Gangotri, May 3: Gangotri, Valley of Flowers and other highly eco-sensitive zones of the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand may be becoming hot sites on the tourist map. But the Uttarakhand government now wants to put up more restrictions on travellers in order to protect the precious biodiversity of the Himalayas, including the glaciers. According to a rough estimate, thousands of pilgrims, who visit the hill state during the Kumbh, Chardham and Kanwar and other religious congregations, travel to these areas leaving heaps of non-degradable waste, including plastic, which are hazardous to environment.
After the Centre decided to ban two key hydropower projects – the 480-Mw Pala Maneri and 381-Mw Bhaironghati in the Bhagirathi valley last month to protect the biodiversity of the region, the state government has now decided not to allow tourists to come near Gaumukh glacier, the origin of the Ganga in Uttarkashi district. The Gangotri National Park authorities would now put up sign boards and erect fencing just 500-metres before the Gaumukh to forbid tourists from trekking beyond.
In 2008, the government had restricted the number of tourists visiting Gaumukh and other Gangotri glaciers to only 150 per day. Another move is afoot to even restrict the number of tourists to 100 in future. According to a report of the Dehra Dun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), the glaciers are melting at a rate of 17-23 metres per year. The issue had become more contentious in the wake of controversy surround the inter-governmental panel on climate change (IPCC). “Unregulated tourism and climate change are big concerns before us. We are trying our best to protect all the sites which are highly fragile,” said Uttarakhand Principal Chief Conservator of Forests R B S Rawat.
Similarly, the government is trying to put restrictions on pilgrims to Hemkund Sahib and other shrines which are close to the Valley of Flowers, a world heritage site. Thousands of Sikhs travel every year to Hemkund Sahib, which is situated in an area known for its rich flora and fauna, and leave huge waste. The government had restricted the entry of tourists to the 14-km long area of the Nandadevi Biosephere Reserve few years ago.
On the other hand, the government is also planning to carry a renewed campaign through tourist brochures and media telling travelers to remain sensitive to these areas. “Leave only footprints and take only memories,” said a brochure on the Nanda Devi National Park issued by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN), a state government enterprise promoting tourism in the state.