By Aftab Rana
We are lucky enough to visit some of the most beautiful and fragile spots on Earth, so surely the least we can do is to show some respect for these places… Sensitivity to one' immediate surroundings should influence everyone who goes to the mountains… leave the area as you find it. Don't leave it to the last minute, in the rush to leave there will not be time. Process all your litter right from the start. Dig latrine pits, burn papers, collect plastic, flatten tins and bag them for carry-out.
The Northern Areas of Pakistan are renowned for their natural beauty and attractive charm. High mountain peaks, enchanting valleys, large glaciers, fast flowing rivers and blue water lakes make this region and excellent adventure tourism destination. However, over the last few years the ever increasing toursm activity in this area is becoming a serous threat to the natural environment. The most popular trekking routes like Baltoro, Masherburm, Gondoghoro, Rupal and Fairy Meadows are already polluted to the point of being dangerous to both people's health and the natural environment. Heaps of rusting cans surround most camping sites and piles of human faeces and stumps of trees and bushes that have been cut to provide warmth to trekkers and porters tell you the story of our careless attitude.
But now things are changing. Adventure Foundation (Pakistan) with the help of other organizations with an interest in conserving the environment have launched an awareness campaign to promote the concept of "Green Trekking" in Pakistan. There clean-up expeditions have already been organized to bring back the waste material form the trails of Baltoro, Masherbrum, Rupal and Fairy meadows. Three more such expeditions are planned for 1997.
The second important objective of this campaign is to educate the trekkers about how they can minimize their impact on the natural environment in a manner inoffensive to host cultures. This leaflet will explain how you can reduce dependency on firewood fuel, properly dispose off litter and waste, and respect local customs.
We hope you will make your contribution in the promotion of green tourism, and trekking in particular, by taking due notice of the following points.
Plan to Pack it Out
Pack items in reusable containers
Remove unnecessary wrapping papers before you go on trek.
Minimize the non-biodegradables you bring in to the mountains.
Bring enough sturdy waterproof bags to pack out all non-biodegradable and non-burnable garbage.
Bring durable lithium batteries from home rather than depend on inferior quality batteries.
Small is Better
Logic dictates that the fewer your number, the less your impact. The more people that travel at one time, the greater the impact.
Limit your group size 10 to 15 or less, considering that with support staff you will triple that number.
Do not litter. Burn it, Bury It or Carry It Out
Litter is not only a sore for eyes but also harbours hazardous pollutants. All trash you or your staff, including porters produce should be separated each day and treated properly.
Burn burnables (dry paper only); bury biodegradables such as food wastes. All non-biodegradables including glass, plastics, aluminum foil, batteries and cans etc. should be packed up and carried out to be disposed off properly. You can sell these items in the main towns and cities.
On the trail all members should carry polythene bags to collect any used paper, which you can burn in the evening.
Another important aspect to consider while trekking in the Northern Areas of Pakistan is deforestation. This area has very little natural wood and increased tourism activity ahs a great potential to eliminate the remaining standing trees, so always keep in mind the following points:
Support the use of kerosene for cooking by going with a trekking agent who regularly uses it.
Encourage the agent to use kerosene for porters' cooking also but expect to pay a bit more for its cost and transport.
Besure to dress warmly and see that your porters have some kind of wrap so that none of you are dependent upon firewood for nighttime warmth.
If you are staying at a hotel, rest house, or lodge; choose one that cooks with kerosene or gas.
Try to coordinate menu selections and eating time with other trekkers to reduce the use of wood.
Avoid campfires in such an environment where wood is scarce.
Leave No Trace
Choose established camp sites wherever possible rather than disturbing new ground, even it if means sharing site with another group.
Avoid trenching around tents if the site is sloped and on high ground; a plastic sheet under the tent should suffice against rain seepage.
While trekking stick to the main trails, by avoiding steep shortcuts which contribute to erosion.
Don't' create multiple trails across the meadows; try to leave them in their original condition.
At high elevations, trampling can wipe out an entire plant community which may not grow back for years. Loss of vegetation contributes to erosion. So don't walk through shrubs no matter how hardy they appear.
One could summarise by saying "Leave only foot prints and take only pictures". Discourage members of your group and trekking staff from writing their names on rocks or trees; it destroys their natural beauty.
The wildlife on Northern Areas of Pakistan is threatened due to reduction of natural habitat in many places. Give space to wild animals. Do not feed tem; it only weakens their defenses.
Be wary of buying products made of animal skins or furs, as the protected status of animals is often disregarded in the mountain areas.
Insist at the beginning, of your trek that your porters or other staff does not hunt. Do not eat any wild animal they might kill, and don't reward hunters with tips.
Use Water Wisely
Avoid bathing or washing clothes in streams, rivers and lakes. Carry a bucket of water away from the water source and use biodegradable soaps only. Biodegradable soaps are difficult to find in Pakistan so bring along an adequate supply with you.
Also instruct your support staff to adopt the same procedure for cleaning cooking utensils.
Human waste causes water pollution and destroy the beauty of the surrounding environment. At a few established camp sites there are pit toilets that can be used. Otherwise make sure that your trek organizer provides a toilet tent for camp site use.
Set up toilet tent at least 50 meters away from camp site and water source. Holes should be dug at least 18" deep, keeping a single sod top for re-covering if possible. Sprinkle some dirt in the pit after every use to keep flies away. If possible, carry lime to sprinkle onto the pit to diminish the stench.
Do not forget to instruction your support staff to use the toilet. At the end of your stay pack the earth down tightly and cover the hole with sod top.
On glaciers or hard snow, where it is almost impossible to dig a hole, try to find a good toilet site away form camp and the melt pools that are the water supply for your camp. Do your best to cover the faeces with rocks.
On the trail pick your toilet spot carefully. It would be better if it were away form the trail and the water source. Be sure not to pick a toilet spot near a sacred site. Make sure you clean up the waste either by burying it or carrying it in a plastic bag for disposal later on.
Be a Guest
Remember your trip will be a cross cultural experience. Local people commonly ask why trekkers come so far to walk in these mountains and experience their simple ways. Try to communicate what you find enriching about their area and help them appreciate what they have. Explain to them the realities of your home country, good and bad. Bring photographs of your family, home and country to share with your new friends. Discourage smoking and drug use among young people and encourage them to be proud of their culture.
Kindly also respect Pakistani customs in your dress and behavior. Women should not wear shorts or revealing blouses. It will be more appropriate if they could wear Pakistani salwar-kamiz. For men, knee-length hiking shorts are better than jogging shorts, and always wear a shirt. Avoid physical displays of affection publicly.
Be respectful of religious places. Heads should be covered and shoes removed before entering any mosque or shrine. Modestly and neatness are especially appreciated when visiting religious places.
Get permission before taking photographs and respect people's right to privacy.
Giving money, pens, candy etc to begging children creates a patron-pauper consciousness and should be strictly avoided. Instead, make a positive contribution to a school or a community health center of the local NGO which will benefit the entire community. You can also promote local art and crafts by buying local handicrafts.
Above all, remember that your vacation has a great impact on the natural environment and the people of this area. By making an effort and taking the above points into consideration you could help the natural environment and the people of Northern Pakistan enormously.