“ All of us will take 2 empty bottles and 2 empty tiffin boxes during the trip,” we shared along with details concerning warm clothes, footwear and so on. Bottles for water were fine but tiffin boxes for food! “What is the need?” said the looks on half of the younger faces!
We were planning the annual trip for one of our classes at school – this time a trek in the Garhwal Himalayas – and were keen to do better than what we had ended up doing during the previous year, especially on the sustainability front. One sore sight had been disposal of packing material for food – this included paper, plastic and aluminium foil. A group of 40 during a 16 hour rail journey itself has the potential to generate a substantial load of trash.
For this trip, we used our tiffin boxes and spoons from the beginning. Whether it was while walking up and down the hills, we had our meals in these tiffin boxes. It was fun to rinse them together as well in the chill water.
We had full support of our partner, the trek organizers [Indiahikes], in this. They provided each of us with a bag, to be tied at the waist during the treks. We used these bags to bring the trash we encountered on the route down to the base-camp. One of the impacts of this activity was that it got few of the younger ones thinking aloud – why do people need to consume chips and soft-drinks, in these stunning mountains of all places, and then dump them there? Dry toilets too played their role, and vividly. They did what treks do. They moved the younger ones beyond their comfort zones, had them try out a new process – a process put in place based on concern for the environment, encouraged them to see life beyond their limited worlds and enabled them to come back richer with experiences.
The partners’ approach also presented an opportunity to delve deeper on issues that had escaped us. These included the procedure for using wet-wipes and sanitary pads during the trek. Wet wipes were simple. They were not to be carried beyond the base-camp. The sanitary pads however needed to be brought back to the base-camp. Some of us were not in sync with this. Disagreements are welcome, or rather necessary, and discussed them at great length. Another window was in the form of Uttarakhand High Court order that prohibited overnight stays in the meadows (bugyals). This, I understand, we engaged meaningfully with students on. We discussed the impact people have on the ecosystem when they go in large groups and disrespect the mountains. Not only are the numbers of people going for treks rising, but also the sheer disdain they display for ecology! Both put together are a recipe for disaster as the recent cleaning expeditions on Everest have pointed out.
Coming back to the tiffin boxes they had an unplanned but very welcome consequence as well. The younger ones indulged in an act which, these days, is alien to most who come from affluent backgrounds. An act as welcome as the out-of-the-season snow-fall we encountered during the trek. They shared meals.
This article was originally published in The Hindu on February 10th, 2019. The school students went on the Kedarkantha trek in October 2018 as part of an Experiential Learning Programme with Indiahikes.
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