Dharamshala's Call for Conscious Travel: The Pitfalls of Mindless Tourism


"This road feels like a mall for homestays!" said my partner, filled with mixed emotions of excitement an disappointment at Naddi, Dharamshala. We shared a silent exchange on if that was any good. It didn't take long for me to realize that some places change, to never be the same again. As a vlogger, I felt a sudden pang of guilt. Are we travelers, to blame? 

        Who among you, noticed the trash than the Naddi View?

 Just then, I remembered feeling disappointed when we saw a large pile of trash waterfall in the morning at Mc. Leod. Take Triund trek, for instance. Beautiful views. Gazed by herds of cattle, horses, and goats on the valleys, hilltops, and meadows. While it boasts stunning views of majestic snow-covered mountains, it's disheartening to see tissue papers and plastic bags left behind on human waste, which don't decompose easily. When will we ever learn? 

                           Naddi Main Street Looks Like a Mall road of Homestays....

                 A rather disturbing view at Mc. Leod valley, and this isn't just one such...

Can we reverse the offbeatness, please?

Are other lesser-known places going through similar changes? Should we stop playing with the offbeat lesser known places, and revive 'what we already have' instead? 

During our three-month stay, we formed connections with many locals - from the juice vendor in Naddi to the hairdresser in McLeod to the organic shopkeeper in Dharamshala, and the Maggi vendor in Bal Gaon. 

Before my stays in Dharamshala were brief, making it challenging to grasp the gravity of the situation amidst our quick exploration, but this time it was different. 

                                At Balgaon Khad(Khad = Little River)

The Cons - What Locals Say? 

While sustainability and greenwashing might be popular now, people in some remote areas have been practicing it for a long time. Our modern lifestyle can sometimes disrupt theirs. 

Locals expressed frustration, citing instances where YouTubers promoted non-existent / not easy-to-reach offbeat locations for seconds of fame, which has posed a big hassle for the local taxis and locals alike.  At a tea stall, a friend of our driver, sadly said, "Us locals have always been proud of keeping our place clean. But now, these people, don't seem to care about Dharamshala's future. Do you get it, ma'am?" 

A local hairdresser in McLeod said, "For some, it may be just entertainment, but for us, it's our livelihood. The main issue is with bikers, mainly from Delhi, they leave litter everywhere and it's polluting our environment, our beauty, and our water. 

                          Selfie Points - The goat's wondering what's that for?

Although everyone says it's safe to drink tap water during the monsoons, we found a thin layer of oil on it. When we asked around, people said the water used to be pure but isn't anymore. They don't drink directly from the tap either; they use filters or boil the water in monsoons.

                                    Along Bhagsu Nag Waterfall - Imagine if all Bottled water were filled like these. Life would be so great!

It's ironic because I've visited parts of Europe where they have natural, drinkable water flowing straight from the mountains to our taps. Don't we want the same for our places?  

The irony is that Dharamshala has excellent water management, collecting and purifying water from springs and rain before distributing it. Do we desire for the pristine mountain water to remain untainted? Or, do we aim to install water filters at every mountain, because we humans have gotten irresponsible, and cannot preserve what is pure? 

               Excellent Water Managament System, Dal Lake

The Pros of Development - Local Economy and Employment 

Despite the concerns, there are silver linings. Homestays contribute to the local economy and foster community development. Some locals take pride in the city's growth and the employment opportunities it offers. I, as a traveler, thoroughly enjoyed how accessible Naddi has become; even Amazon was delivering here!

Locals aspire for their towns to prosper, but often, rapid unplanned urbanization leads to difficulties. 

 Unfortunately, we can't just rely on travelers to clean up and behave responsibly. Instead, the government could enforce a rule: anyone staying longer than a couple of days (let's say 5 days) must dedicate at least one day to a local community project. Another idea is for the government to support only accommodations like homestays, eco-stays, or resorts that focus on protecting the environment rather than just making money. 

The Pros of Development - Adventure Sports and Tourism Infrastructure 

Building infrastructure can create tourism opportunities like ropeways in Dharamshala, which is exciting for visitors. Plus, new adventure sports also provide jobs for locals. 

But are these adventure sports always regulated? And is making remote areas more accessible with ropeways beneficial, or does it just lead to more congestion in challenging terrain? 

                                 Paragliding from Indrunag Temple

As travelers, we often prioritize cost over safety and neglect to inquire about pilot experience. In Kangra, including Dharamshala, paragliding deaths prompted temporary ban in 2022, reminding us of the value of life. While we may overlook such incidents as old news, it's crucial to recognize how easily we risk lives. 

I support safe adventure sports in India, provided they are overseen by knowledgeable and regulated professionals. While I felt secure paragliding in the well-known Bir Billing area with an acclaimed pilot, would I be willing to try the same sport in the lesser-known Intrunag in Dharamshala, unless my safety is guaranteed? 

Preserve vs Degrade: Where do we stand? 

Pros and Cons 

Illegal Construction and Landslides 

 The question remains: can our efforts to preserve the environment match the rate of degradation? Alongside legitimate homestays, there's been an increase in illegal construction, resulting in water shortages, seepage, and landslides. Can these trends be reversed? 

                          High Rise construction in eco-sensitive zones....

               In 2022, Dharamshala made news for landslides in Khanyara.
We visited the spot, and although media often exaggerates, its a reminder not to mess with nature.
Locals mentioned that only constructions closest to the overflowing khad during monsoons very effected. 

Sustainability and NGO 

Local NGOs are actively working to promote sustainability and clean up the ecosystem. Yet, can short-term volunteer efforts undo years of neglect? Can our short stays in a homestay or eco-friendly resort for a few days help preserve a place or should we now opt for slow travel with mindfulness?  

                            Volunteer Through Waste Warriors, Workaway or Volunteer Yatra to make a change!
Because, Once the ecosystem is damaged, can it be restored? And if so, is relocation to another offbeat location the only solution? 

Why traveling responsibly isn't easy? 

 Traveling responsibly isn't always easy. While I advocate for taking it slow, how many of us can spend our short vacations giving back to the places we visit? That's why many opt for quick trips without much thought. 

It's tough to balance idealism with reality. If we had more time off we could volunteer or if everyone approached travel like bloggers, maybe things would be different. But for now, many might skip opportunities to help out in favor of ticking places off their lists. 

Lots of folks might skip things like cleaning up trash or helping the environment because they're focused on quickly seeing new places. Short vacations and limited time off make it tough to prioritize responsible travel. After all, not everyone can afford to take it slow, right? 

Homestays vs Home 

Homestay owners see the potential to make money from travelers, but it's a delicate balance between necessity and greed. Nowadays, everyone talks about staying in homestays. But have you ever compared their prices to Airbnb or hotels? Have you considered how the rising cost of homestays might impact rental prices in nearby areas? 

                       Junglaat is the cosiest, most eco-friendly retreat we found..                       

                                                                Gluten free food on request by Jot

If you have the time and flexibility, you can choose budget-friendly rental homes for slow travel, or eco-conscious options like Junglaat or Jot for a brief taste of life in Dharamshala. 

                           Infinity pool at Radisson Blu, Khanyara

Guys, finding a swimsuit in Dharamshala is a challenge, we found it at a kirana store in Dharamshala main market that mainly sold academic items. He said to me, mam Dharamshala me hum swimming costume use ni karte, we jump like that only in our rivers and our khads. 

While Airbnb offers a convenient list, it's often smarter to explore on your own in hill stations. You might stumble upon homes that are nearly one-third the cost of those listed on these sites. We chose homestays in Naddi, which was pleasant, but looking back, renting might have been a wiser financial decision. 

Litter vs Glitter. The other side no one talks about! 

During a casual conversation with Manorath ji, CEO of Okhai, about her travels and how things have evolved, she quickly remarked, "I'm from the mountains, and now I hesitate to visit." Why? Because every place, whether it's Manali, Goa, Ladakh, or anywhere else, has changed for the worse. 

Tourists will keep coming, and we'll continue seeking out new places, only to end up making them not so new anymore. 

                                    Beautiful birds feasting on cans, at Naddi Sunset Point

The Need to Deinfluence Travel and Why? Do you know? 

Drones flying high in mountain areas pose a threat to the delicate ecosystem of birds and disturb the circadian rhythms of mountain dwellers who wake up and sleep early.  Before you call me a hypocrite for using drones while criticizing their effects, I wonder if we, as content creators, are disrupting peace. 

A simple solution could be to create a repository of drone shots that all bloggers can use. USA for example, has banned the usage of drones in their national parks. 

Travel is my bread and butter, but lately, I've been thinking: why can't travel bloggers stay in one place for a while and help restore it? We could bring in brands, collaborations, and funds for a higher purpose and relish the sustainable goals UN has set into fruition making each place we visit a better place to be at. 

 We can each help an over-touristed place by highlighting its different aspects and helping it heal. Hence, let's keep offbeat spots to ourselves and urge policymakers to limit visitors to these areas. What are your thoughts?

1 comment

  1. Oh wow, I'm glad to see that I'm not alone. I decided this year to go back to a few places I haven't been to in a long time. I was shocked at how much things have changed. I came to the realization that it is probably happening everywhere in the world. "Secret little gems" don't exist anymore. I was also hit with a pang of realization that I was one of those tourists. But hopefully by being aware of it, I can make things better? NB


Please introduce yourself here.