Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Shailendra Yashwant - Swelling glacial lake threatens Sikkim’s heritage village

“Mosquitos and tourists!” Chokdup Lachenpa shouts at no one in particular as he takes a long sip of Tongba (hot beer) from his bamboo mug. As if on cue, the children chorus, “The first is because of climate change and the second is the cause of climate change,” causing much mirth and laughter among the customers.

We are sitting at Chokdup’s daughter’s tiny teashop-cum-bar in Lachen, a small village perched 2,750 metres above the mean sea level on the right bank of the Lachen Chu river in North Sikkim. Outside, in the foggy twilight, across the Himalayas, we can see the headlights of a cavalcade of vans and jeeps that will soon bring hundreds of tourists to Lachen for a night’s halt.
A view of the Lachen Valley
Image credit:  Shailendra Yashwant
Situated on a grassy mountain slope, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and forests of rhododendrons and conifers, Lachen is so beautiful it has been declared a “heritage village” by the Sikkim government. And that is its problem. The tag is accompanied by “eco-tourism homestays” pushed strongly by bureaucrats. It is the last stop for tourists going to Gurudongmar Lake, 5,430 metres above MSL. Buddhists and Sikhs consider the lake sacred. Now, tourists from Maharashtra and Gujarat seem to be competing with the peripatetic Bengalis to make Lachen the number one tourist attraction in North Sikkim.

Feeling the heat
What most of the tourists won’t know is that Lachen valley is facing a massive climate crisis. Behind those welcoming smiles, the Lachenpas – the local residents, an indigenous tribe of the Bhutia community – are a worried lot. Reduced snowfall, unseasonal rains and the forest fires of last summer have made them all very anxious.

To make matters worse and potentially dangerous, Lachen is in the path of the streams flowing down from the growing Lake Shako Cho. The lake at the snout of the glacier by the same name is growing because the glacier is melting faster. It is identified to be at high risk of causing a glacial lake outburst flood, a type of flood that occurs when the gravel holding in such a lake collapses... Read more:
http://scroll.in/article/812436/swelling-glacial-lake-threatens-sikkims-heritage-village