The degree of consciousness about protecting the environment/reducing greenhouse gases impressed me while we were in New Zealand, but the developing world is a really different place. Here, especially in India, you are surrounded by trash. And it's not very surprising when you see people walking out of stores throwing the plastic wrapping off their item onto the ground, or people on the bus throwing plastic water bottles and chip bags out the window. Clearly, the idea of littering has no moral imperative here.
So I was pleasantly surprised during our first day in Ladakh when we went to the Women's Alliance of Ladakh (WAL) to see a film called "Ancient Futures: Preserving Ladakh." The film was interesting--talking about the changes families, the environment, and the broader culture are experiencing with more people, more tourists and more government intervention. But I was really moved by the WAL NGO (non-governmental agency) itself. They show the film as part of their tourist awareness activities, but they also develop brochures and posters about how to be a good tourist in the area: which restaurants use local produce in their cooking, which hotels use traditional composting toilets and solar-heated water, where you can fill up your water bottle with pressure-boiled water instead of contributing to the waste problems. They also work with local women to maintain knowledge of traditional ways of dying materials, making apricot kernel oil, farming without pesticides. They'd also successfully banned plastic bags as they were choking glacial water fed canals and killing livestock. Another project they carry out in partnership with the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) is the Farm Project. I wish I'd known about it before. You get to spend four weeks living and working with a Ladakhi family. I would love to try it someday.
Our visit to WAL really impacted us. Suddenly Tyler and I were very aware of our actions. We had a water bottle but hadn't brought it with us and bought bottled water on the way to the center. When getting a quick snack, we'd gotten chips in a plastic bag from a multinational company instead of getting something local with paper packaging. As at home, it's almost always just for convenience's sake that we make choices that might not be the best. Suddenly, we were thinking about the waste we generate daily, whether our hotel was built with traditional materials, and how we could make positive contributions during our time in Leh. It also occurred to me that I might not have ever had a day in my life when I haven't generated trash. Maybe at home sometimes it's just been recycling and compostable materials, but it was a striking thought and something I hope to pursue more when we get home. I feel like I'm really good about recycling (Tyler and I drove around with empty wine bottles clanking around the Spaceship until we found recycling facilities), getting better about reusing (ziploc bags have surprisingly long lives, and empty yogurt tubs serve as great tupperware at home), but it's the reducing that I'm still working on the most and something being in Leh helped me think more about.
We also discovered a place called Dzomsa, a co-op of Ladakhi people. When you go there, you can get your laundry done in environmentally safe ways, drop off old batteries to get buried in a safe place, drop off empty water bottles that they will sterilize and sell, refill your own water bottle for seven rupees (~20 cents), get traditional Ladakhi apricot juice (I'll save the description for my India food entry!) or Lassis, and buy locally produced foods--dried apricots, sundried tomatoes, dried food for treks (broccoli, potatoes, etc.), apricot leather, tea, real saffron, cloth bags.... You can tell I was enamored. Once we found it, we went everyday, and I wanted to buy one of everything they had--both because it all looked so good and to support their good efforts.
Some of the shelves at Dzomsa.
So far, Leh was definitely my favorite place in India. And for all the grousing we've done (and will probably continue doing) about our travel agency, we never would have gone there without their help and suggestions, so I try to keep that in mind when we get really frustrated with them.
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