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6 Simple Tips To Travel More Responsibly In Ladakh

    

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The snow-capped Himalayas, vast cold-desert valleys, high motor able passes, and a well-preserved culture are some of the many things that make Ladakh a unique and an ultimate travel destination. It’s an enchanting place, crystal clear water running from the glacier, bright blue lakes, scenic roads, ancient monasteries, and a picturesque landscape has been attracting tourists from all around the globe.

Since 1974( when Ladakh was opened for tourists), the number of tourists visiting Ladakh has been increasing gradually, From 527 tourists in 1974 to 50,000 in 2007, but in last decade the numbers just exploded, all thanks to the Bollywood blockbuster of 2009 ‘3 Idiots’ starring Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan. “The number touched the 6 figure mark for the first time in 2011, with 1,79,491 tourists” quoted by the state tourism department and last year it shook all numbers by crossing 3 lakh mark for the first time, it’s almost double of the local population of Ladakh region which is only, 1,33,400.

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While tourism is bringing revenue and helping the local economy boom, it has also raised concerns over its effect on the fragile environment and ecology. The uncontrolled influx of tourists adds to the region’s growing environmental insecurity and depleting resources. Ladakh is losing its tranquility and calm surrounding. Every time I see a picture of Ladakh, the overwhelming desire to hike those rugged rocky mountains, the joy of turning every prayer wheel, and the smiles of the locals when you greet them by saying “julley julley”, makes me visit Ladakh again. But then I remember, Ladakh might no longer be the place I visited just a few years ago. The government and social workers are trying very hard to control the situation, but as a traveler, it’s our responsibility to support them in preserving this beautiful place. Here are some simple tips to travel responsibly in Ladakh.

1. Take an oath to say no to bottled water

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Increasing solid waste generation is one of the biggest ecological threat to the region. As tourism is growing rapidly, expect to see huge mountains of garbages instead of the glaciers. The growing demand for packaged food and water in Leh has led to a staggering 30,000 bottles being dumped every day. As a responsible tourist, you should avoid contributing to this heap of garbage. There are plenty of alternatives.

Avoid buying bottled drinking water. There’s absolutely no need to do this in Ladakh. Carry a good water bottle to refill water and take it back with you when you leave. The filtered glacier water is more than safe enough to drink. It tastes a little different at first but you’ll get used to it. It’s also cheaper than the bottled water, you’ll get it for as low as Rs.7/litre. You can also go old school and directly fill up from the springs.

If you’re traveling outside the city or going for a trek or a hike, you can always carry a portable form of water purifier with you. There are many options for UV-filter bottles and portable water purifier, which are available in the market. Water purification tablets are also an option.

Don’t throw garbage on the road, use the dustbins and be responsible towards the environment. It’s up to you, who you wanna be, a nature frontier or an ignorant tourist.

2. Dodge the obvious and go offbeat.

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With the Centre approved construction of the 14.2-km long tunnel project, Asia's longest bi-directional Zojila Pass tunnel, will further give a boost to the tourism sector in the region and more private vehicles would be coming to the region but this is however not the best way to explore Ladakh. Traveling in a vehicle from point A to B and stopping just to click selfies is maybe convenient but the best way to see Ladakh is by trekking!

Trekking with a local guide on off-road paths, listening to his regional folklore and enjoying the surreal moonlike terrain is enchanting. Having a local with you helps to ensure that minimal damage to the environment is done by staying on dedicated paths. There are plenty of trekking routes in Ladakh, some are easy and take 3-5 days and some are challenging (and may make you walk on frozen lakes), ranging from 8 to 9 days. All include staying either in small homestays along the way or in camps.

Cycling is another environment-friendly way to roam around Ladakh and it’s cheaper than renting a bike or a private cab. It’s a magical experience to have and it cost only around Rs.1000/day.

Recommended: Offbeat Things to do in Ladakh for a Beguiling Experience in the Land Beyond Skies

3. Homestays and camps > Lavish hotels and luxurious guesthouses

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With the increasing flow of tourists in recent years, the hotel business has mushroomed in the region. A large number of hotels and up-market guesthouses have been opened in the Sham Valley. They have all the amenities like concrete flooring, electric geysers for hot water showers and toilets with 24*7 running water. All this sounds good and natural but it comes with a huge cost. Water shortage and groundwater contamination are some of the biggest problems that have to be tackled and these posh hotels are major contributors to the problem.

Also, there is nothing Ladakhi or eco-friendly about them and they can not provide the same experience and bonding to Ladakhi culture that small homestays can. Staying in a local ladakhi houses gives you the liberty to bond with the locals, to try local cuisines, to know about their culture and to be one of them for a few days.

These houses have dry toilets that need very little water and produce compost for farms, on the other hand, the hotels have water-based flush toilet systems that too with soak pits instead of septic tanks, which is the main cause of the groundwater contamination.

You can also opt for camp stays, which use solar power to generate electricity and heat water, offer bucket baths and dry toilets. It’s up to you to choose the right ECO-FRIENDLY accommodation for yourself.

4. Hitchhiking in Ladakh

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Most of us think of Ladakh as a secluded place, a hidden gem but that’s not the case anymore. If you think during your vacation you’ll be away from the reach of red lights and horns blowing all around you, then my friend you’re wrong. It’s not uncommon to be stuck for 20 minutes in a traffic jam in Leh. The running engines and fuel contaminates the fresh air, create pollution and is also the reason for untimely melting of glaciers, resulting in a severe shortage of water in summers. Hitchhiking and sharing cabs are a great way to tackle this, it’ll reduce your expenses as well as your carbon footprint.

Hitchhiking is very safe in Ladakh and even the locals do that, it’s a great way to blend in, to listen to the stories of the fellow travelers and to make some new friends. When it comes to booking cabs for sightseeing, instead of booking a private vehicle, you can book a seat in a shared cab, it’ll be easy on your wallet. And last, if you’ve booked a private cab for some reason, and there is some space left then at least let locals or a tourist hitchhike with you, after all, we are in this all together!

5. Save every drop of water

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Ladakh is on the verge of the water crisis. The untimely melting of the glacier leads to water shortage in summer and the major reason for this is the carbon emission from tourist vehicles. Add to this, the demands for running water, flushable western toilets and showers! The water level of Ladakh is falling way too fast.

We must reduce our water consumption during our stay in Ladakh- it’s okay not to take bath everyday (scientifically proven) and if you have to take bath, use a bucket instead of a shower. Also, get used to the idea of using dry toilets because it minimizes the need for water and sanitation drains. And don’t ever forget- Ladakh is a DESERT after all.

Also read: Ice Stupas: Conserving Water In The Rancho Way!

6. Enquire

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As a traveler, it is our responsibility to preserve this surreal place. If you’re traveling on your own, then try to minimize your carbon footprint and respect the mother nature. If you’re traveling with some travel or trek company, ask them about how responsibly they are dealing with this situation, what are the measures and initiatives they have taken to deal with conservation of energy and water, plastic waste and how they’re supporting the traditional way of life and contribute to the local community.

At Shoesonloose, with our different initiatives, we are trying to maintain a balance between tourism and sustainable development in Ladakh. Also read: How Shoes On Loose has planned to #SaveLadakh?
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