The idea of a hill station always builds up a romantic concept in our mind. We make an image of hills, tall devdar trees, narrow lanes, cozy climate, warm people and a hot cup of tea for our company to watch the world pass by.
But, nowadays this image is little different. Now when you visit any hill station especially in summer season you are welcomed with serpentine queues of cars to enter the city, over flowing gutters, hoards of people, chaos, noise, heat, dust and a constant reminder that we have killed our hill station in order to grab our piece of heaven from these heavenly places.
Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh which is predominantly described as the summer capital of the British during the colonial rule. It is always being projected as a place with narrow roads lined with deodar trees, colonial buildings, its churches and the cool climate, which is its major attraction.
But, in recent history it is also known for haphazard development, crowding of the city with tourists, etc.
So, when I landed in Shimla in May 2017 I was not expecting it to be an idyllic place. However I was not ready for this also—when I got down from my bus, I witnessed overflowing gutters, traffic jams, too many tourists and not to say the heat.
The worst was yet to come. When we checked in our hotel which was located on the famous Mall Road, we found out that there is no water in our hotel. It is quite irritating to realize that after 14-hour bus journey you don’t get water to even wash your face. We managed with buckets of water which were provided by hotel staff.
At that time I suddenly became conscious while using that water and realized that this is the reality of this place. We then observed many water tankers filling the tanks of many hotels on the Mall Road in the wee hours. It was the perfect indicator of what happens to city’s infrastructure when the city has to cater to people which is way beyond its capacity.
It is reported that Shimla has population of around 2 lakh and every year more than 35 lakh tourists visit this place. So, just imagine the toll it takes on resources—be it water, electricity and also the amount of garbage it generates.
My ordeal with hill stations didn’t end with Shimla. While we were returning from Kaza we took the newly opened road for the season and reached another popular hill station of the country, Manali.
But reaching here was a torture; it took us more than two hours to enter the main city of Manali. As it was a weekend it was worst. Our driver then informed us that usually with the traffic one can reach Manali by 7 p.m. But sometimes he even reached at 10 p.m. So, one can imagine the amount of vehicles enter this hill station.
Here also the same story of traffic jams, overflowing gutters with sewage, overcrowded Mall Road and a sense of loss of its tranquil nature. This feeling was heightened when we witnessed the protest by taxi drivers, which was started in the evening. They blocked the main road till wee hours of the morning. It was reported in the media that the drivers were protesting the blacklisting of some operators for flouting norms by driving without permit and overcharging — particularly on the strictly regulated Rohtang Pass route via Manali. It seems that they charge four times more than the usual rate.
Speaking of Rohtang Pass, it is one of the scenic passes of the country. Mountains covered with snow overlooking the blue sky is indeed the biggest attraction of Manali. The scorching heat of the north Indian states forces people to run to ‘cool’ places like Manali. When we were crossing this Pass we witness thousands of tourists climbing the snow peaks. It is quite a sight seeing people drawn to this place and at the same time littering this place with PET bottles, chips packets and what not. It is quite tragic that how we are only destroying our natural heritage and have no idea about it.
But even after all these experiences and observations if I have to say what made me really disappointed is when I witnessed that how Manali’s climate has changed. This was my third visit to this place. I first visited Manali in the year 2007. It was my first experiences of a Himalayan town. At that time I was quite surprised to witness no ceiling fan in our hotel room. For a person who comes from a coastal city this was quite a revelation. But, this year when we checked in our hotel was shocked to see a ceiling fan in my room. From the window I could see the enchanting Himalayas but the reality down the valley is completely different. It could be probably the indicator of climate change. An informal chat with a local lady at Manali who runs a jewellery store told me that this year they are witnessing extremely hot climate. She also said that the amount of foreign tourists has decreased substantially and how this place is losing its charm day by day.
For a person who comes from Goa which is the holiday destination of the country, I could feel what she was saying. It is really sad that how we are treating our holiday destinations. We have this consumerist attitude of ‘use and throw’ towards these places. We are only extracting and exploiting these places and resulting in irreplaceable damage.
All is not lost
I always loved small towns of hilly areas. They have their own charm and there’s no doubt both these places still have that beauty. Like the Nature Park at Manali which is filled with tall deodar trees. When we entered this park it somehow rekindled the positive feeling which we had lost while walking the busy roads of Manali. There’s a need to conserve such places and for heaven’s sake stop littering these places.
Here sharing some tips to be a responsible tourist
• Do not litter, use dustbins
• Respect the culture of a place.
• Help a local community by shopping local products or staying in a home stay, etc.
• Use local transport as far as possible
• Be responsible while entering nature parks, wild life areas. Do not pluck plants/flowers or harm the natural beauty in any way.