Sustainable Tourism: Leave the place cleaner

As I mentioned yesterday, on the occasion of World Environment Day (5 June 2020), I am starting a series on Sustainable Tourism and this is the first piece in the series. As the title suggests, this is one thing that we should try and do as much as possible: Leave the place cleaner than it was before!

There are many ways to do this. One can dedicate one day of your trip to have clean-up drives planned in the hill stations or beaches you visit.

This is most easily done when you are doing local hikes and treks. Plan well in advance and carry a bag to collect trash. Bigger the group, better the impact! Remember, enjoy your trek up to the peak or the top, and start collecting the trash on your way back down. That way, your load carrying increases during the easier part of your trek. Such kind of “clean-up drives” albeit uncommon are seen amongst some trekking groups in Sahyadris and Himalayas. But it needs considerable planning. Also, you need to dispose the waste responsibly, or carry it back to the city where it can be disposed through regular channels.

Sometimes, you visit such pristine places that you cannot help but plan an impromptu clean-up drive. Take for example, the time we went to Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, near Ravangla (Sikkim), in 2015.

This Wildlife Sanctuary does not see a high footfall of tourists. In fact, because we were visiting off-season, we were the only entrants to the sanctuary, the day we went!

Image: The wilderness of forest was something we could feel. Not many humans had passed this way, atleast not recently.

After getting the necessary permits and paying the park fees, we were assigned a local member to be our guide for the day. Since we were on a tight schedule, our plan was not the destination (of the hiking trail), rather, it was to get a glimpse or two of the specialities (flora and fauna) of the region!

Maenam supports a wide range of medicinal flora and wildlife like Red Panda, Serow, Marbled-Cat, Leopard-Cat, birds like Blood Pheasant, Common Hill Partridge, Satyr Tragopan among others.

While climbing up, what struck me was the cleanliness of the forest. The less-trodden path definitely seemed to have its advantages. And so it was obvious, that scenes like this (below) stood out like a sore thumb.

Image: The occasional plastic waste that just did not merge with the forest floor.

I honestly could not bear this sight. I had to pick that up. As I stuffed the plastic in the side of my backpack, I was thinking perhaps we could pick up all the obvious trash on the trail. There wasn’t much anyways! Yes, it would increase our walking time but it was worth the effort. Since this place was already so clean, it would be an easy exercise making it cleaner. And so, we started to pick up trash on our way back.

Image: A general tip- if you plan to pick up trash in a forest trail, do it on the return journey.

Since this was impromptu, we did not even have the bags to carry the trash. But we found huge plastic bags on the trail which we then used as our carry bags for trash! One carry bag soon became three! And by the end of the trail, the park was a teeny weeny bit cleaner than before!!

Image: We dropped these with the Forest Department official who assured us that he would dispose it through regular channels, so that it does not find its way again into the protected area.

We told the Park official, that we were thrilled to see the general cleanliness of the park which is what prompted us to pick the remainder of the trash. (To tell you the truth, if a place is too dirty, you often do not find the motivation to clean it up). He informed us that they carry out regular cleanliness drives in the forest.

As tourists (and citizens), we need to remember, litter attracts more litter (and my littering alarm is always active!) A simple chocolate wrapper lying on the ground can give an excuse to 100 others to do the same.

And for those of you who are wondering- ठीक है तुमने कचरा उठाया, लेकिन अंत में कुछ उधर दिखा या नहीं? [ok, you picked up the trash, but did you sight anything there?]. Yes indeed! We did see the Satyr Tragopan (just see this bird!!!!), Orange headed Bullfinch and a family of Rufous-Throated Partridge!! So yes, we saw our quota of wildlife too!!

Parting thoughts: We might not always be able to leave the place cleaner than it was before. So maybe, we can also try not make it dirtier than before?! 😛

Education and Awareness Short Stories

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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