“Kieran Cooke, has recently been in Kolkata, one of the country’s biggest and most polluted population centres: he says increasing pollution is not only harming Kolkata’s citizens – it’s also a likely contributor to climate change taking place in the Himalayan region…”
“A glaciologist once wrote that the number of glaciers in Alaska “is estimated at (greater than) 100,000.” That fuzzy number, perhaps written in passive voice for a reason, might be correct. But it depends upon how you count…”
“Glaciers in the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau are a vital source of water for millions of people in Asia, but scientists question what will happen to supplies if the rate of melting continues to rise due to climate-related factors…”
When Showkat Ali began driving buses in the 1980s on the Northern India’s Khardung-la, the world’s reputed highest motorable road, the Khardung glacier was immense and represented a daunting obstacle for vehicle transport. One day, he saw the vehicles in front and behind him vanish in a sudden tide of snow while his bus was spared. “While driving, you have to stay focused on the road and avoid loud music, but the rest is in the hands of God,” the bus driver reflected, as he sought to explain his nearly fatal event.
The situation today on the Khardung-la pass isn’t what it was when Ali began driving in his early twenties, becoming the first bus driver in Ladakh to make the perilous ride from Leh to Diskit, braving the Khardung pass which reaches a dizzying altitude of 5,359 meters (17,582 feet). “The temperatures rose tremendously in the past years,” Ali said as he spoke about the generalized recession of glaciers he observed in Ladakh during his three decades of bus driving, recalling also how in his childhood the snow was deep enough to cover his thighs in winter.
Though commonly known as the “highest road“, modern GPS measuring estimates Khardung-la isn’t as high as the Mana Pass, a Indian military road near the border with Nepal, but that doesn’t diminish the challenge of driving over the Indian pass. Showkat Ali’s driving feats are so impressive that National Geographic Channel India featured him on one of its programs. Back in the early 1980s, the roads were in terrible shape, snowstorms were more frequent than they are today and being trapped in a remote village for many days was common, said the now retired driver as we chatted over a cup of tea at Chotak restaurant in Leh, the capital of the former kingdom of Ladakh, on a cold winter morning in 2013.
In Showkat Ali’s view, “the glaciers of Ladakh are melting because of higher temperatures, but the problem with the Khardung-la is that too many vehicles are coming close to it.” In a place where cultural taboos prohibit human activity in the high mountains, regarded as the dwellings of divine spirits, there has been a recent proliferation of infrastructure development initiatives, such as road building and hydroelectric projects.
When Ali started driving, the only way to build a road crossing the pass was to carve into the glacier. Later, an iron bridge was built across the glacier when the ground underneath had become too unstable. Year after year, the bridge was swept away by avalanches and built anew. But about 20 years ago, the presence of a bridge became futile as the ice progressively receded. The structure that once spanned the pass was left shattered in pieces, some of its fragments still punctuating the landscape today. Warming temperatures nullified the need for a bridge across the Khardung-la. Afterwards, although weathered and beaten by the harsh Himalayan roads, Showkat Ali’s bus could traverse the mountain pass easily, trundling along a road where glacier ice had stood not long before. “Making the trip over the Khardung-la today is like child’s play”, Ali said.
Indeed, the region of Ladakh has seen a steady decline in snowfall in recent decades, although this has been poorly monitored on the ground and much of the existing data remains closely guarded by the army in this geopolitically sensitive region, further hampering the efforts of researchers. Nonetheless, Ali’s account and all other testimonies I heard in Ladakh unmistakably echoed one another: today the weather is warmer, glaciers are vanishing, there is almost no more snow in winter, and avalanches have become rare. Soon, so will the glaciers.
This guest post was written by Karine Gagné, an anthropologist and researcher at the University of Montreal. If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @glacierhub on Twitter.
Photographer Dietmar Temps traveled to Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit in 2009, which winds its way through the range in the Himalayas in the north-central section of the country. The entire trek takes nearly three weeks to complete. See more of Temps’ pictures in his Flickr gallery.
Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at email@example.com.
While the rise in commercial mountaineering has been generating valuable income for Nepal, it has also resulted in pollution and local disturbance. Now the Nepalese tourism ministry is planning to lease exclusive access to many of its highest mountains to private tourism companies.
The government claims that the privatization of the mountains is necessary so that they can maximize their tourism revenue and the local people can benefit through tourism revenue and new jobs.
Of the nation’s 3,310 mountains, only 310 are currently open to commercial climbing. Around 1,600 peaks in Nepal have never been summited.
Tourism has already been piling trash on the mountains. The problem has escalated so badly that the government has initiated a new regulation for climbers. If climbers return 18 lbs. (6.2 kg) of waste, in addition to their own gear, they get back their $4,000 garbage deposit. Failure to comply with garbage regulations result in loss of future climbing privileges.
Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation generated $3.16 million from Mt. Everest royalties in 2013. Foreign tourists have to pay $500 for 10 days in Upper Mustang, which is managed as part of the Annapurna Conservation Area.
The Nepal’s push for tourism growth has been neglecting regional development at the expense of national development. Despite years of protest, locals receive less than 40 percent of the tourist entry revenues.
Both people who benefit and do not benefit are affected by tourism growth. Locals living near the glaciers express their appreciation of tourists’ expenditures; however, they are conflicted by how the tourist use sacred local areas and disturb the mountain spirits with littering. Most of these areas do not have a waste management system so they face an especially high concentration of toxic substances when tourists discard their plastic wrappers and batteries. Many of these villages burn the waste, which releases toxic polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) in the air, exacerbating de-glaciation, which in turn affects local access to water.
There are many questions about how the privatization of glaciers will affect nearby communities, especially since the state-run tourism sector in the Nepal Himalayas has been overridden with corruption. Will privatization of tourism be more sustainable than the earlier state-run tourism? Because privatization creates access to the remotest glacier communities in Nepal, how it will change those areas remains to be seen.