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.
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?"
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.
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.