Summer in Ooty and Coonoor is a reminder that tourism should be conducted with dignity and decency, says Mari Marcel Thekaekara.
A medieval English lyric went “Sumer is Icumen in loud sing hurray.” (The spoof went winter is icumen in loud sing goddam.) It's that time of the year again. Summer — the tourist season in the Nilgiris. Everyone from the southern Indian plains will, understandably, begin to make a beeline to Udhagamandalam. Unfortunately, however, the hills are not alive with the sound of wonderful music. We have to endure blaring horns, loud, ugly music, young men waving bottles, leaning against posh cars but behaving like uncouth, uncultured boorish louts. They come to drink, that's synonymous with enjoying oneself these days. They think it makes them look cool.
What's not cool is the bottles they fling everywhere. It's heartbreaking to see the national highway through the Mudumalai sanctuary, the regular tourist route, littered with rubbish. Bottles, plastic and foil snack packs are the worst offenders. The forest department groups do regular litter-picks and there are checks for plastics and alcohol, but obviously it's not enough. The volume of garbage defies description. The forest department and the revenue department should conduct massive combined checks and impose huge fines on the despoilers of our natural heritage.
The young men are not the only ones to blame. Buses and coaches full of students, mostly from Kerala and tourists from everywhere, contribute to the mess. You will see never-ending trails of picnickers who leave disposable plastic and non-degradable tin foil plates, paper cups and plastic bottles wherever they stop to eat.
Old Ooty and Coonoor residents dread the advent of summer and the tourist season. Increasingly there's an air of hopelessness and despair about the mess that we have to deal with every year. One must appreciate that for a sizable section of the population, the hoteliers, tourist lodges, sellers of touristy trinkets and shop keepers, the tourist season is a matter of their livelihoods. Yet, shouldn't tourism be conducted with dignity and decency?
The authorities should convene meetings with responsible citizens and work out citizens' participation in keeping Udhagamandalam, Coonoor and the Mudumalai sanctuary clean and garbage free.
Heavy fines should be imposed for littering; token amounts have no effect. Fines should be imposed not merely on offending litterbugs, but also on tea shop and eatery owners who dump garbage outside their shops. Points should be earmarked for special attention. Tourist hotspots like Sims Park, the main viewpoints and look-out points, the famous film shooting areas should be manned by volunteer groups. College students, Rotary, Lions club, The Nilgiris Wildlife Association and motivated people can be roped in to help with volunteers in a structured, well planned way. Will the Nilgiris Collector and Superintendent of Police work together to achieve this?