There are a lot of discussions about the concept of sustainable tourism in Ladakh. The tourism industry has grown at a rapid pace in the last decade, especially in Leh district where tourism now accounts for a significant part of the economy and provides employment for thousands of people. However, the impact of tourism on the fragile environment of Ladakh has become a main concern. Two challenges which Ladakh is currently facing are water scarcity and garbage management.
Ladakh is a cold desert with less of 100 millimetres of rainfall per year. Water supply in Ladakh mainly comes from glaciers. Climate change is making the glaciers recede leading to acute water shortage. To tackle this problem, the concept of “ice stupa” has been developed. These artificial glaciers store water that goes unused in winter which can then be used in spring. The shortage of water is not only the consequence of global warming. A tourist in Ladakh uses an average of 75 litres of water per day, compared to 21 litres per day for a local. To cater to the water needs of the tourists, many hotels in Leh have drilled private bore wells which affect the groundwater table. Hotels and guesthouses have now started encouraging tourists to save water and take short showers. They have also started using again the Ladakhi traditional toilets (dry composting toilets) instead of flush toilets.
Tourists tend to consume a lot of packaged food and bottled water. All these products are imported in from as far as a thousand kilometres away. The carbon footprint of any packaged food or water bottle consumed in Ladakh is double or triple of what it is normally. Due to the influx of tourists, several thousands of plastic bottles and food packaging items are thrown away each day in summer. Ladakh waste management infrastructures are not sized to handle the tons of garbage generated during the tourist season and there is no facility for recycling. Tourists are encouraged to avoid buying water bottles as much as possible. Instead, they can have reusable steel water bottles which can be refilled. In Leh centre, tourists can refill their bottles with filtered mineral water from Dzomsa shop (Zangsti Road, near Main Bazar), this is a cheaper and eco-friendly option which can help cut down on waste.