By Kamalika Mukherjee
Jul 15, 2021
IN THE PAST DECADE, the Himalayas have seen a nearly 50 percent surge in tourism, with trekkers flocking to popular routes in India, Nepal and Bhutan. This creates a source of income for those living in the mountains, but the negative effects can be significant: once-untouched areas are now littered with plastic waste, and development has led to deforestation, pollution and loss of farmland. A steaming bowl of thukpa, a spicy noodle soup, against the scenic foothills might make a perfect Instagram photo—but with more and more people angling to get the shot, overtourism is a major risk.
In response, a number of hotels and tour operators in the Himalayas have embraced an approach that centers on social impact and slow travel—prioritizing the well-being of the environment and local communities. Royal Mountain Travel, which operates adventure tours across the region, helped set up the Community Homestay Network to create employment opportunities for Nepali women in rural areas. (Plus, their Kathmandu offices are solar-powered, and the company is actively working toward carbon-neutrality.)
On India and Nepal treks with Global Himalayan Expedition, travelers install solar panels and digital infrastructure in remote mountain areas to bring electricity and Internet access to whole villages. JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa (doubles from US$250), in Uttarakhand, India, works with vendors to source staples like millet, turmeric, and basmati rice—supporting farmers across 26 nearby villages.
The young Stanford grads behind Project Karuna organize luxury itineraries and share profits with local organizations and rural activists. And Ecosphere Spiti has worked in sustainable travel in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh for nearly two decades, running homestays, planning volunteer programs like building greenhouses, and employing locals to teach workshops in traditional pottery or making churpi (yak’s-milk cheese).
“We can no longer ignore the negative impacts of travel in the Himalayas,” says Ishita Khanna, Ecosphere’s cofounder. “We need to adopt a more sustainable, responsible approach that maximizes gain for the people and places we visit.”