Thank you for visiting this website dedicated to showcasing the over two decades of conservation, ecological restoration, and education work we have been doing in the Gangotri region, the source of the holy Ganga.
Covering almost two decades of sustained efforts, our experiences can hopefully help others who are struggling to protect fragile alpine environments while balancing the benefits that religious and adventure tourism accrue to the local economy of mountain communities. Our progress in reestablishing Birch trees can be of particular assistance to those seeking information on eco-rehabilitation in dry high altitude climates.
The Gangotri region of the Uttarakhand Himalayas contains one of the largest glacier systems in the world. Due to concerns over global warming, these glaciers have become the focus of much international attention. Moreover, Himalayan glaciers play a pivotal role in the hydrological balance of the entire Asian continent. Hundreds of millions of Indians depend on this perennial source of the Ganga, and thus the need for precautionary measures to ensure the glaciers’ long-term survival.
More immediately, the area is also suffering localized ecological degradation due to the growing tourist and religious pilgrimage trade. The energy demands of this now permanent and growing influx are denuding the alpine highlands, while polluting the area with all the detritus of mass consumer culture. Moreover, the ecosystem, including the few species of trees such as Birch (the ubiquitous Bhoj in local language) that can grow in the cold and dry alpine climate, have suffered severe decline. Gaumukh at the snout of the glacier now resembles a shanty settlement in a cold desert, rather than the holiest of holies it is renowned to be.
All this has motivated me to spend the last twenty years conducting ecological research, restoration and awareness campaigns in the Gangotri-Gaumukh region. As a mountaineer, I have had the chance to travel throughout the higher Himalayan reaches of Uttarakhand and observe the precipitous decline in the ecology and aesthetics of these epicentres of mountain tourism. My own doctoral research focused on the particular ecological and economic issues facing this type of tourism in the Indian Himalayas. Now a Reader in the Department of Economics, Govt. Post Graduate College in Uttarkashi, I continue my conservation work in the surrounding district.
After seeing the destructive effects of mass tourism, the forest department has regulated the number of tourists/pilgrims to 150 per day in this area. All the 24 tea stalls have been removed from the Gangotri National Park area. There are no teal stalls at all, although their ugly frames (iron structures) remain. Grazing of horses and ponies has been banned. Slowly the regeneration of flora has started in the park area.
As such, this website will hopefully reveal some of the progress we have made in our efforts, including our successes with our Birch tree plantations and cultivation of medicinal plants on a trial basis. Also detailed are some of the major obstacles we have had to overcome, but also the support we have garnered over the years. Hopefully, this story will inspire others to take up the Himalayan task of restoring the “Abode of Gods” to their original natural splendour and pilgrimage to its sacred ecological roots.
Recently, we have formed the Himalayan Association for Development & Research Initiatives (HADRI) to carry on this work. Stay tuned for more details.
Dr. Harshvanti Bisht
Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, India