Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Picnicking is a popular culture in Ladakh. Quiet spots close to streams and in the shade of trees are the ideal choice for enjoying a meal with family and friends. We visited one such picnic spot in the village of Thiksey. Although located in a private property, the spot is open to the public. Our intention of visiting the place was not picnicking though. The owner of the property, Javed Iqbal, with whom we are acquainted had told us that the flow of the stream was partially blocked due to accumulation of trash. This had aroused our interest. We wanted to see where and how the stream had clogged and clear it out if possible.
We set out from home equipped with rubber gloves only. On the way to the village, we managed cardboard cartons from vegetable sellers to keep the trash that we would collect. Starting at 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening, we retrieved as much trash as we could from the stream, stopping only twice for coffee and for lunch. Several times we had to enter the running water to pull out items stuck in between the stones. It was hard work but also fun and learning.
We found everything, from shoes, clothings, toys, diapers to soft drink bottles, liquor bottles, milk and juice cartons, cigarette packets and chewing gum wrappers. The largest in quantity were plastic bottles and plastic wrappers. Among our curious finds was a dead fish entangled in trash - evidence of how dumping waste in streams is fatal for freshwater creatures. We also found an unopened 1 litre bottle of Coca Cola. Not minding that it was retrieved from the stream, we checked the manufacturing date and then consumed some of it. Because we have given up soft drinks a long time ago, the Coke came as a reward for the day's work. But we could not help wondering how could anyone throw away a new, big bottle of Coke - could have carried it back or found someone to give.
We separated the trash into 5 categories: plastic bottles, plastic wrappers, glass bottles, tetra packs, and clothes and shoes. Two women came to talk to us perhaps moved by our effort of segregating that large amount of soiled trash. They said the reason for so much waste was that residents regularly dumped their household waste into the stream. We fitted the sacks containing plastic bottles and plastic wrappers in our car and dropped them off at the Project Tsang Da plant in Choglamsar. It was the only way we could think of for disposing that trash. The rest of the trash, we found out later, was burnt by the villagers so that it would not get littered again. Not bad, not good either.
The ethical way of picnicking or doing any outdoor activity like camping or trekking that involves waste generation is to take one's trash back. But in present-day Ladakh as elsewhere in India, many people simply leave their trash behind. We plan to put up a board at that picnic spot asking visitors to take their trash with them. We plan also to discuss with the village heads (Panchayat) of Thiksey how to permanently stop littering of trash in the village. The clean up we did is not the solution, people have to be responsible for their trash while enjoying in the outdoor.