The recent disaster that struck Uttarakhand in June of 2013 claimed more than 5,700 lives and was the worst natural disaster in India since the 2004 tsunami. But now that the worst is behind us, it is time to look at what led to such a large body count. I feel that the biggest reason for this catastrophe was the disrespect shown to the mighty Himalayas by us humans.
The irresponsible way in which tourism has spread in a lot of the Himalayan regions led directly to the conditions that caused such a huge loss of life in Uttarakhand. Yes, the bursting of clouds was a natural phenomenon but if people had adopted a responsible and respectful form of tourism, the loss of life would have been much less.
I can talk about the excessive number of tourists that visit the Himalayas every year, or how this has led to uncontrolled development of hill stations and how deforestation leads to land slides. I can also talk about the fact that it was unwise to travel in the hills during the monsoons. But I’d like to focus on the future instead of what we have done wrong in the past.
Here are 7 ways to travel respectfully and responsibly in the Mighty Himalayas.
7. Travel Smart
Travelling smart means to do your research before you travel to any hilly area. Find out about the weather and the best times to visit. Try to avoid monsoon seasons when all mountain rivers swell up.
Know the various travelling options to the place you are visiting and try to have some idea of the lay of the land of the neighboring areas. Use public transport as much as you can as we need to try and limit the number of vehicles on these hilly roads.
6. Respect Nature
Whenever you visit a place of natural beauty, you should respect this beauty and not spoil it. You should also be aware of the power of nature. If the weather gets bad, don’t travel and stay indoors. Never take unnecessary risks and always think of your own safety first.
Don’t scare away animals and birds. Remember you are a guest in their home not the other way around.
5. Don’t Leave a Garbage Trail
Throwing garbage everywhere you go is not a way to show respect to that area. Plastic wrappers, food waste, cigarette butts, empty bottles etc. should all be collected and disposed in a proper dustbin.
If you are chewing gum, don’t just spit it out as little birds have been found to choke on it and die. You might think that why should you care because it’s not your home but that’s not the right attitude to visit anyplace let alone the mighty Himalayas. Remember to reduce, reuse and recycle.
4. Educate Yourself and Others
Before going on a trek through the forests of a mountain, educate yourself about the dos and don’ts. Learn about the flora and fauna of that area. See if you are going to travel in bear country. Learn basic first aid techniques and how to survive if you get lost.
All this education is important especially if you are going to go into very remote areas. Remember to educate others as well if they haven’t gathered all this information on their own.
3. Be Humble
While climbing any mountain, always do it with a humble attitude. You won’t master the mountain by climbing it. Instead have a reverent attitude towards the mountain and consider it a blessing if the mountain lets you climb itself safely.
These Himalayan Mountains are ancient and have been worshiped by the locals for ages and for good reason. They hold immense power over life and death of anyone who lives on their slopes or tries to climb them. Even if you are an atheist, don’t be arrogant.
2. Respect the Natives
Disrespecting the natives is not going to help you at all. The local people have lived here for generations and are always willing to help any stranger who needs help. This is an attitude that comes from living in a region where neighbors have to help each other just to survive. Maintain this mutual respect.
I’ve seen some tourists getting drunk and fighting with the locals over petty things. If you just want to get drunk, do it at home.
1. Explore New Areas
Massive amount of tourists visiting a popular area is never a good idea. It spoils that area completely and if a disaster hits there are a lot of deaths. Try to avoid the popular areas and explore new areas in the Himalayas. Nature is beautiful everywhere in the mountains.
You’ll find more peace and quiet at unpopular destinations. But while doing this do remember the above 6 points. Find out as much as you can about that area before leaving and be respectful and responsible while you travel.
The Final Word
Will these tips prevent future disasters such as the one in Uttarakhand? Of course not, no one can prevent or predict a natural disaster but if you respect the Himalayas, you will have a better experience and also help others have a better experience and if a disaster strikes at least the death toll won’t be so high. The Himalayas are a holy and spiritual place and we all have to pitch in to keep them this way.