OPINION

Celebrating International Mountain Day – 2021

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‘Sustainable Mountain Tourism’

By: Obaid Yousuf Reshi

UNO has designated 11th December as “International Mountain Day”. It is celebrated annually since 2003 with full enthusiasm among the global community. In J&K, International Mountain Day was first celebrated by Jammu and Kashmir Ski and Mountaineering Association (JKSMA) in 2011, thereafter with the efforts of Mahmood Ahmad Shah (Former Tourism Director), Jammu and Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club (JKMHC) started celebrating it from 2012. Since last year the tourism department also started celebrating the day officially.

This year, the JKMHC and tourism department are celebrating it in a big way and at different venues and the biggest function will be held at SKICC. Some other organisations are also celebrating it at different places in the valley of Kashmir and therefore giving the event the attention that it deserves.

Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir (ATOAK) is also actively participating in the celebrations being organized by the tourism department which is making an effort to increase awareness about protection of our mighty mountains that have traditionally attracted great number of tourists, adventure lovers, mountaineers, skiers besides forest experts etc.

The theme for this year’s International Mountain Day will be “Sustainable Mountain Tourism”. It will be an opportunity to highlight the role mountains play in our life whether directly or indirectly and depict how sustainable tourism in mountains can contribute to creating additional and alternative livelihood options and promoting poverty alleviation, social inclusion, as well as landscape and biodiversity conservation. It is a way to preserve the natural, cultural and spiritual heritage, to promote local crafts and high value products, and celebrate many traditional practices such as local festivals.

International Mountain Day plays a critical role in addressing the issue of mountains, their ecology and their sustainability. Almost one billion people live in mountain areas, and over half the human population depends on mountains for food, water and other resources. Over the years mountain tourism has increased a lot and people show their interest to travel to mountains instead of lowlands. It is a good sign for the natives for it will subsequently add to the economic betterment. However, if this sort of tourism is not controlled and coordinated as well as supervised, the same may turn out to be a disaster for our ecology. This is a very sensitive area and complete knowledge and information is needed for making this sort of tourism as sustainable and pollution free.

Mountains attract visitors for the scenery, wildlife, winter sports and summer activities including trekking, mountaineering, rafting, paragliding, mountain biking, camping, skiing etc. Mountain destinations attract around 15-20 percent of global tourism and are areas of important cultural diversity, knowledge and heritage. The best feature of mountain tourism destinations is that they can attract visitors throughout the year unlike coastal and beach resorts which can become deserted in the winter months. Those mountain regions which receive snowfall and are suitable for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding enjoy their peak seasons in the winter months. But many new developing winter sports destinations also attract visitors in the summer months, whether by using hotels as conference venues, drawing in wellness travellers for the clear air and water, or through developing more hiking and mountain biking trails. This development of alternative activities is becoming more and more important as some ski resorts face the prospect of a lack of or reduced winter snow in the future due to the climatic changes.

It is seen that mountain areas have limited means of generating economic benefits for the people living in such areas. Given the prospects of tourism in these areas, a lot can change for the local populations here and they might find themselves in a better economic position very quickly.  But its sustainability depends on keeping the fragile mountain environment and landscapes intact as the Mountain ecosystem contains biodiversity and is home to many species includes those classified as ‘endangered’.

Unfortunately, the uncontrolled and unchecked tourism activities in these eco-fragile areas is rapidly changing the ecosystem here and things like loss of habitat for animals and bird species, increasing tourism activity, deteriorating air quality etc are becoming grave issues world over. No doubt mountain tourism boosts the economy but it is also responsible for deteriorating mountain ecology due to the irresponsible behaviour of tourists toward the environment as well as due to the lack of proper managing by the concerned authorities. It is the responsibility of every individual to keep our environment safe and keep biodiversity alive.

More than 50% of the world’s population is affected by mountain ecology, but relatively little attention has been paid to this fact. It is for our own good that all the stake holders of tourism industry work together and utmost care must be taken to not allow tourism structures like hotels, guest houses, huts etc (concrete jungles) to harm the aesthetics at such destinations. It is the responsibility of government as well as local citizens to check such constructions and report it well in time so that no further damage is done to mountains. The traveler’s should always maintain the sanctity of the mountains alive and the tour operators need restricting the uncontrolled trekking to the mountainous areas.

The author is member ATOAK and Director, Adventure Call. ubaidyusuf@hotmail.com

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