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Stok Kangri trek closed: Why and what this should teach us?

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Some places in India are blessed with such beauty that they see flocks of crowds visiting them year after year. Not Indians alone but foreigners and travel enthusiasts from across the globe. One such gem is the formidable peak of Stok Kangri, standing erect at 6,153 m, i.e., 20,050 ft. The highest peak in the Stok range, it is regarded as one of the highest peaks in the world that humans can actually trek up to. The reference of it being one of the “highest achievable peaks” is credited for being one of its major drawing factors.

Earlier this year members of the Stok Nambardar village cited their concerns to the authorities which were thereafter expressed and shared across members of the Adventure Tourism Operators of India Association (ATOIA). Just a little over a week ago the All Ladakh Tour Operators Association notified that Stok representatives are hereby shutting down the region for at least the next 3 years. This decision has been taken in wake of the pollution occurring in the region’s drinking water sources and also depletion of water for irrigation. The unmanaged rampant tourism is directly proportional to this.

A study by the meteorological department has also indicated an actual shift in the average temperatures in the area. Thus, pollution alone isn’t a concern. It has also been recorded that the hordes of people trekking across the glacier have sped up its melting process. All the while, the locals remain dependent on these very resources. Therefore, while many have criticised the ban as a harsh step against the local economy, the locals are said to have welcome this decision. While their monetary states will be adversely impacted, they are hopeful for environmental betterment in the area. How panicked must be the ones who seek respite in such means?

Even as we welcome this decision, the gnawing thought remains why are we always resorting to damage control as opposed to pre-emptive measures? The banning of 16kms long white water rafting in Rishikesh or temporary shutting down of trekking routes in Kheerganga and various other parts of Himachal, are all actions taken post the harm itself. As the tourism and travel industry in India continues to grow, which we greatly welcome, it’d be great to see eco-tourism steps and proper regulation go hand in hand with it. Measures to cap number of people allowed at a point on a peak, heavy fining for littering/pollution, etc. would be a few good ones to begin with.

Most importantly, what we welcome and what we seek always has to first begin with our own selves, right? The damage to Stok Kangri is too deep to be rectified overnight, however, you and me, so blissfully bitten by the travel bug, could imbibe some basic practices during our trips to travel but travel more responsibly:

  • Carry a personal garbage bag. For places without dustbins, simply carry it with you till you find one.
  • Cleanliness drives during trips. We often pick up trash during treks, we should ideally do this at any place we visit, as and when possible.
  • Carrying personal water bottles and steel tiffins – refilling these instead of purchasing plastic bottles and plates.
  • Interestingly, the growing presence of steel straws is also good to witness. Resort to steel straws or simply refusing the plastic ones.
  • Purchase local items. Since we’re all concerned about how the local economies suffer, we could purchase loosely available local food, snacks and other items more often than processed ones. The higher the demand of the local materials, the lesser will be the demand of the processed plastic goods. Their reduced supply would intermittently also lead to lesser plastic disposal in the regions. Also, the fact that this gives you an authentic local experience of truly visiting a place. ?

The idea is in no way to suggest that we travel perfectly responsibly. The idea is not to criticise any authorities for what they have or have not done. The idea is simply that we, the travel community and travel enthusiasts, as a whole could aim to learn from each other and travel more responsibly, travel better.

If you have any more ideas of how we could do this, do drop a comment sharing it as we would love to learn from you and do more. Till then, happy travels everyone! ?

Stok Kangri shut down

Note: All images belong to their rightful owners.

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