British ‘Mountain Cleaners’ give green lessons in Himachal hills

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

SHIMLA - They have cleared trash from the hills overlooking Dharamsala and the Manimahesh lake and now a group of British nationals known as the Mountain Cleaners has lined up a slew of eco-initiatives to paint the Himalayas green.

The group, headed by Jodie Underhill, locally known as ‘garbage girl, will start environment sensitisation drives in villages in the vicinity of Dharamsala, which is the abode of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and a popular tourist destination.

“For the next one year, we have chalked out a list of programmes to be initiated in and around Dharamsala. These initiatives would begin in January,” Jodie told IANS.

She said the group would start environmental education and set up recycling facilities at all village schools.

“The clean-up and recycling model will be extended to the villages, mountain camps, trekking routes, pilgrimages and tourist areas. Food waste collections and links are to be set up between the hotels and owners of livestock,” she added.

For implementing these programmes, the group is banking on sponsors. “The group’s work is funded entirely by donations and fundraisers. We are hopeful of getting sponsorships to commence the programmes,” said Jodie.

The volunteers are also compiling a ‘green book’, which will provide local information and facts about responsible tourism.

According to Jodie, the book includes information on popular treks, wildlife, recycling facilities, hotels and eco-friendly services in Dharamsala. All proceeds from its sale will be used to fund the projects in the area.

Jodie, who came to Dharamsala in January to sponsor the education of some Tibetan children in McLeodganj, got involved in cleaning the mountains after seeing piles of garbage. She was honoured with a ‘Green Hero’ award at an environment film festival here in July for cleaning up garbage in the Dharamsala hills.

The volunteers visited Triund, a popular trekking route overlooking Dharamsala, a number of times to collect wastes like polythene and paper bags, empty beer and liquor bottles, old tents, food sachets and clothes dumped by the tourists.

Besides cleaning the hills, the Mountain Cleaners also provided waste disposal bags to the locals.

After cleaning the Dharamsala hills, the volunteers adopted the sacred Manimahesh lake in Chamba district for cleaning trash during the month-long annual pilgrimage that began in August.

“Cleaning the trash from the 14-km track leading to the Manimahesh lake was quite mammoth. But we somehow succeeded in encouraging the pilgrims to take back the plastic waste or dispose of their discarded clothes at identified dumping sites. We will visit that area again during the next pilgrimage,” Jodie added.

Every year, more than 500,000 devotees undertake the pilgrimage to Manimahesh, from where they can see Mount Kailash, believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at

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