Friday, October 23, 2015

Why I chose not to go to Ladakh...

More than 100 of the 400-odd friends on my social network profile visited the Leh-Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir this year alone. Be it attractive pricing (still very expensive) or something high on everyone's to-do list this year, the region witnessed that largest number of visitors in 2015. Along with the tourism boom, came cab wars, new dhabas and... plastic. Lots and lots of plastic waste left behind by visitors too busy clicking pictures and selfies in the pristine landscape than noticing the damage they leave behind.

Image by Eric Lon via Flickr

It is wonderful that tourism is thriving in Ladakh have we stopped to wonder at what cost? In an earlier interview with Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna said he had a tough time trying to locate a household that would serve him local food. "Whenever I asked the people what food I could have around in Ladakh, they would serve me butter chicken! For the people of Ladakh who live off tourism for better part of the year, the needs of the tourists defines them. Since the tourists demand butter chicken, they make butter chicken. I mean, who wants to have butter chicken in Ladakh? Why can't people sample the wheat nuggets in vegetable broth made in local homes there?"

Image by Plastic is rubbish via Flickr

The people of Ladakh are fading away. Fellow travellers who had visited the region much before the tourist influx began, share experiences that actually altered their lives. The warm and kind people took travellers into their homes offering them food and consolation against the harsh terrain outside. Ladakh is truly magical and we have a responsibility to protect it. This blogpost is an effort to make the travellers and the government realise that there is an urgent need to regulate the number of travellers to the region in a manner not to affect the fragile ecosystem of Ladakh. Also, to highlight the need to clean up after oneself. It is shameful that we, as travellers, often do not pay any heed to our responsibility towards the destinations we visit. International agencies have been sending volunteers for years, to help clean up Ladakh but Indians have failed, quite largely, in contributing to the effort.

Image by Brett Cole

As travellers, we need to let go of the show-off attitude. Just because we have the money doesn't mean that we grab whatever we can. What do we leave behind for the next generations? Nature nurtures us, we can... in the least... be respectful. To emphasise what I said at the start, I did not choose to go to Ladakh, I decided to share this thought with you and pray for better sense to prevail.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Paradise found at Paragad, and lost!

Not too late I hope, I left my account of the visit to Karjat at the Sparsh resort and now over to the day of destiny.

The Western Ghats have mesmerised me with their allure. Unlike the mighty Himalayan that I have always cowered under, the Western Ghats seem a lot more dynamic, a lot more alive and green. The slopes change colour with the passing of every cloud and ith the slightest change in the sunlight. It is absolutely marvellous.

So, I head off with the resort team to a little trek that I could attempt. I must add here that I am strictly forbidden from trekking or hiking on account of my weak bone structure. I need to get my calcium right and will be sprinting around soon enough. Being new to the region, I had no idea what to expect and kept staring at every scene unfolding before my eyes. We crossed a village called Khandas and suddenly a strange sight made me want to stop, and we did.

As you can see, it was cloudy with a heavy chance of rain and yet, something seemed to b calling out to me. As I franctically clicked pictures of the hill before me wit the setting of the river beneath, the clouds parted and I saw the light. The top of the mountains seemed like Shiva (complete with the jata and a snake coiled at his neck)... The hills is called Paragad and lies above the Bhimashankar temple.

It stayed cloudy for better part of our stay there... and after a refreshing break at the stream, we started the last leg of the drive towards the Bhimashankar temple.

But, first a tea break at Patekar's tea stall... the image above is of trekkers returning after a day's trek to Bhimashankar hills. I sat leisurely to sip on a tiny steel cup of the sweetest tea.

And then, I decided to the do what I do. Disobey the doctor! Okay, not all the way. I went up little bit to get feel of the trek. The path was slippery.

I was quite out of breath even as I crossed the first shamble, remains of a tea shop at some time. My ankles were wobling, something that doesn't happen to me easily. I do not know if medicines work as much as fear of the doctor and so I stopped. Not before I spotted this.

And that's where the magic disappeared. I returned walking slowly, measuring my steps with a cool, logical head - now that the romantic notions of divinity were lost on me. I decided to journey home and write this article. Hoping that someone somewhere can help me bring about a change. Nature trails are meant to explore nature, not swim through plastic waste. What are we to do?