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Eco-Tourism

Life in Thin Air and Sub Zero – How Spiti Sustains Sustainably

March 17, 2017
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” The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life harmonious with all existence” – Rabindranath Tagore

We are all curious to know much about our existence, who are we? why are we here? what is our purpose of this life? and that is the thirst we thrive on everyday of our lives. I suffer from the same syndrome and for the little bit that I have been able to conclude is that some part of the Himalayas is perceptually calling me and Spiti obviously is on top. You can easily say its just following the call, or curiosity of the call.

IMG_7283Frozen Nako Lake

After being in and out of Spiti several times, I certainly wanted to experience the winters there. I have been studying Spiti very closely. Understanding Spiti as a Micro-Ecosystem seems an area that interests and intrigues me and one would truly believe that any natural ecosystem if not anything else must not be disturbed at all. It doesn’t deserve to be disturbed – heaven doesn’t need disturbance.

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After alot of planning and speculation about the weather and the roads we finally made it in there. Without much thought we decided straight to head to Dhankar, my favorite village in Spiti. The temperature in Dhankar was -5 maximum with minimum going to -15. We decided to stay in a traditional home stay, I was curious to see exactly that, how do the locals survive in such harsh winters?

 

IMG_7320Dhankar Village at Dusk

 

Spiti being a dry mountain desert terrain doesn’t have much stones in its topography. Like other similar terrains i.e Ladakh, Mustang Valley in Nepal and Tibet, villagers in Spiti have been building the traditional mud houses for centuries now. These mud houses are warmer than modern concrete houses. To be very honest, concrete houses are a complete no no for a terrain like that of Spiti, the reason is that modern concrete houses absorb the atmosphere’s temperature and reflect the same inside close spaces in the houses, which means that in a place like Spiti, one will only feel colder inside a concrete house. With growing tourism and modern telecommunication technologies taking over Spiti, the growth of concrete houses are also rising, one can even find concrete in new monasteries that have been constructed. This will most certainly adversely affect the ecosystem.

 

IMG_7411Kibber Village – Traditional mud houses and concrete constructions on its way

However, one can still find mud houses in Villages in Spiti and the homestay we decided to stay was a traditional mud house. All Spitian houses have the traditional Tandoor heating system. The Tandoor heating system is used all over the Himalayan sub continent. In greener patches of the Himalayas access to fuel-wood is easier, though timber trade happens, not always dead wood is used. Spiti not having any access to fuel wood has a more efficient fueling mechanism, Spitians use biomass (Yak Dung) and dessert shrubs as fuel for the Tandoor. Modern LPG gas has reached most households in the village for cooking, however a substantial amount of cooking is done on the Tandoor.

IMG_7366Tandoor in a Spitian Home

We parked ourselves at the main room with the Tandoor and kept ourselves entertained watching what an everyday life of a home in a Spitian Village looks like – in winters. The morning goes in bringing water in huge jerry cans on domesticated donkeys from stream a bit distance, enough water for a family of 4-5 to be able to drink, cook and wash., bathing happens on a ceremonious day for a Spitian in winters. Along with water bio-fuel also needs to be carried from different areas arround the village, this includes Yak dung and dessert shrubs.

The most interesting phenomena about living in the Sub-Tibetan plateau (Ladakh, Mustang Valley and Tibet) is the dry toilet system. The dry toilet system is a two storey mechanism with a thick mud plank dividing the two floors and a hole is created on the plank. All the human waste goes through the plank to the floor at the bottom and the top floor is used as the toilet. In order for human waste not to leave a smell, yak/cow dung is thrown over the human waste day and again along with dry hay. This waste is collected for the whole season and right before winters before the snow sets in, the waste is taken down and thrown on agricultural fields for the soil to become fertile for agriculture. Come April the fields are ready to be ploughed.

IMG_7395The Hike Up to Spot the Snow Leopard

Spiti can grow almost anything, there is no original native crop barring Sea Buckthorn which is a fruit. Lower altitude villages in Spiti grow apples as a cash crop and higher one’s grow peas and potatoes. Native medicinal herbs are common in Spiti which is an area that can be explored in herb and medicinal plants rich Spiti. Cash crops are more commonly grown than native crops for livelihood. Spitians have had a very hard life because of limited connectivity and being written off as a tribal settlement, have now began to see prosperity due to rise in tourism.

Rise is tourism is certainly doing good in many ways, however one always seems to concentrate less on its adverse effects. Dry toilets are rapidly being replaced by modern western flush toilets like in Ladakh. Water is a scarce resource in Spiti and the traditional dry toilet system is an efficient and sustainable model for the landscape. Hence, its necessary to be preserved.

Tourism is also increasing plastic waste in the valley. One can find patches of dumped garbage which is not a very pleasing sight. The trade of daily edibles like grains and vegetables is one thing. However, the trade of neo-consumer items is purely profit based, how does one stop that. Will the future be a resilient model of community based tourism from food to shelter to income distribution point of view or will it turn into another commercial destination completely ruining its true charm.

Since we were in Spiti in winters, we had to go for the mythical Snow Leopard spotting. Hence headed towards Kibber Village after spending a couple of days at Dhankar. The sight I saw there was rather disappointing. There is always something about wildlife photography that bothered me. One can love clicking the animal, with an expensive equipment for only those can afford to buy do, but how many of us do really care for animal or think that may be we are disturbing them and that it is us who is invading their private home or spaces without their permission. How many of us think that way?

IMG_7396Tourist and Photographers waiting to get a site of the mythical Snow Leopard

 

We did spot a snow leopard. Neither did I have the equipment nor the interest of capturing it. I was happy spotting one, no glory to be claimed here. You are just spotting an animal.

All in all staying there was quite tough. Surviving without a Tandoor was impossible. Stepping out for a bio break into a dry toilet usually constructed outside of home needed immense bravery not that I had much of a choice there. But it was all worth it because being in Spiti in winters is like you are on another planet, a parallel universe. Magical and surreal.

 

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Local Spitian woman – She invited us over for butter tea and gave us some Yak cheese and local herbs

Spiti being sustainable pretty much already, all a traveler can do is ensure to choose what is sustainable, a homestay, a dry toilet and local meals, it isn’t that hard after all.

Now go back to the top and read the quote 🙂

Happy Eco-Traveling !

 

Eco-Tourism

Meanwhile in Manali – Visible Effects of Climate Change

December 8, 2016
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This is my first write up on visible impacts on Climate Change in the part of Himalayas that I call home.

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I first visited Manali when I was in school, I must have been around 12-13 years old. I had visited many other hill stations but Manali stole my heart as a kid. Once I started traveling independently Manali was one of the first places I explored and somewhere in 2010, when I visited old Manali for the first time and I fell in love with the place, the culture and people. Since then it was my dream to make Manali my home. Year after year my visits to Manali kept growing, for travel for treks and so did my love for the places. 2016 after a lot of deliberation, ups and downs and crooked paths I finally managed to find home in Manali, it was a dream come true.

 

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We all know that year by year the temperatures are rising, glaciers and polar ice is melting, rainfall is getting more and more irregular and erratic. We all know why is this happening? The primary reason behind this is the rise in Co2 in the atmosphere. The winter of 2015-2016 didn’t see winters and lack of snow fall across the globe. This has lead to water problems in several mountain topographies. Spiti Valley, the valley closest to my heart saw water problems. On one hand tourism is growing like no one’s business on the other hand water problems are increasing. The future predicts that water problems will only increase, pure because temperatures are rising and rain fall is erratic.

 

I have been struggling to breathe in Delhi with the air  becoming hazardous. Educated citizens are more concerned about political issues rather than being concerned about the air they are taking in. If you think cities are going to be unlivable in the next 20 years, here is a reality check, they are already inhabitable, you are not breathing in oxygen, you are breathing in toxic already, it is inside your immune system and as you are hear you are only killing yourself.

 

Just when I think may be I should head back to my home – Manali, I get a news that few locals are intentionally setting forests on fire, why? to have rainfall. I am not sure if this was an accident or this was intentionally done due to lack of awareness. But here is what is happening: Age old traditions are being followed, earlier the level of oxygen was higher than the level of carbon di oxide and the atmosphere had a way of balancing this. How was the level of oxygen higher? Because the forests were dense, forests also hold ground water.

As the climate warms, moisture and precipitation levels are changing, with wet areas becoming wetter and dry areas becoming drier. Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snow-melt typically cause soils to be drier for longer, increasing the likelihood of drought and a longer wildfire. So putting your forests on fire is not going to bring in rainfall, it is further going to increase the atmospheric temperature, increase the chances of drought and reduce the level of ground water. This will cause depletion in the soil quality and as a result in the agricultural produce both in terms of quality of soil, atmospheric implications and availability of water.

If any one of you who hasn’t yet watched the film “Before the Flood” please do, it clearly states that Western, Central and North India is going to see drought in the coming years and it is already visible that it will, here is the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v1kU7Rc9c4

If there is something that I can go on and on about is the necessity to drop everything and focus on conservation and sustainable development. My heart bleeds right now to see Manali in this state and knowing its only going to get worst and I alone cant do much. I insist on who ever can make the slightest difference, please do at a policy level or at the ground level.

Also read : https://wanderthehimalayas.com/2016/05/08/uttarakhand-forest-fire/

In summary here are the dont’s and dos’

  • Stop deforestation and usage for forest would as fuel wood, burning dead wood is not very harmful, but burning/chopping trees for wood is killing your own home
  • Use biomass as a fuel for tandoors
  • Stop turning complete agricultural land for cash crops and maintain a balance between native crops and cash crops.
  • Find cash crops that are native to the soil and find products out of those cash crops eg: Hemp
  • The educated and aware people should participate more in raising awareness among villagers and educate them on climate change and ill effects of deforestation
  • Create a better structure around all commercial businesses at local panchayat levels that is fair and sustainable
  • Create rain water and other water harvesting and preservation systems for agriculture
  • Do not wait for the forest department or govt. to take action, decentralization is the key to sustainable development

Killing forests is like burning our lungs, we will not survive if the forests don’t!

Hoping for a better tomorrow!

 

Eco-Tourism Soul Search

The Blessing of Rhododendron – A Trek Through Great Himalayan National Park

September 7, 2016
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“The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have got promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep” – Robert Frost

IMG_0805Rhododendron, a flower that grows in Himalayan Forests with many blessings for you mind and body 🙂

 

A very known saying, a quote that each one of us can associate ourselves with.

I have been trying to write this piece for a long time, waiting for the right frame of mind or the right mountain top and finally I am going to put this down in the right frame of mind and on the right mountain top 🙂

Probably one of the reasons I couldn’t pen it down is because of the spell-bounding beauty of the Great Himalayan National Park, one is bound to fall short of words to explain the absolutely out of the world Himalayan Forest experience one gets to experience in there. The National Park is a Pandora’s box which I could only manage to touch with this three day trekking experience.

It was a dream for me to live in the mountains. I see fellow travelers wanting to travel to as many places which I would love to as well, but living in the mountains was a thought which kept me day dreaming through most of my corporate life. So, there I was with all my bags packed, quit my job, starting a travel venture and landed straight right up in Manali, the town I always wanted to live in, something about this place always pulled me back here.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, I went through hardships of the kinds I couldn’t imagine, from finding a place to stay to finding people to work with to finding home, I ended up in situations worse than my nightmares and I was all alone. It was after having two very tough in Manali, desperately wanting to get away I decided to run towards the Jungle, and I wanted to explore this time.

Did a bit of a research and spoke to a very dear friend in Jibhi, with the amount of time I had in my hand, boiled down to the Shilt Hut Trek in the Great Himalayan National Park. Obviously it has to be an Eco-Trek.

Reached Gurshiani, the last town before the National Park, sorted a guide, tents and other essentials and started trekking towards the National Park. The walk until the gate of the National Park is a long, fairly flat and a completely green walk through the forests, as we go further ahead, the forest would get deeper, city like sounds would diminish and I could hear different birds and insects. The sound got louder and it was like a peaceful symphony to the ears. We stopped at a village after a while, we were blessed to drink fresh Rhododendron Juice which was locally brewed, and as usual I told myself, why do people drink Coke and Pepsi packed in plastic bottles, why?

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A pool like formation in the stream while entering the gate of the National Park

 

As we came closer to the gate, we came closer to the stream, all I could see was blue water and green all around me, and the kind of landscape I had never seen before in the Himalayas. We crossed the gate and went till our campsite Rola. The moment we reached the camp and pitched our tents, it started to rain. I could just see the trees dancing in the rainfall, it was like the trees were so so happy and were welcoming the rain with open arms.

Next morning we had to trek upto Shilt Hut. It wasn’t as easy I thought it would be, it was a 6kms and a 45 degree ascend until the top. A more fascinating thing about the hike was the Forests getting deeper, we were able to spot birds and listen to their sound. The trees were dense and I could see numerous numbers of different plant species.

OH I was very conveniently trying to skip what was going on in my head. What was going on in my head? complete chaos and confusion, I felt like a headless chicken running in random directions and heading absolutely nowhere. I ran to the forest so that it could teach me something.

I quite surprisingly made it to the top in about 90 minutes, it wasn’t fast enough considering I was also treating this like a practice for the Annapurna Base Camp. Once we reached the top, Shilt Hut was like this dream come true little home on the mountain top which I would read in fairly tales with mountains and flowers surrounding me from all directions, I didn’t want to leave, I could live there, forever!

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The Shilt Hut

 

It was a day hike, we got to Rola by the evening, the river was right by the campsite, I would go wash my face there and fill my bottle with the fresh sweet water. It was time to head back the next morning, unfortunately. On my hike back I collected whatever trash I could and decided to take it with me to Delhi.

Finding home is all each of us want in life, and finding home is the hardest thing to do. Finding home is different from buying home. You can buy houses but you might never find one. We go through bad times only so that we know the worth of good times, following your dreams might sound exciting but it is definitely not easy in a world full of conformists and patriarchy. It could turn into your worse nightmare ever or it could be better than your dreams. It always gets harder than it gets easier. Yes! it always gets harder first. The forests taught me exactly what I preach, all that you need for a happy mind and happy life lies in the arms of nature, the greatest gift of god. You need oxygen to breath, water to drink, food to eat and a shelter to sleep. That’s all you truly need!

Trust your journey and be fearless! Always 🙂

Eco-Tourism Solo Journeys

A Walk the Talk with Myself – A No Footprint Trek To Har-Ki-Dun

April 21, 2016
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“Life is Either a Daring Adventure, Or Nothing”

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For some odd reason, I cannot get over the quote I mentioned above. It is hard to practice it, very very hard as we always feel insecure, about so many things in life. But letting go, is a really good space to be in.

It was the end of 2015, Har-ki-Dun had been on my list since long. Since it is a tea house trek, I could think of doing it unsupported, without a guide, so I did. But what was the challenge here? There was two actually – One I had to carry all my stuff myself, and second it was December end and that was the scary, challenging and exciting part.

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I was working full time, and had a very hard time to get my leaves approved. I realised that a boss probably doesn’t’ deserve to know the truth when an employee asks for a leave, my friend, a lie always gets you through better. I did manage to get away, as the Himalayas were calling me, and nothing comes in between me and the Himalayas 🙂

 

Left on the eve of Christmas for Dehradun, arrived there early morning and I cannot describe the cold I felt. Changed 4 local transports and finally made it to Sankri, the hot-spot for several treks in Uttarakhand. Taluka is from where the trek to Har Ki Dun begins, and I had also booked accommodation with dorms of Garwal Mandal Vikas Nigam at Taluka, these accommodations were cheap but questionable on hygiene. I knew I wasn’t going to bathe for the next 5 days so it didn’t bother me. Taluka, a very quite village with limited population. I decided I will not eat anything that is packaged, I only ate eggs and freshly cooked local food. I also was carrying nuts and dry fruits. Not to mention I was carrying my own water bottle and filling natural water.

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Day 1: Taluka to Seema:
Next day early morning, I began walking towards Seema- 16kms from Taluka, I had my rucksack on and as I kept walking the view kept getting better, the first half I survived happily, but the second half, the weight started to get to my back, I had to go on. As I kept walking I finally sight Osla on the other side, a sigh of relief, I knew Seema was almost there and made it to Seema after walking for 9-10 hours. By then it was evening and was getting cold. Snow was prevalent and I had crossed patches of frozen ice without crampons. As I reach there I met a few professors and a student from IIT Roorkee, they had decided not to go further and warned me too, I did get shaken for a while, I thought I’ll take a call next morning, again crashed in the GMVN post a locally cooked dinner by the local Chowkidar.

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Day 2: Seema to Har-Ki-Dun:

Woke up next morning, and yes I decided to move ahead, had fresh aloo paranthas and took off. I started with great energy and speed, and was lucky to meet a good friend and Founder – Himalayan Shelter – Mr. Bachan Rana. Bachan is a true delight, full of positive energy, he had a group of few people and honestly what amazed me the most about him is the way he was handling first time trekker. There was a girl in his group who had a sprained leg, Bachan did not let her give up, he walked the whole trail with her at her speed ensuring she completes the trek and goes back with a feeling of accomplishment. Looking at that I thought I am not a first time trekker, hence I should certainly not even think of quitting. I moved on, and once I started gaining altitude I started feeling uneasy, there was something in my head that was not letting me breathe, I didn’t know what it was. I kept walking slower, took breaks and had a break down too. Yes! I did. I want to tell people that even strong people break down emotionally, but what makes them strong is that they face their fears and emotions, they break down, they cry but they get up again, and I did exactly that.

In no time, I had reached Har-ki-Dun and I cannot explain the beauty that was in front of my eyes. I kept looking and looking the white mountains so close to me. I felt like I was in the arms of my lover which I didn’t wish to leave, ever! I had made it there, completely Eco-Friendly and unsupported.
The temperatures at night went to negative 6-7, it was freezing cold.

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Day 3 Har-Ki-Dun to Osla:
Woke up next morning to a mesmerizing sunrise, I swear I didnt want to leave, but it was too cold! Started walking towards Osla, this was the easiest 15 kms of the trek, made it there before time and decided to stay in a villagers house. Olsa has no electricity and most people there are poverty struck. I thought this will be an excellent Eco-tourism project and I wish someday I can change the course of life for people in Osla.

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Day 4: Osla to Taluka:
And so, with that thought of doing something for Osla, I slept and when I woke up I found my Iphone missing, someone had stolen it, and people there were getting offended for me blaming them. Thats when I felt that for some strange reason I am way more comfortable traveling in Himachal, I had never had any sort of strange experiences there. I was sad, upset on not finding my phone and I left Osla, this was the last leg too. This is when I came back to thinking what was bothering me, I broke down my emotions to myself and I realised that being tied was bothering me, professionally and personally. It was time I quit and start working towards my dream, I had decided I wont let anything tie me anymore, my freedom was my most priced possession, I wanted professional freedom and personal freedom. Professional freedom was a clear, struggle-sum and no looking back path, which I have taken on now and every day is a new day! personal freedom was to stop expecting and stopping attaching to people, no matter how close they are to you, and this is the harder part of life, to detach. We can never detach ourselves from fellow humans, but we can always do our bit, give them love and move on.

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Today, 5 months post the trek, I am on the path that I decided to take while hiking Har-Ki-Dun. I urge who ever reads this blog, to if not anything decide on what path you want to be on and stick to it, life is not waiting, life is happening, right now! as long as you are alive, live it with all your heart and give as much love you can, and trust me the Universe will always love you back, even if fellow humans don’t 🙂

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Not to forget, this was an Eco-Trek, I left no plastic footprint, and gave all the money I had along with an Iphone to the locals 🙂

 

Eco-Tourism

Live Deeper – ECO-Travel with Me (Prashar Lake)

January 28, 2016
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” All Glory comes from daring to begin”

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I love to travel solo, however, as much as I love it, I have started to realise that my stories are something I wish to share, to inspire lives, to let happiness and peace prevail, in all spheres of life. Traveling is my form of meditation, and I wish to extend my experiences. So here goes “ECO-Travel with Me”. If anything I have ever done or written has inspired you in some way then wish me luck and join my journey!

When you travel with me, be it weekend trips, extended weekend holidays or season based vacations, the journey will introduce you to an alternate style to travel. The idea is to give you an experience of a traveler and not tourist, and also travel responsibly. I promise you an experience that will push your limits and unravel your zeal and passion for travel. Here goes my first one.

February 26-29th 2016: Prashar Lake Trek,  Mandi HP

Its the first time I will be attempting this trek too, and if we are lucky we might get snow 🙂

Prashar Lake lies 49 km north of Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India. The lake is located at a height of 2730 m above sea level. With deep blue waters, the lake is held sacred to the sage Prashar and he is regarded to have meditated there. Surrounded by snow-capped Dhauladars and Pir Panjal Ranges of the Himalayas and looking down on the fast flowing river Beas.

Prashar Lake gives spectacular views of the Dhauladhars, and gives different shades in every season, is green in the monsoons and white in winters, all images are magical.It is approachable by road in absence of snow, and during this time of the year one gets an easy yet adventurous snow trekking experience.

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Trek Details:

Location: Mandi, Himachal Pradesh
Dates: 26-28 Febuary 2015
Per person cost: Rs 3500/- (Transfers to and fro Delhi excluded, stay and all meals included)
Duration: 3N/2D (2 nights of overnight travel)
Level: Easy
Total Distance: 15kms
Maximum Elevation: 2730 mts
Weather: The nights can be cold, day temperatures are
pleasant during the season, snow could be a possibility during this season which makes it a snow trek

Details and Inclusions: All meals and accommodation at the location is included in the cost mentioned above, Transfers to Mandi and back to Delhi would be on Volvo’s, the bookings will be done post final confirmations. Stays would be in tents, sleeping bags will be provided. All payments will be taken in advance about 7-10 days prior to the trek. The list of essentials will be shared as the final leg post confirmations. To book please write to me.

Anyone with basic fitness of any age group can hop in, I truly believe age is just a number 🙂

Please write into tanya.roy@ecotraveler.in or call me at 9810801114

Looking forward 🙂

 

Eco-Tourism

Be an ECO Traveler, start here from 6 easy steps!

November 26, 2015
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Traveling is a single word to which one’s thoughts would be infinite and never enough to sum up. We do what we love and traveling is one of them, so why not display true love by taking some very basics steps to  preserve the destination we travel to and capture it forever in our hearts. We often complain going to various places about cleanliness but what are we doing about it? These steps might seem tough and impractical to many, one can begin with small steps. Here is how you can begin being an EcoTraveler.

1. Carry your own water bottle:

Wherever you go, if you are taking a roadtrip, backpacking or traveling with family or you are in your favorite outdoors, carrying your own water bottle helps you on hygiene, instead of buying pet plastic water bottles and disposing them there, fill water from restaurants, eateries or the best is to fill your drinking water from a clean natural resource, even if you have to but plastic water bottles, ensure you dispose them in the right bins.

2. Eat Fresh or carry your own food:

While you flag of carry your own lunch box with dry food items, as you travel, consumer freshly cooked food instead of buying packet-ed processed food like chips, snackers which would produce more plastic waste. Enjoying local cuisines is a better idea always !

3. Travel local:

The idea of driving in your own vehicle is fun and comforting, however you are unknowingly a reason to the traffic while complaining about it, by traveling through locally operated transport and locally run taxis you are supporting the local economy and this is also an alternatives for the comfort loving ones.

4. Keep the music low:

We all have our favorite play list to play while we travel, listening to low music and close spaces is a good idea. If you are an outdoor person plug in your head phones, playing loud music outdoors disturbs the atmosphere and animals as that could be their habitat. When we travel into wilderness, it is our responsibility to ensure we do not disturb the habitat of animals.

5. Dispose zero Non- Biodegradable waste:

Whatever we dispose that can easily decompose is not as harmful, plastic, cans etc should be avoided to be disposed. create a small bin in your bag or car and ensure proper waste disposal.

6. Recycle Plastic:

Plastic is a blessing if recycled, curse if disposed. Existing plastic can be used to several practical usage, I always carry my closed in a plastic bag before I put them in my rucksack, I also keep extra plastic to wrap dirty or wet clothes or carry things not be disposed in open outdoors.

There are many more ways, I hope this read gives you a food for thought to come up with many such solutions and become an ECO- Traveler!