Geographical Focus

Western Himalayan Initiative - Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India

Introduction

 

The Himalayan Advocacy Center is committed to assisting communities to protect mountain landscapes using lawyering based on groundwork and rigorous research. We aim to collaborate with mountain communities across the world, to drive impactful advocacy for our region of geographical focus - The Western Himalayas.

 

This landscape is crucial to the Third Pole, and especially India, considering its untold natural beauty, the potential to be a global tourist destination, and an increasing number of hydroelectric projects being constructed in an extremely biodiverse, seismic, and politically sensitive region. Each of these factors directly impacts communities and the ecological stability of the Himalayas. Therefore, community-centric environmental advocacy is essential for the future of this region. The Center aims to work across the Western Himalayas, whilst having a geographical focus on landscapes and communities in Kangra. 

 

Kangra district forms an area where rich biodiversity meets significant threats. The district is home to the greater Dharamshala area, host to an increasingly high tourist inflow and the business that comes with it, including a large amount of unregulated construction activity. 

More about Kangra

The Kangra region is part of the "Sino-Himalayan Temperate" forest located at an altitude range of about 500-5000 meters above sea level. The region is highly diverse in that it ranges from hillocks to glaciers. It consists of the lower western Himalayan Shivalik and Dhauladhar ranges. The forests here are connected by pastures and grasslands. These are subject to a high amount of grazing pressure, even within protected areas. The landscape is contiguous (connected) to the larger UNESCO World Heritage site called the 'Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area'.

According to Birdlife International, the Kangra district in the state of Himachal Pradesh is home to three regions of conservation importance - Dhauladhar and Pong Dam Wildlife Sanctuary, and Sarah Valley, Lower Dharamshala. From the information available at Birdlife, these sites account for a combined area of about 1,251 square kilometers, or about one-fifth of Kangra by area. In fact, the entire area between the Dhauladhar Sanctuary and the Sarah Valley has also been described by Birdlife as "the forested region at the foot of the Dhauladhar between 700 and 1,400 m, around Sarah below Dharamshala should also be included in this IBA as many species from the higher zones winter in these forests. Thus a contiguous (connecting) area from the base to the higher altitudes in Dhauladhar Range could be considered as an IBA". 

This is to say that the Kangra district is home to particularly rich biodiversity consisting of globally threatened species such as the White Rumped and Slender Billed vultures, Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles, Wood Snipe, Cheer Pheasant, and the Western Tragopan. The Leopard and Asiatic Black Bear have also been reported widely in Kangra.

The IBAs in Kangra, and areas around them are also rich in flora, with Oak, Rhododendron, Deodar, and Pine forests. 

The center's vision in Kangra is to identify various areas within the district, which face potential environmental degradation, and are representative of broader issues reflected in the legal-policy framework for the Himalayan region. 

Pilot Project

 

The first such area is the Kareri Lake-Trail system, about 50 kilometers from the city of Dharamshala. It consists of a high-altitude glacial lake around which tourism-related construction is on the rise, and is creating avoidable degradation of the ecosystem. The Kareri lake is located merely 50 kilometers from Dharamshala, one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. The large scale tourism industry of Dharamshala-Mcleodganj, is slowly moving towards other lesser explored regions such as Kareri, and surrounding glacial lakes. On clicking the above image, you can observe the various camping sites which have come up on the lake shore and surrounding areas, posing a serious potential threat to the entire ecosystem of the region. 

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In the map above, taken from the Bhuvan Geo Satellite Maping portal, we can clearly see the nature of dense forests around the Kareri lake. According to the forest laws of Himachal Pradesh, cutting down of any trees in this pristine area should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances. 

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As we can see from the forest cover map of Himachal Pradesh state, the Kareri lake, located close to the Kangra-Chamba border, is surrounded by very dense Himalayan moist temperate forests. We also observe that the lake is part of the broader green temperate belt which connects most protected areas within Himachal, including the Dhauladhar Wildlife Sanctuary and the Great Himalayan National Park

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The Kareri lake lies in the severe to very severe soil loss zone within the Kangra district according to this soil loss map, taken from this 2016 springer publication on conservation agriculture. This means a soil loss range of 20-80 tons per hectare of land per year, or about 1.66 - 6.64 mm of soil per hectare per year. Looking at the location of the lake at the intersection of the severe and very severe category, the amount of soil loss would lie somewhere between that range. The soil loss is severe even considering that the lake is remote and at a high altitude. An influx of unsustainable land use in the region could potentially be catastrophic for the local soil-dependent livelihoods, slope stability, and biodiversity of the lake ecosystem. 

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According to both these maps, taken from the Government of India commissioned study of future climate scenarios in Himachal Pradesh, we are looking at a 2 degree (above pre industrial temperature levels) landscape in the Kareri region. This is the case even when India makes significant commitments to meet its targets under the Paris agreement (IPCC RCP 4.5 scenario). According to the IPCC and the Government of India, this would mean more forest fires and ice melt, putting the local communities and landscape as it exists today under heightened pressures to adapt. An increasing influx of unsustainable tourism will only increase these pressures.