Kullu / Manali : A Clean, Green Relaxation Scene?
Manali Travel Blog› entry 225 of 268 › view all entries
November 3rd, 2009 – by: Stevie_Wes
'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No seriously, India is (probably) beginning to take this matter a little more seriously.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Information about The Clean Himalaya Society can be found at www.cleanhimalaya.com or .org
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