Environmental impacts of tourism
- a case study of Ladakh, Indian Himalaya –
Table of Content
1 Environmental impacts of tourism....................................................................................... 2
1.1 Physical Environment................................................................................................... 2
1.2 Resources and Infrastructure ........................................................................................ 3
2 Case study of Ladakh, Indian Himalaya.............................................................................. 3
1 Environmental impacts of tourism
In recent time, the debate between travelling and its environmental impacts mainly focuses on
such problems as aviation, climate change, or global warming (Wong, 2004). In particular, there
are many discussions about negative impacts of tourism, primarily emphasizing carbon emission.
Obviously, when there are many burgeoning flights flying human to distant places in the world,
the return of fossil carbon, as a consequence, may become a great concern. In addition to this,
there are also nitrogen oxides and water vapour which is seldom mentioned but these factors
make contributions to greenhouse effect.
1.1 Physical Environment
Apart from intangible impacts like emissions, tourism has many other impacts which can be
seen immediately. For example, in some cases, large number of passengers and visitors leads to
negative influence on physical environment. Normally, when a place becomes well-known
among the public, such investments as building or expanding will be made, resulting in the
damage to local environment. According to Sunlu (2003), it is inevitable that more restaurants
and hotels will be built; putting high pressure on local infrastructure and even, this place may
suffer from light pollution as well. One typical example is about the Greek Islands where there
are many restaurants along the beach to attract the tourists; however, light spillage causes the
disadvantage to the hatch of sea tortoises.
The overuse is not limited to seaside resorts or even overseas holiday destinations. Among
some popular national parks in Britain, there is the signal of erosion and damage to mountain
paths and forestry walks such as eroded path and excessive rubbish which are unintentional but
unwelcome. It may be one great irony that more people choose to spend their holidays at home
because this can not only serve their benefits but contribute to reduce excessive carbon emission
into the environment as well.
1.2 Resources and Infrastructure
As a consequence of seasonal tourism, there is also higher demand for local resources,
especially for distant and poor places in the globe. In the destinations where local infrastructure
is weak or even where local infrastructure can possibly meet the needs of tourism, gradual
deterioration of the environment is inevitable. This deterioration can be restricted or improved
only if there are new important investments in accordance with tourism boom. The consumption
of water, energy, or food will be certainly higher. Greater water demand from lakes or rivers and
higher energy demand to serve hydro-electric schemes can have negative impacts on aquatic
habitats. What is more, tourism may lead to increasing pressures in the management and control
of waste and wastewater. Particularly, it is also an important concern even in developed nations
where the resorts are built around small populations. It is because small and weak original
facilities cannot meet high demand from overloaded tourism in seasonal time (Archer and
Cooper, 2013). And this concern will become even worse in developing nations in which current
infrastructure is weak and there is the shortage of resources (Nyaupanen and Thapa, 2006).
Besides, tourism burden may extend and worsen the degree of local struggles or treatments.
Apart from flying concerns, negative impacts on the environment when travelling can be
avoidable, including higher demand or greater damage to local resources. Nevertheless, in case
of recognizing the damage or environmental impacts the tourists may cause, it is possible to
restrict and reduce these damage or impacts. Each individual tourist can raise his awareness
about negative results of these damages in order to reduce environmental impacts to the
2 Case study of Ladakh, Indian Himalaya
Ladakh is a part of the State of Jamnu and Kashmir in India, including two districts: the
Kargil district and the Leh district (Figure 1) This region contains some protected areas, in
particularly; the Ramsar Convention has the recoginition of wetland conservation for Hemis
National Park, Changthang High-altitude Wetland Reserve or there is no delineation about the
boundaries of Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary yet.
Source: UN map
Figure 1 Ladakh region and its location in India
Kucharski, R. (2012) reported that during the last three decades, in Ladakh, tourism pattern
experienced three periods: period I (1974-1989), period II (1989-2002), and period III (2002-
now). In the first period, the number of tourists grew slowly and steadily, reaching a peak of
approximately 25,000 people in 1989. In the second period, there were high fluctuations with a
slight increase from about 8000 to more than 20,000 people each year. Lastly, in the thirst
period, there was an exponential growth and in 2006, the number of tourists was 50,000 people.
These periods were all under the governance of two aspects: policy and accessibility. In the
second period, it was political crisis among Himalayan states and regions which caused dramatic
decrease in the number of visitors. In the meantime, domestic tourism policies, along with
improving aviation and infrastructure contributed to result in a rapid increase in the number of
tourists in India. In the third period, exponential growth is currently enhanced by political
stability, and the impacts of the crisis on neighbor nations, as well as marketing investments and
Some insights mentioned the impacts of tourism on the environment in Ladakh (Geneletti and
Dawa, 2009). In this area, going camping and dumping rubbish are main factors related to
trekking since there are no waste bins or no formal and well-organized campsites. Generally,
there is high waste accumulation due to the distance between the campsites and residential areas.
Meanwhile, in the presence of villages near the campsites, the amount of waste will be certainly
less. As a consequence, this matter will become extremely serious for distant and poorly-
accessible regions (Jina, 1994). In particular, despite large space of these areas, tourism pattern
just focuses on some main trails, and the tourists have no awareness of the remaining trails. In
order to have full and comprehensive understanding about the burden of famous trails, it is
noticeable that trekking needs seven pack animals and ﬁve porters for every group of ten visitors
Source: Geneletti and Dawa (2009)
Figure 2 Tourist, porter and pack animal inﬂow on trekking trail
In Changthang, off-road driving may threaten the survival of both flora and fauna in the
wetlands, some of which are mentioned in the Red List of IUCN. Overgrazing does not cause
significant impacts towards Chanthang because there are many available grass-lands and few
pack-animals. Nevertheless, this region has to deal with vegetation damage – one matter occurs
in the places where the campsites are near riverside vegetation strips (Darcha trail, for example).
Apart from the Nubra Vally, the emergence of the campsites has significant influence on these
wetlands which have just been open to tourism, and thus, there are only few numbers of hotels as
well as other tourism infrastructures. Through the comparison between the composite impact
map in Figure 3 and protected areas, there is a conclusion that the Hemis and the Tsokar
Tsomoriri National Parks are significantly and seriously affected by the degradation of the
environment as a consequence of tourism pattern. The Hemis National Park faced bad impacts
from tourism because of its close proximity to Leh – the main tourism center in this area and this
park did not have a comprehensive management strategy. As a consequence, this analysis may
make contributions to raise a planning program or a management method in order to support the
prevention of greater environmental degradation.
Source: Geneletti and Dawa (2009)
Figure 3 Watershed-based composite impact map
In the last 10 years, an increase of trekking high mountains contributed to increase the number
of trekkers not only in Ladakh but in Himalayan states and areas as well. Accordingly, mountain
trekking gradually becomes one income source, making great contributions to economic growth
and development of these regions. Nevertheless, the development of tourism pattern is parallel to
the threat of Ladakh’s environmental degradation because of fragile ecosystems and insufficient
infrastructures, and policies, as well as planning techniques (Kucharski, 2012). And Kershaw
(2009) research has been done in order to provide the first contributions to this concern. Through
the analysis of valuable resource allocation and trekking pattern, there is an overview about the
most important regions. Kucharski (2012) indicates that local authorities may have to take the
probability of building the entire area for tourism development into consideration. Recently, the
visitors or the tourists can possibly access half of the area. However, there is a controversy
related to the openness of the remaining area to tourism, and the main reason is due to national
security. Besides, environmental problems are also relevant and can contribute to make
decisions; however, it is required to study, build the model, and disseminate the influence of
tourism on the environment at present and in the future. In case new regions are open and
invested for the development of tourism, protection methods must be done properly in order to
avoid the degradation of the environment. The findings of the research may be applied to
mitigate environmental impacts. For instance, trekking is oriented to less sensitive regions or
regions which are allocated more homogeneously between trails.
The last thing is that in general, it is hard to estimate tourism influence which contains both
direct and indirect impacts. Weare (2009) offered the solutions to the effects of trekking activity
– the most common tourism pattern in the area. This study could be broadened to imply other
kinds of environmental effects. Particularly, an important problem mentioned in this study is
related to the development in and around Leh as a consequence of tourism pattern. There are
many legal and illegal buildings situated at poor locations like riversides or low hills. The
establishment of new hotels as well as other tourism infrastructures contributes to occupy and
encroach the agriculture land. In the outskirts or on the hills, many houses or just mere walls are
built for the purpose of land speculation. Therefore, urban development and tourism growth in
Leh need further studies, monitoring, and control to provide the appropriate spatial planning
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