MOANA

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To celebrate environment day with a local school, I showed them “Moana”! I believe there is  so much to this movie, and it was a really amazing way to interact with the high school students too! The movie shows how connected these tribal people are to the nature, how when Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti he was doing that to help the human. It was not really with a bad intention. Similarly, we also use natural resources to help ourselves, but sometimes may end up exploiting it to devastation. Like Te Fiti turned to Teka after her heart was gone, our nature will turn evil after we torture her past the point of resilience.

Moana went after what she believed in and that is in a way what each of us are doing too. The movie shows how difficult it is to restore nature once disrupted but not impossible if you care enough!

And it was amazing how the students brought artworks and writing about Moana later 🙂 🙂

Redefining the Human and Nature Connection

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The connection that we have with nature is ever-present, everlasting and it is inherent. The first thing we do after stepping foot in this world is, we breathe. And we continue to do so until we die. Like many times we are not aware that we are breathing, we are not aware that we are constantly connected to nature too. The air that we breathe is always there, the sky and the clouds are there and can be seen from everywhere. Likewise, the majestic sun rise and the sun sets, starting and ending our day always.

For me, it is not about going on a green hike or to the rivers or to the beach to get connected with nature. For me, nature is me and I am nature. We all are creations that evolved from the small prokaryotes wading across the ocean on the earth to become the human we are today. We evolved more to be able to define nature itself, but this does not mean that we belong to nature; this means we are nature, and this is how I see the connection between myself and nature.

Since we started to roam the earth to the present day, we have been evolving on the lap of the earth together with billions of other floras and faunas. Earth has always been spectacular and beautiful, the mighty Himalayas, gushing rivers, oceans that stretch for miles, from tiny macro-organisms to the biggest of creations, nature is nothing but beauty. The most serene of lives we see in the mountains, where the sound of the rustling wind is broken only by the chirping of birds, animals, and people singing. Also, in the coastal areas, where people and oceans go hand in hand, where the people’s heartbeat and the rise and fall of waves is parallel. In the agricultural lands, where people spend all their lives plowing the earth, getting harvest for themselves and caring and revering for the nature that provides for us with immense resources. Even in the city areas, where the skyscrapers obstruct the sky but people look up to get that glimpse and enjoy the rain and the rainbow. All the tribal people had songs dedicated to nature, to marvel its beauty and thank her for the abundance and even in the present time, all the communities across the countries in the world have these songs.

During the hunter and gatherer time, we relied on the resources of the earth, and that has not changed even today. The thing that has actually changed is our number. When we first started using earth’s resources, it was not to harm her, it was to sustain ourselves, and same is the case today. But the fact, that in the past we were few and resources were abundant, unlike in the present times, when we are more in numbers and the resources are limited. If we evolved enough to be able to define nature, we also evolved enough to be able to see what is going on and how we are now at a stage where our actions harm our earth. So now, the only thing that stops us is our greed. A greed blind enough to not see the future full of disasters. The changing climate resulting from pollution has already put the world in danger. All over the world people are putting on efforts for the betterment of the situation of the earth and trying for the transition to clean energy solutions and a more sustainable way of life.

Now a few who are obstructing the process are the ones who profit from the nonrenewable sources.  While the world is trying to shift to solar and wind energy, the fossil fuel enthusiasts are already hurt and reluctant about having to leave so much of possible energy sources on the ground. Because it is not only the energy source for them, it is money. But while they continue to dig up the ground for the oil, millions of other pay the price. According to the scientists, we need to let the remaining fuels remain underground for cleaner air and a lesser risky future. When we pay the fossil fuel industry, it is not just money. The cost of carbon is drought, famine, sea level rise, water scarcity, climate refugees, extreme events, dying corals, wildfire, retreating glaciers, species extinction, infrastructure loss, ecosystem and most of all, our way of life.

Right now, we all feel the connection with the earth. We all are working in our individual sectors, from individuals to government, and coming together for the solutions, which was also evidenced through the historic Paris agreement. But also, a few who still put profit above the earth, for instance, the me first attitude of US President Trump who pulled the US out of the agreement. But again, the majority came to fight back and share the allegiance with clean energy and better future. So like always, earth and human are evolving together, and how we put nature and sustainable development in our agendas will determine the course of our future and determine if the beautiful connection human and nature have will remain in the generations to come or be gone for good.

THE TRINKETS TREASURE….. in Boudhanath

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Travelling always feels like magic. Going to new places, meeting new people, coming face to face with completely different cultures, walking entirely different roads with exclusively different music is like going to a new fairy land. Travelling equals immersing and wrapping oneself up in a shawl of totally different scenario. What better than to have something to remind us of this magical land we went to after we return and take our shawls off? A prayer flag to remember the wind of Himalayas, some sculptures to take a bit of the culture to your living room, a diary to reminiscence the land trodden while waiting for new ones to walk, or photo frames to recollect all the memories. Anything as long as it brings back whiff of the place. That is why, any wonderful places we go to, we find shops or stalls full of different souvenirs to take back home, and the destinations in Nepal are no different. May it be Thamel, Pashupati, Durbar squares, Boudhanath, Namo Buddha, or any other place, they have stalls selling the specialty of the place. These trinkets have a huge business, and I want to unravel what all these trinkets might mean!

SCULPTURES

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The most famous souvenirs to take back are the metal sculptures and the most famous sculptures are the Buddha ones, according to Ashish Shakya from Ashish handicrafts. He has an amazing collection of sculptures, and says that one sculpture alone takes about 4 or 5 person, each being designed a separate job to finish the work. First, the wax is molded, then mud work, then the desired metal, usually copper is placed through the hole, and the casting taken off. The carving, gold plating and face painting finally give the finishing touch to the sculpture. The Buddha sculpture are also of various types, the meditation Buddha, Healing Buddha, Shakya Muni Buddha, etc. These sculptures are also available in various sizes. These hand crafted sculptures are therefore in the bucket list of many tourist wishing to take back a memento of Nepal.

BELL

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The bells vary from very intricately designed to very simple ones, and one of the attractions of any souvenir shops. In Hinduism and Buddhism, bells are used for worshipping, although they may be used in different ways. According to a Buddhist lama I met in Ashish handicrafts, the bell’s dome represents void, or emptiness, which is a core concept of Hinduism, and the sound that bell produces, represents creation from nothingness. So, if buying bell is your choice, you are carrying a serious philosophy in your bag! In Buddhism, the bell comes along with Dorje, which is a symbol of peace and acceptance, a will to help everyone and everything, and this Dorje and bell can also be seen carried by many deities in their sculptures too.

PRAYER FLAGS AND PRAYER WHEELS

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Prayer flags and prayer wheels are really popular souvenir, because they are a really important part of the culture. They are seen during Himalayan trekking, around any Gumbas or Monasteries, and as decorations too. Both the flags and the wheels have important mantras, or inscriptions, written on them, which is believed to bring in positive vibes and power, and ward off evil. They are used mostly for indoor decorations after being bought as a souvenir, and lightens up the room because they are so colorful. Mr Ashish shares that the tourists usually buy smaller prayer wheels and use them in their office desks as stress buster as well as paper holder.

SINGING BOWLS

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The singing bowls are also really famous, as a very meditative and relaxing souvenir. The set consists of a bowl and stick, when the stick is moved against the bowl, it produces a very relaxing and meditative surround sound. It is believed to have healing powers as well. Many shops are dedicated to just the singing bowls, which are also available in variety of sizes.

UTENSILS

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The teacups and other utensils from around the Himalayas are unique in that they are really embroidered, and people buy them to add to that color in their homes. The colors are very bright, like red, orange, yellow, blue, etc. So, you can remember Nepal and it’s vibrant colors while sipping your tea!

SMALL JEWELRIES

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If big sculptures and table show pieces are not your choice, and you would rather wear your travels, then there are choices available from so many kinds of earrings and bracelets. They are of many colors, and also different textures. Sometimes, you can also make your own custom one, with miniature bells, sculptures, or prayer wheels. Or if metal and coppers is not your thing at all, you even have ones made out of clothes or pashminas too!

Changing Climate Patterns and the Himalayas

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Climate Change is bringing about many threats to all the communities across the world and the problem only continue to increase with one crisis unraveling tens or hundreds others. The global community is threatened by the increasing sea level, increased cases of erratic rainfall, drought in some places and floods in other, the biodiversity going for sixth mass extinction, increased vulnerability and reduced resilience. This happens because all the natural systems are so intricately connected to each other that a disturbance in one causes disruption in many others connected to it.

Nepal is a small mountainous country with a very small area but climate ranging from tropic in the south to alpine in the north. As such, climate change is impacting Nepal in many different ways. While many cases of agricultural losses is reported from all the regions, the changing climate usually has completely different effects in different communities, just because the climatic condition is so varied, and the vulnerability and resilience of the places are also different. In the past 100 years, the global average temperature has risen by about 0.74 degrees Celsius. It has also resulted in intense and frequent storms and hurricanes, heat waves, snowfalls, intense downpour, etc, and Nepal is no exception.

The many glaciers and mountains in the Himalayan region of Nepal feeds major rivers downstream, and we can see direct impacts of Climate Change in this region, in the form of melting of snow caps, retreating Glaciers, increased risks of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood, increased tree line and diminishing biodiversity. The changes in the Himalyan Hindu Kush region alone affect more than 1.3 billion people, according to International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). One of the major difficulties of changing climate is shorter but highly intense rainfall which causes problems like floods and landslides. With eight out of 15 highest peaks of the world, including the highest peak Mt. Everest, lying in its territory, the Nepal Himalayas is a major tourist destination attracting hundreds and thousands of tourists every year. It sustains the livelihood of many people along the route. Climate change has its effect through fiercer storm and the Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). Because of the changes in the hydrological cycle, storms and downpours are getting very intense. GLOFs are major risks in mountainous areas. Glaciers always carry stones and rocks along with the ice and snow. Due to increasing temperature, glaciers are retreating at a very fast pace, and when they retreat, they leave this moraine as a form of dam. The melting ice continues to build up water content in this lake until the moraine cannot handle the pressure any more, and then it bursts, causing flood and damages in many areas downstream. As it is difficult to predict when glacial lakes bursts, it makes things even more difficult. Many communities are at risk downstream.

Now when we come down toward south from the Himalayan region, we have the Hilly region called Siwalik. The Himalayas area is the origination point of nine big river systems all of which have been affected due to global warming and climate change. Apart from posing flood problems to millions of peoples along the banks, the altered hydrological cycle also triggers landslides in many places. The topography of the Himalayan Region and Siwalik is very weak in itself, and the increasing flood instances only make it weaker and more vulnerable to huge landslides. The instances of landslides are only increasing every year.

The southern part of Nepal is Terai, which is a fertile river basin. Now as the glaciers retreat at alarming rate, the flood risk increases in Terai, as the river here are fed by these mountains and glaciers. Also, the erratic rainfall is increasing the instances and risks of flash flood.

Nepal is already facing the brunt of climate change, and its hugest impact can be seen in the agricultural sector. The agriculture in Nepal is of subsistence type, and the farmers are not equipped with sophisticated technologies. They are completely reliant on the natural rain for their harvest. But due to the erratic rainfall and increased hailstorms these days, the entire harvest gets destroyed. This further fuels food insecurity. Dubar, a remote village in Lamjung district, is where I went to conduct research on the changing climate and livelihood, for my bachelor’s project. We can see the changes in harvesting time, increased potato pests, increase in mosquito when there were none a few years back, decrease in forest biodiversity, complete drying up of the community well, etc. The people also gave up on their cattle because of the heavy invasion by invasive species.

These kinds of changes are changing people’s way of life, and not for the better. Millions of people are displaced every year due to flood and other disasters, and they lose everything to live their remaining life as refugees. They lose lands, their community and their culture in the process, and this is not their choice, this is the price of Carbon. If opting for sustainable and green energy is possible, then there is just no point in delaying action, and allowing temperature increase of more than 1.5. The Cop21 resulted in historic declaration for this. We already are in a very critical tipping point, with so many uncertainties regarding the climate change. The ecosystems in the world are connected in such a complex way, we don’t fully understand what implications the changing climate may have. An increase of only .5 causes changes in many species growth, and further increase only multiplies all the effects. Climate change is increasing risk worldwide by one chain of events giving rise to another chain of events, and most of the times the impacts are faced by poor communities which had no hand at all in the carbon emission. It really is high time for the global community to work together to bring the emission down to minimum to reduce the carbon content from the atmosphere and halt the global warming as much as possible, as climate change does not only bring new, unprecedented problems, but also exacerbate the problems that are already there.

Buddha and Nature

Entering the gates of boudhanath takes people to an entirely different place of peaceful hymns, prayer flags, and trinkets shops, the central point of which is the famous Boudhanath stupa. Lopsang Lama, a Buddhist monk from the Kopen Gumba, shared with me the history of this stupa. Long ago there lived Chhajima, which literally translates to bird herder. She had three sons, and she wanted to make this stupa, so she went and asked the then reigning king for land. The king asked how much land she wanted, and she replied, not much, just as much as a single’s cow skin. After the king’s assent, she made a long thread out of the cow’s skin, and the area of boudhanath that we now see, is the area that she covered with the skin thread! The king was this way tricked. She lived to see the completion of the dome, but the remaining was completed by her sons and a buffalo. After completion, the elder son asked a wish to be able to be a king and spread Buddhism in Tibet, the next in line son asked to be able to teach Buddhism practices in his elder brother’s land, and the youngest s

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Bouddhanath stupa picture taken from himalayansocialtravel.com

on asked to be able to dispel of any obstacles that might come in the way. The buffalo was mad that he wasn’t mentioned in any wishes by any brothers despite his efforts in building the stupa! So he asked to be able to completely annihilate the religion that the brothers establish. His secret musings were heard by a crow perched nearby, which then went on and asked to be able to kill this buffalo with evil musings!

 

So a few generations went by, and then King Trisong Dhetsen established Buddhism in Tibet, Kamala Shila went teaching about the religion to the Tibetan people, and Padma Sambhava was there to dispel off the evil spirits that destroyed the attempts to build a Gumba. These three were infact the three brothers. Then Langtharma came along who destroyed the Buddhism establishment, but then he was also killed by the reincarnation of the crow.

So, the belief is that, whether the wishes made in Bouddhanath be good or evil, they come true! The boudhanath stupa is considered one of the most important landmarks for the Buddhist people.

The Buddhism religion is regarded as very peaceful religion, whose core is Lord Buddha, who attained enlightenment through meditation. The preaching are always about goodwill, service to all mankind,  and peace in the world and within oneself. I went along and asked Monk Lopsang about the belief Buddhism holds for nature and its conservation.

Lord Buddha himself was born under a peeple tree, and gained enlightenment under the tree. This already connects the birth of the lord with nature. Nature is peaceful and calm, and so is the teaching of Buddha. Buddhism is about finding one’s true nature, and meditating within oneself, and this is most of the time done in secluded natural areas.

Also, Buddhist respect nature as the habitat of all living creatures. They don’t really take nature as some sentient being with heart and soul, but as a home to all the sentient beings there are. Their believe in non harm to any living creatures automatically coincides with nature conservation, as cutting down a single tree means affecting all the birds that nest there, all the squirrels that burrow, and all the other smaller organism, that call tree their home. Deforestation therefore means disregard of the living creatures, and is not supported by Buddhism.

Monk Lopsang also introduced me to their vows. After you decide to accept the teachings of Buddhism, you take certain vows, and they increase as  you climb up the rank. These vows prevent them from doing any actions that are restricted, and many of these vows are also about refraining from causing harm to the nature. His vow prevents him from cutting trees, or even plucking a blooming flower or leaf! These rules are not as strictly imposed upon laymen, as they have to exploit nature for their livelihood, but sustainability is always encouraged, as Buddhism does not support extravagance. It is always about taking as much as we need.

Before Buddhism took over in Tibet the people practiced Bon religion. This religion had lots of Shaman and spirits. They revered different Gods and spirits, and most of them lived in the forests and mountains, therefore, the nature was also respected. Even after Buddhism was established, these practices remained. So although the Buddhism do not have Gods as a direct impersonication of nature, they have Gods who live in nature, and all the resources from that place is also not harmed. So, because of a forest spirit that is worshipped, the forest is also conserved, and because of a mountain God, the mountain is conserved.

Buddhism also strongly believes in Karma, what goes around comes around and you get what you deserve. There are many kinds of Karma, including individual and Collective Karma. So, the nature of any place is regarded as a collective Karma of all the people who live there. Good communities are rewarded with pleasant climate. Monk Lopsang points out the logic behind this, as conservation definitely helps the people with pleasant climate and sustainable resources, while destroying it definitely brings havoc in the form of natural disasters, arid land, and all other environmental problems.

Renewable Energy as a Solution to the Climate Crisis

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Our sea level is rising, our mighty Himalayas and ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating, water level is reducing, biodiversity is being lost, we are facing erratic rainfall, drought is some places and flood in other, there are food insecurity and political instability, we are facing problems of coral bleaching and salinization, every year people lose lives and property because of weather extremes, and our livelihoods are changing. This is climate crisis. And all of these are only some of the issues that we are facing. Climate change not only causes new problems, it worsens and exacerbates the already existing ones too. According to Kevin Trenberth from U.S National Center for Atmospheric Research, “Global warming is contributing to an increased incidence of extreme weather because the environment in which all storms form   has changed from human activities.”

The anthropogenic climate change that we are facing now is due to the fossil fuel emission. The carbon in the atmosphere directly causes the increased global temperature, which is affecting our hydrological cycle, global air mass flow and subsequently the climate change. That is why it is absolutely important to keep in check our global emission, and go for renewable sources, which is not only feasible, but absolutely crucial to keep in check the health of our earth, our home. The emission of fossil fuel not only causes global warming and climate change, but causes serious problem of health hazards resulting due to air pollution.  In the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, the damage to health from poor air quality, largely associated with the burning of fossil fuels, is valued at an average of 4.4% of GDP, as said in the Better Climate, Better Growth: The New Climate Economy Report on September 2014. Switching from fossil fuel to alternative energy source is beneficial to the health of both people and the planet, and is always a win win situation.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” (IPCC). According to J. Eric Smith, CEO, Swiss Re, “What keeps us up at night is climate change. We see the long-term effect of climate change on society, and it really frightens us.” Switching to alternative energy is a very sustainable solution we have, to fulfill the needs and demand of people while ensuring minimum possible harm to the environment as well. By opting for renewable, we pose least possible pressure on our planet.

The fact that renewable are a feasible source of energy is also proven by the difference between the green energy projection and reality. In year 2000, the projection was that worldwide wind capacity will reach 30 GW by 2010, by 2013 that goal was exceeded by a factor of 10X. The world’s largest offshore wind farm, the London Array, can power 470,000 homes. Mexico has invested heavily in wind, including building one of the world’s largest windfarms. On May 11, 2014,  Germany generated 74% of its electricity from solar and wind energy. In September 2014, South Australia powered an entire workday with solar and wind energy. According to reports, enough solar energy reaches Earth every hour to meet the power needs of the entire world for a full year.

The places that did not have electricity before can directly get these new solar or wind energy. Even in case of Nepal, the rural mountain villages that did not have any electricity, are now getting it from solar panel, which is also debunking the myth that trapping solar energy might be difficult in mountains.

We are at the stage when we know climate change is happening and we need to stop emission. This is also what the Paris Agreement pointed towards. Transitioning to clean energy will reduce our reliance on coal and fossil fuel, and therefore, help in reducing emissions. This is absolutely important as according to climate reports, even if we were to completely halt our emissions right now, it would take many years for the carbon in the atmosphere to reduce and the impacts to wear off.

ECOTOURISM TALK

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Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” according to The International Ecotourism Society, (www.ecotourism.org). Following this definition, Nepal definitely falls under the most fitting for ecotourism category; with most of the tourist attractions being natural, formed by natural processes without human interferences. Nepal occupies a very small global area, but in this small area we have the climate ranging from tropical in the south to the tundra and alpine in the north. So, we have a very unique place having such a diverse climatic condition in a very small space. Thousands of plants and animals are found that are completely endemic to Nepal. While many countries build various kinds of reservoirs and pools, to bring in visitors and beautify their country, we naturally have them. According to the tourism statistics of 2014 too, the highest number of visitors were to national parks, then to Pashupati, lumbini, Manaslu trekking, Mustang trekking, Humla trekking, Lower Dolpa, Upper Dolpa, Kanchanjunga trekking. We can see that the most popular destinations are to natural places, and through least carbon footprint.

I got a chance to talk to Mr. Dinesh Raj Joshi, the CEO of the Nepal Tourism Board about the ecotourism scenario in Nepal. The ecotourism is linked with sustainable tourism most of the time, and deals with how the nature conservation, recreation, learning, and development of the place go hand in hand. Mr. Joshi claims Nepal to be a pure ecotourism destination, the fact that all the touristic places are a pure natural set up. The forests in Nepal covers about 29% of the area, and consists of thousands of different species of plants and animals, and even thousands that are endemic only to Nepal. Even since thousands of years ago, since the time of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Hillary Edmund, people have been practicing eco tourism, going on natural hikes, treks, and learning about the natural places and the local people. It was practiced since before the term was coined at around 80s. Then there was also another time when there were many hippies coming and visiting Nepal. No matter the kind of revolutions that happened, or the season wise attraction changes that occurred, the tourism sector has always been busy in Nepal, and almost all of the tourism destinations are natural, may it be the wildlife safari, or natural trails. The protected areas have also been very effective in promoting nature tourism. Our jungles are full of life, full of flora and fauna, and many different kinds of birds. Mr. Joshi gave the example of Annapurna trekking area, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, which is regarded and studied as a very successful case study of eco tourism.

Much effort is being put now to promote ecotourism. The eco tourism does not include just travel to natural process, but also requires the development of the local peoples. Most of the places in Nepal have their own specialty, for eg. Apples in mustang, cheese from the Himalayas, etc. and all these products are also being promoted to uplift the local life. Some laws relating to eco-tourism has also been formulated. But how well it is implemented is still a question.

While studying about ecotourism, I also met Mr. Sunil Sharma from NTB, who emphasizes that eco tourism should be very interactive. He started our session with a very simple question, if you go to any natural place as a trekker, and I go to the same place as an eco-tourist, what would be the difference between you and me? So, turns out, while I as a trekker would just trek, look around and come back, he, as an eco tourist would spend a lot more time knowing about the place, the kinds of flora and fauna present there, the locals that live there, their livelihood, and in fact everything about the place. If he met any locals on his way, he would chat with them and get to know as many things about the culture and the nature there as possible. His explanation made ecotourism easier to understand. It is a lot more interactive, it is more immersive, and it should benefit the locals too.

Ecotourism is sustainable tourism that focuses on preserving and protecting the natural system. The high number of tourist visiting our nature always exerts pressure on the place. Evidences can be the excessive amount of solid wastes in the mountain trails and foothills, diminishing culture in some places, disappearances of indigenous communities, etc. As such, it is very important to have a close relation between the local people, policy makers, tourism board of directors and travel agencies. Nowadays, many travel agencies are also trying to be more environmental friendly and are going green. Some by banning plastics, bringing back the wastes, making their packages more environmentally friendly and reducing their carbon footprint.

One of such examples is the Himalayan Friends Trekking, whose founder Mr. Phuri Kitar Sherpa, also talked to me about the strategies that he is adopting to make his packages more nature friendly. Most of the trekking done by his agency is to the Himalayan regions, and these are the regions facing the pressure, in the form of increased wastes, deforestation, etc. The agency has therefore completely banned the use of plastic, and also brings back the waste generated, leaving no trace behind. Also, he takes all the trekkers to interact with the locals as well and give them descriptions about the nature and peoples livelihoods too. Even the food provided are the local delicacy of the place. Mustang is also among the regions facing the impacts of climate change and Mr. Sherpa is completely aware of the fact, and includes talks about these impacts too.

And Himalayan Friends Trekking is only an example among many other agencies who have adopted similar procedures. This only makes the experiences more enriching for the tourist, as not only they will be having the time of their lives and learning about the environment and culture of the place, but they will also be improving the local’s revenue in the process, and all this while posing the least possible threat to the environment.