“This city is not worth living in. I am heading out for the hills…”
If I had a penny for every time I have heard that statement in the past couple of days, I would have made a tidy fortune. As Delhi chokes on its pollution, a number of people have started declaring their intentions to leave the city for a while and go boldly where all “travelers” like to go these days – the hills. It could be Ladakh, Mussoorie, McLeodganj, wherever the fancy strikes them. Anywhere but the polluted mess that is the capital of the country.
At one level, I can sympathise with this sentiment. After all, it can be disconcerting, nay even disturbing to wake up and see the smog roll in from the windows. The temptation to move away to cleaner and more beautiful environs does seem overwhelming. At another level, however, I must confess to being disturbed. After all, were we not told that when one is faced with a problem, one should try to resolve it, rather than run away from it? Pardon me for being plain spoken but almost every single person who wants to head out from the capital to the hills is doing just the latter. It is the reaction of a spoilt, selfish child rather than a responsible adult.
For, no matter how many travel bloggers gush about them and how many likes a picture of people posing with snowclad peaks in the backdrop gathers, the stark fact is that going to the hills actually solves nothing. It leaves India’s capital city in the polluted mess it is, albeit minus a few hundred cars and motorbikes (small mercies). Which will return a few days later anyway or will be compensated by fresh purchases – hey, so many people want a new bike and a new car. No, going to the hills actually makes things worse, because the hills, whose pristine and pure beauty and clean air is treasured by so many, will also be polluted by the arrival of a few thousand people, who ironically have come to escape pollution in another place. And are inadvertently simply spreading it.
Not on the same scale as Delhi yet, but pardon me for thinking that it is only a matter of time – this is the same city that has all but murdered one of India’s holiest rivers that had the misfortune to flow through it. Having butchered the water, it is now busy messing up the air, and as success is being achieved there as well, perhaps it is time to spread the joy in the hilly neighborhood as well. Is this being too cynical? Well, when the relatively inaccessible Mount Everest is a rubbish dump, what chance do smaller hill stations have? We actually have people preening as they pose during “biking” and “road trip” expeditions in hilly areas that were not designed for automobiles. I rest my case.
As our cities choke, it is perhaps important that the people who live in them learn to try and fix matters and not simply head out to find new areas to pollute. Ladakh – no matter what the hype machinery and cinemas tells you – is not meant for motorbiking expeditions and if you think that chucking plastic all over Shimla for your “picnic” is a great idea, perhaps you would do better to stay at home. These are the very things that have destroyed Delhi. It would be best not to export them to those parts. Yes, I know there is a thing known as eco-tourism but that seems to exist largely on the papers that describe it. Travel is going to new places and not escaping your troubles at home.
The solution? I do not have a clear one. But I do have a request: as Delhi chokes, do NOT head for the hills (not unless necessitated by a dire medical emergency). Stay here. Remember this happened.
Try to fix things. It is not just about the big polluting factories, every single person can make a difference (and if you think one person do not matter, then at least do not add to the trouble). Cut down on the pollution yourself – try to drive a vehicle that is less noisy and emits fewer fumes, or just try and get to grips with the Metro and public transport. Try to cut down on waste. Most important, make sure the environment becomes a poll issue. Something that makes headlines more often than the sight of a superstar’s daughter in a discotheque.
This winter. Stay at home. Look outside the window. See the smog.
And instead of heading for the hills, just remember:
This is your city.
And be it ever so humble – and polluted – there is no place like home.