local population.
As the number of tourists is increasing every year, so is the problem of waste management. Garbage is found anywhere and everywhere. One such garbage affected hill station in Himachal Pradesh is Dharamshala.
For ten days in the month of November, I was here exploring the Tibetan home in exile, the Little Lhasa for his holiness “The Dalai Lama xiv”, the cricket ground for IPL matches.
Dharamshala is located 17 kilometers NE of the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. It is divided into two distinct parts. Lower Dharamshala has all the Government establishments while upper Dharamshala, also known as McLeod Ganj, located 9kms away from lower Dharamshala, is the temporary headquarter for The Dalai Lama.
Waste Warriors is an environment NGO founded by a British Lady, Jodie Underhill in the year 2009. It undertakes the huge task of cleaning the Himalayas. Waste Management Projects are run by this organization in McLeod Ganj as well as Dehradun.
Plastic, Jodie believes, is one of the most toxic substances upsetting the whole ecosystem of this land. It is capable of disappointing the tourists, and the place will lose all its sheen and shine. A white woman, being so thoughtful about our country gives a lot of momentum to this initiative.
Tashi Pareek, a young woman from Mumbai, has taken the charge as Project Manager in the NGO and dreams of seeing Bhagsu, as one of the cleanest waterfalls of Himachal Pradesh. She handles a whole range of activities from fund raising to waste management and is quite popular among the local population.
For my love for the mountains, I decided to repay in these simple little ways. I and my team of four members visited Dharamshala for ten days to support the cause.
We reached McLeod Ganj, early morning on the 1st of November and reported to Tashi at her place of accommodation, “Chinar Soul House”, a small guest house built on the other side of Bhagsu waterfall under a huge red leaved Chinar tree.
Though it takes a little more effort to reach there as we need to cross a small rivulet in between, it is nicely located away from the hustle bustle of the city. It’s an isolated and a peaceful guest house where one can spend all day in the company of the green mountains.
It is a cheap accommodation for a lot of foreign travelers who stay for a long time in India. Thus, paying in hundreds for each night is a very good deal for them. One also gets access to a common kitchen where you can cook food as per your needs.
After coming down, through that difficult terrain, all of us decided that we will shift our accommodation somewhere in the city as it is very difficult to cross the river every time one wishes to come down to city. Adventure seems to be risky after it gets dark in the night.
Bhagsu is 2kms away from the main city of McLeod Ganj. The major attractions of Bhagsu are the Bhagsu waterfall and Bhagsu Nag Temple.
Bhagsu Nag temple is Lord Shiva’s temple, which is a very common sight in Himalayas. The strange thing about this temple is that there is a swimming pool in the temple complex, the logic behind it is still unknown.
We decided to have our lunch in McLeod Ganj. Stephanie, a young volunteer from Germany also accompanied us. We sat at the Norling Restaurant which serves good non vegetarian, Tibetan food. Not very expensive, it has also been listed on HOMP.
After this fulfilling meal, we also went to see the Dalai Lama temple, the main Buddhist temple of the city.
In the evening, we did some fund raising activities for our organization, the Waste Warriors, in the city itself. But before that, we also cleaned the graffiti wall of Waste Warriors, which was earlier known as Mountain Cleaners. It is a wall with lots of graffiti made on it which say, it is a responsibility of every citizen to keep the city clean.
Soon we headed towards the main city square of McLeod Ganj, where we sold tickets for the movie screening that we were doing for raising some funds at the Lhamos Café. A traditionally built café in the main city, it is owned by a Tibetan named Tashi. He serves good continental and English food along with some great coffee.
Sit upstairs, relax on the mattresses, take a look at the paintings, pick one of the books from the shelf, and just spend your day lavishly.
Later in the evening, we screened a documentary called FLOW at the Lhamos café. We charged 50 rupees as the entry fee or minimum donation to support our organization. The film was an environmental documentary explaining the problem of water depletion in the world. We were able to sell approximately 20 tickets for our show. A lot of foreigners showed keen interest in our initiative. We also screened a video called “The Garbage Girl” which talks in greater detail about the initiative.
After dinner we looked for some cheap accommodation in the city and we managed to get a home stay with one of the local Himachali families. People do rent out one or two rooms to make some quick and easy money. The place where we stayed was very close to Bhagsu waterfall and was even cheaper than Chinar. We decided to take two rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls, and they charged a minimal amount of Rs 200 per room, per night.
We were happy about the fact that for out further stay in the hills, which was to last for 9 more days, we did not have to take a forced long walk after dinner.
On that very night, the moon really helped in guiding us the way through the river and also through the rocky patch. It took us no time to sneak into our blankets once we reached at the rooms.
The next day was the day to get into a bigger action. Our SRP team went for a “clean up hike” at the Bhagsu waterfall. Tashi provided us with bags and gloves. A few foreigners also joined us after yesterday’s fund raising movie screening.
Some of us went on the upper side of the waterfall and some of us went on the lower side of the waterfall.
There are many tourists, both Indian and foreigners, who visit the waterfall. Although it is not a very magnificent waterfall, yet it has a striking appeal when it falls on earth from an altitude. Also, even though the water is cold, yet people can enjoy a little dip in it. People sit on a rock, put their feet in water, eat a lot of food and enjoy the majestic view of the Deodar trees around us.
The irony is that wherever there is human reach, there is plastic. Human beings, wherever they go, they make sure that they leave their imprints at that place. Many a times, it is only in the form of plastic and garbage, making the place ugly and disappointing.
There are many cafes near the waterfall, which make their living by serving hot and yummy food to the tourists. It feels heavenly when one is served with hot Maggie while enjoying the chilly weather of the mountains. But none cares for the fact that those empty plastic packets of Maggie, if thrown anywhere randomly, can destroy our natural surroundings.
A bottle of Coke or a packet of chips do fulfill our need of that very hour but at the same time it should be made sure that empty packets and plastic bottles find their right place on earth.
We all know that plastics are non biodegradable and they take thousands of years to decompose. They are perhaps the easiest pollutants, found just about everywhere.
Unfortunately, most Indians do not realize that these should be disposed off at the right place in the right way.
A natural waterfall is not the appropriate place to get rid of our waste. By doing such things, we are not only harming our natural environment but also harming our economy by also wooing the tourists away from our country.
It was in this disappointment that the waste warriors came into picture. We as volunteers decided to do a clean-up hike at Bhagsu waterfall.
Each and every plastic material that was visible on the way to Bhagsu waterfall was collected in the bags. We wore our gloves and started collecting trash from each and every step on the waterfall. In about three hours, we were able to collect two huge sacks of only plastic trash. From plastic bottles to chip packets, from Maggie packets to toffee wrappers, just about everything could be found in the sacks full of trash.
It was disappointing to see how people have lost all respect for Mother Nature. People come to the mountains for spending a good time with nature which will leave them rejuvenated. But they forget their basic duty of keeping it clean.
We started our hike from the main path, where many people saw us doing the task of garbage collection. A lot many also appreciated our effort that we were putting in. But more than the appreciation that was coming our way it was the feeling of goodness and contentment that made us excited about this work. We all were happily collecting trash and unwanted garbage from every nook and corner of the mountains.
On our way back, we decided to come through the waterfall. The level of water was not too high and so we were able to walk through the rocks. It was indeed a good idea to walk through the waterfall as we were able to pull the plastic from almost under every rock. Not only chip packets and Maggie, there were also a lot of empty cigarette tetra-packs and glass bottles of liquor. Without the gloves it would have been difficult to pull all of these things.
Finally we reached back to Bhagsu, along with our garbage sacks. All the volunteers gathered near the municipal garbage tub. Everyone who went on the clean up hike, whether uphill or downhill spread all their trash on a tarpaulin sheet. In a day’s hard-work we collected 5 sacks of garbage.
Now was the time of segregation. All the plastic papers, that is , the chip packets, Maggie, and the like were put into one sack. These are sold to PWD as it can be reused in the construction of roads. The empty plastic bottles whether soft drinks or mineral water were crushed and collected in one sack. These are also recycled. All the tetra-packs are put together in one sack. These can be used to make recycled paper. Also, the glass bottles are put in one place as these can be sold at a very cheap rate. The leftover trash is finally donated to the municipal tub.
The day ended at around 5 pm in the evening and all of us went back home to take the much needed hot shower.
Next day, we all woke up fresh in the morning; today was the day of some challenging and adventurous Himalayan trekking. A group of 15 people headed to a place called Triund to clean up this tourist place.
Triund is approximately 11 kms away from McLeod Ganj located at a higher altitude. It is a steep and a moderately tough trek of around 4 hours. It is almost 10000 feet above the sea level and the weather is usually unpredictable there.
The group comprised equally of foreign and Indian volunteers. It is astonishing to see that the people of foreign land are more dedicated than us to clean our land. Gelasko from Bulgaria, Stephanie from Germany, Lho from France, Monica from Switzerland, Jeannie from Britain, everyone joined us to support the cause of making Dharamshala a plastic free zone.
These people went off the main track, spotted and collected plastic from everywhere they saw it, dirtied their hands in the process of segregation. I am sure working for a social cause repays in terms of great amount of satisfaction, lest this initiative wouldn’t be a success.
We started our day at 10 in the morning from Bhagsu and moved towards a place called Gallu. On the way, there are 3 tea shops. Usually the garbage is collected on the way, segregated on each tea shop and the sacks are put there only. Later the mules carry the loaded sacks downhill. Waste Warriors pay around Rs 40,000 per month for these mules service.
Gallu is the place where there is the first tea shop, the Sunrise Café. The trek till Gallu is a bit tough as it is steep and rocky. For a person just beginning to trek, should not lose his confidence, as the next patch till the next tea shop is quite easy and scenic too.
The whole forest area comprises of long and tall Deodar trees. The way is neither too narrow, nor too broad but it certainly is rocky. So many trees keep the place shady and if it is a sunny day then it is an ideal day to trek.
As you keep ascending the mountain, the body starts getting warm and the warm clothes are gradually tied around the waist. Trek is a good way to test one’s stamina and endurance. One of the best things about a Himalayan trek is that the efforts that we put in are always worth because the beauty of the valley is such that it becomes difficult to take the eyes off the view.
In no time, we reached at the second tea shop rightly named as The Magic View Café. Joginder ji had been very helpful in the segregation process. He knows Tashi very well and supports her in her dream of a sustainable waste management system.
As we move up the hill, the eatables and other stuff start getting expensive. More than the monopoly, it is a matter of making things accessible in such difficult terrain. Almost everything that one can desire for, in the mountains, is available in these tea shops.
Soon after segregation of trash we started moving further up. At the last tea shop, Sunil ji, did not give us much work, as his shop was shut since a month. We still spent some time there, enjoying the view, some hot and cold beverages and he played the melodious flute, while the sun was planning to hide behind the clouds.
The path after the third tea shop, towards Triund is rocky and zigzag. It takes around one hour to cover this last patch and reach the plateau of Triund. On reaching upon the plateau, one cannot resist rotating the neck for 360 degrees to enjoy one of the most stunning and splendid views on earth. Mountains and mountains all around, some of them covered with snow, some barren lands with no trees on them, clouds floating all around and the sun shining on just a few peaks. The light of the sun changes every few moments and at the horizon, one can see a multi-colored skyline changing its colors every now and then.
For a breath taking view like this, no matter how much pain and effort it takes to be here, the return on investment is always high.
But at the same time anyone would feel disgusted, looking at the trash and garbage all around. Even though there are bins provided by the Waste Warriors, yet there is a need felt to clean up the place. Since we reached in the evening itself we could not do much of cleaning.
There is a forest guest house maintains by HP tourism board where one can stay for the night but it is imperative to carry one’s own sleeping bags.
There are 3 small eateries on the plateau which can provide food for the night. These also provide with tents, which are warm and cozy and can easily accommodate 3 adults at a cost of 600 rupees. The nights are freezing cold hence it is extremely important to carry enough warm clothes.
In the night, the sky is not visible; it is only the stars that are visible. At almost every millimeter in the sky there is a twinkling star. The Milky Way galaxy passes from one side to the other side of the sky. One can make as many wishes as he wants; a shooting star falls every now and then.
A dinner around the bonfire is arranged by the eating joints. The dogs will provide a constant company through out. Before entering into the sleeping bags, it is a good idea to sip a peg of Old Monk. It definitely helps in keeping the body warm at this high altitude.
Next morning it was a difficult task to get out of the sleeping bags. It felt warm and comfortable to stand under the sun. There are two toilets with running water, cleanly maintained by an old man popularly known as Chacha. In fact, it is a free will to attend to the nature call in the nature itself.
Few of my group mates decided to move further up to a place called Snow Line. The rest decided to stay back and segregate the loads of garbage collected.
At 10 in the morning, we started for snowline. The trek to Snow Line is very rocky. Initially, there is no fixed path, you have to carve your own trail, but once you reach on the right path, it starts to appear a quite obvious path. There are arrows painted in blue on many of the rocks to guide through the way. As you keep moving up, you feel that the silence of the mountains is ever increasing. The depth of the valleys can scare you, but the thrill of looking down below at the earth will take you further up. You can enjoy the peace at every step. You can feel your breath every moment.
After a while, when you will look back, you will see that Triund looks tiny from this great height. In two hours you will reach at a place where you will be completely surrounded by clouds. Even when you will inhale and exhale the air, it will be only fog.
At Snowline too, there is a tea shop owned by Amit. An incredible spot for camping, there are huge rocks around this place which add to its beauty.
The way further up from here lead to a place called Indrahaar pass. It takes around 5 to 7 hours to trek till there. Only experienced trekkers should take up the chance of exploring this place as it is located at an altitude high enough to cause mountain sickness.
There was a customary sight of a typical shepherd of the mountains. Shepherd with a dog sitting besides him on the rock and about 300 sheep grazing grass around him; it was a beautiful scene to capture in the camera. Arjan Sharma the shepherd of Chamba valley was heading towards Triund with his goats and sheep. It is a long journey from one side of Himachal to the other.
Due to the presence of a tea shop this place also needed a cleaning and a segregation therapy. Since, we were cleaning the place after a long time; we were able to collect a lot of trash and garbage from here. Soon after the process, Amit served us with hot tea and then we descended back to Triund.
This time we were carrying all the segregated sacks with us as the path was too narrow for a mule to walk. We reached Triund at 3 in the evening and there was no time to stop. The cleanup work at Triund was already over, efficiently done by the other members of our group. As soon as we reached Triund, we carried our backpacks and started descending downhill, back to Bhagsu.
It was a long way to go. It was essential to reach there before dark; else it would have been difficult to find the way in the rocky patches. The time was a crucial factor in deciding the number of stops that we could afford to take. Without taking any break and making a firm grip on the stones, at a slow but steady speed, we all kept on walking. Fearing that the sun would set, we did not stop anywhere. Descending proves to be rather tougher as compared to ascending. The knees and the calf start giving up in unison.
We managed to reach Gallu at 6 and the sun had almost set. From this point on, a few city lights guided us through the way. From adventurous, the trek turned risky. We had already pushed our strengths beyond limits but now it was the testing time for finishing the task taken. Slowly and gradually we kept walking. Noticing the track of time became futile; we knew we would somehow reach home.
Once we touched Bhagsu, we treated ourselves with a lot of delicious food before heading home. A hot water bath and a good night sleep was all that was required.
Next day the sun rose shining all over Dharamshala. It goes without saying that nobody woke up early in the morning. Everyone including Tashi decided to take a break and stretched themselves on the bed.
Some of us decided to visit the lower Dharamshala. A local bus takes a charge of 10 rupees to set the distance of 10 kms. From McLeod Ganj to the Cantonment area till the main city of lower Dharamshala, it is a journey of only half an hour. More of a commercial base than a tourist spot, all that one can do here is eat. There is a cricket stadium which is usually functional during the IPL season.
Norbulinka, a beautiful Tibetan cultural center is also located in Dharamshala. An entry fee of Rs 200, it showcases authentic and expensive Tibetan handicrafts which are usually bought by the foreigners.
Tibetan Market in McLeod Ganj is an ideal place for shopping. From junk jewellery to bags, from “Free Tibet” t-shirts to the home décor material, everything is available at reasonable affordable price. Tibetan Markets are usually attractive and interesting shopping hubs; one can always take a break in between to grab some dim-sums. Soon it was dark and it started to get cold.
We met Tashi for dinner and discussed some ideas for fund raising and promotion and publicity of Waste Warriors. Waste Warriors is putting in humungous effort to build a sustainable waste management system for Dharamshala. It believes in the philosophy that every youngster should think and feel that “Trash is Cool”. Picking up trash will become a fashion statement and everyone will feel guilty to spill in open. Nobody should feel disgusted in cleaning their own places. It might be a crazy task but it is necessary to go out of the way to contribute to society something unfortunately for which it does not feel responsible. As an outsider it is easier to clean up the place than a local. But such an initiative leads to a self realization and self inspiration.
To take up such an initiative, it requires not only conviction and passion but also funds and resources to support the plan. Hence, in sync with Tashi, we decided to undertake a few fund raising activities which would help in maintaining the continuity of the program. We zeroed down on a few ideas. We could again do the screening of a movie. But we did not decide on it as we wanted to try something new.
As Diwali was approaching soon, we thought of coming up with a Diwali stall on the main city square in which we would display a lot of decorative material made out of recycled waste. My team spent 3 days in doing the art and craft work to prepare things out of waste. Google was our constant helper. We made greeting cards, wall hangings of Lord Ganesh, lamp lanterns, photo frames, boxes, “happy Diwali” banners, all out of recycled paper. We made wallets out of tetra-packs, flowers out of egg trays, bracelets out of chip packets, name cards out of chip packets. We knew our stall would look colorful and attractive. But what attracted most of the tourists to our stall were the “Chocó wave balls”. Made of rice puffs, glucose biscuits, honey and butter, it looked cute and tasted yum. A lot of donations were made by the foreign tourists as well as Indian tourists. People generously supported us and in two days we raised funds of nearly 5000 rupees. It was a good start considering the off season. We were happy to talk to a lot of people, it certainly reflected upon our communication skills. Sometimes it is a difficult task to convince people that raising funds is not fraud and we genuinely need money to do good to society.
These ten days was certainly an eye-opening session for all of us. By the end of ten days, everyone could sense a little bit of change in themselves. The hand itself reaches to the dust bin to throw even a tiny piece of garbage. The purpose of the project has been fulfilled. There has been a significant take away from these ten days of life.