Kullu / Manali : A Clean, Green Relaxation Scene?

Manali Travel Blog

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'Green Manali, Clean Manali' (?)
'The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children.  So we have to hand over to them at least as it was handed over to us.' - M.K.Gandhi *

'You are the creator sustainer destroyer' - Public notice board on the subject of litter dropping, Vashisht village, Manali.

Okay let's cut right to the chase on this one.  India has a litter problem.  For most of you this understatement will come as no surprise.  And I know that following on from my last entry ( 'Where the Streets Have No Shame' ) the addition of this one will bring me close to a state of constant quibbling about India.  Fear not India.
The very scenic Beas River valley, Manali.
  Whilst I don't love you.  Not yet.  I'm very much taken by you.  Falling for you.  But I feel it's the job of a friend to point out ones failings when no one else will take up the task.  There's no point me being too polite or you'll walk around all day with that chocolate smudge on your cheek right?  An' don'tcha just hate it when friends let that happen!  

No, to begin to understand and maybe in time to see through the crime of grime and learn to love India in all its ugly beauty, it is inevitable and necessary that you gripe about its manifold flaws from time to time.  But please do it in a considered, engaged manner and don't just join the throngs of the 'Ireallycouldn'tstandIndiasodirtydisgusting -problemproblemproblem -andallIndiansarefilthyrottenliars -moanmoanmoan - Iaskedifthehotelwasthiswayandhesaiditwasbutitwasn'tfilthyrottenliarsthelotof'em!' tribe of ex-India tourists so quick to denigrate rather than to concentrate on the land to which they have traveled.
Uh-oh! The Beas River shallows befouled by man made crud just like everything and everywhere else I've yet been in India :(

So, India has a litter problem.  A litter problem so incomprehensibly large that after a week or two in the country you almost stop to notice it anymore.  Impossible though that seems.  But this is often a consequence of shock.  The brain just blocks out the offending article if it can.  This happens a lot when making your first trip here.  Coping mechanisms.  Try to ignore the problem; the squalor and neglect... just like the Indians so effectively seem to do.  Litter just seems part of the 'natural' environment of the country; practically an accepted part of the topography and landscape - you could sadly even call is a 'culture' - certainly of India's towns and cities... but depressingly beyond them too.  

So why choose my arrival in greener, pleasanter scenes; the mountain, valley and pine-wood nestled environs of Kullu and Manali to pick up this muck-ridden theme?  A rather crude attempt to enliven the topic by juxtaposing the natural beauties of the Himachal Pradesh landscapes with the blight of human negligence?  Well, no, that wasn't the intention but I guess the effect's there, so I'll take it.
A not untypical street scene from Varanasi. Yep, India has a litter problem!
  Is it because the day I finally sit down to start scribbling this entry - 7th December 2009 - it's the opening day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (or COP15 as its more catchily known... or 'COP Out 15' as I here coin it to be dubbed in 11 days time)?  Nope again.  Just a coincidence.  One that focuses the thoughts I guess though.

No, basically, for those of you who've traveled in India, you'll know that litter and the relationship between India and its environment is an inevitable topic (of concern) for the outside observer.  It eventually forces itself on to the agenda.  In Manali, surrounded by beautiful landscapes and also many a well-intentioned civic authorities sign proclaiming 'Green Manali.  Clean Manali.
Goat market on the main cricket pitch of Kullu
, ’Create Green - Sustain Green - Destroy Pollution’ and such like it's just the first place the penny really drops for me.  Walking along the valley basin, skipping across stepping stones to hug the banks and inner, wooded sand bars of the pretty babbling Beas River, looking down and around at the depressing fallen-rainbow of rubbish and detritus caught up in the shallows it's just the place my mind finally cries out 'What, even f**king here?! There's just no getting away from it!'.  And besides, my cultural interactions in Kullu and Manali not extending too far beyond extracting a b*tch of a cold from the cool native air here abouts (one whose myriad phases - let's call them avatars of illness - will not leave me alone for weeks to come!), what else am I to waffle on about today? ;)

Kullu school girls dressed for some minor festival.
  I'm sat on the iconic hill-climbing train The Himalayan Queen to Simla.  Whilst the hill views coming into play are pretty enough, finally getting away from the cities, you can't help but notice the hills are hugely developed for and aesthetically tortured by the poisonous mushroom sprouting presence of innumerable dirty concrete industrial sector buildings.  Most in advanced states of abandonment or neglect and fusing with the grubby, desperate look of the shanty dwellings that thrive in the shadows and spaces between them.  

India's ever industrious women workers of necessity squat a stones throw from the tracks with large organised piles of refuse before them for sorting.  Utility in waste.  They break glass loose from a thousand burnt out light bulbs so the metal collars can be recycled to some use.
'Waste Art (De)Composition'
  A small stream courses down a slope an unhealthy livid green of presumably industrial origin.  The entire train route is lined with an unbroken fringe of discarded plastic bottles, crisp packets, paper refuse and the innumerable little non-biodegradable foil packets that chewing tobacco/ paan are sold in these days.  

The Indian habit of throwing anything and everything directly out of train windows persists on this journey as on all train journeys across this land.  This is the one iconic, endemic behaviour of India (more than the liberal deployment of 'Number Ones' and 'Twos' in the street) that never ceases to amaze me.  Partly because it transcends all social/ caste barriers.  It is a national, cultural norm that you throw all rubbish out the window of moving vehicles, whatever it may be and whomever you may be.
Mountain views as I approach Veshisht village, Manali
  If - as I do - you attempt the conscientious though futile gesture of pocketing your litter until such time (in the next Millennium) as a bin presents itself you instantly invite looks of amazement mingled with hints of derision and disapproval.  'Who or what is this strange ferenghi (foreigner) chappy and what is the filthy boy doing putting his waste in his clothes?!'  Sometimes these people will enthusiastically motion the act of waste defenestration for you as if attempting to educate a clueless child.  And don't be dumb enough to ever ask 'Um, where can I put this rubbish?' as you know by now the response you're likely to get.
Tall as trees : the wonderfully relaxing woodland parks of Manali

National behaviour.  National disgrace?  I know one man who would have thought so.  And it's with Lucy and I gingerly stepping through a lethal landscape of human fecal matter on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi (that we dub 'The Human Excrement Minefield' ) that the thought strikes me.  Father of the nation, and legendary stickler for hygiene, Mohandas K.Gandhi of course!  Believe me, if there's one issue of social import for Modern India that, were it possible, the Big G should be brought back to fight, it would be this  matter of befouling the environment.  It's where his much flogged-to-death-by-politicians socio-political relevance still lies.  And he'd be livid at the state of things, no doubt.
'Gold Leaf'

Way, way, way back in the early days of his return from South Africa (and his time in England before that) Gandhi talked and wrote often and damningly of the facts of Indian negligence when it came to personal/ communal hygiene and care for the environment.  Cleaning up the nation's act in this regard, with its connotations of personal responsibility and national pride and dignity, was always a vital pre-requisite for him to the pursuit of national sovereignty.  'Cleanliness is next to Godliness is next to independence' he might have said.  'Anyone who fouls the air by spitting about carelessly, throwing refuse and rubbish or otherwise dirtying the ground, sins against man and nature' is one of many things he did.
'Temple Guardian'

But instead things - I would hazard a guess - have only gotten worse.  Far worse.  In fact the couple of India travel veterans of long-standing I've chatted to, when asked 'So how has India changed in the last 10/ 15/ 25 years?' have all exclaimed as to how the levels of rubbish and filth on the streets have grown beyond belief over the last few decades.    

In fact, it's on this subject that as a traveler one becomes reconciled to the omnipresence in India of street crawling cows and their excreta.  These are sacred animals performing a necessary task.  Consumption of litter.  Along with the few struggling lower caste crud-cart workers you occasionally come across (performing an admirable task and an employment that would practically be considered a human rights violation in The West) and the squatting, withered forms of women in dirt-spangled saris who creep as they sweep sand-drifts of dust from one side of India's streets to the other with commendable inefficiency and inexplicable purpose, the cows are effectively the local Civic Waste Disposal Units.
Mom, daughter and their cute-as-heck fluffy-wuffy Angora bunny-wunnies :)
   They eat just about aaaaanything that lands upon the ground (and some things that ain't made it there just yet), paper packaging an' all and barely pulling up short of the plague of plastic bags that often contain the reeking treasures they seek.  When you walk around the cities and recoil at the tsunamis of trash, bio-degradable and not, that wash along the curb sides constantly resurfacing the 'natural' landscape, you just have to stop for a second and think 'Holy sh*t! What would this place be like WITHOUT the cows?!'  As with any (here accidental) 'solution' where the environment's concerned another problem lies.  An ever expanding cow population, nourished on India's near total disregard for its discard, means more methane emissions means a bigger green house gas problem means.
Gorgeous woodlands make me happy happy traveler!
.. and the poor burning the polythene bags that remain as their only available fuel and so releasing the toxic fumes into their lungs and the lungs of the world means and...well, you get the picture.    

Of course I am just one highly uninformed and generalising observer.  Steps I am sure are being taken and will hopefully be taken with greater vigour by governments and environmentally conscious individuals and institutions as time goes by.  New Delhi is presently puffed up with the achievement of proclaiming itself India’s first ‘plastic bag free city‘, although the Government was somewhat deflated when at the recent high profile International Trade Expo, most attending companies - domestic or otherwise - paid no heed to this flagship moment in environmental history and gave all their free corporate bunf away in plastic bags anyway.
'If you go down to the woods today you're sure for a big surprise' ... ME! :D
  And The Times of India (Lucknow edition, 4th December) almost proudly announces in a small cover article headlined 'Clean cities to get value for waste' that you 'should not be surprised if somebody comes knocking on your doors and goes off after collecting your domestic waste.  This may sound as a tall talk, but would soon become a reality.'  Domestic refuse collection?!  'Who would've thunk it!'  An Indian revolution in the offing?  Maybe.  Just think of all those starving, unemployed cows though :)

No seriously, India is (probably) beginning to take this matter a little more seriously.
Cows consuming our vast drifts of sh*te in Rishikesh. The Indian landscape would be so much worse without their efforts!
  Locally and globally.  Though you wouldn’t yet know it as you scale the hillocks of garbage and cow excrement that litter your daily passage.  But hey, at the last minute Indian PM Manmohan Singh has even agreed to fly out to Copenhagen in 10 days time to personally put his seal of approval on whatever piece of enviro-linguistic jiggery-pokery and diplomatic obfuscation and filibustering the 'COP Out 15' comes up with.  "Woo-hoo!"  His country being the 5th largest emitter of Carbon Dioxide in the world accounting for 4.7% of global emissions with China and the U.S. jostling for the top spot and accounting for 40% between them.

Quaintly, back away from the Global to the local level, the Hindustan Times (11th December) picking up on the environmental fervour of the week of the conference heralds the article 'Rural couple blaze the trail, with Green Wedding'.
Tidal-drift piles of sh*t on the far bank of the Ganges River in Varanasi.
  When young, modern thinking bride and groom Sangam and Mandvi Singh tie the knot soon they will make several concessions to environmental conscience.  They will eschew the expensive and elaborate traditional Indian wedding costumes for simple cotton clothes dyed with turmeric; a single Tulsi (Basil) sapling will be offered as the bride's dowry; bullock carts and horse carriages will be used as wedding transports instead of fossil fuel burning vehicles.  Also they will plant two more Tulsi saplings each to grow into plants that in time -theoretically - will offset the couple's lifetimes worth of carbon emissions.  Likewise husband-to-be explains that each time his wife conceives, two more saplings will be planted to offset the future lifetime carbon emissions that the imminent pitter-patter of tiny little carbon footprints implies.
What we stand to lose.
  "Ahhhh, ain't that cute!"

I was also heartened by a brief chat in Rishikesh last week with an American representative of the not-for-profit NGO Clean Himalaya Society who operate in the province.  'Dedicated to preserving the sanctity and cleanliness of the Ganga and Himalayan foothills, protecting the environment from toxins leached from plastics and polythene bags' their aim is 'to develop comprehensive and holistic waste management programs that help [...] protect people, roaming animals and the environment from a health, civic, ecological and spiritual perspective' and reduce global warming.
"Yey!" Tibetan rainbow prayer flags once more!
  And there we have it again.  The idea of a holistic approach to our environment and its interdependence with our own well being.  Gandhism goes green.  Clean Himalaya seek to achieve this chiefly by raising funds for installment of litter bins and waste collection and recycling initiatives.  These projects funded by regular small voluntary donations from local shops, hotels and other businesses and run by mainly volunteer staff.  She was desperate to co-opt my pal Alain and I ( 'Please, the work is so demeaning that it's great if we can get some Westerners in the litter gangs 'cos then they feel more motivated and stuff actually gets done!' ), however, sad but true, we were about to move on and so escaped a 'dirt draft' that I might otherwise have willingly assisted for a day or two.
Temple Gal

There's maybe a valid argument that says, 'Well, c'mon, give the country a break!'  With a list a social development problems that reads like a damning school report explaining 'Could do much better' in all subjects; a report that recently caused the Indian Government blushes by depositing it 134th (out of 183 countries) on the annual UN Human Development Index ( "but hey it's okay 'cos they announced a 6.5% growth in GDP for the quarter the same day!" ... whatever that really means? ) one could begin to accept that given all this, the environment might or even, should not be Priority Number One.  I'm kinda like,  bullying the Council House Kid in the class 'cos his shirt is torn and always unwashed and his trousers worn through at the knees.
One of the poor fellows consigned no doubt by the confines of Caste to undertake the unenviable task of scraping what sh*t he can from India's streets. Drifts of refuse mulched together with cow excreta :(
  But his mom just can't afford any new ones right, so leave him alone?  It's a hard life.  

But herein lies the Achilles heel of all (current) political attitudes towards the subject of the environment whichever country's concerned.  For all the (globally) warm(ing) words of the politicians, the truth is always a constant sacrifice of environmental considerations to the more 'immediate concerns' and of course the logically endless priority and ultimately catastrophic pursuit of eternal economic growth, GDP and other such numbers that don't really develop lives in the least and blah, blah, blah.  But as Gandhi would so quickly point out, you've gotta look after the body, to cleanse and care for it if it is to grow healthily and productively over the long term.
Civic Waste Disposal Authorities steps into action, India style :)
  Money ain't the matter although if our Leaders were willing, could be a part of the solution.  This idea, or recognition of the holistic, interconnectedness of everything and all our actions with regards our environment and our long term potential as a species is as true of India as it is of England as it is of the world entire.

So there you have it a few wasteful words on waste.  And I must apologise so profusely to the mostly charming and beautiful destinations of Kullu and certainly Manali that - I realise now, in an act of almost nursery school symbolism - I have let be buried under a mound of trash (talk) not of their own making.  But this is the price the environment always pays I guess!  

And there I am again.  Stood, trying to spy my own reflection in the crystal cold mountain melt waters of the Beas River, but I can't 'cos there's too much dross obscuring the vision.
'Dog Massacre!" : I love this India scene. You'll come across a road littered with dogs like they've been gunned down by a maniac with a mini-gun 'GADDAK-A-DAKKA-DAK!!!' ...but no, they're just sleeping :)
  Head up to the skies.  The snow-dusted mountain scenery around Manali is a very pleasant change of scene for me indeed.  I am almost always at my happiest in such environments.  The dope-riddled tourist epicentres of Vishesht and Old Manali villages are half and totally abandoned respectively, this being the real arse end of The Season up here now.  Quiet charms are the happy consequence though.  Mothers and their children clutch adorable large fluffy white angora rabbits for photos ( 'Das Rupee!' ) and the prevalence of four foot high cheeky saffron sellers is as considerable as it is irritating.  Some charming temples set in wooded surrounds.  Strolls through the couple of ring-fenced, deodar wooded nature parks here totally alone except for falling leaves and the talk of the breeze amongst the trees, most beautiful moments for me.
Wood. Head.

Having returned from the Gadhen Thekcholin Tibetan Monastery - for yes I am heading into the north Indian Tibetan communal territories now - I sit at a table inside my regular dinner venue Chopsticks awaiting another steaming, over-loaded plate of culinary magnificence... but already my taste sensations are dulled to the point of nullity by a cold that's got my sinuses firmly in its icy, snot-ridden grip.  "Ah-ah-AH-AAAAAH-TISHOOOOOO!"  Ho boy.  Yep, India's got me again.  I crumple up my sorry little strip of bog-roll snot-rag and tuck it in my pocket rather than throw it on the floor.  'What a filthy little ferenghi I am!' 

* Gandhi quotes 'borrowed' from www.
'Rag Street' : a Varanasi scene

Information about The Clean Himalaya Society can be found at or .org 
yashrathore says:
"Litter just seems part of the 'natural' environment of the country; practically an accepted part of the topography and landscape - you could sadly even call is a 'culture' - certainly of India's towns and cities... but depressingly beyond them too. "..rightly said.
Posted on: Jul 30, 2013
JeffLeese says:
I travelled to this area, and felt a similar response to the degradation of such a beautiful natural scene. I think you are right on to confront it as an act of the people. But it's hard to understand the way litterers psychologically erase the consequence of their blythe toss.
At one point, struggling with this problem and how I might address it, I hiked for a day to get to KiriGanga (up from Kasol and Manikari). It was nestled in the Himalayas and had temple hot spring. The natural beauty was being trashed here too, even though it was far from the highways. Because it was a small area, and because I could enjoy the place more, and because I wanted to do something with my frustration, I decided to clean the place. I collected cigarette containers, chocolate tin foil, gum packages, diapers, bottled water and pop containers, plastic bags, disposable razors, shampoo bottles, and so on. I filled two big trash bags just from around the spring.
I felt much better after the spring was restored, and I felt a connection of care to the place, earned through the rent of my work.
Later I asked a worker at the village restaurant if someone could take the bags to the town to dispose of it, and he readily agreed. There was a moment of recognition, very brief and only slightly revealed. The worker seemed to feel sad for a moment, recognizing the embarassment for his people who had treated a sacred place with such vulgar and defacing practices.
From the little I know of Ghandi, I think his strategy was to bring the oppressor into awareness of his inhumanity, to such an extent that he recoils in disgust of himself. At that moment non-violent resistance can overpower and change, as the oppressor renounces his cruel intention, stops, and gives way to the organized voice of the enveloping people.
In cleaning some area, I imagined the next person who chose to litter on it, feeling recoil.
Posted on: Dec 10, 2011
Stevie_Wes says:
Thanks for the enthusiasm Jinajeh - part of the pleasure of both traveling (and experiencing travel through sites such as this) is both the potential to see pockets of the world through different and fresh eyes, but also to smile when you find a sudden similarity or affinity of experience and memories with someone else Out There moving about the world :)
Posted on: Nov 16, 2010
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Green Manali, Clean Manali (?)
'Green Manali, Clean Manali' (?)
The very scenic Beas River valley,…
The very scenic Beas River valley…
Uh-oh!  The Beas River shallows be…
Uh-oh! The Beas River shallows b…
A not untypical street scene from …
A not untypical street scene from…
Goat market on the main cricket pi…
Goat market on the main cricket p…
Kullu school girls dressed for som…
Kullu school girls dressed for so…
Waste Art (De)Composition
'Waste Art (De)Composition'
Mountain views as I approach Veshi…
Mountain views as I approach Vesh…
Tall as trees : the wonderfully re…
Tall as trees : the wonderfully r…
Gold Leaf
'Gold Leaf'
Temple Guardian
'Temple Guardian'
Mom, daughter and their cute-as-he…
Mom, daughter and their cute-as-h…
Gorgeous woodlands make me happy h…
Gorgeous woodlands make me happy …
If you go down to the woods today…
'If you go down to the woods toda…
Cows consuming our vast drifts of …
Cows consuming our vast drifts of…
Tidal-drift piles of sh*t on the f…
Tidal-drift piles of sh*t on the …
What we stand to lose.
What we stand to lose.
Yey! Tibetan rainbow prayer flag…
"Yey!" Tibetan rainbow prayer fla…
Temple Gal
Temple Gal
One of the poor fellows consigned …
One of the poor fellows consigned…
Civic Waste Disposal Authorities s…
Civic Waste Disposal Authorities …
Dog Massacre! :  I love this Ind…
'Dog Massacre!" : I love this In…
Wood.  Head.
Wood. Head.
Rag Street : a Varanasi scene
'Rag Street' : a Varanasi scene
Be careful in India : if you park …
Be careful in India : if you park…
Manali mountains :))
Manali mountains :))
Attractive wood and white brick te…
Attractive wood and white brick t…
Thingamy temple (cant remember …
'Thingamy' temple (can't remember…
Me and My Shadow (Portrait)
Me and My Shadow (Portrait)
Spinning prayer wheels for good me…
Spinning prayer wheels for good m…
Statue in Gadhen Thekcholin Tibeta…
Statue in Gadhen Thekcholin Tibet…
Is it an attack by an armada of U…
"Is it an attack by an armada of …
photo by: debrasiegel