In focus Environment

How the Healing Himalayas Foundation has been cleaning up the mountains, one plastic bottle at a time

Pradeep Sangwan (extreme left) with a trekking group during an earlier expedition

Pradeep Sangwan (extreme left) with a trekking group during an earlier expedition   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

They trek to collect trash and help the Himalayas heal

Cultural centres have been taking the online route to keep the creative and information channels up during lockdown. Aaromale, the cultural centre in Film Nagar, Hyderabad, is hosting a Q&A session on Instagram (@aaromale.hyd) with Pradeep Sangwan, mountaineer and founder of Healing Himalayas Foundation (healinghimalyas.org).

The foundation established in April 2016 conducts 40 to 45 weekend treks each year, which double up as cleaning drives, with trekkers collecting waste strewn by tourists.

Currently in Shimla and waiting for normalcy to return after the pandemic, Pradeep says this is his first such online engagement. His answers will be video or audio recorded and the interaction is being coordinated by travel blogger Yasasvi (@amidstsolemnsonder) for Aaromale.

Every year in December, Pradeep designs a calendar for the following year, listing out all the weekend treks. He has been trekking for more than a decade and a few years ago, he felt he couldn’t be a passive spectator to the plastic and glass being discarded in tourist pockets of Himachal Pradesh.

He registered the Healing Himalayas Foundation in 2016 and got to work. “The first six months were relegated to streamlining the process — of how to collect and manage the waste,” he recalls.

The treks usually begin in Shimla in March, gauging the snowfall and weather conditions. In April, treks are conducted to higher altitudes such as the Parashar Lake, nearly 50 kilometres north of Mandi, in Himachal Pradesh. The lake’s vicinity draws visitors for a pagoda-like temple structure, but in recent years has also become a popular camping and partying zone, posing waste management issues. In May, the treks are towards further higher zones of the Kheerganga.

Trekkers of Healing Himalayas during an earlier expedition

Trekkers of Healing Himalayas during an earlier expedition   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Participants assemble at a base camp on Friday and they trek uphill to the chosen destination till Saturday evening, collecting garbage on the way. On Sunday, the team returns to base camp with the bags of trash.

A process of segregation is inbuilt at the collection stage but sometimes, local help is hired to do the needful. Plastic bottles and wrappers are handed over to recycling plants in Shimla or Manali; Pradeep says the bigger trouble is that of glass bottles or broken glass pieces strewn in the mountains. “These are heavy to carry and there’s also the risk of these bottles breaking.” But they manage to collect whatever possible.

The cost incurred to transport the bags of trash from the base camp to waste management centres, is met with the fee collected from the trekkers. “Knowing that we do waste collection on the slopes, some people offer us free food and stay,” says Pradeep.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Pradeep hopes to start waste collection centres in remote pockets of Himachal Pradesh. He’s been in touch with corporates and hopes they will pitch in as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) drives in a couple of months. “Through treks, we can only collect garbage from 20 to 30 kilometres. We can do more through waste collection centres,” he says.

Pradeep has also been in talks with local government bodies who have their own projects, and says they’ve been proactive: “There are some good efforts in Shimla, which also has a waste-to-energy plant. The local bodies acknowledge my work, but it’s tough to expect anything more from them.”

So far, the Healing Himalayas treks have helped collect more than 700,000 kilograms of waste from the mountains.

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 9:22:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/how-pradeep-sangwans-healing-himalayas-foundation-has-been-helping-clean-up-the-mountains/article31270105.ece

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