I’m sick of you getting Leh’d

I know that’s an easy pun that obviously emerged after everyone had started visiting Leh after ‘3 Idiots’ made it all hep and famous. Pop culture has an incredible ability to boost tourism – Goa became a ritual for all college kids after Dil Chahta Hai, India became interested in Skydiving after ZNMD, and Leh became the new right to passage for calling yourself a ‘traveller’ after 3 Idiots.
But there’s something that irks me about all of this, this new hipster life, which seems so pseudo and superficial just because of the scale at which it is practised. In the process of being a ‘traveller’ and ‘wanderlust seeker’, most of us forget the most essential thing – to travel responsibly.
We are doing a guide on Responsible Tourism at work, in which we are covering places that practise better ways of tourism. But I’ve realised that before institutions and hotels try and imbibe better tourism practices amongst us, we as individuals need to be a little more sensitive toward the places we visit. And here are some of the things I’ve observed during my travels that need to STOP RIGHT NOW (the points are very savage, to say the least).
1. Let’s start with Leh.
Majority of the people who visit Leh want to go there for experiencing some sort of hipster way of life; apparently those parties are amazing et all, and of course the place is pretty damn picturesque. But if your core purpose (which you won’t admit) to go there is to upload pictures on Facebook and use hashtags such as #wanderlust #adventure #gotlehd #traveller , etc., then please don’t go there. You’re only increasing the carbon footprint in such an ecologically sensitive area and that is not okay. There has been an increase in the reports regarding the garbage piling up there, and that needs to stop. Let’s pledge to not make Leh another Everst basecamp. Travel more responsibly if you’re going there – visit Alchi, Thikse Monastery, Leh Palace, whatever, and make sure you’re not degrading the environment there. Learn about the place. It’s really not cool if you visit a place and upload some selfies and come back with nothing but those. If you’ve visited Leh and not learnt a thing about the place, then you might as well party in Hauz Khas Village and photoshop your face in the cold desert of Leh, just saying.
2. When you visit high altitude passes and mountains
Don’t throw your plastic garbage and cigarette butts around. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is not going to send its kooda wala van all the way up some 14,000ft to pick up your garbage. Just don’t do it. And don’t scare those yaks, please no.
3. When you’re in national parks and sanctuaries
Tigers are majestic, I know. But don’t give your hotel a bad rating on TripAdvisor if you don’t spot a tiger on your safari. There are other interesting animals that constitute the excellent biodiversity of this country, enjoy those sightings. And if you’re still cribbing about the tiger, well I’m glad the tiger didn’t present itself in front of you. I have never seen a tiger, but I keep trying my luck over and over again.
4. Discipline in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
Don’t wear red, don’t scare the damn animals in their own habitat. And if you do end up spotting a tiger, don’t unanimously shout ‘tiger tiger tiger’ at the top of your lungs. Let the tiger be, and enjoy its sightings quietly.
5. Monuments
Don’t scribble on them. Please, no. And what are you really going for if you go to a historical site and come back with no knowledge whatsoever of the architecture and history of the place. Next time you visit Khajuraho Group of Monuments, stop ogling at whatever you’re ogling at (erotic sculptures constitute for only 10 per cent of the carvings anyway). Learn about the nagara style of architecture or the Chandela dynasty. Go to Brihadeeshwaralayam not for the selfies but to learn about the superlatives in stone that the place is.
6. Water bodies
Don’t go river rafting in the Ganges and be a wuss. Don’t go to Rishikesh and pollute the Ganges. And I have seen people cruise over the Godavari and the Brahmaputra while eating a packet of Kurkure, and then ignorantly throwing the empty plastic into the water. So much for respecting the river like its your mother. Your koodawala is not going to swim there to pick it up tomorrow morning. Tossing stuff into the sea while you’re chilling on the beach – not cool. However drunk you are, not cool.
Go to places and learn about them. Talk to people. Eat local food. Walk around. Understand. Spend time unwinding. Everyone travels for different reasons, some want to know about the culture, some want to know about the food, some want to know about people, some want to know about history and some go for the spellbinding sights. But if your sole purpose of going is garnering likes on social media, then don’t. Please don’t go. Also, you’re no #explorer if all you’ve seen at a place is the four walls of your five star hotel. The most important thing to remember when you travel is to respect the place you’re at. And once you learn to do that, you’ve got it good. Let’s all pledge to travel more responsibly this year and bring back some real stories with us 🙂

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