The age of Roopkund trek is over. So what?

Everything on Earth has its own share of success and significance that never remains forever. Roopkund trek too had its own era of popularity. It was once every adventure seeker's dream. A super-hit and blockbuster trek. It has now become a forgotten film star. The memories of its splendidness, and curiosity of the mystery lake have begun to fade. Trekkers have deviated to different treks and trekking agencies are focusing on marketing other treks. The age of the Roopkund trek is over. So what? The show must go on! The real question is, is the show really on?

Roopkund Trek

The show is going on for the outer world, but the ones deeply connected with Roopkund are still wounded. Even after 6 months of the Roopkund ban, they are not able to overcome the shock and stand back on their foot with confidence. “This ban has destroyed everything, there is NO EMPLOYMENT, there is nothing left,” says Rajkumar Sah who is a Transport Provider for trekking agencies and a local of Dewal village.

Though in 2018, Trekking was declared the Adventure of the Year, the most disheartening event of the Ban on camping on Alpine meadows by the High Court was a major setback. It led to many modifications and the worst was a complete ban on Roopkund. Other trek routes traversing through meadows were instantly revised to strike out meadows from the itinerary. Unfortunately, Roopkund never got this chance of survival. “The ban on camping on meadows led to changes in the itinerary for other treks, they are still running. But we never got considered for any other workaround. We are the only victims of the ban,” sighs Rajkumar.

As you know, the bright minds moving towards cities for jobs is a major crisis in our Nation. Surprisingly, due to the popularity of trekking, the reverse is happening in the Himalayan habitats. There are thousands of locals moving back to their homes in remote places because trekking and hiking give them money working close to their homes. Be it as porters, local guides, cooks, or through homestays, hotels, lodges etc. their families were satisfied. Similarly, the Roopkund trek was the medium of employment for 10-12 villages of Uttarakhand, namely Kulling, Maila, Dewal, Harini, Suya, Malla, etc. The sudden disruption of employment has made things worse for these villagers. “We were happy living close to our families. We used to earn money and respect. Ab sab barbad ho gaya,” cries Rajkumar.

We realize the motive of BAN was totally for the betterment of Mother Nature. We as humans must respect and protect our mountains. However, forbidding trekking is not the correct solution. Here’s why,

1. Loss of hope: With the boom of trekking in the Himalayas, Roopkund had become the number one trek in India. Every crazy adventure lad wanted to see the skeletons in the mystery lake of Roopkund. Within 5-6 years, the surrounding villages flourished. Not only did the trekking companies but mainly these locals started getting a fixed income. The villagers found employment through mules and horses. There were about 600 horses supporting around 200 families. The guides and porters were working on a fixed salary. Natives having 1-2 vehicles bought more vehicles and started renting them for transport. Small huts serving hot tea were now developed into big hotels and lodges. Even the aged people started earning by giving their houses as homestays. All of this development was a result of a ray of hope of stable income and business loans for creating such dreams. The shattering of hope of income means no source to recover from the debts of the banks.

2. Loss of human resources: Loss of income is a major reason for the loss of resources. Due to the lack of employment in the remote villages, the people are again forced to move out to cities in search of jobs to repay the debt. Leaving the farms, happy house, parents, wife, children, this adverse situation led many to dive into the unknown.

3. Loss of self-esteem: Having been working in the trekking field for so many years locals have lost the interest and skill of striving in some other business. The literate ones have no experience to directly start with a full-fledged earning job. On the other hand, the illiterates end up taking any kind of job for money. People who were running their own businesses are now cleaning utensils in big city hotels.

4. Increased drug abuse: The children used to love accompanying their parents as they used to go for treks. For them, it was a fun trip. Working half-day or assisting the head cook, they used to earn enough to support their family. At TTH, we have seen transitions of many graduate students from helpers to head cooks or from local guides to trek leaders. The kids are now sitting free. They have enough time and nothing to do. “I feel sad to see the kids playing cards, smoking, or drinking. They have started selling ganja to earn money. I hate this, I don’t want this future,” moans Rajkumar.

If so much is at stake how can we be biased and take a cruel decision? We all must sit together to promote eco-friendly trekking. A complete BAN can never be an optimal solution. “The big trekking companies are already doing their work of cleaning the trails, the local agencies and solo travelers must work hand in hand with the rest to preserve the mountains. We, villagers now realize our responsibility too. We want to discuss all the possible solutions to sustain the mountains. It is our request to the High Court to please give us a chance,” says Rajkumar.

Apparently, the High Court has allowed the legendary Raj Jat Yatra to be continued to the Roopkund. For those who don’t know, Raj Jat Yatra is a pilgrimage where locals walk from Kansuwa village to Roopkund. It occurs every 12 years. The High Court has given a separate consideration for the Yatra by modifying the night stay locations having camping on meadows. Raising a concern related to this the natives say, “If the new route is allowed for the Raj Jat, why can’t we use the same new route for trekking? The High Court banned alpine meadows, why can’t we use moraine meadows? There will never be vegetation on such lands, they are rocky. If we sit, there can be an alternative, eco-friendly route to Roopkund.”

Roopkund Trek

In conclusion, we just want to raise our voice with Rajkumar as he pleads, “I am the witness of the agony of my fellow villagers. We regret not being so socially aware. We regret allowing others to exploit our mountains. We want to save our mother and we want our source of employment back,”

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