I learned about the existence of Mcleodganj in 2014. A quaint, peaceful place with hardly any human in sight, Mcleodganj was a sort of a place where you’ll vanish for a few months and then emerged as a new person. I spent a few days during my first vacation and then returned within a few months. A transition between the vibe of the same place introduced me to a touristy Mcleodganj that was somewhere in between its battle against upcoming over-tourism and plastic pollution.
I came to learn about Waste Warriors during my second visit and went on a cleanup drive with them. We climbed the Triund trekking trail, a fairly new and lesser know trekking destination littered with plastic bottles, maggi packets, beer cans and frooti packets thrown carelessly. Cleaning that trail was a fun, learning experience but it was just an introduction to the bigger picture.
I returned from the cleanup drive, spoke with a few travellers and some friends trying to convey the message of a plastic free life while travelling and in general made me feel optimistic that Mcleodganj will be free from this evil in the coming years.
I kept coming year after year, trying to help them out in whatever way I could until I left my job in 2017 and saw what was become of this place despite so many efforts.
In 2017, we went for a cleanup in Bhagsu Nag Waterfall, we came back with 110 kgs of waste. We had carefully segregated all the waste on the move. I ended up with a huge bag of empty bottles and it became a walk of a lifetime to reach the office and deposit all the garbage.
Nothing changed in the coming years. In 2019, the quantity of waste has increased. During the cleanup drives in the same area, the amount of waste has now increased to 210 kgs and the problem doesn’t seem to be ending.
Volunteering experience in 2019
Volunteering in India doesn’t have a lot of options. Most of the NGOs in hills and even cities have plans keeping in mind that either the backpackers from abroad will be interested in working here or for the Indians who need a place for internship experience while pursuing their graduations. The fee for volunteering in India ranges between INR 400 to 1000 per day depending on the region. This fee is collected for the daily cost of stay and food.
Compared to this, Waste Warriors have a simple plan that is ideal for volunteering from every walk of life. The volunteers are free to join during one of the cleanup drives that are organized on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. The stay is needed to be arranged by the person volunteering.
Apart from field work, Waste Warriors has different requirements for volunteer work. One can join the organization to create artworks, street art projects and awareness campaign. If you are a writer and belong to content writing background then it would make sense to handle social media updates, project reports and newsletters.
New challenges and issues with ongoing projects
World changed a lot in 2019. More people are aware about the problems that hills are facing but not many find a way to actively support the cause. The last few projects have seen mixed response but worked in favour of bringing a change on smaller level. 2019 has seen some of the campaigns meeting positive conclusions, the important ones include –
- No straws campaign under which more than 40 cafes around Dharamshala, Mcleodganj and Bhagsu have switched to metal straws, paper straws or no straws.
- Taxi association awareness campaign also met with positive response as many taxi drivers are now using information brochures on the backseat of their cabs in order to inform the tourists about harms of plastic usage and irresponsible dumping of the waste.
- More dustbins have been installed in the routes of Triund and Bhagsu
- We also created some wall murals to raise awareness
- Upcoming campaigns will also see Waste Warriors move beyond Mcleodganj and go to Sidhpur and Bir.
But despite this, the problems seem to be increasing so it is on the visitors who are coming to Mcleodganj be a part of this effort on their own terms.
In the last 5 years, the temperature of Dharamshala has increased. It used to be cold enough to sport a sweatshirt in the months of April and May but now it has gone high and a t-shirt is enough to walk around in the afternoon.
Worse than Mcleodganj, Triund trekking trail has worsened in terms of garbage accumulation. Continuous cleanup drives have resolved the issues and now when camping is banned, the problem may come down in the coming few months.
How can you contribute?
As a visitor to this quaint, pristine destination, you can be a part of change in some easy ways.
- Mcleodganj, or any hill station in India is a uphill terrain with very narrow roads. Tourists forcefully take their vehicles to Bhagsu Nag and Dharamkot. By parking your cars in Dharamshala and using private taxis or buses to commute around Mcleodganj, you can help us sort the issue of traffic jam in the city.
- Our no straws campaign has encouraged many cafés to switch to metal and paper straws. You can support them by visiting these places and supporting our cause.
- Avoid buying plastic bottles in hills and carry a refillable one. There are a number of shops from where you can refill your bottles and stop yourself from being a cause of littering.
- Speak with homestay owners and hotels about this issue so that the awareness spreads on personal level.
Travel responsibly, plastic and non recyclable garbage need reduction and it can only be resolved through personal measures.