Coke Cans, Empty Wrappers: Ladakh Faces the Ugly Side of Tourism
Solid waste lying at a large dump site, Bomgard, near Leh town. Locals said that waste often gets carried away by the wind and some of it ends up in the Indus.
Solid waste lying at a large dump site, Bomgard, near Leh town. Locals said that waste often gets carried away by the wind and some of it ends up in the Indus.(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)

Coke Cans, Empty Wrappers: Ladakh Faces the Ugly Side of Tourism

The sparsely inhabited Leh district in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir has been one of the cleanest areas of the state. The famous water bodies of this high altitude cold desert, such as the Indus River and Pangong Lake, faced little pollution until recently.

But an enormous increase in tourism to this corner of the Himalayas has started to change this. Last year, the region received a record number of tourists, with 2,77,255 people visiting Ladakh. This is more than double the entire population of Leh district.

The area around Pangong Lake in Ladakh was not popular among Indian tourists until Bollywood blockbusters ‘3 Idiots’ and ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ were filmed there in 2009 and 2012.

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Today, thousands of tourists visit the lake often via the ecologically fragile Khardung La pass, which is over 5,300 metres above sea level. The Pangong lake straddles India and China, over 750 square kilometres, and is one of the largest lakes in the region.

75-year-old Tsering Angdo has seen the number of tourists grow in recent years. In the past, only foreign tourists used to come to Leh. If there were any Indian tourists, he said, one could count them on the fingers of one hand.
75-year-old Tsering Angdo has seen the number of tourists grow in recent years. In the past, only foreign tourists used to come to Leh. If there were any Indian tourists, he said, one could count them on the fingers of one hand.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
Pangong Lake, with its shimmering blue waters, spreads over 125 kilometres and has become immensely popular with Indian tourists since Bollywood movies <em>3 Idiots</em> and <em>Jab Tak hai Jan</em> were filmed in and around the lake in 2009 and 2012. &nbsp;
Pangong Lake, with its shimmering blue waters, spreads over 125 kilometres and has become immensely popular with Indian tourists since Bollywood movies 3 Idiots and Jab Tak hai Jan were filmed in and around the lake in 2009 and 2012.  
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
According to Leh officials over 600 vehicles go to Pangong Lake every day. Many of these vehicles go right up to the lake shore, although a sign cautions tourists that this is forbidden.
According to Leh officials over 600 vehicles go to Pangong Lake every day. Many of these vehicles go right up to the lake shore, although a sign cautions tourists that this is forbidden.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)

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Plastic waste littering a ridge near Khardung La pass, where tourists pass through to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake.
Plastic waste littering a ridge near Khardung La pass, where tourists pass through to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
A Brown headed gul flying over Pangong Lake.
A Brown headed gul flying over Pangong Lake.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
Solid waste lying at a large dump site, Bomgard, near Leh town. Locals said that waste often gets carried away by the wind and some of it ends up in the Indus.
Solid waste lying at a large dump site, Bomgard, near Leh town. Locals said that waste often gets carried away by the wind and some of it ends up in the Indus.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
Waste from restaurants, hotels and households is collected every morning from the markets of Leh town to keep it clean. But this waste is dumped in the open without any treatment. Authorities in Leh said they are in the process of putting up a mechanism in place to treat waste.&nbsp;
Waste from restaurants, hotels and households is collected every morning from the markets of Leh town to keep it clean. But this waste is dumped in the open without any treatment. Authorities in Leh said they are in the process of putting up a mechanism in place to treat waste. 
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)

Also Read : Cola Cans & Trash Bags: The Indian Tourist ‘Lives it up’ in Ladakh

A boy crossing a small channel containing sewage which drains into the Indus near Choglamsar in Leh.
A boy crossing a small channel containing sewage which drains into the Indus near Choglamsar in Leh.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
Many cafes and restaurants have been built quite close to the lake. Environmental activists and nature lovers in Leh said that there has been no planning  permission for these buildings. But officials of district administration in Leh said that they will now create a 100 metre buffer between the lake and the cafes.
Many cafes and restaurants have been built quite close to the lake. Environmental activists and nature lovers in Leh said that there has been no planning permission for these buildings. But officials of district administration in Leh said that they will now create a 100 metre buffer between the lake and the cafes.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
Three young boys emulating the title characters in the movie ‘3 Idiots’.
Three young boys emulating the title characters in the movie ‘3 Idiots’.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
A poster of the movie “3 Idiots”. Such posters have helped popularise Pangong Lake for Indian tourists who now throng to the place in hordes.&nbsp;
A poster of the movie “3 Idiots”. Such posters have helped popularise Pangong Lake for Indian tourists who now throng to the place in hordes. 
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
Two tourists near a poster of the movie ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’.
Two tourists near a poster of the movie ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)
Garbage on the bank of Indus near Choglamsar in Ladakh.
Garbage on the bank of Indus near Choglamsar in Ladakh.
(Photo Courtesy: Athar Parvaiz)

(This article was first published on The Third Pole and has been republished with permission.)

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