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Disaster in the Himalayas: No one likes to say that tourism brings trouble

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If Sisyphus were to visit a Himalayan hill station today, he would feel strangely at home. He is known for the unending punishment he went through, pushing a heavy rock uphill, only to find that it would roll down after reaching the top. That is precisely the sight you see on mountain highways like the one connecting Kalka with Shimla. A few years ago, it was widened to provide the luxury of four-lane driving. The violent engineering done to achieve this goal has never ceased. The sharply sliced slopes keep tumbling down on the shining highway. Labourers and their contractors return to clear the debris. This year’s heavy rains have made the Sisyphean sight more ubiquitous. All major tourist destinations in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are facing intermittent distress and closure.

Cutting down the number of tourists is hardly the kind of news you expect to read about. “People are travelling again” is a frequently heard joyous cry advertising global carriers on international TV channels. After the long Covid home arrest, a vast number of people are taking holidays. Many among them are facing extraordinary circumstances — forest fires, unprecedentedly high temperatures, floods, landslides, and so on. Countries like Greece have, over the years, developed so much dependence on summer-time tourism that they cannot imagine discouraging tourists. Forest fires in Spain and Hawaii have not deterred tourists. They have paid for fun and they shall have it, no matter what the weather forecasts say. The UN reports on the climate crisis cut no ice.

hat is why the news from Amsterdam is so astonishing. Its mayor has decided to ban cruise ships from docking at the city centre. A study done in 2021 concluded that one big cruise ship emits the same amount of nitrogen oxide in a day as 30,000 trucks. A single cruise ship brings as many as 7,000 tourists, creating work and business in the city. It is not surprising that Amsterdam’s mayor received a passing split-second coverage on TV while the Virgin Galactic’s flight stayed on screen for nearly five minutes. It promoted space tourism. To pay homage to the climate crisis, an expert was briefly permitted to say that the Galactic’s carbon footprint was a lot larger than its potential scientific and financial benefits.

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