Thought out of the Bottle
Packaged Drinking Water Banned in Lachen
While San Francisco became the first major city to impose ban on plastic water bottles in March 2015, our very own small heritage village in Sikkim had imposed such ban in February 2012. Lachen (9700 Ft), a serene and beautiful heritage village in North Sikkim, 120 Kms away from Gangtok is the base location for travelers to Gurudongmar Lake. This lake at a height of 17200 ft, is among the top 15 highest lakes in the world and is the second highest lake in Sikkim as well as in India, the first being Cholamu lake at a height of 18000 ft appx 5kms away from Gurudongmar Lake, also situated in Sikkim. Being the second highest lake in India, the panoramic and scenic beauty of the place is a sight to behold. The lake is considered sacred by the Buddhists as well as the Sikhs. The glacier above this lake is also a major source of Teesta river that flows through Sikkim to West Bengal culminating in Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh.
Gurudongmar Lake attracts many visitors from across India, which leads to accumulation of garbage around the lake, and pollution due to the offerings released by pilgrims into the lake. WWF-India had been working towards conserving this lake in partnership with the Lachen Dzumsa (local administrative body equivalent to Panchayat System). It is in this village where pilgrims and tourists stay over for the night to get acclimatized to the high altitude before going up to the lake. After a series of awareness programmes with tourists, local communities, tour operators, and clean up drives with the help of local communities, the Dzumsa of Lachen announced a complete ban on the sale and use of packaged and bottled water in and around Lachen in February 2012, and has prohibited tourists from carrying them up to the lake. This ban has the consent of all stakeholders involved, including hoteliers, shopkeepers, and local communities.
The visitors are provided with boiled water of local source which are as pure and safe as mineral water.
The state of Sikkim, nestled in the Himalaya Biodiversity Hotspot holds within it many glacial fed High Altitude Wetlands, which support a wide variety of flora and fauna, as well as local communities who depend on them for various needs. Over the years, some of these wetlands have become popular tourist destinations, and tourism is gradually becoming a threat to these lakes in the fragile high altitude ecosystems. The state with diversity of culture, flora & fauna, association with the Himalayas and proximity to China has always been of interest to tourists, scholars, historians, adventure lovers and other enthusiasts. Such initiative of one village is worth many applauds and an example to be followed by others in preserving our nature.
Panoramic view of Gurudongmar Lake