On one of his treks, meeting a shepherd community — that lives in complete “harmony with nature” — in Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul and Spiti completely transformed Pradeep Sangwan’s life. The meeting left such an indelible and profound impact on the environmentalist that Sangwan then went on to do something on similar lines and conceptualise ‘Healing Himalayas’, an endeavour to “give back, trek and travel” for the purpose of “protecting the beauty and biodiversity of the Himalayan mountain range”. This was in 2009.
“I undertook extensive travelling, during which I met a group of people from the ‘gaddi’ (shepherd) community in Lahaul and Spiti. This encounter led me to learn about their way of ecological and sustainable living. I came to know how they live in complete harmony with their natural surroundings. How they take and give without disturbing the ecological balance. That is what left an everlasting impression on me and shaped my vision for Healing Himalayas,” he told indianexpress.com in an exclusive interaction.
Now, 13 years later, Sangwan and his team of more than 4,000 volunteers have helped clear over 8,00,000kg of non-biodegradable waste from the Himalayas, trekking in excess of 10,000 kilometres as part of 1,000-plus on-ground campaigns. “‘Just follow the plastic and you will reach your destination’ this is the saying at some of the famous trek routes in Himalayas and when I saw piles of garbage disfiguring famous trekking spots, on my travels in the region, something inside both irked and saddened me. Hence, I resolved then to make it my mission to save the Himalayas from its growing waste problem,” Sangwan, 37, mentioned.
He also drew praise for his campaign from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi who mentioned about his work as part of his radio show Mann Ki Baat back in 2020. “The local communities revere nature. While they are not educated in the formal sense of the word, they certainly know how to care for and protect the environment they live in. We try to make it a point to include them in the cleanup campaigns that we organise,” he expressed, mentioning that sustainable living starts with amending our consumerist lifestyle, calculating our footprints, and realising that natural resources have a limitation.
“The maximum footfall of tourists is in places like Manali, Shimla, Lahaul and Spiti. Many come carrying loads of food in plastic containers, water bottles, and disrupt their surroundings by playing loud music. In their quest to have a good holiday, they might spoil the place and leave it in tatters unknowingly,” said an aghast Sangwan, urging people to become more responsible and considerate.
“If you’re buying anything in the mountains, bring the empty packets back to the cities [to dispose of them properly],” he shared.
Noting how Covid-19 pandemic has affected travel to the hills, he opined, “I would like to urge people to “travel with a purpose”. Because ever since Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed, people have started indulging in ‘revenge travelling’ which may prove to be detrimental to the remote regions’ ecologies.”
Sangwan’s top tips to live and travel sustainably
*Carry your own bottle of water and avoid single-use plastic, which is linear in nature
*Reconnect with nature rather than playing loud music
*Do not litter in your surroundings, instead carry the waste in a proper garbage bag and dump them in a dustbin in your vicinity
*Stop using wet wipes
*Eat local food to avoid munching on packed junk and in the process increasing garbage