UNO has designated 11th December as “International Mountain Day”. It is celebrated annually since 2003 with enthusiasm globally. In J&K, International Mountain Day was first celebrated by Jammu and Kashmir Ski and Mountaineering Association (JKSMA) in 2011. Thereafter, with the efforts of Mahmood Ahmad Shah, Jammu and Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club (JKMHC) started celebrating it from 2012. Since last year, the tourism department also started celebrating it. This year, the JKMHC and tourism department are celebrating it in a big way at different places. The biggest function will be held at SKICC. Some other small organisations are also celebrating it at different places. Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir (ATOAK) is also actively participating in the celebration being organised by the tourism department.
The main aim of the celebration is to increase awareness about protection of our mighty mountains that are our best resource for attracting tourists. The other purpose is to highlight our mountain tourism schemes.
The theme for this year’s International Mountain Day is ‘Sustainable Mountain Tourism’. It is to highlight the role mountains play in our life whether it is directly or indirectly and explain how sustainable tourism in mountains can contribute to creating additional and alternative livelihood options and promoting poverty alleviation, social inclusion, as well as landscape and biodiversity conservation. It is a way to preserve the natural, cultural and spiritual heritage, to promote local crafts and high value products, and celebrate many traditional practices such as local festivals.
International Mountain Day plays a critical role in addressing the issue of mountains, their ecology and their sustainability. Almost one billion people live in mountain areas, and over half the human population depends on mountains for food, water and other resources.Over the years mountain tourism has increased a lot and people show greater interest to travel to mountains instead of lowlands. It is a good sign for the people who live there as tourism also boosts the economy. However, it in turn affects the mountains to some extent.
Mountains attract visitors for their scenery, wildlife, winter sports and summer activities such as trekking, mountaineering, rafting, paragliding, mountain biking, camping, etc. Mountain destinations attract around 15-20 percent of global tourism and are areas of important cultural diversity, knowledge and heritage. The best feature of mountain tourism destinations is that they can attract visitors throughout the year unlike coastal and beach resorts which can become deserted in the winter months. Those mountain regions which receive snowfall and are suitable for snowsports such as skiing and snowboarding enjoy their peak seasons in the winter months. But many new developing winter sports destinations now also attract visitors in the summer months, whether by using hotels as conference venues, drawing in wellness travellers for the clear air and water, or through developing more hiking and mountain biking trails. This development of alternative activities is becoming more and more important as some ski resorts face the prospect of a lack of or reduced winter snow in the future due to the climatic changes.
It is mostly seen that mountain areas have limited means of generating economic development, and tourism is often the main generator of economic growth. But its sustainability depends on keeping the fragile mountain environment and landscapes intact. The mountain ecosystem contains biodiversity and is home to many endangered species. This ecosystem is rapidly changing due to rapid loss of habitat, increasing tourism activity, and deteriorating air quality. No doubt mountain tourism boosts the economy but it is also responsible for deteriorating mountain ecology due to the irresponsible behaviour of tourists towards the environment. It is the responsibility of every individual to keep our environment safe and keep its biodiversity alive.
More than 50% of the world’s population is affected by mountain ecology, but relatively little attention has been paid to this fact. It is for our own good that all the stakeholders of tourism industry work together and utmost care must be taken to not allow tourism structures like hotels, guest houses, huts, etc (concrete jungles) to harm the aesthetics of an environment. It is the responsibility of government as well as local citizens to put their eyes on such constructions and report it well in time so that no further damage is made to mountains. The travellers should also maintain the sanctity of the mountains while they are traveling there. As for the tour operators, there is a need for restricting uncontrolled trekking to the mountainous areas.
—The author is member ATOAK and Director, Adventure Call firstname.lastname@example.org