A dirty saga unfolds by the Indus in Kashmir (Leh Newsletter)

July 29th, 2011 - 10:58 am ICT by IANS  

Leh, July 29 (IANS) You reach the banks of the historic Indus River, envisioning crystal clear waters and idyllic surroundings. But heaps of garbage, plastic bottles and remnants of food packets welcome you instead - it’s a sign of growing tourism in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.

“I have been working here for five years. I guard the place during the day and make sure that people don’t litter here. I also have to make sure that people don’t wash clothes in the water. But some people come here in the night and they even sit and drink here and litter,” Mohammed Nadi, a guard, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

Every June, the banks of the Indus, also known as the Sindhu, are popular for the three-day Sindhu Darshan, a celebration of the river.

But the increased number of visitors is clearly taking a toll on nature as visitors leave behind a trail of waste - paper, plastic bottles, bags etc. “During peak tourist season, about 70-80 cars come here every day,” said Nadi, adding the state government sends people to clean it, but this year they haven’t come yet.

While going further down a road that meanders along the river offers cleaner sights, the main tourist spot is an eyesore.

Those who consciously or unconsciously litter should know that the Indus is one of the oldest and longest rivers in the world. It originates from Mansarovar in Tibet and is some 2,880 km long. Some of it lies in the Himalayan ranges and foothills and the rest in the plains of Pakistan.

Its historical relevance is written in golden words - the river gave its name to the ancient Indus Valley civilisation. Archaeologists discovered two 4,000-year-old cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (now in Pakistan), that had sprung up by the Indus.

“The state government tries to keep it clean, but people who come here should also take care and carry their waste back with them,” said a local.

According to Ladakh Eco Adventure, an adventure travel company, litter is a recent problem in Ladakh. The problem of litter went up when consumer items, especially food, made their way into the region.

Ladakh Eco Adventure, which organises treks and other adventure sports, suggests that trekkers should carry their litter in their bags and deposit them in designated litter places.

“I have been reading about the Indus river from school days and so I was very curious to see this historical river. The entire place has its own charm — by standing there you can enjoy the breathtaking view - your eyes are greeted by mountains, river water and snow-capped peaks. What plays a mood spoiler is the garbage accumulated on the bank, bottles, plastic bags and slippers even in the waters,” Priya Kumar, a visitor, told IANS.

“If proper attention is not given, it will also become as bad as the Ganges or the Yamuna.”

Something similar is in evidence when one visits the newly built Shanti Stupa in Leh. While driving up one gets to see mountains of garbage on both sides of the road.

Ladakh is not the only place in Jammu and Kashmir facing this problem. One finds heaps of empty plastic bottles, stray food wrappers and human excreta on way to the Amarnath cave shrine during the annual pilgrimage that is on right now.

“I visited Amarnath for the first time in 1979 and this was my 19th visit to the shrine. But I was shocked to see the filth and garbage near the cave and all along the Baltal route. While walking up to the cave I wasn’t sure if my next step would be in mud or in human waste — people were defecating everywhere - in fact they even relieved themselves outside their tents,” Rabinder Raina, 52, an ex-banker, told IANS.

(Arpana can be contacted at arpana.s@ians.in)

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