Himalayan Houseboats Shut Down for Polluting Lake


Historic houseboats in the Kashmiri summer capital of Srinagar. Photo via BBC News

Adventurous, and eco-friendly, travelers often seek out off-beat lodging options, staying in yurts or on organic farms, both to soak up more local color and to avoid the social and environmental impacts often associated with large hotels. But when the small, local option is polluting the landscape, what's a green tourist to do?That's the problem facing the (admittedly few) visitors to Kashmir these days, where historical houseboats on Lake Dal and Lake Nagin are being shut down for polluting the water. The area, near the summer capital of Srinagar, has been an oasis in war-torn Kashmir, a place where tourists still ventured to enjoy a restful holiday amid the Himalayas. The historic and luxurious houseboats, originally built during colonial times as holiday homes for officers with the British Raj, were always a draw.

But the State Pollution Control Board has accused operators of the approximately 1,200 boats on the two lakes of dumping millions of liters of raw sewage from the vessels' kitchens and bathrooms into the lake each day, leading a court to shut the boats down until they can install appropriate waste-disposal systems. The Houseboats Owners Association is challenging the court order, saying that residential homes around the lakes are equally responsible for the pollution, and that the ban would devastate the area's economy.

While I'm all for the "polluter pays" principle, the situation in this case seems a bit less black and white. The sewage-treatment units are estimated to cost $5,000 to $10,000, a lot of dough for people already hit hard by the effects of the insurgency. And previous efforts to clean up the lake have been hampered both by violence and corruption. As the BBC reports,

Twenty years ago, the British Overseas Development Agency launched an ambitious project--involving micro-tunnelling--to ease pollution in Dal lake and the rest of Srinagar.
But at exactly the same time, the armed uprising began in Kashmir and the British engineers fled.
The project could not be revived after that and the current state government lacks the resources.
It is widely believed today in Kashmir that a sizeable portion of the money that poured in for the Save Dal project over the years has gone into the pockets of corrupt officials, engineers and, of course, politicians.

Considering all those obstacles, I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be appropriate for either the government or NGOs to lend the boat operators a helping hand so that this unique tourism tradition can be preserved. I know I'd like to experience it someday. Via: "Kashmir house boats under threat," BBC News
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Tags: Boats | India | Pakistan | Pollution | Tourism

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