The ‘garbage girl’ of the mountains

May 16th, 2010 - 2:03 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Dharamsala, May 16 (IANS) Every morning, along with a handful of volunteers, including some foreigners, British national Jodie Underhill sets out to collect non-biodegradable waste dumped carelessly in the mountains surrounding McLeodganj, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Himachal Pradesh.

She is a follower of Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama and also a believer in Gandhian values. But Jodie has earned a fan following of her own in this Himalayan town by helping clean up mountains of trash.

“This state is rich in flora and fauna, but sadly the people, especially the tourists, are destroying its pristine beauty by spreading trash here and there,” Underhill, who is popular among the locals as the “garbage girl”, told IANS.

She came to this town in January to sponsor the education of some Tibetan children but soon got involved in cleaning the mountains after seeing piles of garbage.

“Every Monday and Tuesday we visit Triund (the popular trekking route overlooking this town) to collect waste like polythene and paper bags, empty beer and liquor bottles, old tents, food item sachets and clothes. On an average, we are collecting 35 sacks of garbage from the nine-km stretch every week,” she said.

Underhill said that 70 percent of what they collect at Triund is plastic bottles.

“Garbage has been burnt or thrown down the mountains for many years and although we have made great progress clearing it, we need to ensure that waste is disposed of correctly in the future,” she said.

But just collecting the dumped garbage is not the only intention of the 34-year-old Briton.

“During the garbage collection drive, we also educate the local people and vendors about the scientific disposal of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste,” she said.

Besides cleaning the hills, the Mountain Cleaners - as her group is known - is also providing waste disposal bags to the people settled in nearby areas of this town.

“We are working alongside the state forest department to improve facilities, educate people about waste and recycling and to promote efficient and safe waste management. We aim to provide long-term waste disposal solutions and guidelines for the people visiting the mountain camp, especially schoolchildren,” said Claire Jabre, another volunteer.

Ravi Kumar, a resident of Bhagsunag village located on the outskirts of this town, said: “Once an eyesore, the hills are almost free from plastic pollution. People have also developed a proper waste disposal sense with the intervention of the Mountain Cleaners.”

“The damage we have done to our planet cannot be reversed, but we can all make positive changes for the future by reducing, re-using and recycling. Let’s leave our children a planet that is habitable not just for them but for future generations too,” Underhill said.

According to the tourism department, more than 10,000 trekkers visit Triund every year and tourism, including climbing, is a key source of income for the local people.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at

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