Lately we all have been witnessing distasteful pics on the social media platforms about the plastic waste accumulated in the mountains and parked in the middle of the valley even near the rivers because there is no solution to dispose of this humungous waste consisting of pet bottles, wrappers of chips, chocolates, biscuits and what not!!

While much attention in recent years has been focused on the impacts of plastic waste in the oceans, pollution in mountain regions has rarely made the headlines. Meanwhile, plastic is the most common type of waste found in mountains. The rapid increase of plastic waste in these region is driven by tourism, to a large extent. While tourism is an important source of income especially for developing countries, but the mountainous regions face specific challenges in addressing plastic waste due to their remoteness, limited access to human and financial resources, lack of funds, and challenging natural conditions. Municipal bodies in Mountain region have limited capacity and infrastructure to ensure environmentally sound waste management. This often leads to open burning and dumping, polluting and choking the water bodies. Other than the plastic waste burden that mountains are already shouldering, it is the spread of microplastics, which travel long distances and often end up on mountains like the Tibetan Plateau and locked up there for centuries to come.

Now this huge volume of plastic waste generation is mainly due to influx of travelers at various tourist destinations as they leave the waste behind which was generated during there stay at that particular place. Other than the waste, the large influx of tourists also disturb the local ecology and put pressure on the limited resources available at that area so much so that sometimes the sensitive nature of that region simply cant handle the stress and just give up and results in disasters. We have witnessed many such disasters and devastations in the past and keep witnessing sporadic incidents of land slides on regular basis.

So the question arises what should we do!! Should we stop travelling to such places and make a deep dent in the earnings of local people who depend upon tourists for their source of living!! I Think we need to change the perspective, approach and purpose of travel or if I should say that TRAVEL NEEDS TO CHANGE and become more responsible, sustainable and mindful. Mindful travel is a phrase that is becoming increasingly common. It is used to describe an approach to travel and to life that is more aware of the impact which our travels and our choices will have on the environment and on local communities.

  • To avoid the risk of sounding a preacher or an armchair activist, I am sharing my personal story about how I planned family trip to Dehradoon, capital city of Uttarakhand in May 2019. When I call it a mindful travel, I believe, it should start right from the beginning at the time of choosing the mode of travel. Though Dehradoon is not far away from Gurgaon where is live, and it is feasible to travel by own vehicle, we decided to travel by public transport as it is very callous and selfish to inundate the city with private vehicles and create the situation of chaos and traffic jams and not to forget the vehicular pollution. We booked the tickets through Uttarakhand Roadways site after taking in account personal experience and feedback of friends who have already used the bus services. Contrary to general belief and bad reputation of govt owned entities, the buses run by UK Roadways were quite good and in welcoming condition.
  • We are four members in family including two children who are grown ups and can carry their stuff. So we carried separate bagpacks for each one of us with separate water bottles in our bag. So we had enough drinking water for the journey to avoid us from buying PET water bottle on the way. We also carry some other stuff in our backpacks which you will get to know in the later part of the journey
  • The Bus stopped at mid point for passengers to use rest rooms and  break to eat something if they feel so. I was carrying a quarter plate in my bag to avoid any single use plastic/paper plate if such situation arises. But to our delight, the food joint was serving food in reusable stainless steel crockery. That was the second delightful moment after the Volvo bus run by UK govt.
  • Before proceeding further, let me take you back to the point when we were searching the hotels/resort options for stay. After short listing and then having telephonic conversation with them all, we zeroed down to a hotel and booked it. Will disclose it later part what was the agenda of the conversation with the managers of the shortlisted hotels. Stay tuned
  • So after having a halt of around 40 minutes, the journey started again. As we were all awake from early morning, the family members fall asleep but I could not as I was not able to keep my eyes off the highway where the cut trees were lined up as if some dead bodies were lying after any calamity or disaster. My heart was aching to see them lying lifesless and helpless. And this massacre was to make way for the cars, vehicles driven by humans. It made me wonder and questioned myself that whether it is worth to travel a destination where the natural beauty and flora of that region is being destroyed to make way for us!!
  • Finally after around 7-8 hours journey on road, we checked in at the hotel pre booked by us. Now it is the time for the revelation about the telephonic conversation I had with the manager before booking room at this property. So I shortlisted this property as they claim to be environmentally conscious hospitality business when I searched them on internet. After conversation on the phone, I was convinced that they mean what they say and it proved right when we entered the room.
  • Imagine the room while you read this.  There lies a tray with reusable mugs and water jug on a table, wall mounted handwash soap and shampoo dispensers in the wash room, no single use kit of toothbrush, toothpaste and shower cap etc though they may provide if you ask for these items in case you require.
  • Recyled/treated water was being used in the flush. Read the sign board below which was hanged on the wall above the toilet seat
  • The linen and towels in the room were suggested to be changed after the second day only provided the guest request to change them daily. Indeed a good thought to save the unnecessary use of water.
  • We used the local conveyance for sight seeing and roaming around the city. It not only helps in reducing the use of extra fossil fuel but also help you to connect deeper with the city and the people. As they say, many deeper and beautiful relations are made whith a stranger whom one connects while travelling
  • Other than water bottle, we also carry our stainless straw, spoon, tumbler and handtowel to avoid the use and waste of single use items. While on most of the road side tea stalls, the glass tumbler were being used but we did use our stainless steel tumbler at some places where tea was being served in single use paper cup.

  • We also made a point to have food from those vends who were serving in reusable crockery though I must admit mostly vends were using reusable crockery which was a sight to delight.

  • During our stary of 3 days there, we generated 2-3 wrappers of chips and one tissue paper and we also brought back this waste. I believe that our lougage can accommodate this much of waste to be brought back.

This is how we planned and carried out our mindful travel and the feeling of not distrurbing the ecology and not burdened the system is unparrallel. There are few more tips which one can be delibrated if one is alligned with the idea of mindful and sustainable travel. Mindful Travel is also called responsible travel, sustainable tourism, and ecotourism. The concept of mindful travel revolves around to consider and analyse  our travel decisions more carefully so as to not impact the local community and local ecology in negative way. Some simple and universal tips are:

  • Please carry your water bottle, stainless steel straw, spoon, tumbler and hankerchief/hand towel in your backpack. You can refill the water from any hotel or restaurant. Mostly of them use RO water filter.
  • Try to go on foot if travelling to nearby place within the city or at least use the local transport. Travel is an experience and by conducting like locals you will feel the deeper connect with that place and you might bump into a local shop with authentic stuff at best rates
  • Indulge in talking to the local people and get to know about their struggle and problems. Try to use your connections or influence to help them in finding the solution if you can or at least raise their concerns on the right platforms.
  • Eat local. Try to eat the local food, fruits and herbs.
  • Buy something which is locally grown or any product which is their native craft
  • Instead of a hotel, consider staying at any homestay owned by any local
  • If you have margin of time, consider contributing money or spending time/helping any NGO
  • Also if you can, you must volunteer to plant a sapling or contribute money to any local environmental group

The phrase ‘Mindful travel’ has an added connotation to it. Being mindful means being aware and encompasses the spiritual aspect of life. When you take a mindful approach to travel, you notice things. With a mindful and thoughtful approach, travel becomes a meditation. It grants you an experience of being alive in the world instead of a consumer-oriented, commercialised activity designed to give you temporary pleasure and keep you distracted.

Sameera Satija

Founder- Crockery Bank For Everyone Sustainability Enthusiast

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