High altitude lakes are a unique point where we observe convergence of critical issues in the himalayas.
In the lower western himalayas, the rise in temperatures is pronounced, from research conducted over many decades. Research also suggests that the himalayas are warming at a much faster pace than the Indian subcontinent. This has direct implications in that glacial melt flowing into lakes in the lower himalayas is predicted to increase, which has been connected to glacial lake outburst floods. Overall warming trends also reduce grazing land area found around many high altitude lakes, slowly forcing pastoralist communities that rely on these lands to move to other sources of livelihood, such as tourism. Tourism around many high altitude lakes is on the rise, and sparsely regulated by the government, with tourists setting up temporary camps dangerously close to high altitude water bodies. Waste generated from the tourism industry compounds the existing problems created due to warming trends. It is crucial to understand that the lower himalayan region is also extremely vulnerable to erosion and seismic activity, and all human activity in this region must therefore be carefully planned.
These are 'hard problems' which can only be addressed through cross-disciplinary collaboration. Even within the legal system, proposed solutions need to incorporate laws dealing with common land use, forests, tribal communities, biological diversity, environmental impact, corporate social responsibility, landscape preservation, wildlife, wetlands, solid waste, air, and water pollution, to name a few.
The Kareri Lake and trail area, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, represents an ideal case to begin such cross-disciplinary advocacy work. It lies in the lower western himalayas, is increasingly vulnerable to tourism related pressures, surrounded by pristine ecological wealth and revered as sacred by the 'gaddi' pastoralist community. Our member-intern, Ritika Singh studied this lake, its history, vulnerability, and the legal regulatory structure in detail, and found possible strategies to conserve this landscape.