Just this morning, I saw an article in one of the leading daily newspapers with a headline saying “Now, explore Ladakh without SPL permits”. My first reaction was this is already known to me as I recently published the same topic here (No Inner line Permit) two weeks back. It was only when I read the whole article, I realized that the author has mixed two important topics into one and probably the headline reflected the less important topic. I thought the author, on one hand, has done good, by highlighting the apathy of tourist influx in almost 80% of the content but by keeping the headline relevant to just 20% of the article he has done injustice to the whole article.
Now coming back to the intriguing question. Are we really Killing Ladakh?
Ladakh is a high-altitude desert supporting a population of 135000 majorly making their living through subsistence agriculture, till tourism became one of the major parts of their economy. There is nothing as beautiful and magnificent as Ladakh. Places as remote as Nubra, Pangong, Agham, Khardung la, hanle etc are seeing a lot of tourist influx. and it’s rising with each year. So what’s the problem? Isn’t it giving much-needed economic activity to the people of Ladakh and making their life better?
Yes, it is making life in Ladakh better. yes, it’s bringing them into the mainstream. But it’s also a cause of concern and somebody has to ring the alarm bell. Along with the positives of tourism, it’s adversely affecting the delicate ecology of the Himalayas.
Tourism Impact: We may be paying the price soon
Increased vehicular traffic leading to rise in pollution:
With more and more people rushing to Ladakh, some by flight but most by their own vehicle, this is leading to the pollution that regions like Ladakh had never seen before. According to the newspaper report I quoted above, the number of tourists in Ladakh in the year 2012 was a massive 2 lakh which may have increased Multifood today. This is an increase of 574 tourists in the year 1974 according to a survey conducted by CSE India.
Development of Tourism Infrastructure:
While development is the need of the hour to bring the region into the mainstream and especially considering border disputes with China in the region, too much development in a short span of time may not be good for ecology. e.g. Many hotels have come up in the past few years. There is a need for wood, brick, and other construction material which in this sensitive region may erode fast. Things like water supply to hotels etc which are giving modern luxury to tourist are bringing a problem of plenty to locals who are having a hard time conserving water. The use of generators is another cause of pollution which is demanded by tourists when they visit camps etc in Nubra or Pangong.
Plastic and Waste Management
With the rise in tourism, there is a problem with waste management. People tend to use a lot of plastic bottles for packaged drinking water, chips wrappers, etc are one of the direct negative effects on the region brought in by tourists. Remote areas like Pangong are not left behind by this plastic pollution. Lack of understanding of the region and how environmentally sensitive the area is adding to the woes. There is a garbage pileup around every corner in Leh city.
There are many other issues, which may not have been highlighted, like feeding biscuits and chips to harmless wild animals (in spite of warning boards asking not to do so), Having campfires (which can easily be avoided), throwing beer bottles, etc. At this rate, you may soon lose the charm of magnificent Ladakh, which many of us would never ever want to see.