Tourism in Ladakh is Turning Toxic, Quite Literally

Every once in a while, we need a break– from work, from life, from stress and from the busy hustle-bustle of the city. To find solace and to calm ourselves, we often choose to drift to faraway places. In many cases, our dream destinations are inspired not by need or word of mouth, but by the glamorous lives of film stars shown on the silver screen. While we can find many examples to support this claim if we look for them, the focus of this article shall remain limited to Rajkumar Hirani’s gem, ‘3 Idiots’. This movie told the tale of people stuck in the rut of convention, pursuing the generic courses of engineering and medicine. The twist in the tale, however, came in the form of the lead character, who decided to do what he loved, in the way he loved, and ultimately succeeded.

Towards the end of the movie, we see the climax set against the picturesque backdrop of Ladakh, where the cast’s ‘happily even after’ becomes a reality. With the film grossing over 100 crores and touching a million hearts, the story, characters, dialogues and sets remain etched in one’s memory forever. This memory drove people to Ladakh in the hope of seeing the places that contributed to the making of this masterpiece.

While Ladakh has gained national and international fame, very few people have stopped to notice that the ecology of Ladakh is unable to sustain the growing number of tourists every year. Post the release of the film, the number of tourists visiting Ladakh grew to over 6 lakhs, which was way more than what the city could sustain. The problems are multifarious: being a cold desert, Ladakh’s water sources are extremely limited– the primary source of water, in fact, are the glaciers surrounding the area. Owing to increased demand and increased usage of water, the glaciers are shrinking rapidly. Additionally, the increased development of facilities required to sustain tourists have made Ladakh fall prey to problems of metropolitan cities: a rapidly rising rate of global warming and has increased the temperature of Ladakh by about 3 degrees Celsius, while the rest of the country has seen a temperature rise of only one degree Celsius. This has also disturbed the weather cycles and rain in the desert is now short but extreme and often leads to catastrophe whenever it comes. Additionally, the traditional system of using only compost pits for waste disposal is no longer feasible, since the high volume of tourists and their sustenance demands a faster sanitation facility. Thus, sewage water is often released untreated and allowed to mix with the groundwater, polluting the scarce sources of drinking water available to locals.

Solid waste disposal too, poses a massive problem. Since adequate facilities to dispose of waste are unavailable in Ladakh, waste is often deposited in massive landfills on the outskirts of the city. Moreover, basic necessities such as food and packaged drinking water necessary to host tourists are unavailable locally and have to be brought from neighbouring cities and states. This coupled with the need to dispose off the remains of these water bottles, food containers etc. has led to an increase in the need for transportation, thus increasing air pollution and further deteriorating the ecology of the region.

However, the problem does not simply end at tourists and tourism causing trouble. Tourism has helped boost the economy of the region and has improved the standard of living of the locals. Therefore, it has now become unfeasible to impose a blanket ban on tourism in the region. What Ladakh needs now are ore sustainable solutions, eco-friendly products, proper facilities for transportation that do not pose adverse effects for the environment, and more sensitive tourists. The visitors of the region need to understand the risk that the land and the ecology are currently facing and act accordingly, so as to avoid, or at least minimize the adverse effects of their visit, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Ladakh is indeed a beautiful place and to keep it so, continuous and untiring efforts are required from everyone involved in the region.

Contributed by Kuhikaa

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