Valley of flowers, Uttarakhand, India

Volunteering Together: Cleaning The Valley Of Flowers

Valley of flowers, Uttarakhand, India

A lot is being said about global warming and saving the environment. Some couples find it worth their time to volunteer their services to this mission, as they holiday and collect beautiful memories along the way.

Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky… Such is the world of special twos who explore the fragile earth spaces, finding their connection on earth as beautiful as the heavens. And along the way, they create more memories for those they meet and spaces they clean, giving to Planet Earth what they take from her.

A couple I knew at work loved offering their services with WWF Green Hiker Campaign. This sounded like a unique holiday for a couple who wanted ‘time alone’. Shedding the myths about time alone, they enlightened that they were passionate about the planet. And the floods in Uttarakhand had clearly shown how fragile certain natural regions are.

Mountain cleaning

Hiking and meeting the locals is a special experience, said this dynamic couple. Their first love was flowers, so they normally visited the Valley of Flowers annually. The rich flora and biodiversity made this valley special. They would hike and camp around also sometimes, a little away from the reserve though. It also comes under the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2004.

Eventually, on one such camp, they encountered a local villager who was cleaning the area. They wondered why he was doing it alone, until a few moments later they saw a team of people doing the same. Some picked plastic bags and bottles, other collected the things which had been thrown around. They were putting them in a jute bag and were going to dump them in an area where garbage was collected. And they were all carrying more such bags with them.

Why this sudden urge to do this? They got a simple answer from the villagers: The Himalayan ecosystem is facing unique threats and the High Altitude Wetlands (HAWs), birds and mammals are struggling for survival. HAWs are water bodies such as lakes, ponds and rivers, found at altitudes higher than 3,000m above sea level, often fed by glaciers or snow from the surrounding mountains. Recently there had been a visit by some volunteers who had educated them on the pros and cons of keeping the Himalayas clean. The volunteers had taken training from a programme led by WWF–Green Hiker Campaign.

Learning and Lending a Helping Hand

The challenges are many such as poaching, human-wildlife conflict, trade in wildlife parts, habitat destruction and legal support. But the most important thing was to keep nature as pristine as it is meant to be, the couple learned.

So, they joined the team of mountain cleaners and began the task of collecting all the dirty material left by trekkers and tourists. For an hour, they walked around the uneven terrain, collecting plastics, bottles, cups, plates, even found some shoes and t-shirts. There were empty food packets and chips too. Most amazing were the beer bottles and straws. And it was shocking to see bits of clothing hanging from trees. This was an awakening. In no time, their jute bag was full. And it had been three hours. They had planned this holiday for fun, another annual holiday but it became a thinking business.

Lessons To Carry

The plan was to stay for three days, but that day watching the locals take care of their environment moved their hearts and souls. And they decided to do something about it. Picking up their tents, they cleaned the area around with care, ensuring that nothing which could leave a spot was left behind. And they went and stayed with the villagers.

After a simple dinner, they chalked out a plan to come regularly. Early morning both were out to take photographs and walk around and enjoy the beautiful flora and fauna. But now, they followed the Green Hiker rules. They walked in a single file, avoiding more erosion.

They did not carry their music speakers with them. Less noise means fewer disturbances and less pollution. The decision to move into the village had been a conscious one, as more camps in the area could also harm of the environment. And the village had facilities for water, so they didn’t need to use the water body nearby. And above all, they did not carry plastic bottles and bags. And even little stones that came on the track, they kept them on the side, leaving the track clean for other trekkers.

Love for the environment did not get restricted to ‘mountain time’ only. They began discussions with friends and started a group where they would hold regular classes on dos and don’ts for trekkers. They spoke about simple things like carrying less luggage, less utensils when trekking, using solar cookers and bio biodegradable organic soaps for washing and cleaning.

And the best part—they gifted posters with couples walking hand-in-hand in the Himalayas, with jute bags full of bottles and plastic on their backs. And the journey of many years continues, as they trek every year to a new mountain with their jute bags.



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