Picture this—300000 tourists every summer, using 7-8 buckets of water each time they flush toilets in a high-altitude desert area where water is precious. The waste is flushed down, however the sewage system is unable to cope and has all but collapsed in places like Leh. Ground water is contaminated by this sewage that has nowhere to go. Yes, Ladakh is reaching a situation where tanker water is the only water source, as even scarce ground water dries up. Locals traditionally use dry compost toilets to save limited glacial meltwater for their fields. Tourism, that needs flush toilets, is killing the largely agrarian economy of this region.
As a traditional zero waste society, Ladakh has no arrangement to deal with inorganic materials such as plastics, cement, glass, metals, ceramics, polyester and rubber. An average of 600 cars drive to Pangong lake every single day, carrying approximately four persons per car, each passenger buying at least four single-use plastic bottles. Where do 10000 bottles that are chucked out every day, go? “Over 50,000 plastic bottles are used each day in Leh and approximately 16 tonnes of waste generated per day during the tourist season. All this waste goes to an open landfill area called Bombguard that lies just outside Leh. Once a livestock pasture, it is now a large landfill and a breeding ground for hundreds of feral dogs.”1 Unregulated tourism is nullifying every effort to solve these crises in Ladakh and indeed other mountain states.
There is an urgent need for a collective effort by stakeholders, tourists, locals, and policy makers, else imminent collapse is not far away. This Volume has within its pages, articles by Yash Veer Bhatnagar and Rupin Dang that address some of these matters and offer viable solutions.
In The Himalayan Club office, apart from the cashbox, there is one storage area guarded with a lock accessible only by special and permission. It is a topographical map drawer. The archaic Official Secrets Act, 1923 (which includes the distribution of toposheets) bans anyone possessing a map “likely to assist, directly or indirectly, an enemy or which relates to a matter the disclosure of which is likely to affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State or friendly relations with foreign States”. Hence the lock—THC cannot, by law, allow access to its maps except for referencing; restricted photocopying is allowed. Over the years the Act has been modified but definitely not kept up with the times.
The National Map Policy of 2005, introduced two series of maps – Defence Series maps (DSMs) to cater for defence and national security requirements and Open Series Maps (OSMs) for open distribution. In 2017, there were revisions to this policy—in fact as recently as August 2021, the Survey of India has released topographic maps of several states in the Himalaya, online. However overall, the rules are rather opaque and confusing. Every now and then, travellers in the Himalaya come across signs such as “bridge ahead; photography on bridge prohibited”, when Google gives you 3D images, of every little detail on, of and around the bridge! Since the early 21st century access to satellite imagery databases offered by several organizations along with affordable, easy to use software has rendered such signage redundant.
In short, topographic secrecy and restrictions are not only redundant, but damaging. Scientists, seismologists and explorers alike need geographical information to carry out studies. It is thus a matter to celebrate that THC is developing an interactive map App that will be a useful tool for trekkers, explorers and climbers to navigate Himalayan veins. Peter Van Geit is not only working tirelessly creating maps of the regions he visits but curating digital mapping systems as you will also see in this Volume. All these will of course cover only OSMs but even this clarity will go a long way in enabling and empowering Himalayan travellers.
THJ Volume 76 is unusual. Satish who worked hard on production and printing passed away suddenly leaving a huge void in a team of three. Nilay stepped in to lend an editorial hand for which I am grateful. He also added different dimensions. His article on Satyajit Ray’s relationship with the mountains is unique. Aparna as always worked in her quiet efficient way, giving order and design to this bursting-with-ideas-and-stories Journal.
While losing friends is inevitable, the loss of men like Doug Scott and Chanchal Mitra is immense. The best way to celebrate their lives would be to heed the weighty legacy they left.
The growing book reviews section indicates that mountain literature is alive and well. And most heartening is the increasing number of young and not-so-young Indians who are not only pioneering adventures in India but find it important to write about these in the Journal – thank you Prerna, Jay Prakash, Anindya, Peter and so many others.
Finally, I think it may be time to reclaim the true initials of The Himalayan Journal as THJ. Always referred to as HJ, maybe at age 76, we give her a specific address?
Let me know what you think.
The Himalayan Club