Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Snow Leopards, female empowerment and clean water aka why can't I be you?

This summer, I was lucky enough to spend a large part of my ridiculously long (although still completely appreciated I can assure you!) abroad. I've been trekking through LaDakh, the mountainy bit of India, slap bang on the boarder with Tibet, Kashmir and Pakistan with the Girl Guides, it was the greatest thing I've ever participated in. I really didn't think I could fall in love with a country until India in India was a thing that happened, I knew it was somewhere I wanted to sped my forever in as soon as I stepped off the plane in Delhi airport, and it's given me fuel for a whole load of blog posts in the future, so stay tuned for that!

Our guide on the trip was one of those people, you know the sort. Who've done everything, they've achieved so much and just generally done so many good things you end up questioning your motives and everything you've ever done pales into nothing in comparison. I mean, once I got a double figures on a Facebook status versus him rescuing baby snow leopards trapped under buildings, there's no contesting who wins really... What makes matters worse is he was also the loveliest person ever, so you couldn't even hate him for it.

Anyway, I stole Khenraub Phutshog for a few minutes whilst we were all helping build a playground in Thiskey to quiz him about snow leopards, tourism and empowering local women.

me and the man himself, Leh, La Dakh

How long have you been doing your work for the environment?

I began to think about it ten/fifteen years ago.

Why do you think it's important to protect the snow leopard?

The snow leopard is at the top of the food chain; so it's important to protect them for LaDakh's ecological system. Control the snow leopard population and you continue the balance. This is why it's important.

And on a more personal level, why do you do it?

A big reason? They've never attacked a person!

Can you tell me about some of your projects?

In the more remote areas, the aim of walking there is heavily linked to the fact that younger generations migrate to the cities, first for their education and later on for their livelihoods. The cities are expanding and the villages are dying. 
So sustainable development is so important.
Eco tourism is important so that the people in the villages can get an income.

You're also involved in a number of restoration projects; what's the main purpose of this?
(He's helped restore a large amount of ancient Buddhist monuments)

The main idea behind the restoration project is that: people come to see the landscapes and the monuments. This saves their heritage and is interesting to many people.

As well as this, you're involved in the selling of something which is locally referred to as 'women's products' which empowers local women in ways that they weren't before. Please can you explain some more about that?

In the villages we get the women involved in empowering groups called 'self help' groups which help to give them some more independence. 
These include teaching the women handicrafts and skills such as knitting souvenirs  like the local wildlife (snow leopards, lynx, blue sheep) which can be sod to tourists, as well as items of clothing such as gloves and socks.
Otherwise, the women [who mostly work in agriculture during the summer] have nothing to do in the winter, so this makes use of their free time.
The products are then sold in community shops and tea shops, giving the women a cash income that otherwise would not be an option for them.

The Women's Groups also produced a variety of (incredibly delicious!) snacks which are sold in local tea shops.

What other issues are caused by tourism in the area, and how do you try and combat this?

Garbage is a real issue. There are many trekkers in the summer who bring stuff with them. So, afterwards, when they have all gone home, we collect it. A big issue is plastic bottles as they take up a lot of space very quickly, so transporting them out again is a real issue. The rubbish is then separated but, as there is no way of recycling garbage in Leh, it needs to be taken tight down before it can be properly disposed of. It's a real problem.

What is the main message you would give to tourists visiting LaDakh?

Tourists coming to La Dakh is very good for the economy, but they need to care about he impact of leaving their garbage in the campsite or village on the environment. You should try and take it home with you.

He's also involved in a local initiative that aims to provide free, clear drinking water from points such as this to minimize the waste made from  plastic bottles and the subsequent pollution.
pretty fancy eh?

Thank-you very much  Khenraub! :)

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