In January, while tourist hot spots like Gulmarg and Pahalgam in the Kashmir Valley did not experience any snowfall, Sinthan Top emerged as the most sought-after destination, drawing hundreds of tourists to the enchanting mountain pass.

Situated at an elevation of 12,500 ft from sea level and a four-hour drive south of Srinagar, the mountain pass was one of the few destinations to experience good snowfall, attracting tourists, both domestic and foreign, seeking a winter wonderland.

This lesser-known tourist destination, linking south Kashmir’s Anantnag district with Kishtwar in Jammu division, garnered significant media attention and continues to draw large number of visitors. However, the jump in footfalls has led to plastic and carbon pollution, impacting the landscape and glaciers.

Dumping yard

The area is littered with poly bags, bottles, wrappers and other plastic wastes. According to an official, the dumping of food waste by both tourists and local vendors, who run small kiosks and makeshift shops, has raised serious environmental concerns. “This pristine landscape is facing a pollution threat. It is fast turning into a dumping yard,” added the official.

The administration’s decision to permit snow bikes resulted in carbon deposits on the extensive snow cover.

Moreover, the plastic waste is polluting the glacial meltwater at the mountain peak.

Sinthan Top glaciers serve as the source of Daksum stream, which feeds into River Brengi, a significant tributary of River Jehlum.

Climate activist Raja Muzafar said the growing pollution at tourist destinations has become a significant concern. It is a violation of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Wildlife Protection Act 1972, said Muzaffar, adding it was high time to regulate tourist inflow.

Devansh Yadav, Deputy Commissioner of Kishtwar, issued an order on July 5, instructing an officer to send a waste collection vehicle to the mountain pass to collect the accumulated waste. “It has come to the notice of undersigned that due to heavy tourist footfall at Sinthan Top, plastic waste has accumulated. This causes environmental hazards and other health problems,” the order read.

Tourists influx

Last month, Sinthan Top saw 27,509 tourists, including 53 foreign arrivals. From March 2024 to June 11, 2024, a total of 70,862 tourists visited the area.

Kashmir has been witnessing heavy rush of tourists since the beginning of this year. Around 15.65 lakh tourists, including 26,000 foreign travellers, visited the Valley over the last six months.