Mt Kailash (6,714 masl) and Manasarovar Lake (4,550 masl) are part of the 31,000 sq km transboundary Kailash Sacred Landscape. This landscape contains the headwaters of four major rivers of Asia — Sutlej, Karnali, Brahmaputra and Indus — that are the lifeblood of people in the river valleys downstream in China and the Indian subcontinent. The region is extremely rich in biological and ecosystem diversity.
Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar Lake are also of great religious significance for followers of the Bon, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain faiths. Thousands of people embark on an arduous pilgrimage to the sacred sites every year.
Tourism, the major source of income for local communities in the Kailash Landscape, has placed additional stress on the landscape and its limited infrastructure. The growth in the number of visitors has increased the quantity of waste, but the sanitation systems are inadequate and limited, and there is no proper waste disposal and recycling to manage the increasing amount and changing profile of waste. Insufficient toilet facilities, for both locals and tourists, has given rise to problems of open defecation. The lack of coordination among community representatives, tour operators and local government to address these issues has further exacerbated the situation.
Pollution threatens the fragile mountain environments and the sanctity of the pilgrimage sites. To manage this, sanitation and waste management need to be revamped to accommodate the growing needs that come with growing tourism industry. This is essential not only for safeguarding the environment for local people but also to help sustain the Kailash Landscape as an attractive tourist destination.
In collaboration with the Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Foundation and Central Himalayan Environment Association (CHEA), we conducted an Open Defecation-free and Waste-free Kailash campaign, where our Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI) introduced community-led total sanitation and waste management in Didihat and Patal Bhuvaneshwar, India, both situated along the pilgrimage route to Mt. Kailash. This effort focused on eliminating open defecation by triggering behavioural change and collective action, in contrast to the traditional incentive or subsidy-based approach that targeted individual households. The outcome was the formation of the ‘Patal Bhuvaneshwar Sundar Committee’ which initiated a clean-up campaign immediately. This encouraged innovation in waste management (in creating local solutions) and even fostered mutual support within the community.
To foster responsible heritage tourism, KSLCDI implemented a community-led total sanitation (CLTS) and waste management approach to address sanitation and waste problems in Pulan County, TAR, PR China, the abode of Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. The approach focused on motivating behavioural change and promoted collective actions by county, township, and village representatives in managing this common problem.
To help sensitize and motivate government officials and local leaders, KSLCDI provided a series of motivational and sensitization events, including a training of trainers and exposure trips for local leaders to mainland China and the Alps. These efforts served as a catalyst for an increased understanding of the issues and provided motivation to the key decision makers on the need for focussed action on sanitation and waste. Rigorous training and mentorship programmes resulted in increased capacity of local government officials and community members to better understand the connection between hygiene, sanitation, and health. After their return, local leaders formulated stringent rules and regulations regarding sanitation at the village, township, and community levels.
Pulan County promoted construction of low-cost sanitation facilities and mandated at least one toilet per seven families. The local community currently maintains 15 public toilets in the county and has rules of conduct regarding their use. The local government also took strong ownership of the campaign and included support for toilet and sanitation into their 13th five-year local development plan to ensure its sustainability. It brought in private companies for waste management and garbage disposal, and the public-private partnership has created new jobs and economic opportunities for locals. Awareness and information signage on waste regulations were also posted in Tibetan, Chinese, and English to encourage visitors to act responsibly. Provision of free garbage bags for tourists has motivated visitors to carry back their waste.
The waste management initiative also encouraged local governments to set up more than 22 garbage disposal sites and 120 waste bins in critical areas. The local government has formulated stringent rules for the disposal of waste and designated responsibilities to households, visitors, and businesses as per specific locations. The community members have shown commitment in maintaining the new structures and facilities.
Improved sanitation and cleanliness have enhanced visitor experience in the region. The community-led initiatives coupled with stringent rules imposed by local governments have led to significant reduction of waste at Mount Kailash from 685 kg in 2013 to 58 kg in 2017. These initiatives addressed the dual objectives of resilience building by protecting the environment and values of the destination while also helping communities in the landscape.
Each of the RMS solutions are linked to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) outlined by the UN in 2015. This intervention contributes to: