The walk to town wasn’t a hard one, but it was different this time, and not in a positive way. My dream of enjoying a long, peaceful stroll in the hills was shattered with the constant blaring of horns and the long line of cars, leaving very little space for a pedestrian. Suddenly in the standstill traffic, I see a window roll down and out comes a hand throwing a plastic bag down the hilly slopes. I approached the mall road and the situation was worse. There were too many cars and not enough parking spots. The police tried to turn back the cars, but I saw that many drivers were unwilling to listen hence creating a bottleneck.
I walked further to visit the shops I always do and get my supplies, but there was barely any space to walk around without getting jostled. A lot more restaurants had opened up. The shops were all full. Business was booming it seemed. The street was littered with plastic bottles, wrappers, cans and empty packets of chips. I picked my supplies quickly and decided to head back.
We met a taxi driver, known to us for over a decade. He mentioned that peak season was madness, a two km ride took him forty-five minutes or more, because there were too many visitors and everyone wanted to park at the mall road, clogging the one route to it for hours. People got frustrated at the traffic they themselves caused, and ended up getting aggressive on the road, shouting and constantly honking, he smiled sadly. He had decided not to drive around this time of the year, letting go of his livelihood.
A home-stay owner shared a similar story – visitors often came just for the weekend, driving from close by places without prior booking, assuming that they will get a place to stay for the night. There are limited hotels and home stays in the town, though the number is increasing every year. But people turn up nevertheless, only to get agitated when they don’t find a place, adding to the overall chaos in town. There is demand, so a lot of construction is coming up, not all of it regulated.
I have been to Kasauli many times over the last decade – the luxury of a family cottage and a reasonable distance from Delhi has meant a lot of spontaneous trips and memories over the years. It’s a town I have come to love, as it always felt like home. Until this trip. It’s been two years, but I realized how much can change in that time.
Two days later we headed back to Delhi and left very early to avoid traffic. We had a frustrating time reaching Kasauli due to heavy traffic from Panchkula onwards. From Dharampur to Kasauli was completely choked as well but we took an alternate route, thankfully one that still isn’t well known and saved a couple of hours. Since we left really early on the way back, we took the main route crossing Dharampur and Parwanoo and I saw the massive landslide that had happened a week back and was covered in all national dailies, cutting off all connectivity to the hills, including food and supplies that the locals depend on. The landslide has been attributed to the excessive rains, and the cutting of hills to make a four lane road. Hills that are fragile and vulnerable and obviously unable to stand the impact of massive construction.
What is depressing is that this isn’t the story of one hill station – Mussoorie, Nainital, Shimla and many more, which were synonymous with summer holidays for 90s kids in northern India, they are all struggling with a massive influx of visitors and commercialization. A close friend recently did the Triund trek and while they enjoyed the experience, they couldn’t help feeling disappointed by the garbage strewn throughout the trek, even by selfie clicking educated youngsters.
I write this post because I feel sad. And angry. It is beyond me to make sense of why we are so callous about our own country and how easily we turn a blind eye to our own unconsciousness. How we don’t realize the value of what we have in this beautiful, diverse country of ours and how we don’t understand that it WILL NOT last forever.
Tourism is a great thing, it can boost local economy, create livelihoods and enable development. But it needs to be sustainable. Especially areas that are fragile, have limitation of resources and run the risk of collapse, if there are no check points. What’s the point of development if it is actually leading to destruction, I wonder?
Maybe the government will care enough to regulate, maybe it will be too late by then. Till then, pick up that plastic bottle and throw it in the closest bin.
I visited Kasauli, a tiny hill station in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh, during the Independence Day long weekend. Do you love the hills too? And have you visited any hill station during peak season? What were your experiences? Please do share more in the comments section.