By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
By “UK” we mean Uttarakhand. Our tiny state can tilt the balance in the Climate Crisis.
The Himalayas are known as The Third Pole because they hold many of the climate –influencing glaciers of the world. They are also responsible for the earth’s greatest cyclic storm, the Monsoon. The largest number of humans on earth is fed by this seasonal wind and mankind’s greatest Age of Discovery was powered by the monsoon winds. Finally, our Uttarakhand is the source of three of the greatest rivers of our sub-continent: the Ganga, Brahmaputra and the Saraswati. The last is, often described as’ legendary’ but that is the fault of our state government. They have not asserted the presence of the thundering Himalayan waterfall which we visited on a trek off the route to Badrinath and not far from the legendary cave-temple associated with the writing of The Mahabharata by Lord Ganesh. The young pujari at that multi-stratified shrine told us that the Saraswati had gushed so loudly that the Lord could not hear the dictation from Ved Vyasa, so he banished the sacred river underground. And, indeed, we could discern the different streams of the two rivers till, eventually, they merged into one of the primal streams of the Ganga.
Consequently, what happens in our Garhwal Himalayas affects a great swathe of India and also of the world’s population. But because we are allowing uncontrolled human activity in our high mountains we are destabilising the weather cycle of the world. To that extent we, in Uttarakhand, are custodians of the world’s weather.
But that does not mean that we should stop all human activity. It just means that we disperse its harmful intensity by opening new, need-specific, Uttarakhand resorts.
Adi Shankaracharya, that genius from Kerala, saw the need to disperse the intensity of human activity. He established his four centres of learning and spirituality in four different points of India. Then he made sure that the families of the ruling scholars of these shrines came from four other corners of our land. Diversity is our greatest strength and any attempt to trim it into uniform faggots bound around the fear of axing is fascist and anti-national.
Furthermore, footfalls do not measure the success of a tourism facility. Tourism is a business, not a political activity judged by the number of votes you can beg, buy or steal. Its success depends on cash-flows. If one tourist spends Rs 1 lakh in a destination it is far better than one hundred tourists spending a thousand rupees, each. A hundred tourists are a far bigger burden on the resources of the area, and its ecology, than one tourist.
Mussoorie’s high-profile traditional image was based on comparatively limited numbers of Upper Middle Class and High Society repeat visitors. Four Hotels and as many Boarding Houses catered to those who did not rent cottages for the March to November ‘season’. Boarding Houses were not Homestays because guests did not dine with the owners. They were stand-alone properties offering accommodation and breakfast and dinner as provided by the establishment and eaten in a common Dining Room. They offered privacy, and a very friendly atmosphere. People living in Boarding Houses often became great friends with other regular guests. All Boarding Houses in Mussoorie had well-tended gardens which guests were encouraged to use and which competed in the town’s Flower Shows.
Today, we need a greener, less concretised Mussoorie as we had in the 1940’s. But even our once-green state is being eaten by the fences set up to protect it. How else can anyone explain the flats erected in Corbett? Our green shields seem to be infested by the maggots of corruption. Are our netas and mantris so smug that they can openly disregard the PM’s promises made in Glasgow? Is no one in our state aware that every green tree is a self-sustaining global life-support system? We need rustic walking and hiking trails where the ecology can take care of the dispersed burden of human activities, not heat-enhancing motorways which increase Climate Change, and the coffers of various social vampires! We need a sustained increase of forest cover not a vandalising of it by a neta-babu-builder nexus. We need a sustained effort to grow Miyawaki Forests.
But do we have the vision? More importantly do our many, self-proclaimed, warriors have the HIMMAT?
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)