How the Plogging fad turned into the missing piece in one of my life's missions

How the Plogging fad turned into the missing piece in one of my life's missions

The absolute first time the plague of litter in our wilderness hit me was on the trek up to Kheerganga, in the Parvati Valley, back in 2009.

A mini landslide had just opened up a cross section of the mountain. Clearly visible, plastic bottles and bags were packed into the mud more than 6 feet below the surface. How long ago it got there, I could only guess. I felt silly for even thinking, just an hour prior, how I was about to step into pristine territory. Those plastic bottles and bags had clearly been there for many years. As I climbed further, my heart sank deeper. By the time I reached the top, I had shed a tear. It was a mess, and I'm pretty sure it still is.

Fast forward to almost a decade later, and I've set some roots in the hills of Kodaikanal. It isn't as grand as the Himalayas, but 2100 metres above sea level, it still offers a stunning view of the world with the feeling of isolation. However, it’s not remote enough to avoid the debris trail left behind by reckless humans. The hills and forests are strewn with litter. Years of neglect from the municipality has led to piles of trash in the wild. The network of garbage trucks bypass villages within 2 kilometres of the landfill, simply because there isn't proper road access in the last mile. And so when I got there, well meaning farmers offered friendly advice of where I could go to throw my garbage in the wild. They all have a spot, or two or three.

In my first week in Kodaikanal, I picked up 4 sacks worth of garbage single handedly from within a 1 kilometre radius of my house. Each sack was as voluminous as myself. Every single piece of plastic that had ever come up to that hill had clearly never left.

© Jacob Cherian

On the final day of that specific pick-up session, i was waiting for the local jeep cab to come by and take all of it to the nearest bin. As I was waiting, Dominic, a foreign national that's been living there a long time said that I had to accompany the jeep cab guy to ensure that he dropped it in the bin. Dominic had made the mistake of handing garbage over to the same jeep guy before and later found his bag of garbage opened up, by some animal, on a road side along the forest.

What strikes me is the absolute lack of ownership, an absence of pride in keeping our world clean and natural. Every piece of unnatural garbage is still being treated like a banana peel or rice husk. There is a clear underlying assumption that the people that make and sell all of this packaging have got it all figured out and that everything is just going to be okay. But it isn't just going to happen without individuals taking initiative.

This is what I've tried to inculcate into every trek that I have led since then. I offer trekkers reusable trash bags with back straps and a walking staff that they can use to stab-and-pickup. At first, I was met with a lot of resistance. My own friends would make sarcastic remarks about how "you're trying to get people to clean up your mountain and pay you on top of that.” The general reluctance continued until "Plogging" hit the newsfeeds last week. Plogging is a Swedish term that combines the words "jogging" and "plucka upp" (to pick up). I finally had a catchy word for what I was trying to do. It also came with its share of western validation, which sadly seems to be almost essential to inspire our local citizens into action. Let me be clear, I'm grateful for this term, and I'm grateful to the Swedes.

So within 24 hours of hearing about this, I created an event called "The Plogging Party." I shared some invites with promo graphics, and I've already booked out over 50% of the capacity within a week of its launch. In another 2 weeks I should be able to fill up.

Along with the noble task of picking up junk dropped by others, I've included a menu of gourmet food and the word "party" as an appetizer to get people to give it a shot. Once they do, I know that they'll just 'get it'.

I've seen a single visit to #TheMistyMountainHop change people's perspective on waste management drastically. The education begins in our printed guide. One of the top criteria in our guide states "Bury all organic waste. Carry the rest back into town. Or don't bother coming". And we mean that. If people are not willing to work within our humble-striving-towards-utopia...Just.dont.come. We don't need your business. And you don't need to enjoy this view. But if you come and help, joy awaits.

Setting expectations like that, and leading it into an experience where people are getting their little kids to carry sacks of garbage off the mountains, and finally ending it with dropping off garbage into the waste management system, offers our guests surprising joy. They wind up surprised at how rewarding it feels to help mother nature by clearing away the litter.

Hopefully the Plogging phenomenon, and the joy it brings, will spread from person to person so we can scale up this impact for a lot more thoughtful travelers to experience first hand.

You can join us at #TheMistyMountainHop by booking here.

Feature Image © Jacob Cherian