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                               Eco-tourism & Mountains         


                 Mountaineering ,Trekking & Adventure
By M S Gill                           (former Chief Election Commissioner and former   President  Mountaineering Foundation, is Currently President Himalayan Club

Large hotels by Plains people are no good for Places like Manali. They pollute and destroy the environment and the income does not go to the local people. On the other hand the bread and breakfast accommodation in local homes allows the tourists' to stay with local families, and thus learn to appreciate their culture, and of course the income goes to the owners of the homes.

                     My PERSONAL involvement with the Himalayas goes back to 1958 when I joined the IAS and went to Darjeeling on Bharat Darshan. Meeting Everest hero Tenzing was a great experience, and fixed my interest in the mountains. I started to read every book  I could find. In the then Punjab where I was posted, all of Kangra and Lahaul Spiti on the Tibet border were part of the state. I am the first IAS officer in India to ask for and train at the HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute) , Darjeeling with Tenzing. I later helped to set up the Western Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Manali. I was clear that administrators should be encouraged in mountaineering and other adventure sports in order to give our country well motivated officer for the high mountain frontier districts. In 1961 i asked for and became Deputy Commissioner Lahaul Spiti and was there at  the time of the Chinese war. As a young bachelor, I had the pleasures of trekking and climbing those high valleys from 10 to 20 thousand feet. As I wrote in my book ''Himalayan Wonderland- Travels in Lahaul Spiti'', "for once my pleasure became my duty". I maintained my mountain interest all through my career, and traveled extensively from Ladakh to Arunachal. I valued my friendship with Tenzing, Hillary and other great mountaineers. 

When Everest was climbed in 1953, it was Nehru 's idea to set up the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. He made Tenzing Director of training and encouraged Indian youth towards high adventures. Indians had in the past centuries traveled in the Himalayas with a religious focus for pilgrimage and pence, but to climb the high mountains for adventure and sports is a British idea . Free India needed to encourage this sport, to create in its youth a desire for adventure and risk taking.
                            Only then can great administrators be produced. HMI Darjeeling became a mother nursery of all our famous climbers. They came mainly from the Armed Forces, and Indians soon began to climb the highest peaks. By 1965 Everest had been climbed, putting 9 people on top. Other major peaks like Annapurna, Nanda Devi, Trishul etc. were all being quickly climbed by young Indians. These achievements excited and encouraged our youth.

The Himalayan Club of which l have the honor to be the current President, was set up by the British in 1928. It has continued for the last 74 years to promote adventure sports in the high mountains, as well as a study of their botany, geology and culture. In about 1957 again with Nehru's encouragement, and the efforts of some leading civil servants the Indian mountaineering Foundation was set  up. The IMF recevied strong support from govt. of India, and became main body to encourage Indian  attempts on the high peaks, as well as the training of young Indian mountaineers. Over the decades, it did tremendous work in spreading mountaineering and trekking across the country. Many training institutes were set up and we have at least 5 of them now. Climbing and mountaineering clubs sprang up all over, and young people started going out on expeditions. Very soon Indian woman climbed Everest. We have the distinction of Santosh Yadav being the only woman in the world to have climbed Everest twice. The young women of India showed remarkable achievements in climbing difficult peaks, and undertaking other adventures in the hills. The Govt. of India through the mountaineering institutes, subsidies training for young people in a big way. The IMF too spends considerable money in training our mountaineers and upgrading their skills.

 The population of India has unfortunately risen from 30 crore at independence to 100 crore now. Our cities have expanded beyond desirable limits, and all our urban population faces difficult living conditions. It is all the more necessary now, that our youngsters from the big urban centers like Bombay and Calcutta should be enabled in the summer to go to the cool Himalayas for adventure and spiritual communion. The number of trekkers and climbers has risen in a big way. I also have to say that in the last 50 years the rising population has put unacceptable pressure on our high mountains, rivers, forests and wild life. All these treasures have diminished. I remember climbing in thick forested Sikkim in 1961. -I have in later decades traveled there, and seen sad, barren hillsides. In my 40 years of administrative life, I can personally record the reduction of forests from Himachal to Arunachal, and in the Madhya Pradesh.

I want to warn that in this new century, there will be water wars, between countries and within countries. With little forestry, the rivers are drying up and being polluted by uncontrolled industries. Forests, where the tigers have now entirely disappeared. The reduction of forests is damaging our rivers. I want to warn our young people, that in this new century; there will be water wars, between countries and within countries.

Already minimum water availability is a crisis in every big city. The Yamuna in Delhi is a sewer and so it continues all the way to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Therefore while we must go to the Himalayas for rest and sustenance, we must also guard and preserve them. The forest on the hillsides is precious and the only way to prevent erosion. The Himalayas too have turned into a mountain desert in many parts. We must check these for the sake of future generations. I have seen outstanding eco- plantation work in Mussoorie and elsewhere. This must be made an all India movement. Our rivers and mountains are sacred, and should be treated with respect and honor.

In the 50s and 60s we followed the European practice of climbing with big expeditions, for prestigious conquest of peaks. Our culture does not believe in the conquest of high peaks, which themselves are the sacred abode of the Gods. We go there only to pay homage. The Europeans too have today become very conscious of environment protection. They now travel in small expeditions of 2s and 4s and 6s only. They make sure no damage is done to the trees and environment, and all rubbish brought back to the plains for destruction. Our youth must learn this basic civic sense.

                          Mount Inderahara Image by Ria Monika                              

                     I have traveled extensively in the Himalayas as well as in European mountain areas. I found that in countries such as Austria and Scotland, the local population has a major source of earning from the beauty of their mountains and environment. Vast numbers of tourists come to climb, trek and enjoy the scenery. These countries maintain a very efficient bread and breakfast culture for tourists i.e., the residents in the hills are given financial and other help to maintain good quality homes with attached bathrooms, etc. During the summer season they welcome visitors to stay in bread and breakfast accommodation. Thus they earn good money. For the long snow bound winters, the family has the full use of a large house and enough to eat. I believe

we need to encourage the same policy in the hill states from Himachal to Arunachal. Large hotels by plains people are no good for places like Manali. They pollute and destroy the environment. Manali is in poor shape now-and the income does not go to the local people. On the other hand the bread and breakfast accommodation in local homes, allows the tourists to stay with local families, and thus learn to appreciate their culture and of course the income goes to the owners of the homes. I am very clear, that the main possibility of higher earning for the hill people is eco- tourism, through the dispersed bread and breakfast method. Therefore I would hope, that the hill state govts. guard the beauty of their environment, allow no pollution by large industries or hotels etc. and in fact encourage through cheap financial loans, their local citizens to upgrade their housing accommodation, for both summer tourists, and their own living in the winter.

 In places like Manali bread and breakfast accommodation should be listed, supervised, properly controlled, and known to the tourist offices locally as in Europe, so that tourists can be guided to good and cheap accommodation, which still gives excellent earnings to the house owners. Along with this of course will go the service industries of transport, eating, well mannered guides etc. It is therefore of prime interest to the govts. of the hill states to maintain well considered laws in order to check any damage to the environment, forest or rivers. As President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation for 6 years {'93-99') , I pressed very hard, to have the size of lndian expeditions reduced to the minimum, and for them to be conscious of environment protection.
       Our Armed Forces and Police sometimes, are guilty of large prestigious expeditions, even now. We tried very hard to focus them on environment protection. Due to our Armed Forces being on the Himalayan borders, there is severe pressure on the scarce forest cover of the mountains. That too must be guarded by all of us. Therefore in this year of eco-tourism(2002) and mountains, I would plead for a national consciousness and aggressive movement, to safeguard the Himalayas and the great rivers which come from them, and sustain our life in the plains. [ 
Courtesy:- Yojana ]   

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