Pilgrims' Plague Destroying Himalayas


Image credit: Radified.com

If one could write a book on it, it would be called "By the River Ganges I Sat Down and Wept." Each year, hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims travel by foot, train, car and bus to holy sites in the Himalayas, believed to be the dwelling of the god Shiva and the mountainous source of many of India's largest rivers, including the Ganges River.

Unfortunately, the rather unholy environmental impact of these pilgrimages are hastening the destruction of these once-unspoiled areas with development, pollution and waste — not to mention melting the Himalayan glaciers.With India's economic boom, more tour operators are offering commercialized, package tours to holy sites for India's increasingly mobile and affluent middle class. Some even have helicopters on call.

"Plastic rubbish is found littered everywhere, nearby rivers are filled with human waste and roads have been built bringing in daily buses packed with pilgrims which is contaminating the air," says Shruti Shukla from WWF India. More and more trees are also being felled to make way for upscale hotels, restaurants and more accessible roads.

Environmentalists say that the combined effect of these activities is an accelerated melting of the glaciers.

Earlier this month, there was cause for alarm when the ice shiva-lingam formation at the holy site of Amarnath actually melted (a lingam is short, cylindrical pillar with a rounded top and is worshipped as a symbol of Shiva).

There have been local efforts to halt the damage, but they have been ineffective at best against the annually increasing crush. Last month, a Task Force on mountains recommended to the Indian government that a separate and more integrated ministry should be created to preserve the Himalayas.

But even so, one wonders how much longer the Himalayas have to wait, as the well-meaning devotion of these modern days is slowly and surely defiling a once-holy place.
::Environmental News Network

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