Ladakh is one of the most beautiful regions in India having snowcapped peaks, Majestic mountains, heavenly blue lakes can bring smiles on anyone’s face. But the scenic beauty of Ladakh having a paradise view is changing which is not for the good.
The rise in tourist footfall from 16,449 tourists in 1994 to about 279,000 in 2019, as per Ministry of Tourism data has for sure brought huge amounts of funds in the jobs-scarce Ladakh. But it has also created problems for the beautiful natural resources.
Sajad Nabi Dar, a climate expert who works on sustainable mountain tourism development in Latah discusses about the wastage of water and said that in Ladakh, there are two types of toilets – traditional dry compost toilets and modern flush toilets.
Dar further said that locals especially the farmers prefers to use the conventional dry toilets as they are suitable for their farming lands and save water; tourists prefer flush toilets. Dar further said that each tourist wastes much water daily on toilet which can be avoided.
To an utter shock, many villages such as Kulum near Leh and Kumik in Zanskar have been abandoned due to water shortage.
Not only the problem of water shortage but the problem of improper disposal of garbage and plastic waste in the area is also increasing. There is no proper infrastructure available for waste disposal.
Aparajita Goswami of Zero Waste Ladakh said that Ladakh has always been a Zero Waste society but due to rise in tourist footfall the contents of the local waste changed, comprising a large portion of inorganic materials such as plastics, cement, glass, metals, ceramics, polyester, rubber and much more.
“Although dearly paid for by the locals, such waste materials hold little or no value for them. Thus, waste proliferation and pollution of the pristine environment have become the most pressing concerns in Ladakh,” Goswami said.
There are many tourists on their trips or road trips just litters around the region having no concern of cleanliness.
Ladakh did not have major problems with waste until two decades ago as per experts since local population recycled most of the waste.
Not only tourism affecting the resources but also the local culture. Since primary source of Ladakh is agriculture but rising tourism has made the economy dependent on it. Hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, trekking companies, guide services, taxi and flight booking services, souvenir shops have been main source of livelihood especially for the young generation.
Locals feels sorry that tourists don’t make an effort to understand the local culture and cuisine of the place.
According to the President of All Ladakh Tour Operators Association (ALTOA), Daleks Namgyal said that 90 percent of the domestic tourists who visit Ladakh keep Leh-Nubra-Pangong on their itinerary but don’t explore much beyond that.
“Kargil, the other district in Ladakh, is similar in size and attractions as Leh get only 15-20 percent tourists. And, they too mostly spend a day in the town to visit the war memorial or use it as a transit night halt destination when travelling on Leh-Srinagar highway,” he said.
But it’s never too late. Ladakh can still be protected by making some better choices. The focus should be made on wasting lesser resources, supporting the local farmers, less water wastage and many more. Konchok Norgay, who works with SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) said that authorities can involve the youth in waste management. Namgyal said that tourists can choose sustainable activities and can include adventure and nature activities in their itineraries to explore Ladakh on foot or a bicycle.