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All izz not well in Ladakh

| Updated on December 13, 2019 Published on December 13, 2019

Unchecked tourism has been taking a toll on the ecosensitive zone of Pangong Lake in Ladakh. A recent demolition drive hopes to reverse that

The Hindi film 3 Idiots has had an unintended effect on tourism in Ladakh. After a scene in the film was shot at Pangong Tso Lake, it rapidly became a busy tourist destination.

Within a year of the film’s release in December 2009, the number of tourists swelled to 77,800. It went up to 1,79,491 in 2011. The annual influx of tourists continued to rise, until it touched 3,27,366 in 2018 (far outnumbering the population of Ladakh).

The Himalayan lake is 134 km long, and extends from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. While the Tibetan section remains pristine, the Indian side was being ravaged by unchecked tourism.

The sight of row upon row of tents pitched for tourists on the lake set off alarm bells among environmentalists. The facilities offered included several unsustainable luxuries in this high-altitude desert region. At 17,000 feet, food, water and oxygen are scarce.

The region, which comes under the Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary, has very limited resources to support tourism on this scale. The scenic panorama has been disrupted, the fragile ecosystem affected, and waste disposal is a mounting concern. The increasing air pollution has added to the woes of the locals. Unlike the song from the film that said, “All izz well”, all was actually not well in Ladakh.

Finally, reason has prevailed, and camping has been banned on the lake. A demolition drive was undertaken in April. The district administration demolished illegal tents and other construction on state-owned land in Spangmik village. The locals reported being happy about the move. The tourist influx didn’t benefit them but only helped moneyed folks from Leh who had invested in the hotels and illegal tents.

A few tents have since sprung back, despite protests. Will Ladakh summon up the will to safekeep its precious natural heritage before it is too late?

Sreedeep is associate professor at Shiv Nadar University in Delhi

Published on December 13, 2019