I have heard and read several times that the neo adventure tourists clamor for roads to promote high altitude pilgrimage and adventure tourism in the Himalayas. They justify their demand in the following ways:
Argument 1: Roads will increase number of adventure tourists that will generate more revenue for local and non-local travel agents and tour operators and other service providers.
Pros and cons: The business community may earn more and the multiplier effect may become bolder and bigger. The local economy therefore may harvest a good financial crop for just a few seasons. After that no money and only sorrows because the number larger than the all-round carrying capacity of the destination will create utter chaos and bad reputation.
Argument 2: Why cannot Himalayas have roads if the Alps can have roads?
Pros and cons: Geologically speaking, the Alps is an old stable mountain, whereas the Himalaya is a young and instable, at times reckless, range. Road building thus requires careful planning and doctrine of minimalism.
Argument 3: Everyone cannot trek but everyone likes to explore beautiful remote mountains.
Pros and cons: There is a popular saying, No pain, No gain. The saying is relevant to the tourism segment as well. People besotted with beauty and solitude of the Himalayas should make an extra effort and find extra time to walk up to the areas of their choices. This will be beneficial for them, their future generations, and the mountain range. In business terminology, this will generate regular repeat sale.
Argument 4: Some of foreign mountaineers suggests that connect the peak base camps with roads to reduce length of mountaineering holidays. So they can climb more peaks and make records in shorter time.
Pros and cons: Arguments 1 and 4 solely emphasis on the revenue side of the adventure tourism in the Himalayas. A second thought will reveal that these revenue goals can be achieved with small number of adventure tourists who do not ask for roads that suck the essence of adventure and beauty dry. Their longer holidays using minimum roads have multifold benefits:
Distribution of the monetary benefit will reach to wider communities because the tourists will trek through more settlements and stay longer.
Small number of tourists will litter less and disturb less vegetation and landforms.
Instead of allowing large number of adventure tourists in short tourist season, allow small number of tourists throughout the year. This will open regular source of income for the locals and they will probably stop to try to earn 12-month revenue in 5-6 month tourist season. It may help in regulating the cost of travel services. Every season throws different types of challenges. So, the tourists should explore the destination in different seasons to satiate their adventurous appetite.
Roads in the Himalayas, especially in the Greater / Himadri and upper belt of the Himachal / Middle Himalayas are not a healthy choice for any one for various reasons. Sudden height gain is an unhealthy practice. Acclimatization that requires gradual change in the altitude and time is a necessity. These fragile belts are prone to landslides and avalanches at many places.
Argument 5: Some locals believe that if roads link to the base of the glaciers, trekking tourism will increase.
Pros and Cons: This will in fact kill the trekking tourism. It will shorten the trekking holidays and bring mass lazy tourists who just want to have easy fun in urban way. Boozing, making unwanted noises, littering the pristine places, teasing animals and humans, creating traffic jams, and clicking pictures that they will never even see again once.
To promote trekking tourism, make and maintain basic trails and provide regulated comprehensive camp sites.
Demand for roads is nothing less than the destination’s character assassination.
How far a road should be laid down in the Himalayas?
Health of the Himalayas can be risked for safeguarding the national frontiers. To some extend it may also be intelligently risked for linking remote villages with enough population to one of the principal roads. However, roads for mass adventure tourists who wish to enjoy pristine places just by throwing money should never be built.
Before comparing their villages with urban communities, locals should reflect on the following:
The Himalayan folks are fortunate to have solitude, clean fresh spacious surroundings for a healthy life, and uncomplicated lifestyle.
Their terrain-specific minimalism has brighter side: less greed, more humbleness, and healthy bodies.
One set of conveniences cannot be used in all types of topographic regions.
Modern gadgets like televisions and speedy big transport means are not perfect symbols of holistic development. These are mere conveniences that make the user obese and sick while connecting the user quickly to the rest of the world. The case of highly polluted air of Delhi is a burning example of obsession with big fast personal vehicles. The obsession started as a development and symbol of prosperity. But very soon the symbols of development and prosperity have become deadly disease producers.
Is it possible to have a 20-20 Nanda Raj Jat?
In 2014 Nanda Raj Jat, I heard people suggesting a road to Hom Kund and mulling about having a 20-20 Nanda Raj Jat like 20-20 cricket. This cricket format advocates short matches to create a fast-paced lively atmosphere that may draw more audience. But neither the pilgrimage nor the adventure is a spectators’ sports. Both these are personal journeys that generally do not have professional goals.
If the road reaches Hom Kund, Nanda Raj Jat will lose its charm and uniqueness. And Mt. Kailash will resemble one of the shabby touristy “colonies” found in the popular destinations like Goa, and Manali. Then some of us (who are religious and ignorant) will crib and conclude that Lord Shiva and other gods are angry. While others (activists and politicians) will demand party in power should be removed and fresh elections should be held. But in fact no one do the right thing.
To conclude, roads are not the panaceas for (1) cultural, economic, and social problems originating from large scale migrations from the Himalayas to other parts of the country and the world and (2) small poorly developed adventure tourism segment in the Himalayas.