Cleaning out 2,130kg of garbage from Roopkund – A Green Trails Story

This year, during the months of May and June, Indiahikes found and removed over two tonnes of garbage from the Roopkund slope. It’s no mean feat. It took months of planning and hardcore dedication from every single person involved, especially the green trails co-ordinators, trek leaders, local staff members and our trekkers, who constantly pushed themselves to make it happen.

Trekkers pose with the garbage they collected
Dushyant (left) along with trekkers from his batch at the Bedni Bugyal campsite

As it happened – Segregation

It was a beautiful courtyard in the village of Lohajung. A courtyard against a gorgeous backdrop of misty Himalayan mountains. But a huge pile of garbage stood in the middle of it. Every day, five people gathered around the garbage to segregate it. “It was not an easy task. There were shards of glass, sharp edged tins, sanitary napkins, food waste with maggots, oh so many maggots! But none of us minded our daily chore,” says Ravi, a trek leader. With latest Bollywood numbers playing off someone’s phone and animated conversation – half in Garhwali and half in Hindi – they all rhythmically segregated the waste into eight different sacks.

Within 60 days, there were 226 sacks of garbage. That was a whopping 2,130 kilograms of neatly segregated waste – more than two tonnes of waste from a 42 km trail.

The garbage that was collected at Lohajung
The garbage that was collected at Lohajung

So how did all the garbage get to Lohajung?

It all began on May 7th, when the first batch of trekkers took off to Roopkund. Equipped with eco-bags, they all picked up garbage they saw on the trail and emptied it at the garbage sacks at the campsites. Day after day, batch after batch, all conscientious trekkers did their best to undo the smudges that had come to be on the face of this beautiful mountain.

“I had trekked earlier to Rupin Pass and helped clean the trail. But I did not expect the amount of garbage I saw on the Roopkund trek, especially at the Bedni and Bhagwabhasa campsite! It was horrible! People had hidden garbage under rocks and in small ravines,” says Vikas Bharadwaj, who was participated in the Green Trails batch of June 18th. This group went up the slope specifically to clean the slope and think of new ways to reduce carbon footprint on the mountains. “The surprising thing was that trekkers from other organizations saw us cleaning and they wanted to help too. That’s the spirit we need. Either you trek with care or you stop trekking completely,’ adds Vikas.

Picking up garbage on the Roopkund trek
Trekkers digging into nooks and corners at Bhagwabhasa

Trekkers were accompanied by the Indiahikes team, who were pained to see their own home in such a state.  “Over the last ten days of the season, the staff members set out at 14,100ft around Bhagwabhasa, the highest camp site on the Roopkund trek to clean up. They went to every nook and corner that had been turned into ‘dumping spots’ by other trekkers,” says Dushyant, who played a key role in this entire clean-up as the slope manager at Roopkund.

Trekkers collecting garbage on the Roopkund trek
Trekkers collecting garbage at the Pathar Nachauni campsite

Who was the driving force behind this Green Trails clean up?

Indiahikes has a group of highly motivated people working specifically towards the progress of Green Trails, led by PhD holder Lakshmi Selvakumaran.

“Lakshmi came to Lohajung for two days and initiated the segregation, the collaboration with local dhabas at Pathar Nachauni and the trail. She co-ordinated with us throughout and kept us on our toes!” says Dushyant. Nikshep and Sampada, two Green Trails interns were two others whose involvement was crucial in making this happen.

Nikshep, a student pursuing engineering at NITK, went to Lohajung to set up a bio-gas plant. But he wasn’t expecting what he saw. “When I first saw the waste dump behind the dhabas at Pathar Nachauni, I just stood there staring. The ground there has more plastic than mud and I’m not exaggerating. We dug up some 1 or 2 feet and plastic kept popping up. There’s no way anyone who hasn’t seen the place can fathom the amount of garbage that is dumped there. Although 2000 kg seems like a lot, there’s at least 5 times more garbage still left buried back there! It’s very important to continue the clean-up drives and also spread awareness about it,” he says.

Apart from our trek leaders and local staff members, there were around 700 trekkers who helped clean up! Over two months they  transformed into a giant vacuum cleaner and left the Roopkund slope sparkling clean.

Trekkers pose with the six sacks of garbage they collected at Pathar Nachuni, on the Roopkund trek
A batch of trekkers pose with the six sacks of garbage they collected at Pathar Nachuni, on the Roopkund trek

What happened to all the waste?

At the end of the season, on July 5th, all the garbage was weighed and disposed of at Waste Warriors in Dehradun. Here are some numbers for you to get an idea.

Recyclable plastic: 47 sacks, 142.9 kg
Tin cans: 10 sacks, 43.7 kg,
Cardboard/tetrapacks: 15 sacks, 63.8 kg
Glass: 19 sacks, 229.3 kg
Mixed recyclables: 20 sacks, 109.1 kg
Non-recyclables: 20 sacks, 1,307 kg
Unsegregated waste: 29 sacks, 229.3 kg
Expired medicines: 1 sack, 2.1 kg

Green Trails - Roopkund clean up
The Swachh Bharat vehicle that was driven to Dehradun with all the waste

The bigger question: Why is there so much waste on the Roopkund trek?

Roopkund in the Himalayas is considered the Mecca of trekking in India. More and more people have been trekking to Roopkund over the past few years. Unfortunately, cleanliness doesn’t come naturally to everyone. They might not mean any harm to the mountains, but they leave behind a lot of waste that remains in the mountains forever.

Some may call Roopkund a carnival that’s housing a few too many people. And that’s indeed generating  a lot of garbage. But like everything else, there are two ways of looking at this. You either withdraw completely, or you see two negatives as a positive and do something about it. 

At the end of the day, Green Trails is not just about picking up garbage. It’s an ongoing process that has been practiced on all our slopes for the past four years. So when we talk about Green Trails, it is our effort, every trekker’s effort, to reduce his carbon footprint in the mountains as much as possible. As Dushyant rightly says, “Green Trails is not a one day affair. It is something we consciously practice every day, everywhere, until it becomes an inerasable habit.”

 

Recognition in the media

The New Indian Express  |  Times of India  |  Amar Ujala  |  DNA  |  Scoopwhoop  |  Tripoto

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Swathi

Swathi

Swathi Chatrapathy is a journalist from Bangalore. She heads the content team at Indiahikes and runs a video show called Trek With Swathi. Writing, reading and trekking are up there on her list of favourite things!

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