Gurudongmar Lake situated at the 17,100 ft is one of the most sacred high altitude wetlands of Sikkim. Though located in an isolated corner of the state, the wetland receives a large number of domestic tourists estimated at around 15,000 every year, and with Sikkim establishing itself on the tourism map of the country, this number is on the rise. Apart from tourists, Gurudongmar Lake is also visited by locals going on pilgrimage.
While tourism offers incentives to the communities, the threats that it poses to these fragile landscape also cannot be ignored.
WWF-India Khangchendzonga Landscape Programme, as part of its High Altitude Wetlands conservation Project in Sikkim has been working with the local youths of the village of Lachen formed under the banner of Lachen Tourism Development Committee since early 2011 on sensitizing the community on conservation issues. Awareness programmes have been organized for students, taxi drivers as well as tourists.
As part of the same initiative, to mark the celebration of world environment day WWF –India in collaboration with LTDC organized a two- day event on 5th and 6th June at Gurudongmar Lake and Lachen. A 29 member team comprising of members of Lachen Dzumsa, LTDC, WWF – India and media representative organized a cleanliness drive around the Gurudongmar Lake. While at first glance the area around the lake looked clean and garbage free, on closer inspection the team found that over the years there had been quite an incredible accumulation of garbage. The team divided into groups to tackle different areas of the lake and armed with sacks and gloves collected all the waste lying in these areas. Mr. Phensum Lachenpa, President LTDC later remarked – “Never had we imagined that thirty big sacks we were carrying would be filled with the garbage from Gurudongmar Lake”.
Pipon II from Lachen, Mr Tenzing Choyang Lachenpa, who was also part of the team, encouraged them by participating in the cleanliness drive himself. He said that “it was a great initiative taken up by the youths of Lachen, which had to be continued and supported”. During the cleanliness drive it was found that most of the garbage had accumulated towards the outlet of the lake. The team also got support from the Army based there, and 20 jawans also helped in collection of the garbage.
During the occasion, signage providing useful information on Gurudongmar Lake and a Code of Conduct to be followed by visitors were put up near the holy lake. A separate site for offerings was also designated near the lake side, so as to regulate the practice of making offerings inside the lake.
All the waste material was collected in large sacks and brought back to Lachen, where the team again spent the evening segregating the waste into recyclables consisting of tins, plastic and glass bottles. Clothes, cardboards and paper were also segregated into different sacks. It was found that while a large part of the collected garbage consisted of tins and plastic bottles that could be sent for recycling, there was also a large quantity of plastic wrappers that could not be recycled and would have to be dumped. But the segregation of the recyclables at least did reduce the amount of garbage to a considerable extent.
On the second day of the campaign 6th June, the team targeted the Lachen Village for the cleanliness drive. The Chief Guest for the day was MLA – Lachen Mangan Mr. T.W Lepcha, who addressed the gathering prior to the cleanliness drive. He appreciated the efforts made by the youths of Lachen and congratulated them for cleaning up the sacred lake of Gurudongmar. As a word of caution, he also mentioned that youths had to look beyond the scope of contracts and build their capacities and skills for entrepreneurship.
A rally was also organized to flag off the cleanliness drive in which students from Lachen School actively participated and also assisted in clean up of the village. Members of LTDC targeted the local dumping site of Lachen to retrieve all the plastic bottles, tins and glass bottles that had been dumped to send for recycling. A total of 35 sacks of recyclable items were retrieved from the dumping site.
The Army posted at Chaten offered support for transport of the waste to the dumping site near 32 no. The materials segregated will be sold off for recycling. Mr. Chewang Lachenpa, General Secretary of LTDC thanked the Army for lending their support to the cause and hoped for their cooperation also in the future.On the occasion Landscape Coordinator of WWF- India Priyadarshinee Shrestha and Senior Project officer Laktsheden Theengh also participate at clean drive programme.