Shimla: This Briton is known as the 'garbage girl' of the mountains in Himachal Pradesh. And she is now set to clean the huge piles of trash left behind by devotees of Lord Shiva at the Manimahesh Lake in Chamba district.
Jodie Underhill, who was honoured with a 'Green Hero' award at an environment film festival here last month for cleaning up garbage in the Dharamsala hills in northern India, has now decided to adopt the hills surrounding the sacred Manimahesh Lake as the Hindu pilgrimage season nears.
'I've just returned from Manimahesh where I went to evaluate the sites for our upcoming clean-up campaign,' Jodie said in an interview.
'I was saddened to see how dirty it was everywhere even though the annual Manimahesh pilgrimage has not even begun. You can see garbage on every step of the 14-km trail. There is also a large amount of human waste around the glacial-fed lake which is a health hazard. We have a mammoth task ahead of us but I have every faith that we will make huge improvements,' said Jodie, who is heading Mountain Cleaners, a group of foreign volunteers who have taken up as a mission the clean-up of the mountains here.
The volunteers are reaching Bharmour Aug 20, the day the month-long pilgrimage begins to Manimahesh Lake, over 500 km from Shimla.
Evry 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, and offer prayers.
'We have set up waste disposal and drop off points along the route at Bharmour, Hadsar, Dhancho, Gauri Kund and Manimahesh. We will encourage devotees to bring the waste they generate back to Bharmour and we provide them cloth bags. At present, there is no solution for non-recyclable waste. All waste is thrown into the river and dumped into the forests,' the 34-year-old Briton said.
According to her, special pits have been set up on the trek for burying biodegradable waste. 'The entire trail from Hadsar (the starting point of the pilgrimage) to Manimahesh will be left clean after the pilgrimage. Manimahesh and all locations en route will be left garbage-free,' Jodie said.
Manisha Nanda, principal secretary of tourism, language, art and culture, told IANS: 'We are aware of the threats to the ecology posed by devotees during the pilgrimage. We would encourage people to take back the plastic waste or dispose of their discarded clothes at identified dumping sites.'
As per tradition, devotees discard their clothes near the lake after taking a dip in the water.
'This year we will try to bring back all the discarded clothes on ponies. Collection of waste is not a problem, but carrying waste on the 14-km trail is an arduous task,' she added.
Conservator of Forests Suresh Kumar said the forest department would provide 15 employees to the Mountain Cleaners during the cleanliness drive.
Jodie and her group are currently collecting non-biodegradable waste dumped carelessly in the mountains surrounding McLeod Ganj, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. She came to Dharamsala in January to sponsor the education of some Tibetan children but soon got involved in cleaning the mountains after seeing piles of garbage.