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Environment

Sep 13, 2018

Adventure Tourism in India Leading to Deaths and Massive Environmental Degradation

Litigation against mass trekking operations has led to a ban on nearly all mountain tourism in Uttarakhand, leaving 100,000 jobless and an industry without a future. But this doesn't solve the problem or punish those responsible.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Trekking and outdoor recreation in India need quality standards, regulation and oversight, not bans.

In a recent hearing at Nainital, Uttarakhand’s High Court banned overnight treks at alpine meadows across the state, one of India’s most important Himalayan destinations, and limited tourism to 200 visitors at a given time, citing ecosystem preservation as its rationale. The ban is an overactive reflex to recent trekking accidents that have resulted in deaths, as well as a mounting degradation of the Himalayan ecosystem due to mismanaged waste.

The impact of this ban is massive. An average 200,000 trekkers visit Uttarakhand each year. Some of India’s iconic Himalayan peaks are in this state, many of which have seen world-famous ascents, such as the epic ‘Meru Sharksfin’ climb in 2011 by American climbers Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk. Dozens of trails, treks and natural sites are renowned internationally, and have been the subject of books and documentaries. This includes the mysterious Roopkund glacial lake, now a critically degraded high-altitude trek, linked to the initial litigation. Over 2,000 adventure companies cater to this visitor demand by employing guides, porters, cooks and other staff while contributing to local hotels, transportation and village tourism. Now, all of the sudden, these people who depend on mountain tourism are out of work – with no attempt made to solve the actual problem of poorly managed mountain tourism.

Ambitious but Inexperienced Indians Re-Discover the Outdoors

Now, all of the sudden, these people who depend on mountain tourism are out of work.

The Indian Himalayas, as well as the lower, southern ranges and forests, have always been stepped in history and legend. With the opening of India’s economy from the late 1990s onwards, a new generation finally started having the financial ability to explore these mountain regions recreationally. Constantly growing numbers of young Indians are keen on getting into the outdoors for the first time. These young enthusiasts, so eager to capture an adventurous looking selfie for their Instagram feeds, are not adequately educated, prepared or aware of environmental issues. According to Vaibhav Kala, Founder of Aquaterra Adventures and Committee Chairman of The Adventure Tour Operators Association of India, “with no ethical understanding of ‘Leave No Trace’ principles, and scant overall outdoor experience, first-time trekkers began to tramp trails high and low.” When deciding which operator to book with, low-priced tours look appealing to them because they are ignorant of environmental logistics. They’re not able to recognize a poorly run tour with improper carrying capacities within ecological sensitive zones, unsanitary toilet ratios and hazardous waste management.

Akshay Kumar, CEO of Mercury Himalayan Expeditions for over 20 years and a previous president of ATOAI, has also been outspoken about the dangers of mass trekking in India. “Unfortunately with the boom in the domestic adventure travel market, India has witnessed an uncontrolled growth that has reached dangerous proportions. Mass trekking, overcrowded trekking routes, piles of garbage on the trail, low-cost camping and complete disregard for safety and environment, eventually leading to accidents, deaths and destruction of our Himalaya”, he said in a recent LinkedIn post.

The influx of nascent trekkers has led to recent deaths over the 2017 and 2018 climbing seasons. In hindsight, many of these tragedies appear preventable due to treatable issues such as poor health monitoring under extreme conditions and general inexperience.  Vipin Sharma, founder of Red Chilli Adventures, who has been guiding treks for over 20 years, can spot this inexperience from a mile away. “Before these companies entertaining mass tourism came into the picture, we never heard of anyone dying while trekking. It is ‘soft’ adventure; you don’t expect people to die. It’s not the same as serious mountaineering. The reason why it happens is because the companies don’t pay attention to safety standards and sanitation, and target people who have never trekked before who end up showing off and taking pictures,” said Sharma in an interview with The Outdoor Journal.

Shady Operators Take Advantage of the Ill-Prepared

At the same time, due to weak regulations and poor governance, several blameworthy operators are taking advantage of the situation by running poorly managed, poorly executed trips in large numbers with zero regards to safety standards or the environment. These few culpable trip-runners are creating havoc for the good actors that promote responsible tourism; as well as for their clients, who are dying. In addition, the environment suffers under the weight of mass traffic and tourism into its pristine ecological zones.

“Only one forest guard sits at the head of the trail and collects money for camping, and keeps no check on what people are doing.”

Over the past two decades, Sharma has noticed how the influx of mass tourism degrades the camping grounds. “With fixed camping, you’ve got lots of people in one place. It’s only the people who move, while the tents and food rations stay in one place. If anyone gets a chance to look around these tents in the camping area, it’s all filthy and full of human waste and garbage. Traditionally, not more than five to ten people move from one place to another, with their stuff AND garbage, and camp only for a night,” says Sharma.

First-time trekkers might not realize the increased danger these imprudent operators pose. Budget tours offer inexperienced guides, with fewer guides per trekker. They lack proper safety equipment and training. The quality of food is questionable. And the low ratio of toilets to guests poses health concerns and ecological damage.

In addition to safety concerns, the reckless operators are harming the mountain ecology. Fixed camps damage the ecosystem. And poor human waste and garbage disposal is deleterious to the overall environment and impacts any future trekking experiences.

Impact of the Ban – Overbroad

Due to a lack of action by India’s government, the judiciary stepped in to impose a blanket ban on all adventure activities above the treeline. On the heels of an Uttarakhand rafting ban due to mass tourism concerns, the judgement is partly in response to a public interest litigation (“PIL”) filed by a local society, registered in one of the worst-affected regions, against the State of Uttarakhand. The litigation sought the removal of permanent cement structures and the cessation of commercial grazing, but not a complete ban on overnight treks.

The overbroad ban renders all those involved in adventure tourism and mountaineering expeditions immediately jobless. The high court offered no timeframe for baseline standards to lift the ban. Thus, the livelihoods of over 100,000 people depending on mountain tourism have no timeline for recovery. It also doesn’t do anything to address the core problem – some operators simply began to promote treks in neighbouring regions that the Uttarakhand court has no jurisdiction over (80% of the Himalaya are in India, spanning 12 states).

According to the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (“ATOAI”), the capricious judgments that arrest overnight trekking activities “are not only affecting the socio-economic health of people of Uttarakhand but also to the reputation of tourism of the state of Uttarakhand.”

Trekking in the Uttarakhand provides a deep cultural and spiritual connection for Indian people.

The ATOAI also feels that the court’s orders are going to thwart future generations of climbers, in a state known for one of India’s top mountaineering schools, and for raising the most Everesters in the world. “What are we going to tell the youth and future climbers of our country who graduate from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand? That you can learn to climb but you can never climb at home, that your state does not permit this sport?”, the ATOAI asked rhetorically in a Press Release.

Read Next on TOJ: A Woman’s Account of a Mountaineering School in Kashmir

Trekking in the Uttarakhand provides a deep cultural and spiritual connection for Indian people. Every 12 years, thousands of pilgrims attempt the 280 km trek across Uttarakhand, passing through the alpine meadows and performing ritual ceremonies. Although it’s considered to be one of the toughest pilgrimages in the world, this year, over 10,000 devotees made the attempt.

Responsible Tourism is Needed

The High Court’s blanket ban is too broad – it will force tour operators, workers, hoteliers and villages to migrate, without addressing the core problem of mass trekking operations in a growing economy by unscrupulous actors. Instead, Uttarakhand’s state government should be given the reigns to manage the situation correctly by permitting responsible tour operators and disabling bad actors. Certainly regulation, along with regular education and training can reduce the degradation to the alpine meadows associated with tourism.

“What we need is a policy of “leave no trace behind.” There should be a cap on the number of people allowed on each trail and fixed camping shouldn’t be permitted. Additionally, we need stronger monitoring. Right now, there is only one forest guard who sits at the head of the trail and collects money for camping, and afterwards keeps no check on what people are doing. We need well-defined rules and strong monitoring to ensure that the rules are being followed. That’s the only way we can keep our mountains beautiful,” shares Vipin, who takes less than ten people on each trek and never camps for more than a night.

From unreported deaths, to unsustainable human activity and environmental degradation. India’s national heritage is at stake. Read all of Vaibhav Kala’s opinion piece by clicking the image. Committee Chairman of Adventure Tour Operators Association of India and founder of Aquaterra Adventures, ranked as one of the world’s best adventure travel companies by National Geographic.

Further, in addition to regulations at the government level, change can come about with personal choices. Kumar points out the need for “Regulations, control and above all to create awareness with the consumers that it is their responsibility to choose well when selecting a route, activity or operator.”

The Uttarakhand government is now preparing to appeal against the state High Court’s judgment in India’s Federal Supreme Court. Thousands of people are depending on the Supreme Court to recognize the arbitrary and capricious nature of the blanket ban and overturn the ruling. For more updates, check in with The Outdoor Journal.

Written by The Outdoor Journal’s Dave Braun, with additional reporting by Jahnvi Pananchikal and editing by Apoorva Prasad.

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 25, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 3 – Transforming Your Body

Tony Riddle recommends small changes in our daily lives that will add up to massive lifestyle benefits over time.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony Riddle about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle in line with our ancestors. In Part 1, we introduced Tony’s outlook in Rewilding. In Part 2, we learned about how children internalize behavior from their environment and how we can better preserve their innate abilities. In this installment, Tony discusses how his individualized coaching practices can restore our bodies back to the way they were designed to be.

Training with Tony can help you get in touch with your primal self.

HANG IN THERE

TOJ: When someone comes to you and asks for coaching or attends one of your retreats or workshops, what kinds of changes or transformation are they hoping to achieve?

Tony Riddle: It’s multifaceted. I always use a classic example of my long-time client, Yahuda, who came to me when he was 72. His story gives you some understanding that it doesn’t matter where you are in your evolution, there’s always a point where you can change. He came to me when he was 72, so we’ve been working now for six years together. Initially, he just wanted to re-learn how to walk. This stooped, crumbled up old man arrives at my gym door and his neck is bent forward, his head is bent forward, he’s completely bent in his posture and he wants to learn how to walk.

“Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, and Mount Kenya.”

I videoed him on a treadmill firstly to show him his posture, because without showing someone what’s happening, they’re subconsciously or unconsciously incompetent. So by showing them the video, they’re now consciously incompetent. He was shocked, “I never knew I walked like THAT!” The first stage with him was to rewild his feet and transform his feet from being shoe-shaped into more wild, natural feet because the foundation is everything. And then I went through various different ground rest positions with him.

Tony demonstrates a series of resting positions that are more natural for our posture than sitting in chairs.

Then we learned how to hang. Hanging is so important for unraveling the spine, lifting the rib cage, opening up the arteries, and even restabilizing where the shoulder blade should be on the thorax. It also develops grip strength. We have all the brachiating abilities as all the other apes, we just don’t hang anymore.

Tony practices his balance on a tree branch.

Once we have all that we start working on the squat. From squatting, we start to walk and so on. Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, Mount Kenya, and he loves walking.

On the way to work, Yahuda walks to the tube in his Vivobarefoot shoes. Most people ask if he wants to sit because he’s 78. But he doesn’t, he hangs on the bar. When the train’s going he’s hanging, when the doors open he squats. He alternates between hanging and squatting the whole ride. And we’ve just introduced breathing techniques. So he now works on nasal breathing and he does a few breath holds on the tube as well.

Once at the office, in addition to a kettlebell and mobility mat, he has a pull-up bar inside his office with gymnastic rings that he hangs on. At his standing desk, he has a platform that he can stand on with stones in it, so he gets different feedback rather than being on a linear surface.

“If I just make a small change to the way I move today, it will have a massive impact in future years.”

So that’s a person who was completely crumpled up at the age of 72, now at 78 years of age he’ll tell you he’s moving better than he ever has in his whole life. That’s how profound it is. And that’s just by making the small changes.

It’s my understanding that if I just make a small change to the way I move, breathe and eat today, it will have a massive impact in future years. You don’t have to do it all at once, you could pick a month and decide that, “This month, I’m just going to work on my movement brain, next month I’m going to work on my nutritional brain, next month I’m going to work on my breathing brain”. And each time, even if you drop stuff off, you’re still making improvements. Some of it will remain and you’ll figure out what works for you individually. The key to all of this is I have to learn how to be a Tony in this world, not like everyone else. Part of the coaching is to help people recognize that it’s individual specific. On a retreat even, it’s still individual specific. I can hold a presentation and I will be gifting to different people in the room what I feel they need at that particular time and what resonates with them.

Tony offers workshops and retreats to pass on his rewilding practices.

TOJ: When you are teaching someone new coordination for walking or running, are those changes happening in their body or are they happening within the brain?

Tony Riddle: Well it’s both. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the movement brain and the body. We have this obsession with physical muscles, but really there are two systems – you’ve got kinetics, which is the forces and you have kinematics which are the shapes you make to produce those forces.

Let’s take running. Running is a skill, right? In terms of the kinetics of running, there’s gravity. And how does gravity become tangible? It becomes tangible through body weight. I make the appropriate running shapes using the appropriate muscles and tendons to produce that force through body weight. It’s a whole system, a hierarchy starting with perception in the brain and moving down through the muscles and tendons. If you were in a petri dish and you surrounded yourself with amazing movers and you were cultured into that petri dish, your mind’s perception of that environment is how you behave. So everyone ends up as amazing movers. If you have a petri dish full of compromised movers with sedentary, poor hip mobility through to the spine and down to the ankle, and you only observe that behavior, that would be your behavior base. The mind’s perception of the environment is the most important thing and it has to go through that tool before you can make physiological adaptations.

REFUSE THE CHAIR

TOJ: What’s a small change that people can make today to rewild their bodies?

Tony Riddle: For some people, their HR department won’t allow them to have standing desks or they have to drive on their commute to work. Sitting is just part of our culture right now. So my view is that once you get out of that chair, or whatever that sitting position is, do something that will rewild the behavior of standing, which is generally squatting or one of the rest positions. I’m about to fly to LA next week, which is an 11-hour flight, and there’s going to be some brutal sitting going on there. But the thing is, I’ll get a pre-fight squat going, and during the flight I’ll be squatting and post-flight as well.

Even in an airplane, Tony finds space to squat and practice mobility.

TOJ: How do you deal with instances where it’s not socially acceptable to move freely?

“They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.”

Tony Riddle: I used to live between Ibiza and London and I would do two flights a week. I would choose between various different methods. You can kneel on a flight in the aircraft seat. You can even squat in an aircraft seat. You take your shoes off and walk up and down the aisle or go into a larger area and have a squat, move around and do mobility work. And yeah, people might be looking at me as if I’m nuts, but I’m looking at them thinking they’re nuts for sitting down for that length of time. They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.

Check in with The Outdoor Journal next week as we further discuss Tony’s motivation for running barefoot across the island of Great Britain, daily practices for building the body into a “superstructure,” and how Tony moved past childhood trauma and stepped into his power.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

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