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Treks, Trekkers and Trash!

I have been trekking in various mountain ranges for over 18 years now.  I started trekking in the Sahyadri mountains and forts of Maharashtra, but the boundless nature of the sport, took me to the Americas to hike in the Rockies, Smokies, the Grand Canyon, the Zion Canyon, Paulo Duro Canyon and finally the mightiest of all, the Himalayas of India!
  • Trekking makes you realize how tiny you are in front of the vast canvas of existence. It literally shows you your place! So, I go to them every year, just to remind myself of this ultimate truth!
  • When trekking was not so popular, very few of us went up the mountains and most of us being nature lovers, made sure that we didn’t leave back our ‘mark’.. However, with the advent of internet, and the breath-catching, picturesque locations being posted on social media platforms, a huge crowd has started making their journey into the mountains.  Definitely, some are humble lovers of the nature and are very aware of their footprint. Such trekkers are most welcome! However, a majority of the so-called ‘trekkers’ are going to the mountains with very little awareness of their impact on the ecology as well as the society neighboring these treks.  Unfortunately, the disease called ‘consumerism’ is as active in them in these far flung areas, as much as it is in the cities. They bring along, the same junk food, biscuits, wafers, noodles, juices, chocolates, water, disposable cutlery and what not. Mimicking them, enterprising villagers set up stalls to sell this junk instead of selling their home grown traditional food, which is far more tastier, healthier and environmentally friendly. But our urban dwellers are blinded by their unhealthy lifestyles, and leave the trash they generate, behind in the nature, expecting that their city municipalities are going to come behind them to the mountains to clean up their trash. Well, they pay taxes you see!!
  • But alas, that never happens.. Neither the municipalities, nor the gram panchayats clean this trash. Some mindful villagers do gather this trash, but have no other way to dispose it, other than setting it on fire. What they don’t understand is, that they are breathing poison with the fumes that burning trash emits; polluting their own lungs and the fresh air for which trekkers visit these places. Such has become the condition!
Aarohana's UPCYCLED-HANDWOVEN Beach bag made of Waste Plastic bags and Wrappers
  • Don’t you feel something must be done about this??  My partner and I felt the same for several years, and that was one of the reasons why we founded Aarohana EcoSocial Developments in 2013 and now, are succesfully upcycling a lot of plastic!
  • Many of you already know the story of our UPCYCLED-HANDWOVEN products made from waste plastic, for others, do check us out on www.aarohana.org ...
  • So, as I mentioned earlier, my love for trekking takes me to the mountains each year, and to my solace, this years’  trek was not just an excursion!! It was bundled with something more!!
  • I had heard a lot about Indiahikes, so I started reading more about them since last year, and came across their Green Trails project. As I read about them on https://indiahikes.com/green-trails/, I was so amazed that Indiahikes was not just another money-making endeavour to introduce urbaners to the mountains, but they were taking one step further to conserve them. I got in touch with them, introduced Aarohana’s work and congratulated them on their efforts. I brainstormed with Laxmi (who is the Green Trails Lead) about potential ways I could contribute with my experience working with this sector. We had various conversations and even got the opportunity to meet her and their founder, Arjun during my visit to Bengaluru last year. They both motivated me to go visit their most popular trek Roopkund, and witness the important work Green Trails has undertaken to clean up tonnes of trash from the mountains.   With several deliberations of whether I want to spend my vacation on a crowded trek, I finally pushed myself into it. A dear friend Sucheta and I registered and also decided on spending a few days after the trek helping Green Trails in whatever way possible.
Waste plastic strewn behind a roadside dhaba
  • The dawn on 25th July, we hopped into a bus to Lohajung from Kausani, we had halted for the night.
  • As I sat on the bus, appreciating the nature, I realized that as any town or city came by, there was a heap of trash at the entry and exit of each village and the streams and rivers seemed constricted by trash thrown under the bridge.
       
  • As Lohajung approached, my anxiety of seeing a similar scene was daunting me. But to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad!!  Also, the entire trek to and back from Roopkund, was quite clean… opposite of what I had imagined and was told by friends. How was this even possible? What were Indiahikes and Green trails doing to make this happen? How were they taking this difficult task of working with trekkers and villagers in making this happen? I had to think and analyse it!  This is a small effort in listing down my points, without making it too long:
  1. The modest ‘EcoBag’ – This is a small waist-pouch given to each trekker. It’s each trekker’s responsibility to bring back their own trash down with them. I found this poster at Indiahikes Loharjung camp:
  2. Wall poster at IH Campsite - Lohajung.. Isnt it true?
  3. In addition, each trekker can also help pick up trash left behind by other irresponsible trekkers. This modest EcoBag has done wonders!
  4. Collection from Dhabawalas – These are village-based entrepreneurs, who have setup shacks to sell tea, maggi, omelette and junk food. Earlier, these Dhabawala used to throw away their trash in the mountains and sometimes burn it up. Now, the Dhabawalas are made aware of the problems this causes, and hence all of them store their trash in segregated sacks, and hand it over to the Indiahikes team. This is then brought down by mules at the expense of Indiahikes.
  5. Segregation by Green trails Volunteers and Fellows – The sacks of waste collected by Dhabawalas and segregated bins at the base camp are manually segregated by the Green trails team. The recyclables are sent to a nearby city and rest is sent to a city landfill. Hats off to the dedication of the Green Trails volunteers and staff.
    Bench made using bottle bricks at a bus stop in Muling.
  6. The ‘Bottle brick’ project: Some ‘Trekkers’ are addicted to aerated drinks and mineral water. They consider fresh spring water, fresh lime juice or rhododendron flower juice as LS (Low Status)! Hence, lots of bottle trash is generated. In addition, there are lots of non-recyclable wrappers of biscuits, chocolates, candies and so on. The idea of Green Trails was to start making Bottle bricks, by stuffing over 100 wrappers in each bottle. The bottle is so stuffed now, that is as hard as a brick. This is used to make benches, tables and lots more. Students from village schools are also giving a hand in making such bottle bricks and are excited about making tables and chairs at home. How cool!
  7. Pillows from waste: Women in the villages aremaking pillows from waste clothes and plastic wrappers. These are then sold to trekkers as trekking-pillows. Plans are to sell these online! I’m just excited imagining how much waste could go into each of these pillows!
  8. Little Rukmini gathers waste around her house to stuff it in her bottle brick!
    Waste-free houses: They have identified 5 houses in neighbouring villages, and the family members are being trained to live a waste-free life… Could we do this in our cities as well?
  9. Education: Green trails volunteers and fellows go around schools and teach them environmental science. Again, Hats off to their dedication!
There is a lot more work which is being carried out by Indiahikes and their Green Trails project. Words wont be enough! I was so happy that my vacation enabled me to undertake such a useful task, extremely close to my heart. I have taken back some learnings from this, and now plan to implement them in our tribal village, where Aarohana’s upcycling project is being run. Aarohana’s entire focus is on non-recyclable waste and such partners as Indiahikes are a treasured relationship. I’m glad we connected and I hope that we, as Aarohana EcoSocial Developments, can associate with Indiahikes in the near future. A message for all trekkers from the bottom of my heart: Let’s pledge that we keep our mountain ecology intact and keep our humble villagers away from the consumeristic societies we all come from! Let’s leave a better planet for our future generations to come, witness and cherish!  I’m sure no one likes to see trash when they are on a trek! Let’s not leave any for them!

One thought on “Treks, Trekkers and Trash!

  1. What a lovely article. I hope lots of people realize and make a change.

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