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This Gurugram mountaineer is cleaning and healing Himalayas

33-year-old Pradeep Sangwan is healing the Himalayas one trek at a time through cleanliness drives.

gurgaon Updated: Mar 06, 2019 16:11 IST
Naina Arora
Naina Arora
Hindustan Times
Gurugram,Shimla,Himachal Pradesh
Pradeep Sangwan, a 33-year-old mountaineer from Gurugram has been on a journey of cleaning Himalayan trek routes since 2016. He has collected more than 5,00,000 kilos of plastic from our pristine mountains.(Gokul VS/HT)

“Go out, enjoy, but don’t leave your trash behind,” says Pradeep Sangwan, and we have all the reasons to take his advice seriously because this 33-year-old from Gurugram has been on a journey of cleaning Himalayan trek routes since 2016, when he took the first trek of his life. This man can’t “ignore plastic” once he sees it. So, he started collecting plastic and tins left behind to dispose them properly. Today, aided by other volunteers, he has collected more than 5,00,000 kilos of plastic from our pristine mountains.

Films such as 3 Idiots (2009), which showcased Ladakh’s Pangong Lake, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), which showed the lead pair trekking in Manali with friends, opened up the fascinating world of trekking to people.

Volunteers help clear the waste dumped by travellers on the hills.

But with all the publicity things took a turn for the worst on the mountains, he shares. “Everybody starting trekking, even in winters. Local communities began constructing dhabas. They did not know that they are producing so much waste at the same time. Eight-nine km uphill, one would see 20-30 tents hosting 1,000 or 2,000 trekkers, in 2011-12. So much plastic waste was being generated because of bottles, biscuits and packets of chips. People would say, ‘If one has to reach the summit, follow the plastic trail’. Knowing the basics of trekking is the last thing on their mind. [People are] mainly focused on party, music, fun, marijuana,” he says.

Seeing the casual attitude of travellers towards their surroundings, Sangwan swung into action. He began collecting the plastic in 2014, but realised he’d need more helping hands. “I used to trick my friends to come to Manali, but eventually would take them for cleaning drives (laughs). One should be purposeful even while trekking, travelling. I used to collect whatever I could. But I needed a platform where people could come from anywhere and participate. It is difficult to pick up plastic waste while trekking and bring it back to the base, so you need a certain level of fitness.” People eventually started joining him.

The drives involve picking up plastic waste, travelling uphill and then down the hill with the plastic. He invites volunteers through social media informing them about various treks. “Often we start with 20 volunteers and end with 40. I feel like a soldier when someone looks at me. We go deep down into the bushes and valleys,” says Sangwan, who has found support from celebrities such as Randeep Hooda.

Sangwan conducts drives as part of treks from March to November, at Shimla and Prashar Lake (Himachal Pradesh), Kheer Ganga Trek, Shrikhand Mahadev trek, Jogini Falls.

What happens with all the waste after it is collected? “Most of it, around 60-70%, is recyclable plastic. So, we give it to recycling plants nearby. The single-use plastic goes to electricity plants. There are two such plants in Himachal Pradesh. So we can dispose whatever we collect. Glass is the worst. Recycling glass is difficult. We can’t bring broken glass as it might hurt somebody,” says Sangwan.

However, the mountaineer adds that one doesn’t need to go all the way to the mountains in order to make the world a better place, but can do so simply by incorporating small but meaningful changes in one’s lifestyle. “It’s all about changing your habits. Buy a cloth bag and use it again. Have a sense of belonging towards your city, village, mountains and oceans,” says Sangwan, who has also held cleaning drives in Gurugram and the Aravalli Hills.

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First Published: Mar 06, 2019 16:11 IST