Sacred natural sites are areas of land or water having special spiritual significance. And the Eastern Himalayas is home to many such sites like Mount Kailash (Tibet), Lumbini (Nepal), Taksang (Bhutan), Gosaikunda (Nepal), Gurudongmar Lake (Sikkim).
These sites besides having spiritual and religious significance also have biodiversity conservation value due to restrictions on cutting of trees and desecration of environment around them. Surveys have found high level of biodiversity in these areas.
But like Eastern Himalayas which faces threat from climate change, these places too are in danger. A new WWF report—The High Ground—highlights the threats posed to these sites and the need to protect them.
Increased industrialisation, land use change, pollution, migration, commercialisation due to increase visits by pilgrims and tourists, dilution of sacred rituals and sale of meat, alcohol and tobacco near these sites are cited as spiritual and physical threats to these places.
More than these threats, the one which is of immediate concern is the danger posed by climate change as it is “most pervasive and difficult to tackle”. These sites are located in one of the most sensitive regions where minor change in temperatures could prove disastrous.
Changes in rainfall patterns, reduction in snowfall, increase in temperature and receding of glaciers are not only having a direct impact on these sites but also on the populations living close to them.
“One result of warmer temperatures and changes in glaciers is an increase in the rate of glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFS), one example of which has damaged the Punakha Dzong temple in Bhutan,” the report says. The temple has been hit by three GLOFs in 60 years.
In a bid to highlight the threats posed to these sites by climate change, WWF is working with governments to preserve them.
“The near pristine state of sacred sites in East Himalayas is a testament to how sacred places, beliefs and practices can aid conservation efforts,” says Tariq Aziz of WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative.