As we celebrate the World Environment Day globally, it compels me to think how much we have taken things for granted and despite having a good educational background, we are putting our country to shame and degrading the environment at an alarming rate! To add to the misery, the internet is flooded with the articles about traveling as one of the major reasons for the pollution and the questions have been raised about the responsible travel. But rather than prejudicing and playing the blame game, I must confess that even I have contributed to the nuisance of spreading garbage while traveling.
Out of many things that travel has taught me, it has made me reflect on my own habits and be a responsible traveler. Here are few lessons I learned the hard way!
I felt guilty for the first time, during my first solo travel to Kasol. Though the spell bounding views kept me at awe, the ground beneath was laden with chocolate wrappers, plastic bottles, chips packets almost throughout the trail. And I realized that these were the same potential waste I was carrying in my bag. This was enough for me to pledge to not throw them carelessly. What made me even sadder was the heap of garbage besides the pristine Parvati River. It was clear that not only the tourists were at mistake but also many local hotels that must have cleared the huge chunks of waste in this manner. Although I was going to dump my wastes in the dustbin, I knew that these wastes are soon going to make its way in a large heap like this. I immediately concluded that even dumping wastes responsibly is not enough.
The result? I gave up on buying chips packets thereafter and also pledged to carry my own refilling bottle. This saved my money as well.
Moral- We are all aware of the garbage concern but tend to ignore it, maybe because we are habituated and think there are too many things to take into consideration. I remember my childhood days when my family always insisted on carrying a filtered bottle for the long journeys or at least a big portable bottle which could be refilled from safe water sources. Ultimately, it all goes down to habits and the choices we make. We may start from somewhere, however small. Take it one by one. For instance, learn to keep the wrappers in your bag, later think before buying that chips packet, carry your own bottle, etc.
On my trek to Kheerganga, I was talking to the guide about how the place would have looked before the advent of the tourists and his eyes sparkled with joy remembering the old days. “It was truly a heaven!”, he exclaimed. Now, he could have talked on so many things that made the difference. But he immediately pointed out to me the wastes on the trail and said- “The tourists have no sense of the place they are coming to. It is a pilgrim place for us and all they care about is good food, drinks and loud music in a peaceful place like this. Now, you tell me are chips and cold drinks required at such high altitude? But we don’t want to let our hosts down and since you all are our guest, it is our duty to make you’ll happy.”
(No wonder why tourism is banned in Kheerganga. Read the full article here.)
Moral- When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Although we may not help the changing times, we can sure contribute our bit. When traveling in remote places of Himachal, or anywhere for that matter, we must strive to live like locals and savor the local cooked delicacies. This will help maintain the decorum of the place without affecting the local beliefs and culture and also help to curb the plastic pollution.
(To learn more about the practical tips to reduce plastic usage, refer the blog written by Shivya Nath.)
But all these years, I had kept an exception in case of the cigarette butts. I always thought that there’s no way to discard the butts and that it was okay. (I was just being ignorant, actually!) Until I met an Australian guy with whom I traveled throughout Jodhpur and Udaipur. Whenever we smoked a cigarette, he would keep the butt in a separate bag, and I, on the other hand, would toss the cigarette butt on the ground and crush it with the shoe heroically. Never did he feel agitated with my behavior but deep down somewhere I was deeply ashamed of my wrongdoings. Being a foreigner, if he can respect our country and contribute towards cleanliness, then there was no reason for me to not do so! However, I did not give up on my habit completely during that tour (Maybe, because I had not realized the degree of my mistake by then). But I am happy to say that on my following visit to Himachal, every time I smoked, I remembered him and could not help but keep the butts in the side pocket of my bag. (It stunk badly though. Got to stop being so lazy!)
Moral- We must realize that our actions are consciously/subconsciously imitated by others. If we do good, there are people who will learn from this and follow in our footsteps.
The best way we can learn to contribute towards the environment is to express our gratitude towards the places we travel. How wonderful it is to realize that we are still amongst the fortunate few, who have traveled to such exotic places! The places that have now turned into emotions- A happy moment, a childlike glee, a break from the mundane. Such places must find its way into our hearts and I’m sure, this will automatically help us to be more compassionate.