Waste management, sustainable tourism, and the quest to become India’s cleanest village

Anu Kumari Lama
Nakul Chettri
Kailash S Gaira

A remote Himalayan destination in Singalila National Park has started on the ambitious journey of becoming India’s cleanest village.

Gorkhey, a panoramic village in West Bengal, situated along its borders with Nepal and Sikkim, is a popular destination for tourists visiting Singalila National Park. However, without urgent action, rising levels of solid waste – plastic in particular – threaten to spoil the pristine environment that many tourists seek to experience.

The panoramic forested area of Singalila National Park, as seen from Ribdi, Sikkim.

With support from the Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), homestay and lodge operators, women’s groups, and Park officials came together in Gorkhey in early June 2018 to launch a campaign to keep the landscape clean. The event raised awareness about the need for better waste management practices to continue developing the area as a sustainable ecotourism destination. Bijoy Tamang, Range Officer of Singalila National Park said, “The process has begun where it is needed the most”.

Participants of a solid waste management training organized on World Environment Day with the slogan ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’.

People from the initiative’s other pilot sites in West Bengal (Samanden and Bandapani) and Sikkim, India (Ribdi and Dzongu), and Panchthar district, Nepal (Phalelung), also joined the event. More than 45 participants discussed their current waste management practices, which generally include burning and burying waste, and explored ways to beat rising levels of plastic pollution. 

Tshering Uden Bhutia , resource person from the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC), shared the story of communities along the trekking route from Yuksam to Khangchendzonga National Park adopting ‘zero waste’ management practices, and how this shift has contributed to the growth of ecotourism in the area.

Participants watch a documentary on the environmental impacts of plastic waste during a training programme on solid waste management in Gorkhey, Singalila National Park, India.

Participants vowed to rethink their plastic usage, and local homestay operators, retail shop owners, and park officials committed to taking this zero waste landscape campaign forward. Chandrakala Sherpa of Paradise Homestay said, “The training helped raise awareness and showed everyone that we have the potential to make our village the cleanest in India.”

Keshari Gurung, a participant from Nepal, said, “The training was encouraging for women and a good opportunity to learn about what people in our landscape are doing to address this issue”.

The GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development organized the event in collaboration with other KSLCDI partners. The Kangchenjunga Iinitiative is supported by the governments of Austria and Germany.

Gorkhey village, Singalila National Park, West Bengal, India.

The event coincided with World Environment Day 2018 – themed ‘beat plastic pollution’. The efforts of stakeholders in the Kangchenjunga region to transform it into a zero waste landscape contribute to the Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan) that was launched by the Government of India as it hosted global activities on 5 June.

A participant from Gorkhey uses discarded plastic to create a new product as part of an up-cycling competition.
Prizes are distributed to winners of the plastic up-cycling competition during the training on solid waste management.