Tourists in Manali are nibbling away at the environment, literally. With wood-fired ovens being a rage at this popular tourist destination in Himachal Pradesh, the already-depleting forest cover has been further endangered.
From upscale restaurants in New Manali to more affordable ones in Old Manali, every eating joint — worth its olives and jalapenos — has strategically placed a board announcing "wood-fired oven pizzas" at its entrance. It's a sure-fire way to lure hordes of tourists on the lookout for newer experiences.
Yet, no one seems to be bothered about the gastronomic threat to the fragile alpine ecosystem. Rough estimates suggest trees are being chopped every day (during the peak tourist season from April to June) to keep numerous wood fired ovens alive in Manali and nearby areas including, Vashisht, Solang Valley and Naggar.
"It's what tourists want. We are forced to cater to this growing demand. It's about market dynamics," says a restaurant owner in Old Manali, refusing to be named. "We only use firewood from dead trees. We, too, care about the environment," says the proprietor of one of the oldest eating joints here, popular with foreigners.
Even the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC)-owned Kunzam Café (on Mall Road) has fallen in line and offers pizzas baked in wood-fired ovens.
This, despite the HPTDC website claiming to use only 'dead, diseased and decaying trees' for 'bonafide requirements' of locals.
GS Thakur, District Forest Officer, Publicity, Himachal Pradesh says, "Only dead trees, not green trees, are cut for firewood. Also, fuel wood is sold only from registered sources, like the forest corporation depot." Thakur adds, "If someone uses fuel wood from any other source, it's illegal."
Yet, the threat to forest cover in the area is immediate. "In May 2009, per capita fuel wood consumption at Kohlibher village near Kullu was 31.24 kg," says Dr JC Kuniyal, scientist at Kullu-based GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development. With an estimated 16 lakh tourists frequenting Kullu-Manali annually, the already-strained green cover is groaning.
Add to it vehicular emissions and the problem grows manifold. Dr Kuniyal says: "A 2005 study —Trend of atmospheric aerosols over the north-western Himalayan region — shows that the level of air pollution over the sensitive area of north-western Himalayas (under which Kullu-Manali falls) is increasing due to high anthropogenic (caused or produced by humans) activities."