(Un)making tourism

  • Our apathy towards the environment is harming tourism
- Geetanjali Upadhyaya

Feb 10, 2019-

The once not very famous Kalinchowk has now emerged as a popular destination in attracting domestic tourists, especially during the winter season. Just 150 kilometers away from the suffocating pollution of the Kathmandu valley, the drive to Kuri Valley of the Dolakha district will leave anyone enchanted by its grandeur. The Kalinchowk hill of the valley benefits tourism in three folds.

First, through snow indulgence; All the way from Kuri station to the Bhagwati temple, one can pause to marvel at or play in the snow. For many visitors, this is a first-time experience. Second, the cable car ride. The cable car, which recently came in operation, connects the Kuri station to a temple which lies on the top of the hill.

Though the car ride is easily feasible—it’s a short, 4-minute drive, covering just about 950 metres—the cable car ride is nothing short of rare, precious and magical. Third, religious gratification. This Bhagwati temple located some 3,842 meters above the sea level is uniquely divine.

As you take a deep breathe on top of the hill, surrounded by panoramic view of snow-cladded hills—with Mount Gauri Shankar smiling nearby—the temple transcends beyond its religious purposes: the serene natural beauty encourages everyone, whether or not they proscribe to the religion of the temple, to reflect and soul-search.

But then, you move your eyes down towards your feet and trace a different reality: humankind’s gift to nature in the form of scattered litter. In addition to leftover puja samagris, plastic bottles and cans are dispersed here and there, giving visitors a bitter reality check. Our tendency to ‘beautify nature’ with our trash has become a common practice in the country. We seem to think that the littering is a sovereign right, though not pronounced in our constitution. Be it the messy grounds around Janaki Temple area or the embarrassing poop extravaganza in the city centres, we see signs of these tendencies everywhere. Unsurprisingly, Kalinchowk, despite having only just emerged as a new tourist destination, is being tarnished in similar ways.

It was the Know Your Country (KYC) program—a week long field excursion designed by Nepal Administrative Staff College to expose newly recruited officer trainees to observe, learn and internalise the different places of historical, national and commercial importance—that initially took us to Kalinchowk. After the trip, I sat with a bunch of young trainees who were absolutely overwhelmed by the natural surroundings especially the snow experience. I asked them if there was something that made them feel uncomfortable on the way and encouraged them to reflect on what changes they would make if they had the authority to change the area for the better. Sabina Khatiwada, who is a fresher with ambitions to join the civil service, promptly retortedthat there was not a single thrash bin seen anywhere, unlike Pathibhara Devi Temple of Taplejung District where thrash binsare placed in frequent intervals. Tourism should by default come with eco-sensitivite infrastructure—which Kali-nchowk fails to exhibit, unfortunately.

Over our dinner table, we discussed why litter is a part and parcel of our tourism business. We reflected on why we tend to overlook heaps of garbage as normalised additions to any public place. Is it because of the absence of protracted educational approach towards establishing responsible, environment conscious and socially aware domestic tourism as Sujeev Shakya argued in his op-ed for the Post last month (‘Excess baggage’, Page 6, January 15, 2019)?

Our apathy towards maintaining popular sights for domestic tourism is apparent everywhere: it’s apparent in our sullied feet after we walk around Maya Devi Temple (and roads filled with streams of plastic wrappers) and in our decisions to disregard civic sense when it’s more convenient to toss a bottle out a car window. Is it a product of a lack of self-discipline? Or a lack of compliance?

Self-discipline is, no doubt, a good thing to have. This is something we seriously lack, and instilling this would be a slow-paced long term project. On a fast track basis, I would always argue a compliance strategy. The Central Zoo now stops visitors from taking plastic bags inside the premises. Guests comply with the rule and surrender plastic at the entrance. Drinking and driving is prohibited—largely because of the strict checking by the traffic police—and people comply with that. But compliance policies are not enough on their own. They must be backed by a meticulously planned and worked-out educated strategy.

Merely hanging a sign-board listing penalties for littering will also not have any effects if the activities of visitors are not monitored in the first place. Similarly, placing trash binsare not enough if people do not realize the importance of using it. Also, what good is a trash can if it is not emptied and made available where needed? All these seemingly minor things should be simultaneously taken care of.

But here’s a glaring truth: it sounds easy because it is easy. With the kind of power and authoritylocal governments can exercise now, communities can be mobilised and educated, and managing trash should become relatively easier.

A flourishing tourist spot like Kalinchowk can be protected from these habitual tendencies if effective steps are taken. Otherwise, the destination will simply be relegated to a (now growing) list of other beautiful tourist locations that have also succumbed to human apathy.

Upadhyaya is the Deputy Director of Studies at Nepal Admi-nistrative Staff College.

Published: 10-02-2019 08:14

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