“Have you really lived if you haven’t been to the Himalayas.”
Ah, the Himalayas! You can see its might, you can hear its serene quietness, you can taste the freshness and calm in the air and yet the feeling you get once you reach the Himalayas is intangible; it cannot be put into words. A huge part of this comes down to its exclusive and elusive attributes. For a very long time, due to the Himalayas rough terrain, high altitude and almost non-existent transport, travelling to the Himalayas was more of an expedition than a holiday. Now that tourism in the Himalayas is increasing with newer ways to traverse through the rugged mountains, it is elementary that we understand our role as a responsible traveller to the Himalayas.
Why we need to Travel Responsibly
“Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy.”
The Himalayas are beautiful, tranquil and daunting at the same time. Its culture, geography, wildlife, nature and everything else play the key role in defining these mighty mountains. So it is vital that we preserve these elements of the Himalayas.
Tourism has the ability to completely rejuvenate a place and its economy but at the same time it can also destroy its wildlife, nature and indigenous cultures. So, as tourists it is imperative that we appreciate our role in ensuring the stability and survival of the region. Of course, none of us mean any harm but often unwillingly we do things that may damage the delicate cohesion between man, nature and tourists.
This discussion of the tourist’s responsibilities has become particularly important in the context of the Himalayas. With the advent of newer technology, roads and transport, it is now easier than ever to explore these wondrous lands. Over the past few years, travel to all the various diverse parts of the Himalayas has increased. This has been great for the economy and well-being of the locals. It is because of travelers like you and me that the economies of the mountain regions has been skyrocketing in recent years, especially in tourism sector.
Unfortunately, that has come with its own issues. The untouched and pristine environment of the Himalayas isn’t very untouched anymore. With increase in tourism has come increase in urbanisation and pollution. The native cultures of the lands get diluted with influence to newer lifestyles; which isn’t always a bad thing, but we do lose out on their cultural heritage.
Keeping all of this in mind, we must ensure that we are responsible as tourists and as humans on our trips to the Himalayas. Ok, enough of the preachy stuff, let’s find out some of the most awesome tips to being a responsible tourist while in Himalayas, although most of these are applicable everywhere around the globe. Here we go!
How to be a more Responsible Traveler
1.Do NOT Litter
The way some of the tourists to the mountains behave, you would wonder whether the Himalayas is an enormous mountain or an enormous dustbin. It is our responsibility to ensure that – first and foremost – we ourselves do not litter and also inform others to take care of the fragile and clean Himalayan environment. We must love and protect them as much as our home – nay, infact even more so than our home.
You could carry bags or covers in your cars for the trash produced during the drive; this way you can also dispose all the waste generated at a dustbin in a town with proper waste management system instead of on the side of the road. Another major pointer is to carry around your own, preferably steel bottle at all times. There are plenty of streams and rivers providing you with pure Himalayan Water, and you needn’t even pay a fortune for it, it is completely free! The tap water is also healthy and fresh and is a much better alternative for the plastic bottles’ ‘mineral’ water. Drinking water from steel bottles is healthier for you too. You know, along with the Himalayas health, your health is important too!
If you are on a longer trip and require to do laundry, try using ethical laundry options as much as possible. Either do your own laundry using a biodegradable soap or find a laundry shop that ensures the water is diverted far away from the river. You wouldn’t want to pollute the few untainted rivers left in the world, would you?
In the end, the most important factor is to make sure that you reduce the amount of packaged food and other packed products you are consuming. Some ways of doing this is by taking our own biodegradable toiletries and reduce the usage of the one-time use hotel toiletries and products. Also don’t buy any wrapper food like chocolates or chips, instead get some of the local snacks such as their fruits, dry fruits and the various different cuisines of the heterogeneous tribes of the Himalayas.
If you want to go one step further, there are loads of cleanliness drives organised in the region that you can be part of. We, the tourists should be a blessing and not a curse for the Himalayas.
So let us be responsible and ensure the waste management system of Himalayas – or any other similar places around the world aren’t overburdened by the trash we tourists produce.
2. Do Not Disturb the Wildlife or the Fragile Ecosystem of the Himalayas
The Himalayas are teeming with wildlife and nature. From lush alpine forests in the Shivaliks that will make the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Ruskin Bond jealous, to the dry cold deserts of the higher Himalayas that are full of endemic and endangered species of their own. Some of the animals found in the different regions of Himalayas are Yaks, Snow Leopards in Ladakh, Double Hump Camels in Nubra Valley, Red Panda in the eastern Himalayas, Himalayan Black Bear in the lower reaches of Himalayas and Himalayan Tahr among others.
While you should absolutely enjoy the wildlife of the place, you should also keep in mind that these ecosystems are very sensitive and fragile. Many a people often disrupt the natural flow of life for these animals by trying to get too close to them for the ‘thrill’ or for a photo. Also tourists tend to be loud even while around animals. Remember, nature’s first rule is silence; it is the silent that succeed in getting greater views of these creatures. Don’t make any of these mistakes, if the animals feel threatened, they may even attack you!
Recently, with economic development and commercialisation of the region, many of these animals are struggling to even survive with habitat loss and poaching also proving to be a problem. The least we can do as visitors to the place is make certain that we don’t add to the damage. Don’t make unnecessary bonfires; firewood is already scarce in the higher altitudes. Don’t litter or meddle with the grasslands and natural habitats of the Himalayas; this could be detrimental to the flora and fauna of the area.
On your trip to the Himalayan wonderlands, you will also come across a plethora of elegant and handsome water bodies like rivers, lakes, creeks, waterfalls and more. While these are awesome places to picnic and frolic, they are also the only source of water for the wildlife and people of the region; so do not allow yourself to pollute and ruin these locations. Never use substances like soap, detergents or oil near these sources, for any reason whatsoever.
We should be responsible and eco-sensitive tourists. Just following a few of these basic thumbrules will go a great way in the path towards the solution.
The Himalayas will leave a long lasting impression on you, just make sure you don’t leave a long lasting impression on the nature of the Himalayas.
3. Do Not Vandalize
What is the biggest obstacle for Indian monuments and tourist destinations?
Is it the natural decay caused by time? Is it low tourist footfall? Neither. In all honesty, the largest plague for Indian monuments is vandalism. We see it everywhere, from fort walls to tree barks to interiors of Palaces to large boulders, nothing is spared by this breed of people. With the increasing tourism to the Himalayan regions of India it is no surprise that even these pristine locations are being attacked now.
You must keep your art and graffiti skills at home. Please don’t announce that you visited that place or that you love so and so person by scribbling it on some wall. You needn’t broadcast it to the world. It looks very bad on part of the tourists and also spoils the destination for everyone else.
Other forms of vandalism like tampering of flags, poles or objects of religious importance should be avoided. Even merely touching some of these items can be considered disrespectful. Just steer clear of these silly practises and you will be clear of any trouble on your holiday.
As it is said, ‘take nothing but memories and photographs, leave nothing but footprints…’
4. Respect Local Traditions and Cultures
“Showing respect to someone costs nothing.”
Yet there are many people who lack the awareness to show respect, especially when it comes to new cultures or traditions. A lot of this comes down to cultural ignorance; at times we may not realise that we are being disrespectful. We may think their rituals and customs are outdated, silly or old-fashioned but remember that these traditions have been in their lands for centuries, we are in no position to judge them.
The Himalayas are full of distinct and diverse cultures such as the nomadic Changpas of Ladakh, the Brokpas (they are descendants of the initial Indo-Aryan inhabitants of the Dras Valley), the Lahaulis of Spiti Valley with their Tibetan culture, the Drukpas of Bhutan and Sikkim, the famed warrior clan Gurkha and the mountain climbing experts Sherpas from Nepal.
While there are so many quirky and interesting aspects of all these tribes, one thing they have in common is that most of them are adherents to either the Hindu or Buddhist faiths. This makes it easier to follow the Do’s and Don’ts when in the Himalayas, because many of their rituals are based on the religion. One major thing to always keep in your mind is to always give or receive anything with your right hand. Likewise, whether it is spinning a Buddhist chanting wheel, walking around the Stupas, going around monastery or in any religious place, do it in CLOCKWISE. As across the rest of India and lands that follow Dharmic faiths, rotating anti-clockwise is generally avoided.
We all love taking photos while on holiday, but be mindful of seeking permission before clicking anyone’s picture. You will find a lot of them to look very fascinating and different, to say the least. But that doesn’t give us the right to take their photo without their consent, does it?
It only takes a few small gestures to earn the respect of the locals, showing respect to their culture is one of them. Once you respectfully take part or try to understand their cultural intricacies and ceremonies, they will just be happy and you too will broaden your horizons to what is outside the norm of your daily life. It is a win-win for both parties!
5. Make Friends with the Locals
If there is a word to describe the people of the Himalayas, it would be hospitable. The people are always so warm and friendly and at times they will seem to be more excited to meet a tourist than you are to meet them. It is very easy to forge friendships with these people; all you got to do is be friendly with them and show respect, as the above point suggested.
Having a local friend has many benefits. You get a guide of sorts; he will know what and where are the best places, may know the offbeat places to visit and can help you out in any situation in general. You also get someone more to spend time with, someone who knows the ins and outs of the region, making your trip all the more fun. You can take the service of any of the local guides, tons of lifelong friendships are made this way. However most of the time these unique and strange friendships are formed on the go. Maybe giving a lift to someone, or helping them out when they are in need. Needless to say, when in the Himalayas, go with the flow, it will take you amazing places and acquaint you with awesome people.
Hey, who knows, the next time you travel, you may return with a few more friend requests on Facebook!
6. Contribute to the Local Economy
There really isn’t a better way to express your gratitude and fulfilment of visiting the Himalayas than contributing to the local economy and society. Just simple things that may not seem like a big deal for you will make their day. Spending more time and staying with the locals will help you get a greater connection with the people, their cultures and the mountains and nature of the Himalayas too.
We all love living in the lap of luxury, but while in Himalayas, wouldn’t it be better to forgo Shangri La or Radisson to lodge in a homestay or mid-range hotel run by the locals? This will help out their business and also be beneficial to you as you get new human interactions that just aren’t possible while staying in a 5 star venue. Try hiring the native people as your guide, tour operators or porters; these are the persons that are in real need and they also are better acquainted with the region in general. Another bullet for your travels is to try out the small dhabhas or eateries rather than big restaurants. These will give you the real authentic food of the mountains and buy local homemade snacks. They offer a different variety to the normal and also assist the shopkeepers and vendors more than you can imagine.
Last but not the least, whether you are a blogger who publishes any tourism related information or just someone who is going to share their travel memories on social media, please promote the local business, eateries, cultures and the indigenous people in general.
7. Be a Responsible Driver
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, roads in parts of the Himalayas can only be rated as 0. But this also makes sense because some areas such as Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are very prone to avalanches and landslides, making it a near impossible task to maintain roads yearlong. Yet the Government does an admirable job in ensuring that atleast people and vehicles are able to commute between the remote parts of Himalayas.
However, this also means that driving across these ‘roads’ is a pretty daunting task to say the least. The roads are narrow, VERY narrow, and one mishap and you could fall to your death. Even seasoned and expert drivers find it tricky to traverse these roads.
Following these major guidelines can minimise the risk to a great measure. When you see a vehicle coming in the opposite direction, always stop where the road is wide enough for both to pass. Never rush yourself. Take it slow and easy, remember slow and steady win the race. Also on no occasion should you break a queue or overtake, you may cause a block on these narrow roads that could lead to a pile up of traffic. And of course the need to follow all the basic traffic rules such as ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’, ‘Don’t Text and Drive’ or ‘Don’t break Speed Limit’ are all magnified on these awkward roads.
Just follow all the rules, drive cautiously and you will actually love the challenging ride through the Himalayas.
8. And Finally, Appreciate how Accessible the Himalayas is
The biggest error you can make as a vacationer to the Himalayas is underappreciate how accessible it is. Just a few years ago, only the most avid and passionate travelers could escape to these monumental yet barren mountains. Now thanks to modern technology, transportation and infrastructure even the most ordinary of tourists can visit the Himalayas.
It is fortunate that the imposing Himalayas are now more than open to tourists despite the slight hiccups and bilateral tensions here and there. They have too much of cultural heritage, natural wonders and adrenaline rushing adventures to miss out on. If God were asked what his best creation is, without hesitation he would reply, “The Himalayas.” And we are so lucky that a big chunk of it is in our country open for us to travel all over. We should really be super grateful.
The Himalayas is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world. And as its age suggests, it is full of energy, vigour, excitement and youth. It is a guarantee that you will enjoy your time in the Himalayas, no terms and conditions applied. Nevertheless, with great fun comes great responsibility (Yes, I know that is not the saying but it applies here so I’m going to use it). Remember to be responsible and use the tips given above and be sensitive to the people and nature over there. You must not only ask how much of fun can the destination give you, but also how much can you give back to the destination.
We hope you have an incredible trip to the Himalayas. Be fun, be safe, be responsible and enjoy so much that people will think your name is Joy. Peace out!