Himalayan Resort under Threat from Mountains of Rubbish

GULMARG, India ~ Tons of litter dumped at Indian Kashmir’s showpiece Himalayan resort are threatening a fragile alpine ecology and endangering villagers dependent on its glacial waters.

Litterbugs could also do irreparable damage to the emerging reputation of the zone’s picturesque high-altitude meadows, forests and peaks as one of Asia’s best adventure ski areas, environmental activists warn.

“Mountains of rubbish are killing this tourist resort,” local environmental campaigner Abdul Hameed told AFP in Gulmarg, 50 kilometers west of Indian Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar.

“This stream is a source of drinking water to 18 villages with over 20,000 people. This dump is endangering lives.”

Gulmarg – the name means Meadow of Flowers – features one of the world’s highest golf courses and a gondola lift that carries visitors up to an altitude of over 4,000 meters.

In the winter, the mountains are blessed with an abundance of powder snow, and an absence of restrictions on off-piste access has won the area a reputation as one of the world’s best kept skiing secrets.

But as temperatures soar across India during the summer, hundreds of thousands of Indians head to the resort for some clean, cool air – but leave behind plenty of waste.

“This place stinks,” lamented 48-year-old Mohammed Shafi, a trader who runs a food and drinks stall halfway up Mount Afarwat, the peak overlooking Gulmarg.

The road up to Gulmarg may be dotted with reminders that plastic is banned in the area, but Shafi said, “Nobody is stopping people from taking food and water up the mountain.”

Near his stall is a huge spread of rotting rubbish – cardboard boxes, soft drink cans, plastic bottles, polythene bags, beer bottles and biscuit wrappers. The smell is so overpowering in places that visitors hold their noses.

None of the hotels in Gulmarg has waste treatment facilities. Refuse is collected in the backyards and later dumped in the outskirts of Gulmarg.

Authorities say they are taking steps to clean up Gulmarg and the neighboring resorts.

“We are in the course of identifying wasteland away from Gulmarg where we can put the trash,” said Farooq Ahmed, head of the Gulmarg Development Authority.

A state plan calls for waste to be transported daily to a dumping ground more than 20 kilometers away.

“We are taking all the measures to keep this resort clean,” he said.

But locals and tourists who make trips on the gondola lift carry food and water bottles that they then dump in the mountains, Ahmed said.

The decomposing trash leaches into the glacier-fed streams which are the main source of water for thousands of families and is destroying the area’s delicate flora, environmental group Greenpeace said.

“All the trash in Gulmarg and surrounding areas is dumped in the mountains. We need scientific methods to dispose of this garbage,” said Greenpeace activist Shafat Hussain.

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