In a significant development for the tourism sector in Ladakh, (which accounts for a large slice of the local economy) the Ministry of Home Affairs has recently approved the State government’s decision to open up five new routes through the region for tourists and four trails for trekkers.
According to the MHA directive, tourists can now travel the Chushul-Kartsangla-Mahe, Durbuk-Shachukul-Tharuk-Satokargyam-Parma-Erath-Chushul, Merak-Loma Bend axis, Agham-Shayok-Durbuk, and Korzok-Nurbo-Sumdo-Parangla-Kazaand routes.
Trekkers, meanwhile, can traverse four additional routes—Phyang-Dokla-Hunderok, Basgo-Ney-Hunderdok-Hunder, Temisgam-Largyap-Panchathank-Skuru and Saspol-Saspochey-Rakurala-Skuru.
“With the objective of giving a fillip to the tourism sector and enhancing the economic activity in the Ladakh region of J&K, the Ministry of Home Affairs has approved the proposal of State Government of J&K to open up more tourists/trekking routes in the region,” said the MHA directive.
Many of these routes and trekker trails are at a very high elevation (14,000 feet and above) and are accessible by motorable or navigable dirt roads that run alongside the Chinese border on certain stretches. Also, according to the Times of India, the “validity of tourist permits for travelling through the new and existing routes has also been increased to 15 days from 7 days presently.”
While the MHA’s objectives intend to bridge the socio-cultural gap that exists between Ladakh and mainland India, besides enhancing the local economy, tourists coming into these parts must keep these five simple things in mind.
1) Respect local ways and tradition
This is generally a golden rule for tourists anywhere in the world. However, you could take things a notch further by choosing homestays over conventional hotels.
Why? For starters, you enjoy greater engagement with the local culture and garner a greater understanding of how locals live their daily lives. Also, unlike hotels, these homestays have a lesser impact on the delicate ecosystem in terms of waste discharge and the fact that these structures are often made of traditional wood instead of concrete and bricks.
2) Do not trash the place with your plastic bags, tetra bags and toilet paper!
This is a serious problem. The region is getting crushed under the weight on non-biodegradable waste. If you’re riding along popular tourist routes and trekking trails, don’t throw trash by the wayside. Either find suitably marked garbage dumps or carry your trash with you until you find one. You could also do your part by not consciously not choosing to use products packaged in plastic and other non-biodegradable material.
3) Try and using traditional toilets
As covered by The Better India, the region is facing an unprecedented water problem due to receding glaciers and exponentially rising tourist footfall. Conventional flush toilets use disproportionate amounts of water. Traditional dry toilets require little to no water at all. Also, the dried human excreta is used as organic manure.
Yes, it does take time to get used to the odour that sometimes emanates from these dry toilets, but it’s a critically important way of saving water in the region.
4) Respect nature!
During a recent camping trip to the famous Pangong Lake (of 3 Idiots fame), one could hear a set of tourists from the mainland blasting Bollywood numbers near the lakeshore in the dead of night. If you wanted to party with loud Bollywood music, you didn’t have to travel thousands of miles to this serene location and disturb the peace.
Don’t take your vehicles into these lakes or compel local taxi drivers from doing so. Also, leave the local wildlife alone, enjoy them from afar, and don’t chase them around in your SUVs. On another trip to Tsomoriri lake, one could see a convoy of SUVs chasing a beautiful wild horse, desperately taking pictures of the poor animal who did nothing to suffer such harassment.
Also, to reduce the tourist load on the region, which is particularly high during July and August, you could also explore the possibility of visiting the region during the winter.
5) When taking pictures of locals, ask them first. Don’t fetishise them.
“Would I enjoy someone entering my garden and taking a close-up picture of me? Would I feel happy if a horde of loud, fast-clicking people would disturb my herd, drive my clients away or interrupt the Morning Prayer while scurrying from one corner to another?” says this tourist advisory. Tourists should keep this mind when visiting habitations along these routes and trekking trails.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)