My car zoomed upward the mighty mountains of Uttarakhand that looked ablaze against the red-orange hues of the setting sun. After being away for six months, I was finally returning to Nainital, my hometown. I drove gleefully and the familiar wafts of pine and deodar welcomed me as I made my way up. Little did I know that this happiness was going to be short-lived until I found myself face to face with a big banner that read "Nainital Houseful".
The road was blocked and no vehicles or tourists were being allowed to enter the town because there was no parking space left! I tried to convince the police that I had my own home, but to no avail. Shocked, I was confused as to what I was supposed to do. I was alone, it was already dark and I couldn't reach home even though I had undertaken an arduous journey of 8 hours.
This is a common sob-story of tourists who visit Nainital during summer, long weekends, Diwali or New Year's. Tourists are coaxed to return just when Nainital is 10km away and this temporary attempt to control the crowd in Nainital is nothing but unfair.
Why Must the Tourists Suffer?
While tourism creates jobs and is the main source of income for the people of Nainital, it also serves as a scapegoat for all the town's problems. Whether the lake is dirty or the town is overcrowded and trashed, tourists are conveniently blamed.
As a resident of Nainital, I accept that tourists add to the deteriorating condition of the town, however, the management is to be blamed equally (if not more) since it does not take effective steps to curb these problems. The management needs to step up and find concrete solutions that will balance both, the tourists' comfort and Nainital's ecology.
With the growing affluence of the middle class and Nainital's proximity to places like Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, the town receives a high influx of tourists that amount to about 4000 every single day during summer. In addition, the mountains of the town are already jam-packed with houses of permanent residents and about 500+ hotels.
However, this situation doesn't mean that tourists be inconvenienced by being disallowed entry into the town. Instead of turning people away at the very entrance of Nainital, here are a few things that can be done instead:
1. Create a parking space for tourists visiting Nainital in Haldwani or Kathgodam and offer taxis or buses that run at subsidised rates to and fro Nainital.
2. Link up with hotels, guest houses and homestays, and ensure that a disclaimer about the town's parking condition is stated clearly. It is very important that the parking issue in Nainital is widely advertised through print and digital media so that tourists make appropriate arrangements for their travel.
3. Widely promote travelling by train in order to reduce the number of cars that enter the town. Alongside, the Indian Railways could introduce additional trains between Agra, Lucknow and Delhi in order to dissuade tourists from getting their private vehicles.
4. Put a cap on construction of hotels that are not built with a parking facility in place. Each new hotel that is being made must have parking for at least one-fourth of its full capacity.
If you take a walk anywhere in Nainital apart from the Mall Road, you will find paths strewn with garbage and mountain slopes dumped with everything from degradable to plastic garbage. There is no proper method of disposing garbage in Nainital; garbage cans are left uncollected for days on end and thus, the trash is spread all over by monkeys and dogs. So much for Swacch Bharat, right?
While tourists do behave irresponsibly and often toss packets of chips into the lake without thinking, they are not the main perpetrators of dirtying the lake. Water drains in Nainital that open into the lake are dumped with garbage which is carried into the water body every time there is a downpour. After every spell of rain, it is common to see trash floating on the lake's surface. In addition, the lake receives negligible maintenance – it is rarely dredged to remove excessive mud and garbage. On the rare occasion that the lake is dredged, the garbage and sediment are not dumped anywhere, they are simply left at the bank of the lake and eventually, flow back into the water.
With every passing day, Nainital is moving closer to its destruction and it is absolutely heartbreaking to see no permanent solutions being adopted by the management to preserve and protect this picturesque town. Nainital is the most-visited lake in the country, but the care it receives is far from sufficient.
Here's hoping that one day, I'll drive into a Nainital where tourists are behaving responsibly, the mountains are in full bloom and the pristine lake is filled to the brim – all at same time.