Welcome to my latest and most controversial blog to-date! Having read quite a lot of what appears on-line covering (or for that matter, barely covering) IMPORTANT issues in the Himalaya, I have drawn the conclusion that I am BETTER placed than anyone to raise concerns about what REALLY matters! Yes, my informal prose is imperfect (after all, I am not a professional journalist) but provided those reading what I have to say, take the time to digest the content, I am confident that they will recognise someone COMMITTED TO ACCURATE, IMPARTIAL, INDEPENDENT AND FAIR REPORTING - which I of course, the MINIMUM you expect of any broadcast on television, radio or written reports in newspapers, magazines, journals or on-line. But that happens a lot less than I realised. It seems to me that those who report on such matters have little or no relevant training, expertise or any knowledge of the topics they write and PASS JUDGEMENT upon but perhaps that is the intention nowadays - LET'S NOT SPOIL A GOOD STORY OR SENSATIONALIST HEAD-LINE BY WORRYING ABOUT THE FACTS OR ANY UNDERSTANDING OF THE REAL ISSUES.....
It is interesting the BBC coverage of PRINCE HARRY'S VISIT TO NEPAL and the emphasis that CLIMATE CHANGE and CONSERVATION were SUPPOSEDLY major topics of conversation during his meeting with the president - yet the BBC has never taken any interest in CHRIS CHADWELL'S long-standing CONSERVATION projects (over a period of 30 years)! THE EXACT OPPOSITE, IN FACT... I wonder why that is? No interest in PROTECTING and CONSERVING Himalayan flora by the LEADING EXPERT on the STUDY, CULTIVATION and CONSERVATION of Himalayan flora. No interest in utilising GIANT HIMALAYAN STINGING NETTLES to stabilise soil in NEPALESE villages.... NO INTEREST IN 'SAVING THE PLANET'S RARE PLANTS'...... With all due respect, how much does Prince Harry or indeed any BBC journalist know about such topics? To be fair, Nepal has long COLLABORATED with British and other botanists and horticulturists, which has enabled its flora to be much BETTER studied than that of the WESTERN Himalaya. Unless flora is studied, it is IMPOSSIBLE to CORRECTLY identify species and UNLESS extensive surveys have taken place IMPOSSIBLE TO tell which species are RARE, let alone endangered.
This LEADS to SIGNFICANT sums of money and awards being given WRONGLY to those FRAUDULENTLY claiming to be SAVING HIMALAYAN PLANTS... by those FALSELY claiming to be using rigorous methods of application screening involving an expert academic panel and international reference checks........
I am a REAL friend of the plants, environment and peoples of the Himalaya - any REASONABLE person cannot fail to recognise I am genuine and care DEEPLY. At times this necessitates me drawing attention to what is going wrong. I am not a politician and politics tends to rear its ugly head, sooner rather than later. Like the late Prem Nath Kohli, I am GIVER but not everyone is OPEN to help. I am a botanist and scientist at heart, having travelled more extensively along the Himalaya for more than 30 years and have studied aspects of the flora (and to some extent, its fauna) more than anyone I know of. Yes, certain individuals know regions of the Himalaya better than me or have studied topics more intensively than me but I find too many people write about what they know almost zero about, creating misleading impressions. I know well the limitations of my knowledge/expertise and comment only about those topics I have ADDITIONAL supporting evidence for. Can others make such a BOLD claim? In this world of text-messages, social media, sensationalist head-lines and "sound-bites", I hope some will view my blog as a REFRESHING alternative -which can be TRUSTED! No matter what others might say or claim.
I shall begin by covering a recent HUMANITARIAN CRISIS and a long-standing problem in many (but not all) parts of the Himalaya: POLLUTION. It is one thing to alert people to PROBLEMS but do I have any ANSWERS/SOLUTIONS? Yes - see below. The answers/solutions do not lie in BLAMING FOREIGNERS or PRETENDING TO BE TAKING ACTION, when IF this is counter-productive. ALL countries need to COLLABORATE internationally and actively ENCOURAGE and EMBRACE the efforts of DEDICATED and WELL-MEANING foreigners like myself - DISCOURAGING, EVEN PREVENTING THEM FROM HELPING MAKES NO SENSE. Listen to the WISDOM of GREAT LEADERS like NEHRU and GREAT MEN like P.N.Kohli. See: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/p-n-kohli
My wish is for India to become a GREAT power and not just ECONOMICALLY, at the COST of its environment - it COULD be setting an example to the world but at present it is not. There are plenty of examples in other countries, large and small, which India should NOT follow! LET INDIA BE MIGHTY IN HER SERVICE TO HUMANITY, by bringing out the best in her people and those of all Himalayan countries.....
Firstly, THE 2015/16 NEPAL BLOCKADE, which I was BLISSFULLY unaware of for months! It was an American who alerted me to the situation - strange given that I take such an interest in the Himalaya and have been actively fund-raising for Nepal following the 2015 earthquakes, for individuals I know and through The Britain-Nepal Medical Trust. I knew, from friends in Nepal that there were fuel shortages, electricity shortages and transport difficulties but was staggered to learn of contributing factors - I had imagined this was SOLELY down Nepal having understandable problems recovering from the earthquakes.
For me details, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Nepal_blockade (which describes the blockade as "an economic and humanitarian crisis which has severely affected Nepal and its economy". Does Nepal not matter? And on top of the earthquakes early in the year!
and: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BackoffIndia It seems great offence has been caused to Nepal. I am aware that when Everest was first climbed (please note that major mountains are never 'conquered') there was much fuss about who set foot on top first and their nationality. My assessment was that the greatest contribution to the success of the British expedition was Sherpa Tenzing Norgay's (who was Nepalese), not Edmund Hillary (though his technical skill over the 'Hillary Step' was vital). Tenzing had got close to the summit on Swiss attempts in 1952. It seems staggering to me that Nepal was ever considered a part of India. Mind you Sikkim, once a Kingdom has been absorbed at a state of India. And I understand that Bhutan might have gone the same way at one point - clearly it is India which controls and protects Bhutan's air-space.....
Judge for yourselves. For sure, there have been shortages of medical supplies and EXTRA firewood has been cut from vulnerable forests.
Further view-points are shown below, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE THAN ONE SIDE TO DISPUTES:
IF ANYONE READING THIS CONSIDERS I HAVE AN ANTI-GOVERNMENT BIAS, THEN KINDLY PROVIDE ME WITH LINKS I CAN ADD TO REDRESS THE BALANCE.
I was not able to visit the Himalaya in 2015, so have not "seen for myself", so let me now cover a topic which I have observed since the 1980s: POLLUTION.
To be fair, India and Nepal face enormous challenges and someone fortunate enough to be brought up and live most of their life in the UK, must temper criticism - and be mindful as a 'BRITISHER' as we Brits are still, mostly affectionately know as (at least to those of my and the older generation), and to an extent, a representative of the former colonial power, that what I have to say, might be misinterpreted. But I am being truthful and have discussed my concerns with many Indians who acknowledge that a fresh approach to CARING for the ENVIRONMENT is urgently needed. I stress that I am not an activist, very much a pragmatist. People need to live and country's must be permitted to develop. I am also aware that our track record in the West leaves a great deal to be desired. Much of what I have to say is to urge the people of India NOT to follow our example. We have chopped down most of our forests. We have been guilty of too much destruction and pollution of the British environment but stronger regulations are in place and ENFORCED. India and Nepal need to improve PROTECTION OF THEIR ENVIRONMENT - BUT THE FRESH RULES AND REGULATIONS NEED TO MAKE SENSE, NOT JUST BE A QUESTION OF PLAYING POLITICS. Until now, Bhutan has been setting a fine example to the world.
Too many cars and trucks
Our expedition leader had the bright idea to spend the night on a platform at Old Delhi Railway Station, to catch the morning service to Jammu; utterly exhausted, we fought our way to the ticket booth (there was no proper queue) only to discover the tickets had to be booked 24 hours in advance.....
When I first headed back, independently, many years later to Manali, in the upper Kulu Valley, which had been the base for the two botanical tours I led in the mid-1980s for West Himalayan Holidays (escorting mostly British plant enthusiasts, showing them the beautiful flowers in at the time, an unspoilt valley in the borderlands of Western Tibet), the journey began in Delhi. When leading the tours, my group had flown to Chandigarh, spent a night at the Mountview Hotel (far too expensive for me to afford privately), then a coach to Manali by road. This time, with my contacts (I stayed with the Proprietor of P.Kohli & Co., who was based in Delhi at the time, following the killing of a family member in Kahmir) I arranged for a taxi to take me to Chandigarh. To avoid congestion crossing Delhi, the driver arrived before dawn, allowing us an easy run - much later and several HOURS would have been added to the journey! After a night at a cheaper hotel in Chandigarh, another taxi was hired to reach Manali.
For the return journey, it was possible to get a place in an overnight coach, departing Manali about 1600hrs, reaching Delhi 12-14 hours later. A few years ago, I got a cheap flight from Delhi to Chandigarh, then bus (a painfully long journey) to Manali. The overnight coach service to Delhi is still in operation but was painfully slow due to major road-works and the congestion on the roads - it seems everyone else has decided the traffic is LIGHTER at night - it now seems NEVER ENDING. Massive road-building, businesses, hotels, numerous road-side places to stop for food. Horrible..... It used to be enjoyable to go through the PINE-COVERED Siwalik hills but with seemingly endless traffic and noise, this is no more.....
Too many hotels
The British lady who ran West Himalayan Holidays, who married an Indian Professor, had a home in Manali when I first visited in 1985 - where I checked the medical kit for our trek, along with the doctor we had. By the following year they had moved house to escape the noise of traffic and construction of hotels. At that time, Indian tourists were few-and-far between, mostly pilgrims. Nowadays, Manali has too many hotels and is very noisy and increasingly polluted. Yes, thankfully, there are restrictions (which are enforced) on felling trees close to the town itself but construction of houses continues apace up the hillsides. On those tours I was able to take my group past open fields with flowers to be seen close to the wooden Pagoda-style temple in the Deodar Forest above Manali - nowadays one must squeeze past houses and hotels with many flowers trampled out of existence!
Severe damage to the Rohtang Pass
Elsewhere I explain the harm that has befallen what was once, as rich, if not richer an area than the famous 'Valley of Flowers'. See: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/what-are-the-real-risks-to-himalayan-flora. I am drawing attention to the vulnerability of the Sach Pass in Himachal Pradesh (near the border with Kashmir) which is presently FAR RICHER than the 'Valley of Flowers', a UNESCO site - surely it should be a priority to protect this area, as I am in a far better position than anyone to judge the richness of its flora!
Plastic bottles and what can be done about them
These present a SERIOUS problem these days. Complete bans are not the answer. Back in the 1980s I would have my own metal water bottles, getting as clean water as possible, then adding chlorine purification tablets - I moved on to using Iodine tincture. Being especially susceptible to severe gastro-intestinal problems, this was a great consequence for me. In recent years I, like almost all other visitors, mostly buy bottled water, which can be purchased in the most out-of-the-way places.
So what to do with the bottles? I was disheartened when there appeared to be no system of recycling such bottles in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, when I last visited. One use for the bottles, when no recycling exists (long over-due that something is put in place), is to cut in half and fill with soil to sow seeds in or put cuttings in, for growing vegetables, ornamental flowers, medicinal plants, shrubs, trees etc. In the UK, we go to a garden centre to buy plastic pots to sow seeds and put plants in. The top half of a plastic bottle can have the top removed for drainage; the bottom half can have holes made for drainage. Inexpensive and readily available - but ultimately everyone MUST be made to recycle as much as possible. In the UK one used to get money back on glass bottles. There are plenty of innovative ways. After all, in villages in Ladakh, NOTHING was wasted in the past - with human waste being an essential fertiliser in fields and the dung of the yak-cattle crosses dried for fuel (burnt in a similar fashion to peat in the past in parts of Europe).
I have MANY answers, sensible PRACTICAL ideas, which could make a big difference. Is anyone in positions of power listening. I have a SOUND proposal to help turn parts of LADAKH green but is anyone listening? It seems not! See: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/turning-ladakh-deserts-green
I used to be impressed at how GOOD India was at RE-CYCLING and RE-USING, not WASTING, in a THROW-AWAY society we have in the WEST! India USED to SET A FINE EXAMPLE.
To be continued...