Article by Chetan Bhagat: Learn from Bhutan, where people curb greed and save tourism – Chetan Bhagat Article Cancel your hill holiday

New Delhi: Hundreds of houses had to be evacuated due to landslides in Uttarakhand’s Joshimath. The cracks in the houses in the city are continuously increasing. Considering the situation, SDRF team has been deployed in the area. The authorities have instructed to find and evacuate houses that are prone to danger. The people of Joshimath are facing a very scary situation. Their houses must be seen crumbling before their eyes. Locals say uncontrolled development activities are behind the landslides. Meanwhile, Chetan Bhagat, a well-known writer of the country, has written an article for our associate daily TOI, in which he expressed concern about hill stations. Let me tell you what he said.

“As a writer, people often say to me, ‘You should go and write in the mountains’. There’s this romantic notion of writing from cozy cottages in beautiful hill stations. It sounds beautiful, but there are no beautiful hill stations in India now. Instead, you have hilly roads with traffic jams and haphazard parking. Cars drive into the city center and any footpaths in the hilly area are covered with empty chip and biscuit packets.

Square-a-block shops with ugly tin roofs in the mountains sell everything. It sells everything from chickpeas and children’s toys to fake pashmina shawls and digestive canes. Here you’ll find video game arcades and snooker rooms, vendors selling maggi noodles and cheap Chinese-made Bluetooth earphones. There will be fierce competition among the hotels here. It gets exposed bulbs and ugly light accessories—tubelights. Such a place which was so beautiful in the past is now on the verge of dying, except to write all this, one cannot write anything creative by going to the hill stations of India.

Spread the lie on Instagram
Leave aside creativity, there is no room to even visit hill stations in India. Instagram influencers show off some snow-capped mountains and ignore a packet of crisps and chips to make beautiful frames on mobile and gain popularity.

There is no point in uploading such pictures and videos on Instagram and putting cool captions along with them. ‘Roaming is my soul’ and ‘My soul dwells in the hills’. These pictures show up in your feed on Instagram and you get excited. After that, go on a mountain vacation like an Instagram influencer for a few days with the family. Then after three hours you will have to face the traffic jam and after six hours of travel you will have to face a city full of garbage. Better not go there. By doing this you will be doing the mountains and nature a favor. Going to these hills is not a pleasant experience.

The sinking of Joshimath is a true story
More importantly, the damage done in these cities has now reached a critical level. It’s not just beauty anymore, dirty shops and dirty streets, slowly these cities are dying. These cities could no longer withstand the onslaught of urban dwellers from the plains. The temple town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand is actually crumbling. Residents should be evacuated. Uncontrolled construction, lack of environmental protection and influx of people from the plains have led to such destruction. Other cities can learn lessons from Joshimath. Stay for our beautiful hills. We must stop destroying our hill stations. They are the pride of India and necessary for its ecological balance. We consider the mountains sacred, so how can we allow such destruction?

Study ecologically sustainable tourism
I think tourism is the basis of the economy of these cities. Hotels, shops and travel agencies are the only way to earn here. A comfortable journey is taking place here. But can we do this at any cost? Should we cut down all the trees in all our forests? Or allow people to hunt the tiger? If we don’t allow that, how can we allow entire mountain cities to be destroyed?

I understand the need to take vacations, especially during the hot summer months. But the same ten or twenty cities are not enough. We have to meet the growing demand of Indians with more good hill stations. If the British could make these a century ago with very poor technology, why can’t we now? Indians also understand the need to take vacations, especially during summer. Rising per capita income is a good thing and more and more people can travel to these hill stations. But this mountain city cannot support double, triple or ten times the number of people. The number of tourists is going to increase in the coming years. Many hill stations were built during the British period. These cities are not ready for hundreds of thousands of tourists to visit in their cars.

So when Indians take breaks, travel and contribute to the economy, ten or twenty cities are not enough. We have to meet this growing demand with more good hill stations. If the British could do it a century ago with inferior technology, why can’t we do it now? At least fifty new hill stations need to be developed with proper infrastructure to cope with the tourist load in the coming decades. However, each of these new cities must have limits on construction, open space, visitor numbers, and all other restrictions necessary to make tourism environmentally sustainable. Water and waste disposal is now a big problem in our hill towns. These need to be planned in advance rather than creating a rotting city.

Learn from Bhutan
With very few resources, our little friendly country of Bhutan has done an amazing job in protecting the environment. Don’t Bhutanese want jobs or money? And how do they curb their greed and put the environment first? Perhaps we have a lot to learn from our neighbor. Bhutan charges foreigners a fee to stay in their country. We can also collect hill-town charges, which we can use to keep the town in good shape. Bhutan also does not allow unsightly billboards. Standardization is required in all hill towns. Think of a similar sign in Jaipur’s Johri Bazar, similarly if plastic bags are banned, anything sold in plastic packets should be banned. Yes, I am talking about chips and biscuits. They are not good for health anyway.

The developments in Joshimath should be a wake-up call for all of us. It is not worth destroying nature for a few rupees. It is not a separate business anyway. If a city is destroyed, you can never earn from it. Hill station tourism needs to be sustainable. We need to beautify our hill towns. After that, writers might go there to write.”

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