Up­roar in In­dia’s ‘Val­ley of Gods’ over green rul­ing

The China Post - - LIFE - BY BALDEV S CHAUHAN

Its ski slopes are con­sid­ered among the best in In­dia while its stun­ning views are a mag­net for hik­ers, horse riders and paraglid­ers in the sum­mer.

But a new rul­ing by In­dia’s en­vi­ron­men­tal court de­signed to pro­tect the Kullu Val­ley from its hordes of visi­tors now threat­ens to dev­as­tate the tourist in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to fu­ri­ous lo­cal busi­nesses.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple are en­gaged in tourism ac­tiv­i­ties in and around the Ro­htang Pass,” says Anup Thakur, pres­i­dent of the Kullu-Manali Hote­liers As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Isn’t the liveli­hood of the peo­ple more im­por­tant than the en­vi­ron­ment?”

Thakur’s fears are echoed through­out the Hi­malayan val­ley known as the “Val­ley of the Gods,” a fa­vorite haunt of the Bri­tish dur- ing the colo­nial pe­riod and now one of In­dia’s most pop­u­lar tourist hotspots.

The val­ley is framed by the ma­jes­tic Ro­htang Pass which rises to a height of 3,978 me­ters, its roads of­ten grid­locked in the sum­mer months and flanked by a seem­ingly end­less row of stalls selling tea, food and trin­kets.

The ac­com­pa­ny­ing mounds of rub­bish and other pol­lu­tion has reached such alarm­ing lev­els that snow on the slopes has been turn­ing black while glaciers have been melt­ing at a record rate, the court has been told.

In a move aimed at re­vers­ing some of the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT) last month banned all com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity around the pass and the ad­join­ing ski slopes.

The NGT also banned horse rid­ing, snow bik­ing and paraglid­ing on the top of the val­ley while the food shacks were all or­dered to close.

“Ex­cept wa­ter, ev­ery­thing else is pro­hib­ited in and around the pass,” the green court said in a rul­ing which caught lo­cals by sur­prise.

“There is a right to tourism but it has to be within the frame­work of the fun­da­men­tal rights of the public which takes prece­dence,” the court added.

Melt­ing Glaciers

Sci­en­tists from the Pant Hi­malayan En­vi­ron­ment In­sti­tute told the tri­bunal that ve­hi­cle emis­sions and other pol­lu­tion were caus­ing huge dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing the melt­ing of glaciers.

Cam­paign­ers say the sit­u­a­tion had been al­lowed to reach cri­sis point as author­i­ties in the state of Hi­machal Pradesh had turned a blind eye for decades.

Although the state gov­ern­ment did in­tro­duce a daily limit of 1,000 ve­hi­cles on the Ro­htang Pass ear- lier this year, the tri­bunal said the quo­tas were rarely en­forced.

Dur­ing the tourist sea­son, the sheer weight of num­bers means the 50-kilo­me­ter jour­ney from the base of the pass to the town of Manali — which should take around two hours — lasts up to seven.

The pass can ex­pe­ri­ence sud­den and dra­matic changes in the weather that have claimed count­less lives over the years. In Ti­betan, its name trans­lates as ‘heap of dead bod­ies’.

It re­mains closed to traf­fic for half the year due to win­try con­di­tions and can some­times be buried in up to 30 feet of snow.

But once the snow clears, the sit­u­a­tion changes dra­mat­i­cally and there is no short­age of lo­cal busi­nesses ready to cash in.

‘All doomed’

There are also close to a 1,000 ho­tels in the twin re­sort towns of Kullu and Manali, which have been at­tract­ing gen­er­a­tions of Western back­pack­ers as well as In­dian tourists.

The hote­lier Thakur ac­knowl­edged there should be “a check on tourism ac­tiv­i­ties in the area” but said the court had taken no ac­count of “our bread and but­ter.”

Other busi­nesses, from taxi driv­ers to tea stall own­ers, also fear for the fu­ture if the bans are not soon lifted.

Suresh Acharya, a lo­cal res­i­dent, said a whole range of out­door pur­suits would be ef­fec­tively brought to a halt by the rul­ing.

“Hun­dreds of lo­cals are en­gaged in paraglid­ing, pony rid­ing, snow scoot­ers and moun­tain bikes, what will they do af­ter this ban,” said Acharya.

But Raju Banon, who runs one of Manali’s old­est ho­tels, Banon Re­sorts, said the en­vi­ron­ment needed to be pro­tected so that tourism could flour­ish long-term.

“If this court or­der is not im­ple- mented, Manali will fin­ish, and if that hap­pens we are all doomed,” he said.

AFP

In this pho­to­graph taken on Dec. 11, 2012, a horse­man walks with his ponies dur­ing the sea­son’s first snow­fall in the north­ern hill town of Shimla in the state of Hi­machal Pradesh, In­dia.

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