Ropeway to Hemkund;

Centre approves Hemkunt Sahib ropeway project


CHANDIGARH: For convenience of the pilgrims, the Centre government has given its approval for ropeway from Gurdwara Gobind Dham to Hemkunt Sahib. The project will cost around Rs 75 crore and expected to finish in 2014 before the commencement of Hemkunt Sahib yatra in summers.

In the first phase of the project, the ropeway will be operational till Gurdwara Gobind Dham which will be later extended to Gobind Ghat. At present, the pilgrims can also commute from Gobind Ghat to Gobind Dham through chopper services which cost Rs 3,500 per person.

Hemkunt Sahib is one of the most revered places in Sikhism where tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh meditated before his incarnation as the Sikh guru. Every year, the doors of Hemkunt Sahib open for the Sikh pilgrims on June 1 who can visit till October 5.

Later, the Gurdwara is kept closed during the winters as the environmental conditions are not suitable for human visit and survival as the gurdwara is located at an altitude of 4,632.96 metres (15,200.0 ft).

This is good news.
Thus perhaps:
People who depended on mules and pittoos would prefer comfortable seats on ropeway.
Mules and horses will be relieved.
Entire 14 + 5 km route hopefully will have explorers alone.

Ropeway means erection of poles. And erection of poles means clearing the land/habitat of the Himalayan endemics. 

I did not think of those aspects, …

I fully agree with …. Our Govt. never bothers for envirenment. It may do the irreversible harm to the area.

It may not be that bad after all. A similar rope way has been installed in Kashmir (Gandola)) from Gulmarg (around 8000′) to Apharwat peak (around 13000′), with not much damage. Firstly the poles are erected nearly 100 m apart on stronger ground, and although there may be some initial damage, it will easily recover because there won’t be thousands of people to walk along the tract and spoil vegetation. Imagine the benefit to the visitors and pilgrims.

We Punjabis (including me) believe in going to such pilgrimage places by walk or sometimes bare feet. Of course the terrain in mid Himalayas is not easy to walk but Nange paanv jaane ka punya bada hota hai. I dont think other then the senior citizens and kids , anyone would like to take benefit of the ropeway. 

I agree with …, In long run it will provide better protection.

I had been to the place for the first time this year, lot of people from all over country were waking up a difficult terrain…definitely a huge lot of people there would have preferred some easier way to go up, if possible. Chopper services are quite unaffordable, mules very risky sometimes….if ropeway is installed, in my opinion, this will hardly affect the vegetation for a long term…people who can go on foot will be free to move…this will rather reduce the burden on the trek way except at the halt stations of the ropeway…thanks for the information

Not any way …, the way of life changes if there are facilities. imagine from Gulmarg (8000′) to Kongdor (near Khillenmarg 10000′), the first stop of Gandola, the walk is barely 4-5 km, but you find not one percent of people take this path, they prefer to pay Rs. 500/- and spend two to three hours in waiting lines, rather than walking for one hour for free.

That reminds me of the period of early seventies when environmentalists had become very active world over. Reading books on environment (a term which had become a fashion then), being a student I was always wondering what is the difference between an ecologist (my field also being partly ecology partly taxonomy, phytosociology to be precise), till I read from a book “an environmentalist is one who highlights the issues of damages to environment like pollution, deforestation, topography damages, etc. and an ecologist is one who finds balance between the environmental losses and development”. I wish and hope we have enough ecologists (and geologists) to take care of environment during development.
There are always positive and negative aspects of life, I tend to choose the former, unless latter outweighs.

Human invasion is no way good to vegetation .. mule helicopter or even walking because the path you walk was also habitat of plants once

it will be again, if you will not go there at all after few years, you will find plants growing on same path again

so if we want to conserve vegetation in truly then we have to stop tourism .. even sweet coated label ‘eco tourism’.. is it possible?
the answer is big NO because it is source of income to many ..
but are we suppose to stop caring our beloved plants? answer is NO again,
we have many solutions,we can minimise loss
Botanist, Bio technologists have other method of conservation like situ, ex situ conservation
So be Happy 🙂

There are two ways to think. First the area is not easily accessible now as its a long and tough walk. So many people cant walk till the Hemkunt Sahib. If ropeway is there then more people will go up and apparently they would love to walk down.

Will the walkway be closed once the ropeway starts? If yes then ropeway is good for normal tourists. But, for researcher like us, hopefully the walkway would be kept open and entry should be based on permission.
Secondly, once the ropeway is there then many of the local people will loose their job. There are small dhabas to big hotels, they will loose customers. There is an association of villagers (forgot the name) that works along with the forest department, so they will loose their job too. One of the main reason why VoF is clean is because of the local people who took up this task to keep the area clean. What ever pollution is caused, is caused due to tourists. Mules and pittoos are source of income for the local people, if that is stopped then its not good for poor people of the valley.
Of course erection of poles will be needed, but I hope the base of poles will not be that huge to endanger the local flora and fauna. There is such ropeway in HK going to the big buddha. It is very well made and moves over a good forest, but yes there is a path in the valley too, but people are more environment aware than what happens in India.
I cant reach to a conclusion.

Let us all hope that those in charge of the activities take care of all aspects so that there is minimum loss and maximum chances of early rejuvenation of affected plants.

…, subjects are related.

All plant taxonomists are first ecologists as they see plant and differentiate them on the basis of their habitat and habit.
All ecologists are environmentalists as their work is related to environment, the interaction of living and non living things together. So you are a Taxonomist, Ecologist and Environmentalist :)….multi talented !!!
The biggest problem is, common people and common tourists in such places are not environment aware. There is no feeling of guilt when someone leaves garbage at such beautiful places and over a long period of time it converts into a huge pile. Such things happen at all the pilgrim places, Haridwar is another such example. There is a huge area on way to rajaji national park, where there is a garbage disposal site. Its so big that multiple villages can be established over it. Similar city is there in Calcutta which is called Salt Lake City. One of the costly areas and built on a garbage disposal site.

Anything that opens the eyes of general public to the beauty of our land is a plus…

but they also need to be educated… remember the nice old lady with a handful of flowers in the KAS week??? so education must start in the cradle… responsibility not only for the family, home, (the old lady must have been very responsible for the home and family, but had no sense of duty to environ) but also for the society, forest, nature , plants animals insects respect all living and non living things has to be taught again in India …

I have discovered that the civic sense and social studies like course that we were taught in school 30 – to 40 , 50 years ago is/are no longer taught in the schools or colleges… so when some NGO runs small day long camps to clean up the city parks etc it comes as a complete surprise to the uppercrust school kids (only the rich schools seem to be doing these day activities) and they get pics taken and get published in the local newspapers… so if the Victoria memorial or the lakes ot the botanical garden can not be protested from marauding masses or mercenary politicians how can the KAS plateau or the VOF be protected … esp in case of mass invasion by insensitive or even boorish masses. ????

Civic sense has eroded with pell mell growth and corruption of ideals and monetary corruption from the top down… daily newspapers have become a source of anguish…

amid all this … VOF week and KAS week here gave me hope…

No easy answers… but Pankaj has raised very important points… a balance in needed and if well thought out without some groups high up filling their pockets and coffers would be a good thing, for the VOF inhabitants… be it plants, pollinators, other animals and humans…

On the issues of sensitizing the public, I am presenting a small incident that I myself witnessed , along with … & …, at VoF.
While returning from the Hemkund Saheb, we observed 2 young ladies carrying Barhmakamal in their hand. When encountered they , without any guilty and with lot of proude, said that “we have plucked it from Hemkund Saheb, and we liked it”. When question that if they know what are they carrying in their hand and its importance. They replied that this is very common and easily available. That time, I just couldnt control on myself and shouted at them saying that if they know the importance of this flower and its distribution. One lady repeatedly said that yes, it is commonly available and even she could get it in “Bombay” – the English word.
I lost my temper and told the big lady with loud voice that this is endemic to Himalayas and is found only above a specific altitude. It is, ethically, sin to pluck it from mother nature and you have committed it being at religious place. I believe Rajkumar, calmly, explained it to her wherein I had lost my temper and kept myself away from those two ladies.
I am of opinion that Bhyunder EDC must take it more seriously to spread the public awareness for VoF.     

I see a positive side also. There was a time, with no digital cameras and not even a well off person having the capacity to photograph plants with film cameras (you had to change film after 36 clicks; these days we click same plant 36 times) , plucking of flowers and plants was a regular routine of visitors, excursion groups and expeditions. Luckily every one affording a digital camera these days people prefer to click photographs of plants rather than plucking. These ladies mentioned by Rajesh ji are exceptions to the rule.

Let us hope technology gives us hope and ways to preserve our environment.

Local villagers still go to collect flowers and as a result now you can see there is no Brahmakamal in Badrinath. But flowers are on sale in and around the temple.

I have a picture showing sacks of brahmakamal collected from wild by local villagers. The main reason is like tourists are told that offering one brahmakamal is equivalent to offering 1000 roses. So they buy. Hence awareness is more important.
As for collection, trust me, some times it becomes important to collect for a botanist but yeah, not for any other reason.
Just for fun taking off the plant is of course bad!!!
Sad 🙁

Most of the muleteers are from Moradabad, Najibabad, etc and the total number of mules during the season exceeds 10000. Chopper services can only take the pilgrims till Ghanghariya. Choppers cannot fly to Hemkund as Hemkund is most of the time under fog and cloud. If somebody opts for a mule ride, then he will have to spend atleast Rs.4000 plus spend atleast two days rent and also food charges. So, taking a chopper would not be that additional an expense and also will save time. The major protest is from muleteers and shopkeepers who think their business will fall. However, there will always be pilgrims who prefer to walk to reach the shrine rather than take a ride in a mule or helicopter. More chopper services would also increase competition and the prices may also come down. The chopper takes only 6 minutes to Ghangharia. Saving three days would also mean saving three days of garbage. However, choppers and ropeways cannot cater to all pilgrims, even those who do not wish to walk, because the total number of pilgrims is too high. So, a ropeway will only be an additional facility and will in no way reduce the impacts of tourism. Rather, more pilgrims would be attracted due to the facility, who otherwise would not have ventured to visit the shrine, which they believe is a life time achievement. The flora of Hemkund Sahib has been the same from a long time ago, and the pilgrimage also is very old. Collection of Brahma Kamal is also an age old practice. These plants are perennial and propagates more by vegetative means than from seeds. Also, they grow in very gregarious populations and it is not possible to collect all the flowers. The additional facilities will cater to decrease the impact of increase in number of pilgrims. The major issue is garbage and mule dung. Mule dung is very ‘hot’ and as such will burn the vegetation. It can even dry the trees. So, mule dung will have to be first treated or composted and then returned to the soil. Even then, excess nutrition will have impact on local flora and will promote more weed flora. Regarding garbage collection and cleaning by the EDCs and pilgrim volunteers, it is just a redistribution of garbage from the walkways to other places. The so called collection and recycling of polythene garbage at Rishikesh takes place only once in a while. More dangerous is the developement activities at Ghangharia. Most of the hoteliers are constructing their upper stories in cement. There are also departmental constructions taking place using cement and stone. The Sikh Regiment is concreting the walkway at Ghanghariya. These have resulted in choking of the root system and hence drying of the Abies spectabilis trees all along the path at Ghanghariya. And all this happening in a Reserved Forest area. If the forest department or anybody say anything against all these, they are just treated as ‘anti-development’, ‘pseudo-environmentalists’, etc. There is no support from the pilgrim community. There are some volunteers who clean the walkways, but these volunteers are just a few compared to the large amount of environmentally-unfriendly tourists. We cannot stop the pilgrimage as it is a matter of religion and faith. We can only educate the pilgrims to be eco-friendly. Nature has helped by restricting tourism to only six months in a year and also thanks to landslides enroute which makes the journey even tougher. Some pilgrims even walk from Rishikesh till Hemkund Sahib. May pilgrims want to do the trek on foot, but they are not able to do so because of physical reasons, but they also have the full right to visit their shrine of faith. Going uphill on a rope way to such great altitudes defiinitely has problems of high altitude sickness, but if they stay only for an hour or so and immediately return after darshan to Govindghat, then it would be fine.

So, in short let us be clear that tourism/pilgrimage is not going to stop and neither can be restricted. So, let us try to make it more eco-friendly and give more facilities to the pilgrims to help them make their trip impact-free. May be we have to sacrifice some land and flora so that the remaining area is left unaffected. Let us hope that the ropeway and chopper services will help in this endeavour.
But I see that no one has spoken about the greater trouble- the dam proposed and under construction in Bhyundar valley.
You all may ask that I am a forest officer and along with other forest officers still not able to do anything?!! Let me inform you that any forest officer is just a small servant of the public. He/she can only advice the public on the pros and cons, but it is the public who has to take a decision. Just give your support to the forest guard and see the difference he can make. In spite of all pressures and criticisms, they try to perform and do their best for the benefit of nature and in turn humanity. But the reality is that the public alienates the forest department and its staff thinking that they have come from a different world to harass the public. Somebody could volunteer to conduct a survey and find out who the real beneficiaries of the pilgrimage are – the pilgrims, tour operators, villagers, muleteers and shopkeepers from outside the state, contractors benefitting from the construction, politicians, shrine authorities, government departments, NGOs, etc? Whoever is the beneficiary there is only one entity which do not benefit rather suffer from these activities- that is biodiversity and the environment, what we call ‘NATURE minus the destructive man’.

Many thanks … your thoughts and perspectives are very interesting reading, it threw lot of light to what I could not see.

Ropeway to Hemkund: Sorry, I have not been able to post any reply in … thread on this subject. Excuse me for starting a new topic.

I feel that the ropeway will be a blessing in many ways and a disadvatage in some ways.
1. I have travelled in a similar ropeway at Auli and at many places outside India. They take you over canopies of forests which otherwise are never accessible. Some places even have canopy walkways to look at trees and birds. Rich forest at Genting Highland in Thailand beautufully stands in glory below the ropes. No doubt eating shacks and mule owners may lose their earning but anyway they mostly come up from plains. They will find an alternative soon.
2. Area surrounding walkway is more than filthy. All blame goes to people and eating shacks. This will improve to the benefit of plant explorers. A garbage dump from top in a valley will soon compete with surrounding mountains. Ropeway can prevent entry of non degradable waste.
3. The pylons for ropeway need very little space and this will in no way harm the flora.
4. Entrance to ropeway can stipulate strict action for plucking. In fact there can be better control on Brahmakamal with the ropeway. As such we must decry the aura around Brahmakamal. It is no way connected with celebrated Kamal, only the outer bracts have a resemblance and the dull inner flowers are toxic to inhale and can even cause fainting at that altitude. These plants are surviving inspite of a local ritual when thousands of inflorescences are plucked and worn as a crown in a festival. Plucking a flower (surely not justified) does not destroy the plant.
5. The mules graze on invasive plants such as polygonum and impatiens and several others. This keeps invasive plants under control. Their dung flows down with frequent rain and thus the walkway remains clean. The plants get the nutrients from the mule-dung. If due to ropeway the mules are totally stopped Hemkund flora will surely suffer due to proliferation of invasive plants. VOF has a ban on grazing. Since my first visit to VOF in 1997 the invasive plants have spread by 2 kms into the valley beyond the entrance footbridge.
6. Due to suuden gain of altitude of 5000 feet from G. dham the altitude sickness at 14200 ft can become more hazardous.
Pls permit me to post an ugly picture of Kas with flowers prisoned behind a fence. The debacle of 2012 season is only due to enormous hue and cry created by environmentalists and botanists (exagerated news) on how Kas flora suffered due to tourism. Here the medicine has proved to fatal than the decease itself. Now no one is allowed to go near flowers for preventing plucking or trampling. Recently it was announced that except researchers no one should visit Kas which I find absurd. My comments might bring in wrath of some members but this is my opinion after a long careful study. I hope we evaluate this subject more carefully.

Very well said points. Many national parks are suffering from grazing ban, Bharatpur is one.

It is really Ugly. Hope forest deptt sees it.

…, I agree with your detailed analysis of the problem. It looks very strange to find total area excluded for people except a chosen few. There could be other measures like an increased entry fee, more people to prevent plucking of plants and putting up more warning boards against plucking. Thousands of people visit Moghul gardens in Kashmir every day, there are hundreds of flowering species, but gardeners and security are so alert that hardly any one ventures to destroy plants. I think putting up of more warning boards would serve better purpose than just making an area out of bounds for all.

And yes, I have not visited either VOF or KAS, but looking at the uploaded photographs, I find most plants in Kas region growing in the form of large populations, and not as few isolated plants, and this in spite of area being open to public all these years. Agreed there must be a few critical species, but then there can always measures to save them.