Conserving Chadar, Ladakh


After spending close to three decades in the mountains, the ones spent in the Himalayas especially have been extremely surreal. Each of these experiences takes you closer to heaven and wants you to keep going back for more. Serious expedition experiences such as Goechala in Sikkim, Mount Everest Base Camp, and Gokyo Ri in the Sagarmatha region of Nepal, then Annapurna, Pin Parvati Pass expedition across Himachal and Spiti valley, the Great Lakes of Kashmir to name a few have been extremely unique experiences. In addition to these travel across the larger Indian Himalayan regions of Ladakh viz, Turtuk, Siachen Glacier, Pangong Tso, Chusul, Hanle, Tsomoriri have been wonderful delights to experience.

Then, mountain locations across North America, Europe and Africa have been great experiences as well. Being a technology consultant/ executive to a lot of Fortune 50 organisations professionally, managing resources and strategy/vision have been second nature. As more and more people take to the mountains the questions of sustainability and Leave no Trace arise strongly. After my walk on the unique chadar landscape from sangam all the way to Padum – I came back with a determination to highlight some improvements that could be made to manage the flow of tourism so the landscape is preserved and human experiences are better regulated. On speaking with the officials in Leh, were very appreciative of the inputs and requested something in writing on record to advance the mountain protection and sustainability agenda.

The below document (submitted to the District Collector, Ladakh in September 2019) presents some approaches to help sustainability of the Chadar and the greater Zanskar valley towards preserving natural and cultural treasures of Ladakh.

At the outset I would like to impress on readers that sensitization, education on sustainability is a great value addition and an important context to help ongoing discussions for an all-around improvement to any outdoors experience. Such an exercise takes many rounds of discussions and consultations with stakeholders towards implementing the best approach / strategy. This itself is rewarding, ultimately benefitting the landscape and livelihoods of all involved. It is also worthwhile to develop a multi-year multi-point vision for a year on year improvement. The easiest approach could be to first curtail any environmentally un-friendly activities and then make further adjustments for next season based on feedback. This way effect of each change can be monitored and fine-tuned further. If this is not followed then the joy of doing unique expeditions will be short lived and die out in years to come! Like the Stok Kangri closure that happened in year 2019 due to unsustainable tourism and its side effects!!!
Like this snippet in outlook India – article’s like this are concerning and may become reality if no timely action is taken.

Furthermore, making any activity sustainable does not essentially mean reducing its business or commercial gain in the longer term. Even though there may be a fall in revenue or gains in the short term it will be compensated many-fold long-term as sustainable practices itself ensures the activity continues longer. Identifying the right impact and costs to environment and any other intangible effects need a positive approach on behalf of all stakeholders. Thereafter suitable adjustments can be made to the cost structure of the experience to address any gap. Ongoing support and understanding from all stakeholders and visitors then ensure better maintenance of the landscape and continuation of the Chadar trek. This is the goal!

I must say having witnessed the pro-active and rich value system of the Ladakh people it is my sincere endeavor to bring new best practices and suggestions to them. This should also help cultural preservation in a world where such values are fast disappearing! The tussle between development, livelihoods and sustainability can be made a healthy one by balancing all sides. This is clearly evident in states like Bhutan as the government and people have aligned to ensure sustainability via the unique concept of Gross National Happiness, instead of a GDP only view. It is the cost of maintaining precisely this culture and nature that sustains us, that is foremost in each and every endeavor including tourism. Bhutan could have brought in a lot more money into the country if higher tourism numbers were allowed at cheaper costs. We need to understand that there is a cost to maintaining quality of life and natural resources. Especially in high-altitude region’s where resources are very scarce, preservation and
respect are required. Only then can sensitization of visitors be made for a controlled growth in tourism while preserving cultural values via education and discussions.

Finally, I encourage the district administration and leadership in Ladakh for a proactive outlook towards sustainability and carrying capacity of each trek landscape into their best practices. Encouraging people’s involvement via sensitizing local communities will help preserve the rich culture, ensure cleanliness, help livelihoods towards a prosperous Ladakh.

We look forward to help develop this for Ladakh!!

A floating bed of ice for the night
The Zanskar…
Nerak’s frozen Waterfall