Thursday, May 16, 2013

WWF Nepal and World Cyclist Foundation to promote the Green Hiker campaign

WWF Nepal joined hands with Mr. Pushkar Shah, a world cyclist and leader of the World Cyclist Foundation, in order to promote responsible tourism in Nepal’s Himalayas as part of WWF’s Green Hiker Campaign.  

Minister for  Culture, Tourism and Civil Avaition, Mr. Ram Kumar Shrestha
handing over the bicycle to Mr. Pushkar Shah
Honorable Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Mr Ram Kumar Shrestha, handed over a bicycle supported by WWF Nepal to Mr. Shah at a ceremony in the capital today. Mr. Shah is presently undertaking an ambitious cycling expedition across Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail to promote tourism in the region, in particular cycling, which would in effect help enhance the livelihoods of the local people. Through his expedition, WWF Nepal seeks to promote the message of responsible tourism in the Himalayas.

Mr. Pushkar Shah, a world cyclist and leader of the
World Cyclist Foundation
“The personal drive and initiative of Mr. Shah is indeed commendable,” said Honorable Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Authority. “I will try my level best to ensure that his work is recognized by the government and that his endeavors are duly supported so that he can carry on in his unique mission of spreading world peace and now, environmental protection,” he added. 

Mr. Shah has been travelling the world on his bicycle for the past 15 years spreading the message of world peace.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Shah said, “I will in the best possible way help spread the message of the Green Hiker Campaign and responsible tourism wherever I go. I thank WWF Nepal for the support provided to me. WWF is probably the only organization that has come forward to help.”

“WWF Nepal sees a strong connect between tourism and conservation, and the Himalayas which is Nepal’s biggest tourist attraction is also one of the hardest hit in terms of climate change,” stated Dr. Ghana S. Gurung, Conservation Programme Director of WWF Nepal. “The Green Hiker campaign and this partnership with Mr. Pushkar Shah seek to create greater environmental awareness so that people can enjoy nature while ensuring that its purity is protected,” he added.

Nepal Tourism Board in partnership with WWF Nepal launched the Green Hiker campaign in May 2011 on the occasion of the 4th International Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) Day. The campaign is part of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations to promote responsible tourism in Nepal.

For further information, contact: 
Simrika Sharma Marasini

Senior Communications Officer, WWF Nepal

Monday, May 6, 2013

Responsible Adventure Tourism - Can we make it a reality?

Aditi Singh & Ragini Letitia Singh

The rush of adrenaline when you’re paragliding off a cliff, or making your way through the choppy grade 4 rapids, hoping your raft wont tip over (or secretly hoping it does), or plunging, against your better judgment, down a cliff, with nothing but bungee equipment attached to your ankles; there are few experiences which put you physically and emotionally so out of your comfort zone. This is the appeal of adventure tourism- a raw, dangerous and intimate engagement with nature.

The most important word in that sentence: nature. Where would we kayak, canoe or raft if not for the water flowing down from our mountains, where would we trek if not for the towering giants around us? Where would we dive if not for inviting oceans and colourful corals underneath? The point being that adventure tourism cannot be sustained if we cannot sustain the environment and ecosystem, which it thrives on.

People are greater consumers on holidays. The impacts of such behaviour are widespread, ranging from environmental, social, cultural and economic resulting in a loss of environmental health, traditional culture and local economic benefits. This was one of the aspects that were discussed at a recent round table conference on adventure tourism organized by CII.

Besides discussing topics like product development and effective marketing, the conference laid emphasis on the responsibility of the adventure tourism industry to safeguard the natural ecosystems where it functions, a subject that is increasingly gaining eminence. It was stated that adventure tourism is a more responsible form of tourism compared to others. Most adventure tourists love the outdoors, and would be relatively more conscious of and sensitized to good and bad practices while travelling. Even in the past, these tourists have been involved in initiatives such as tree plantations and solid waste management in collaboration with the local communities – a healthy example of the union of adventure and community-based tourism. This can be seen as a positive start!

The need of the hour is planned tourism, which takes into account the environmental vulnerability of the region before planning activities and other tourist attractions. It is also important to understand that some regions may be more ecologically delicate than others, for example Himalayan high altitude regions where environmental damage takes much longer to reverse. Therefore, before promoting tourism in any area, the challenges that come with such an influx needs to be addressed.
Interestingly, a panelist representing Uttarakhand Tourism spoke about the state as being a “trekker’s delight”, which it most certainly is. She advertised events such as Raid De Himalaya - a car rally (read ‘battle’) from Shimla to Srinagar on Asia’s highest motorable pass, the Nanda Devi Raj Ghat trek - a 280km trek involving thousands of pilgrims and the half marathon in Rishikesh. “You must come and attend these events we are organizing,” she proudly said.

But when pointed questions like “Has an environmental impact assessment been carried out before planning these events?” or “Do you have a solid waste management plan in place to take care of the massive amount of waste that will be generated?” were asked, she said, inconclusively “We have hired consultants.

It makes one stop and think, and feel a little disturbed at the blatant lack of environmental accountability and concern in tourism in India.

Another panelist for the “Responsible Tourism session” representing Taj Safaris showed us breathtaking photographs of their eco huts, all built with locally available material. On the verge of falling for it, we stopped and asked a question. “What in the world was a bath tub doing there?” A bathtub usually has a water capacity of about 100 litres leading to wastage and added pressure on water resources and the issue of treatment of waste water. Her answer, “We really can’t do away with certain ‘necessities’. And anyway, we have bathtubs only in areas where there is no water scarcity.” Why are we not convinced?

She also suggested limiting tigers in the forests around their eco resorts to an area of 50-100 sq km. To that came the response, “Tigers in the wild are meant to be free and roam where they like. You might as well fence them in and start a zoo.” Lady’s response – “We only want to do this so we don’t lose our tigers. We never know where they go.” Well, we aren’t supposed to, right?

It is seemingly little things like these that make one worry. Is responsible tourism always going to be a myth, propagated by an outnumbered few? How long can the mask of “ecotourism” be used to market tourism products? Or perhaps things are changing for the better. Perhaps efforts are being made, not perfectly, but only in need of a push in the right direction. Ecotourism in particular is one of those sensitive areas of intervention, where conservation and industrial profit are motives that walk hand-in-hand. We just need to ensure that whatever happens, happens for the right reasons.

Opening up an area is the easiest thing to do but managing it responsibly, is where the real difficulty lies. Can India manage it?

1) River rafting - Himraj Soin
2) Gaur in Periyar - Ragini Letitia Singh
3) Kanasar Lake in Uttarakhand - Emmanuel Theophilus
4) Tiger in Ranthambhore - Ragini Letitia Singh
5) Elephant safari in Corbett - Ragini Letitia Singh

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How they made a difference – Part 1...

The campaign may have been started by an organisation with a vision, but it comes down to individuals, common people like you and me who can really influence positive change in our minds and actions. This then spirals down to change in society as a whole and then our country. And to think of it, it all starts with one responsible person. 
Here are stories of a few common people (actually not so common!) who took the initiative to inspire change in themselves and others, and became true ‘green hikers’. Kudos to them!

In May 2011, this 33-year old from Bombay journeyed through the Sundardunga Valley in Kumaon, Uttarakhand, besides visiting Devi Kund, Maiktoli BC and the Sundardunga caves. Amar loves the fact that during his journeys, he is cut off from everything else in the world and can enjoy a peaceful union with nature. He realizes that up there, money and power mean nothing. Nature rules and it is a humbling feeling. When the urge to meet his mountains arises, Amar leaves behind his hectic job and family and does what he likes best – trek.

A house midway to Khati - Jaitoli
Months before this journey, he wrote in asking how he could help save the mountains that he loved. Off we sent him some Green Hiker awareness material to share and distribute along the way. Trekkers travel light, but to take the initiative to happily carry this material high up is commendable. Amar put up posters at villages Khati and Jaitoli - the last stop-over points for trekkers, where they could be seen by other travellers. He also spoke to the owner of his hotel and a few other local people. Amar sensed that they understood the environmental issues and what Green Hiker was all about but did not follow. He hopes that time will change this.

Amar is worried about the kind of amateur trekkers who travel with tour companies and treat the mountains like a picnic spot, leaving behind garbage and loud echoes. He believes that the way to deal with this problem is to tutor them via posters and also encouraging tour companies to emphasise the importance of maintaining cleanness as part of their work.

At Jaitoli with the hotel's owner
When asked whether he felt he had made a difference, he said, “One cannot always be present 100% of the time to ensure the environs remain clean. Hopefully, what I leave behind in the form of posters will at least remind my fellow trekkers to keep the environment clean. The owner of the hotel will also do the same. A little gesture, to give something back to the Himalaya.”

You can read more about Amar’s journeys at

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A remarkable man at Khangchendzonga

Aditi Singh

From the moment he came on to the stage, I was completely taken in by the gentle, smiling face of Mr. Love Raj Singh Dharamshaktu. Born in the town of Munshiari, amidst the Pancholi range in Uttarakhand, the mountains have been his home. He fondly remembers the intriguing explanation his elders would give him for the chalky, snowy winds sweeping the peaks, “The gods are praying,” they would say.

This 39-year-old BSF commander is a seasoned mountaineer and the only Indian to have scaled Mount Everest four times. He has been for over 35 expeditions and for his mountaineering achievements he was honored with the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award in 2003.

He thus began the awe- inspiring account of his two-month journey to the top of the Barf ka Khazana, a name given in Sikkim, to the formidable Khangchendzonga. With a carefully put together team of 15 climbers, 12 support staff and about 200 porters, they set out on this exciting adventure in the first week of April 2012.They trekked through landslide-prone and Maovadi areas to Nepal through Siliguri. Talking about the local people he met on the way, he said, “They are very poor, but are always smiling. They have a very tough life.One man has to carry a heavier load than a khachar (mule), about 120 kg.” He showed us a picture of a woman carrying a baby in one hand and a white sack of about 50 kg of salt in the other. “Women walk like this for 2-3 days just to reach the market to sell it off.”

An ardent nature lover, Mr. Singh spoke about the region of Taplajunas as one blessed with beautiful forests and overwhelming biodiversity.  “You get about 10-15 types of Rhododendron there itself.” There were no amenities such as schools there, he told us, marveling at the cleanliness and organisation of villages. In fact, the locals had set up temporary toilets away from their homes and even cowsheds were built at a distance. In addition, every household had beautiful well-tended flowerbeds. Mr. Singh spoke with utmost compassion for the local people and their hardships.

The careless attitude of many climbers, however, is destroying the beauty of the magnificent Himalaya. His fourth expedition to the Everest, 'ProPlanet Climbs Everest' was focused on making climbers aware of their responsibility towards the mountains. There are reports of huge piles of garbage on the Everest and Mr. Singh has been committed to spreading awareness about cleaning up this high altitude dumping ground.

Although this particular expedition wasn’t focused on cleaning up the mountains, he spoke of how his team attempted to clean up whatever and wherever possible. “Waste dumped here can be in the form of tin cans, food packets, suit packets, tents, oxygen tanks, ropes and a lot more. If not removed, litter left behind in these low temperatures could lie around for years.”

Before this climb, it was mandatory to deposit a refundable
Rs. 5000 with the Sikkim Forest Department, which was reclaimable later once climbers brought back the waste their expedition had generated. This is the norm for these high altitude expeditions, however, the lackadaisical attitude of the forest department and this meager amount is barely enough to prevent littering and waste accumulation up there.

With more dedicated mountaineers like Mr. Love Raj Singh, we should strive to undo the damage that has been done and continues to be done to our magnificent mountains.

Aditi Singh is recent graduate in Economic Honours with an interest in environmental issues. She is currently working with WWF-India as an intern. She can be contacted at

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

They’re our mountains, after all

Adhithya Krishnamachari

My first Goecha La trek has been my most memorable trek till date, with the Himalaya at their astounding best and Kanchenjunga, the icing on the cake! The entire trek took us from September 29 to October 8, 2012.

With the strong motivation to contribute to the conservation of this untouched beauty, my team and I signed up for the Green Hiker campaign. Under the campaign, we took the following initiatives on our trek:

1) Our first mantra was "have legs, will walk". During the eight days it took from the base camp at Yuksom to the summit at Goecha La, and then back to Yuksom, we only walked. Not only was it a thrilling experience to get up close and personal with nature, but it was also reassuring to know that we weren't causing any air pollution.

2) From Day 1, we carried out a cleanliness drive throughout the trek, collecting any garbage found on the way and stuffing it into our daypacks. The majority of this waste was left behind by trekkers and other tourists who passed by that route. To make the drive more efficient, I assigned each team member with one kind of garbage to collect, that is, one would pick up plastic plates and glasses, while another would pick up food wrappers and so on. The garbage we collected every day was dumped into the bin of the nearest trekker's hut or a makeshift dustbin. We ensured that no plastic waste was left behind.

3) We reused water bottles that we collected on the way. This way, the use of plastic was curtailed as we no longer purchased or used new plastic bottles.

4) Before stepping into a stream, we made sure to remove our footwear and bags, especially since the stream water is the main water source not only for trekkers but also local people and animals.

5) We sought accommodation only in home stays and trekker huts which not only minimised resource consumption but also benefitted the local economy. None of these trekker huts had electricity; nevertheless, they were great places to bond with fellow trekkers after a long day's walk.

6) In places where trekker huts were not available, we set up tents at an optimum distance from water bodies to avoid any kind of disturbance. We did not even camp at Samiti Lake (one of the most scenic places in the trek) to help preserve its purity and beauty.

7) Majority of the trekker huts had decent toilet facilities which consisted of pits dug deep into the ground. In places without toilet facilities we choose to dig small pits and covered the same with mud once done. For this we chose spots away from water bodies to prevent pollution.

8) We used only headlamps and torches for light and lit no campfires to avoid air pollution or the danger of accidental forest fires.

9) Our food was cooked on traditional kerosene stoves and our tour operator ensured that minimum forest resources were utilised. In addition, we carried packed lunches and protein bars to prevent unnecesary consumption of fuel for cooking.

We felt a lot of emotions during our trek. There was joy on reaching Goecha La summit after 10 grueling days of climbing, sadness on realising that the trek was drawing to a close, frustration at missing out on some gorgeous views due to fog. But more importantly, we felt a sense of responsibility towards the Himalaya - to protect, to conserve and to respect. More than the trekking, the fact that we did our bit to protect these majestic mountains gives me utmost happiness and motivates me to trek again.

I’d like to thank the Green Hiker team for starting such a wonderful initiative, my trek mates who worked together as a team and our tour operator for ensuring that we trekked responsibly. All in all, I’ve had a great experience as a green hiker and I hope to implement these sustainable measures in my future treks as well.

Adhithya Krishnamachari is a 24-yr old IT professional at TCS, Mumbai. Besides being a techie, he is passionate about trekking and is a part-time trek leader with a Mumbai-based travel start-up. He can be contacted at

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mountain people united

Mussourie. A place drenched in history, culture, natural beauty and stories young and old, that can enthrall even the most blaśe.

This is the buzzing, yet quiet hill station that presents writers, thinkers, mountaineers, artists, conservationists and everyone else who has something to do with the mountains, a platform to meet. To converse. To share. And to experience.

All this through the Mussourie Writers Mountain Festival ( This year, which happened to be its fifth mile stone was packed with action! From short films to a Himalayan food festival, from mountain poetry recitation by Gulzar sahib himself to presentations on exciting (and life threatening) ascents to towering peaks, from photography exhibitions to musical performances by Rekha Bhardwaj and the Tetseo Sisters, from a presentation on petroglyphs to travel writing.

Even more serious subjects claimed their place. There were speakers on 'ecotourism and environmental issues in Spiti', 'politics of climbing in the Himalaya', 'wildlife in the Eastern Himalaya' and 'people, and wetlands and biodiversity in the Himalayan high altitudes (the last two from WWF-India).
Green Hiker poster on a notice board at Woodstock School
© Indrani Bordolai

I attended the festival in the capacity of a participant and a speaker on the Green Hiker Campaign. So pleasantly surprised I was when while sauntering down the corridors of Woodstock School (where the fest took place, partly), I came face to face with Green Hiker posters in classrooms and common notice boards! All thanks to Woodstock’s HANIFL Centre for Outdoor Education, a new-found friend of the campaign and the second venue for the festival. Moreover, I started interacting with fellow participants, only to find out that they already knew about the campaign and regularly followed it! Aaah! The comfort of like-minded company!
Speaking on Green Hiker © Rajarshi Chakraborty

Being the second last speaker at the festival, the message of Green Hiker was left behind loud and ringing. I felt I was talking to an audience of responsible travellers which was eager to learn more about the initiatives and how they could get involved. Very heartening I must say!

Hopefully, the campaign will have new stories (we pray for success) to tell at the festival next year. Stories that will mingle with others that the wind carries around those green hills. Those green hills where Woodstock School happily stands.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Can tourism in Northeast India take off on a sustainable note?

As we entered the conference room, conversations in Axomiya and Garo buzzed in the air. Taking our seats we looked around and found an interesting assortment of officials from the North East Council (NEC), Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) and Transport department. Also present were the president of the Association of Tour Operators of North East India (ATONEI), president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) and other tourism stakeholders. Journalists sat with their pens ready, as the arrival of the Hon’ble Minister of Transport and Tourism, Government of Assam was eagerly awaited.

Finally, the workshop on ‘Making North East Tourism Ready’ began. Organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in collaboration with DoNER, ATONEI and NEC, the workshop was chiefly aimed at discussing an Integrated Master Plan prepared by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for NEC, for strengthening tourism circuits in the North East Region (NER). The technical sessions highlighted the tourism potential of the NER, the importance of developing infrastructure for promoting tourism, destination promotion, skill development and capacity building.

Experts spoke about the impediments to tourism in the NER, namely lack of infrastructure, skilled manpower, a common tourism master plan and most importantly, marketing! The master plan drew attention to different factors related to tourism. It talked of improving air and rail connectivity for tourists, of utilising intangible resources like local art and craft to draw tourists (something called ‘cultural tourism’), of specific destinations of tourism potential (lakes, wildlife reserves and more) in the 8 north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. It also harped on the various management-related issues to be faced during the implementation of the master plan.

I listened carefully in anticipation of another issue that loomed large and formidable in the background. But it never came. Had nobody really thought about it? Or had it simply been brushed under the ‘development’ carpet?

What about the environmental impact??? Hello??? Had that been taken into account at all? Everybody kept singing praises of the Northeast being the "unexplored paradise", about how “Nature and Culture” are the biggest “Unique ‘Selling’ Proposition” (USP) of the NER. Well, how do you expect tourism to thrive or even exist, if you don’t safeguard your first USP?? Other disturbing thoughts shot through my head. ‘Selling’? Was all that unique biodiversity and ecosystem really on sale? But before I went all philanthropic, I stopped and dragged my whirring mind back to hard facts.

This is the reality of tourism development. On one hand, it offers employment opportunities to local people, sound infrastructure and amenities, and recognition of local culture and traditions. And perhaps, this is what the Northeast needs. But not at the expense of its natural heritage! A balance is imperative. And for this, the long hike needs to start on the right foot.

The TCS project team which prepared the master plan claimed in passing that the plan had been made in consultation with concerned “tourism stakeholders.” It is left to wonder who these ‘stakeholders’ are. It was also stated that they have “tried to keep communities as the central focus.” If that was so, then where were the environmental issues, considering that the people of the Northeast are deeply respectful and protective of their natural treasures? Tourism cannot function in a vacuum, without the engagement of the local communities - the principal stakeholders of tourism, anywhere! They cannot be reduced to the status of a “tourism attraction”, along with “nature, wildlife, biodiversity, culture, heritage, religious and intangible resources…” as the master plan puts it.

I sat and watched tour operators being pleaded with to bring their businesses to the NER, for the tourism industry to resort to “aggressive marketing” as they called it. But then what about standards of sustainable tourism? Had any been set before the bandwagon arrived? How could an open invitation be sent out before their house was in order? For example, was there an effective waste management plan in place? What about measuring the tourism carrying capacity of each state and tourist destination? Did the local people really want big numbers? During the workshop, there was a proclaimed preference for “quality tourism” rather than numbers, but does quality have to mean the provision of air conditioned comfort, showers and flush toilets in biodiversity hotspots? It’s like enabling your tourist to view a rhinoceros from an air-conditioned elephant back! Is this truly ‘experiential tourism’?

The only two organisations at the workshop with this concern were the Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI) and WWF-India. Clearly outnumbered, we raised questions and elucidated issues that could not be ignored. Together, we recommended the establishment of Green Tourism Standards, an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of every area in the NER being developed for tourism before the implementation of the master plan, close collaborations and consultation with local and other conservation NGOs with a scientific understanding of the eco-region – all to help tourism in the Northeast make a sustainable start. And to stay that way.

We walked out of the conference room, in nervous anticipation of the future of the biodiversity and culturally-rich Northeast, with tourism gradually slipping into the driver’s seat.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the unexplored Northeast India on the threshold of tourism development turned out to be a pioneer of responsible tourism in the country right from its inception?

Voices from the Northeast:-

“It is great to know that there are plans to introduce large-scale tourism in the Northeast. While this will benefit the region immensely I think this should be implemented gradually. We take great pride in our culture, our land with its lush green cover, crystal-clear lakes and cascading waterfalls. Caring for it is second nature to us. There are local myths and lores attached to many places; stories that people revere. Visitors to the Northeastern states should be sensitized to this fact and demonstrate equal respect for the environment around. It breaks my heart when I see the Umiam Lake in Shillong littered with the remains of a weekend picnic revelry by a tourist party! Also, one must collaborate with the locals in order to make tourism a sustainable and responsible exercise.”

Janusa Barbara Sangma
Shillong, Meghalaya

“When you think of opening up one of the planet’s mega biodiversity hot spots to tourism, the key operating principle to bear in mind is that of ‘balance’- a balance that will enable the fulfillment of human needs along with the protection of nature. All our lives: social, cultural and economic are cocooned within the ecological circle, if we are foolish enough to tamper with this outer all encompassing circle, it will be at our own peril!

Those inscrutable dark forests and pristine blue rivers, all abounding with life are the wealth of the NE and we cannot ravage it for myopic gains. We have to find a way to keep our natural capital intact and reap dividends from the interest.”

Mita Nangia Goswami

1. Gombu-Latso, Arunachal © Pijush K. Dutta
2. Satyr Tragopan, Sikkim © Basant Sharma
3. Local communities in Sikkim © Basant Sharma
4. Cyananthus lobatus © Basant Sharma

Monday, September 3, 2012

Story of a Green Hiker…

“I didn’t want to be just another mountaineer who climbed Mount Everest, got his glory and got out of there.”

Half Nepalese-half Belgian, standing sturdy at 6 feet something, Dawa Steven Sherpa is a hard core mountaineer and trekker, but with one thing that sets him apart from the many others scrambling to summit indomitable peaks. He is moving mountains to keep his mountains clean.

Born in the Sherpa community and brought up amongst mountaineers, Dawa was destined to be a climber himself. His father, Ang Tshering Sherpa, has been the president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association and is currently the Immediate Past President (IPP) of the association. Both father and son run an expedition company called Asian Trekking.

Dawa reached the summit of Mount Everest in 2007, where seeing the cold, distrustful atmosphere and attitude amongst fellow travelers, he established a ‘base camp bakery’ so that hikers could meet, get friendly, and figuratively, break the ice. It was on this expedition, that he witnessed large amounts of garbage on the mountains, proving right National Geographic’s statement that Mt. Everest had become the “world’s highest garbage dump.” That is when he made up his mind to do something about it.

To tackle the problem of human waste, the young climber started importing Restop toilet bags from an American company called American Innotech ( which are till date, distributed free of cost to his clients and Sherpas. Moreover, Dawa sells these bags to other expeditions at cost price to encourage their use. Now, many
expeditions are bringing their own toilet bags, so the concept has proven to be a success. Through an initiative called Eco Everest Expedition, Dawa is using the resources and manpower available on the expeditions (organised as part of his business) to clean up during the expedition period (April and May). A portion of his client’s fees goes into implementing this clean up. Under this, he is also running ‘Cash for Trash’, where he offers Rs.100 for ever kilogram of trash carried back down by travelers/guides. So far, he has managed to bring down 14,259kg of trash!!

Dawa first collects the garbage – tin, aluminium, cloth, paper, wood and plastic; toxic stuff like batteries; helicopter debris (there have been four helicopter crashes) and biodegradable waste. This then goes to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), one of the key founders of which was WWF-Nepal. He keeps the tin and aluminium in storage till he figures out what to do with them.

A garbage disposal system has been in place since the 1990s, where the Government of Nepal made it mandatory for visitors to bring back their garbage after a trek. However, this only ensured that new garbage is not dumped on the mountain, while the garbage littered before, remained un-collected since no one was accountable for it. Dawa has been collecting this trash from Mount Everest since 2008, and with combined efforts the garbage situation is getting better.

When asked if he finds it tough to stop people from littering, he coolly replies, “It’s easier for me to tell a guide or porter in Nepal to not litter because tourism is the mainstay of the country. They can make that connection between their action and the consequences of it.”

Realising the potential threat of climate change in Nepal, in the form of melting glaciers, higher incidences of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF), fall in water supply, crop failure and changes in weather patterns, Dawa took a crash course in climate change from ICIMOD to develop a better understanding of the issue. “The problems we face now were never faced by my grandfather,” he says with a grimace.

But in order to organise his initiatives and send out the message in a bigger way, he needed the support of important persons and big organisations, with a similar mission.

This is when he got Apa Sherpa, the famous mountaineer and world record holder of climbing Mount Everest 21 times, on board. Apa had been a victim of a GLOF which wiped out his whole village, leaving him nothing but a blanket. In addition, Dawa got in touch with Nepali youth clubs like the Sherpa Students Network and other university students, confident in the power of young people to rally and make a difference to the society and environment around them. He organised the resources to support them and started a national campaign, where they managed to collect enough petitions to get the government to actually recognise these environmental problems. This culminated into a historical cabinet meeting at the Everest base camp where climate negotiations were held and issues discussed.

Besides the environment, Dawa has gotten involved with the human aspect of the situation. There are local communities in Nepal that are solely dependent on agriculture for sustenance, which if adversely affected would leave the people impoverished and helpless. He wanted to learn more about these communities so he could help them. According to him, most mountain communities know exactly what they need to survive on; they can perceive changes in their environment and sometimes may even know how to address them. However, they lack technical know-how, awareness about climate change, finances and able leadership.

Hence, Dawa co-founded the non-profit Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) with like-minded people. “Our work focuses on protecting the mountain environment and better the lives of the mountain people. We have already started a few initiatives, including the banning and replacement of plastic bags, setting up climate change response centres to educate and build resilience amongst the vulnerable communities, and working with the government and private sector to build a Zero Carbon economy, and creating ‘green jobs’.”

Part of this was the Great Himalayan Trail - the introductory project to highlight the vulnerability of local communities to climate change. This trail goes from the easternmost point of the Himalaya to the western most and vice versa. For HCI, Dawa and his team including Apa Sherpa decided to walk the whole length of Nepal to talk to the local communities. Two years of their lives revolved around planning for this journey, a journey that they finished in 99 days, having travelled 1,555km!

On the issue of tourism being a possible threat to the Himalayan ecology, Dawa is of the opinion that, “Tourism is the second highest revenue generator for Nepal. It is the best bet for these communities who have some amazing culture…but not tourism at the cost of the environment…tourism has to be sustainable.” He strongly emphasises, “The Himalaya is undoubtedly the most beautiful landscape in the world and undoubtedly, also the most fragile.”
Dawa sure has his hands full. And it all started with his love for the mountains that he calls home.

For any information or queries, Dawa Steven Sherpa can be contacted at

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Himalaya – through the lens

What is your vision for the future? Not just your future but also the future of the generations that will come after you. It is a well known fact that one of the key factors that determine the success of individuals, as well as, groups is their ability to have an insight into the future. The choices we make and the decisions we take in the present are based on our perception of the future.

I was traveling to the mountains for a break, hoping for peaceful surroundings, lush green forests and the company of the humbling Himalaya. But in my travels I was shocked to encounter traffic jams, crowds of people and a sea of buildings. I realized that my vision of life in the mountains was not entirely true.

My experiences and thoughts are reflected in the film below:

Off late short term vision and short term growth is being given priority over a longer view of things. The desire to see immediate results and quick profits is slowly creating an imbalance in our lives and our environment. The question that we are left to deal with at this point in time is: Where do we go from here? - as individuals and as a society?

Nitin Das is an independent filmmaker based out of New Delhi. He has made a wide range of award winning films on various social themes. For more of Nitin's work visit his web-site:


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chugging the Green Hiker way…

Ragini Letitia Singh, WWF-India

As the train pulled away from the station, I snuggled into my corner with a book to keep me company and to disassociate for a moment from my awry thoughts. This was not a routine journey to a holiday destination with some fun to look forward to. There was work to be done, important work and I wondered if I was up to it.

My gaze strayed to every passenger sitting, snoring, reading, munching and chatting around me. And then it happened! A hand crumpled an empty packet of chips and out of the window it went! I was livid. WHY? Why do they have to do that? There are dustbins on the train, waiting to be used. Or a simple makeshift dustbin could be devised by a few berth occupants, where all the trash could be collected.

Solutions are many, but actions only a few.

One thought brought comfort. At least these people had opted to travel by train which is a far cleaner and eco-friendly mode of travelling than by road or air, since it has reduced amounts of harmful emissions. I remembered reading bits from the Interim report on ‘Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth’ by the Planning Commission, Government of India, during the course of my work. It said, “In contrast (to the aviation sector), rail contributes only five per cent of the transport sector emissions while supporting about 40 per cent of freight activity and 12 per cent of passenger activity. Therefore, reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from the transport sector would broadly require a shift away from road and air towards rail and water, in addition to improving efficiencies of individual modes.”

The train raced towards my destination – Pathankot in Himachal Pradesh, from where a bus to Chamba and then another to Bharmour would wind me up at the base of the famous Manimahesh trekking route. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims ascend the difficult mountains here every year to reach Manimahesh Lake at an altitude of 4,088 masl, to eventually bathe in its holy waters. What they leave behind is plastic litter, left-over food, wrappers, fruits, offerings, sheep and goat carcasses, clothes, noise pollution, and tons of human excreta along the path and in and around the lake.

This is why I was here. Representing WWF-India, I had come to spread awareness amongst tourists and pilgrims on the importance of keeping the lake and the trekking route clean, with the help of my teammates from the WWF Himachal Field Office. I had come to tell them about the Green Hiker campaign, which simply put, encourages a more ‘responsible’ kind of tourism.

Our basic objective was to protect the Himalaya because our most important rivers - the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus and the Yangtze, are all born here. It is also here that we find pristine wetlands, mostly fed by snow and glacial melt. These are some of the last sources of freshwater on Earth on which depended the massive human population in Central and South Asia, several species of migratory birds, fish and mammals. Any change to the dynamics of these wetlands could reach all the way downstream impacting fish populations, biodiversity, agriculture, river infrastructure, flood cycles and communities. This is why it was so crucial to leave this fragile environment clean and undamaged.

The movement of the train set off a chain of thoughts. Every year, a huge number of travelers visit the Himalayas through the railway network. Unfortunately, a large percentage of them are responsible for littering and solid waste management problems. Why don’t train travelers do something about it? Surely they could contribute by keeping the railway tracks and their surrounding environment clean. The simplest measure to adopt would be to use the dustbins available in the train or to collect garbage and leftover food in a bag to dispose in a dustbin later. This small act could actually go a long way in keeping our pathways to the pure and pristine mountains litter-free and pure.

Suddenly there was a pleasant whiff of hot food, instantly enticing my appetite. The pantry staff arrived with trays. Once my tray was before me, it had all my attention. As I chewed fervently, I wondered how the staff always knew when to serve at the right time. When they came to clear my tray, I handed back the unused napkin, plastic spoon and sachets so they could be used next time by someone else. They looked surprised and probably thought, “What a strange thing to do!”

I received their look of surprise with a grin. Maybe this would make them stop and think. And why not? Train travelers could actually help conserve resources by returning unused sauce/salt sachets, cutlery, napkins and food packets to the attendants. If this became a regular practice encouraged both by the staff and travelers, it would make train travel so much more eco-friendly and reduce the railway system’s carbon footprint. Just a small action as this!

Wanting some fresh air and picturesque views, I went to stand at the door. The view certainly wasn’t very picturesque. Litter adorned the tracks that we raced over, and the grassy meadows that began where they ended. A sad contrast to the gorgeous mountains that rose in the distance. I prayed that the litter would never reach them. I hoped that everyone would become a green hiker, embracing the environmental consciousness that comes with a deep love for nature and its purity.

When I alighted at Pathankot, my head still buzzed with thoughts. I looked back at the tired giant that had carried me here, thinking of the important choice that travelers had - to litter or not to litter, and the great power to impact the environment that they passed. I walked away wondering, in the end what that choice would be.

Published in Rail Bandhu, January 2012