Editor’s Letter — January 17, 2023

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Priya Pathiyan

Deputy Editor


“Yes, sir, our luxury suites are available for the dates you mention.”
“That’s great. But are you sure they are valley-view rooms?”
“We have a limited number of those, and they are completely booked until the end of the month.”
“Oh… what a pity. I will have to look for another resort, in that case.”

This is how many conversations between hosts and tourists go. Everyone visiting the mountains wants a valley-facing room with the most splendid view. It’s how you want to commune with nature. It’s what you want to share on your social media feed. It’s one of the things you want to talk about when people ask you about your travels.

Travel, valley view

But have you considered what this penchant for being perched on the edge of the mountains does to the destination? Just close your eyes and think of the images you’ve seen of a popular Indian hill station, say Shimla. The entire valley is closely packed with homes and hotels clinging precariously to the cliff-face. Because of high tourist demand, the hotels have mushroomed all over the mountainside.

Each hotel is multi-level, usually with parking on the top floor so you can drive into the reception area. And then you and your luggage are transported down several storeys to your ‘valley-view’ room, either by a lift (in the more premium hotels) or via stairs in the budget to mid-range ones. Shimla, though once rich in natural resources, has been overrun by tourists so much, it faces terrible water shortages in summer. Every public washbasin bears a sign to conserve water, turn off the tap when not in use, etc.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, really. Most of these gorgeous areas have a delicately balanced eco-system. Research carried out decades ago has shown that the Himalayas are still in tectonic shift, which, coupled with climate change, makes them somewhat unpredictable as it is.

Add to that the load created by humans in the name of development. Hydroelectric projects that harness the incredible power of mighty rivers, tunnels boring through the core of mountains, deforestation on a monumental scale, all of this is a recipe for disaster.

Travel, valley view

Many are places of pilgrimage, while others attract tourists in droves. Road widening, untamed construction, it is all done in the name of attracting tourism. But, as we are now seeing with regular landslides in Uttaranchal and Himachal, this is an untenable approach. In the last few days, everyone has seen the news of sinking land at Joshimath and cracks appearing in the walls around the 4.5 km ropeway from there to India’s premier skiing destination Auli.

When we talk about sustainable travel, it’s not only about picking a resort that says it’s eco-friendly in every way. It’s about taking the transportation that has a low carbon footprint (trains, anyone?), about eating local ingredients (all the time, not just for that one fine-dining meal that incorporates nettles and pinecones into your plate along with Norwegian salmon!), and making informed, green choices as much as possible.

It’s about living in tune with nature like the locals there have done for centuries before tourism ran rampant across that fine balance. And that valley view? It’s not that hard to walk a short distance to get your heart’s content of the mountain mystique. At least that way, even future generations will still have a valley view to be wowed by!