The incredible initiative started by one man has resulted in over 800,000 pounds of waste being cleaned up from the Himalayas in just four years! Pradeep Sangwan, founder of the Healing Himalayas Foundation, organizes trekking expeditions to the summits, but while on the path, trekkers have gloves and sacks ready and collect all waste they find en route.
33-year-old Sangwan began his venture into cleaning the mountains in 2014. In a conversation with The Logical Indian, he shared that he always had a passion for trekking and was appalled by the amount of garbage in hitherto pristine valleys, by the mountain roads, and in the lakes. As the popularity of mountain tourism grew, sadly so did the amount of trash left behind.
“At one point, it became the unsaid norm to indicate the direction of a trekking route by asking one to follow the garbage trail. That deeply affected me,” Sangwan said.
The trekker was determined to act and make the mountains beautiful again, especially for the local shepherds who live in a sustainable way and “treat the mountains as their God,” very much unlike the tourists. From 2014 on, Sangwan would always pick up garbage on his treks. For two years, he continued on the mission on his own, shifting his focus from his business to his passion for restoring the natural state of the area, until he finally decided to dedicate himself to that task completely. He sold off his profitable homestay business in Manali and his mountain jeep, as well as pledged his valuable assets to keep going, but his determination never wavered.
In 2016, Sangwan launched the Healing Himalayas Foundation. He hoped to find other people like him, equally dedicated to helping the mountains – and that was exactly what happened.
The foundation is now made up of a number of volunteers who join Sangwan and his core team on their expeditions to many popular trekking and religious routes.
After the plastic waste is collected, it is brought to the base village and transported to two recycling plants with the help of the villagers.
Electricity is generated at the recycling plants through waste to energy the conversion and the government supplies it to the surrounding villages. The foundation’s work is now lighting up remote villages with sustainable energy. Thanks to the team’s efforts, restrictions have been imposed on environmentally-harmful practices like making campfires, using diesel generators, and more. They are also educating the villagers about sustainable energy, rainwater harvesting, and other similar measures.
“Today people are flocking to the mountains in hordes but leaving behind a huge mess. Instead of inhaling the fresh mountain air, they want to drink, smoke and have chicken biriyani while playing loud music around a bonfire,” Sangwan said. This is the reality the foundation is striving to change – and they are succeeding. “In Kheerganga, we highlighted this menace to the authorities. Now the High Court, Forest Department and NGT have come together to ban permanent camps in this route. Now you have to carry your own tent, cook your own food, have the night’s rest and leave the spot clean the next day.”
Sangwan emphasizes that to understand the importance of keeping the mountains clean, tourists first need to learn to love them. He himself makes that relation very clear and works hard to make others see why we need to care – and the results of his and his team’s efforts are truly heartening!
We can all help protect the planet’s natural beauty by reducing the amount of trash we create. To learn more about how you can start, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign.
All image source: Healing Himalayas Foundation/Facebook