Your trip to Roopkund or Dayara Bugyal could now be in trouble !!

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All of you planning a trip or trek to Roopkund or Dayara Bugyal could end up in trouble, so do check out with local authorities before planning the trip to these places in Uttarakhand.

The Reason: Uttarakhand High Court’s latest order bans camping in all meadows (Bugyals) of Garhwal, Uttarakhand.

After the recent ban by the District administration on camping at Deoria Tal and Chopta, it is now the turn of the Uttarakhand High Court to ban camping in all meadows of Uttarakhand and also to restrict the entry of people into these meadows.

Uttarakhand is highly reliant on tourists for its economy and most of the adventure seeking tourists go to multiple destinations for trekking, with Roopkund being the most popular one.

The word ‘Bugyal’ in Garhwali basically means meadow and pasture land which exists above a certain altitude in the mountains also known as ‘Alpine Meadows’.

Dayara Bugyal in Uttarkashi. Picture courtesy, Ravish Chugh
Dayara Bugyal in Uttarkashi. Picture courtesy, Ravish Chugh

There are many popular Bugyals in Uttarakhand. You must have definitely heard about Bedni Bugyal – which is on the route to the Roopkund trek, or for that matter, even Ali Bugyal which falls in the same route.

Thanks to trek agencies that advertise online, you must have definitely heard about these. And then, there is Dayara Bugyal, which is un Uttarkashi. Then you have the Auli Bugyal and Gorson Bugyal, near Joshimath. There’s also the lesser-known Panwali Kantha Bugyal (which can be attempted from Gattu near Guptkashi) and Kushkalyani (Uttarkashi, on the way to Khatling glacier and Masar Tal).

Tungnath is also a Bugyal. Wikipedia lists several other Bugyals in Uttarakhand like – Rajrambha, Marjhali, Rajthor, Darmithor, Bishanthor, Galpari, Sankalpa, Yangchari, and Shibu Gwar. There’s also the Erai Bugyal in Almora district.

With such beauty, the Bugyals are a favorite attraction and people throng the Bugyals in huge numbers. But the fact is that not all of them act responsibly and this results in severe harm to the environment. That apart, even if the visitors acted responsibly, the very presence of extra people itself could be a threat to these Bugyals.

DoW always promotes Responsible travel to the Himalayas. Do read more about Responsible Travel and our community initiatives.

This being the case, a Lohajung based society called the Aali-Bedini-Bagzi Bugyal Sanrakshan Samiti, has filed a Writ Petition (Public Interest Litigation) in 2004 seeking to protect these Bugyals.

As we all know, Lohajung is the base camp for the Roopkund trek. The Samiti, inter alia, filed this petition to conserve the Alpine meadows situated below the area of Roopkund in Chamoli district. The Samiti also sought a direction that the grazing of sheep and goats be restricted to local shepherds and the commercial grazing should be banned.

While the case and related things may not be of much relevance to us travellers, the repercussions of the Judgement in this case are highly relevant to travellers and trekkers alike. The petition was heard by a Division bench of two judges, and the final judgement on the Petition was delivered on August 21, 2018 by Justice Rajiv Sharma, Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court.

While discussing the nitty-gritty of the judgement may seem a bit off topic, it is nevertheless interesting to see what the parties pleaded and what the judges considered while giving the judgement. And after all, it is the Himalayas, so you won’t be bored by it anyway 😀

On behalf of the Samiti, it was stated that the Bugyals could be flat or sloped and are carpeted with green grass, various types of seasonal flowers and life-saving medicinal plants. It was contended that the conservation of these Bugyals is of utmost importance, and so a direction should be issued to the forest department to make a policy for protection of Bugyals.

The Samiti also informed the Court that the forest department had constructed fibre huts in the bugyals; therefore, the Samiti prayed that the Court issue a direction to the government and forest department to stop the overnight stay of the tourists in the local surroundings of Himalayan Bugyals and also for stopping the gathering of ‘Keera Jari’ (Yarsagambu, a medicinal plant).

The Samiti also contended that the commercial activity in these Bugyals had led to soil erosion and pollution including poaching of animals. The Samiti also contended that the Eco Development Committee, as directed by the State government was also not constituted.

The State government and forest department had filed their replies to the Petition, wherein they admitted the extent of a area of the Bugyals falling under the Badrinath Forest Division.

The government stated that the world-famous Roopkund is situate at a distance of about 15 kilometres towards Nandadevi Peak from Bedini Bugyal and ‘Sri Nanda Devi Raj-Jaat Yatra’ is also held here. The Yatra was being held after every 12 years and during ‘Sri Nanda Devi Raj-Jaat Yatra’, 50-100 officers/employees of the Department were deputed.

Sheep grazing on the Bedni Bugyal enroute Roopkund. Picture courtesy, Manoj Balaji
Sheep grazing on the Bedni Bugyal enroute Roopkund. Picture courtesy, Manoj Balaji

Department had constructed several snow huts, fibre huts, rain shelters, potable water arrangements and pedestrian and bridle paths. The tourist season for Roop-Kund trek was between May and October during which many tourists visit the area, though, during rainy season (15th June to 15th September), the number of tourists decreases.

The State Government vide G.O. dated 2.2.2012 had limited the number of horses/mules in Bugyals and as per the directions of the Central Government, the formation of Eco-Development Committees was under progress. The fibre huts had been constructed for the convenience of the tourists visiting Roopkund and other higher Himalayan regions. Fibre huts were constructed in Gairoli Patal, Bedini, Patar Nachaunia, Bagowabasa and Aaul.

The permit fee for each horse/mule had been fixed at Rs.1,000/- (Rs.500/- for the owner and Rs.500/- for the maintenance of pathways). The rates for porters was also Rs.25/- per day.

The Samiti, in its reply, reiterated that the forest department failed to protect the Bugyals, and stated that in addition to the Fiber huts, it had also allowed camping and charged Camping Site Fee which was Rs.1,000/- per night for more than six nights for small tents, Rs.300/- per night for 4-6 nights and Rs.200/- per night for 1-3 nights.

The Samiti further contended that the details of the fibre huts constructed in the area were not correct and that, 2 huts/rain shelters had been a in Gairoli Patal, 6 in Bedini, 10 in Pattar Nachaniya, 18 in Bakhuwabasa and 07 huts had been constructed in Aali Bugyal.

The Court then went on to consider the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Samiti. While deciding the matter, the High Court went into detail and considered various texts and authorities on the Himalayas (and many of these may be worth reading, if you are interested !!), such as :

  • “Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent” (on making of Himalaya) by Mr. Pranay Lal,
  • “The Hidden Life of Trees” (on aspects of the hidden life of trees) by Mr. Peter Wohlleben
  • “Grassland Ecosystems of Central India Himalaya: Structure and Function”, by Dr. Rajendra Dobhal
  • “Alpine Meadows of Uttaranchal”, by Mr. G.S. Rawat
  • “High Altitudes of the Himalaya (Biogeography, Ecology & Conservation)” edited by Dr. Y.P.S. Pangtey and Dr. R.S. Rawal
  • Article captioned “High Altitudes Flora of Western Himalaya : Peculiarities and Conservation” by Shri D.S. Rawat, Shri L.R. Dangwal and Shri R.D. Gaur
  • Article captioned “High Altitude Flora of Western Himalaya : Peculiarities and Conservation” by Shri B.S. Aswal
  • Article titled “Protected Areas and Conservation of Rare Endemic Plants in the Himalaya” by Shri G.S. Rawat
  • Article titled “An Assessment on the Diversity and Status of the Alpine Plants of Indian Himalaya” by Shri S.S. Samant
  • Article captioned “Sustenance of Central Himalayan Vegetational Wealth at the Brink of Depletion” by Shri K.S. Negi & Shri K.C. Pant
  • Article captioned “Vegetation Dynamics and Animal Behaviour in an Alpine Pasture of the Garhwal Himalaya”, by Sundriyal RC
  • Article captioned “Ecological Study in a Alpine Pasture of Bhagirathi Valley, Garhwal Himalaya”, by Mr. G.S. Rajwar & Mr. Manoj Dhaulakhandi
  • Article captioned “Conservation Status of Himalayan Musk Deer and Livestock Impacts in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Western Himalaya”, by Mr. S. Sathyakumar, Mr. S.N. Prasad, Mr. G.S. Rawat & Mr. A.J.T. Johnsingh
  • Article captioned “High Altitude (above Timber-Line) Bryoflora of Kumaun Himalaya”, by S.D. Tewari, Giribala Pant, Saurav Joshi and Subodh Airi
  • Article captioned “High Altitude Forests with Special Reference to Timber Line in Kumaun, Central Himalaya”, by Mr. R.S. Rawal & Mr. Y.P.S. Pangtey

Having considered all the above material, the High Court summarised the importance of Bugyals – to quote Justice Rajiv Sharma’s words (at para 24) :

What emerges from the facts, enumerated hereinabove, is that there are world famous Bugyals/meadows in District Chamoli. The State Government has not taken effective steps to conserve and preserve them. Construction of Fibre Huts in Bugyals is causing irreparable damage to the environment and ecology of the area. The meadows are god’s grass-lands. No camping activity should be permitted on these grasslands. The number of tourists visiting these Bugyals should also be restricted. The commercial grazing should not be permitted. The State Government has permitted the tourists to stay overnight in these huts. The Bugyals are the eco-systems in themselves. The damage caused to these Bugyals has led to global warming resulting in melting of glaciers at an alarming rate. The State Government, till date, has not constituted any Eco Development Committees to save the Bugyals. The Bugyals are the important feature of eco– system. Every effort should be made to save them from disaster. The correspondence(s) have been exchanged between the functionaries of the State but on the ground, nothing concrete has been done to salvage the situation.

Alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals are also littered with plastic bags, cans thrown indiscriminately by the tourists. It is the duty cast upon the State Government to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country as per Article 48A of the Constitution of India. Under Article 58A(g), it the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures”

a the above, the Court then disposed the PIL and passed the following Mandatory Directions :

  1. The Uttarakhand govt was directed to remove all the permanent structures from the alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals in the State of Uttarakhand including Aali-Bedini-Bagzi Bugyals within a period of three months (that is, within November 20, 2018)
  2. The Uttarakhand govt was further directed to constitute the Eco-Development Committees within six weeks in eco-sensitive zones throughout the State of Uttarakhand to protect and preserve the nature, environment, and ecology.
  3. The Uttarakhand govt was also directed to restrict the number of tourists (not more than 200) visiting the alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals.
  4. No construction of any permanent structure on the alpine meadows/ sub- alpine meadows/ Bugyals throughout the State of Uttarakhand (whether by State Public Undertakings/ Private Entrepreneurs)
  5. The overnight stay in the Alpine meadows/ Sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals has been banned.
  6. The Court also banned commercial grazing of cattle on alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals forthwith. The local shepherds alone will be permitted to graze their cattle on the alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals by imposing reasonable restriction on the number of cattle.
  7. All the District Magistrates throughout the State of Uttarakhand have been directed to ensure removal of plastic water bottles, cans etc. from the alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals within six weeks (that is, within, October 2, 2018)
  8. The Uttarakhand govt was also directed to ensure that no encroachment is made in these alpine meadows/Bugyals in any form, even in the name of religion. The encroachments already made have to be removed within three months by issuing notices.
  9. The Uttarakhand govt was directed to conduct a systematic survey of its flora at the earliest to prepare a comprehensive manual, as recommended by the experts within six months.
  10. The Court also directed that every forest division should have an herbarium of important medicinal, rare, threatened and botanically interesting plants for reference and that the exploitation of medicinal plants should be limited and it should be done only through Government/Public sector, as recommended by the experts.
  11. The Uttarakhand govt was also directed to introduce rotational grazing of cattle in alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals, as recommended by experts, where alternative sites are available. The stay of livestock was also ordered to be reduced, as recommended by the experts.
  12. The Uttarakhand govt was directed to consider declaring all import high altitude valleys and alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ Bugyals with a rich plant as high altitude National Parks/Sanctuaries, within a period of six months
The serene Ali Bugyal enroute Roopkund. Picture Courtesy, Vijay Gadwal
The serene Ali Bugyal enroute Roopkund. Picture Courtesy, Vijay Gadwal

What this Court Order means for travelers

Well, as you may have gone through the above analysis, for one, Camping has now been banned in all the bugyals. So if you are planning a trek to Roopkund (in which Aali Bugyal & Bedni Bugyal are night halts) there’s going to be a huge impact.

You’ll now have to find night stays at places that are not bugyals. Same will be the case with Dayara Bugyal trek. So will be Gorson Bugyal or Auli. That apart, the second thing could be the limit on the number of people visiting – Auli definitely receives more than 200 people in the season, and moreover, with the skiing, the visitors are even more. This is going to have a huge impact, and you may not be one of the lucky 200 😀

Interesting Read: The complete travel plan for Valley of Flowers

What’s our view on this ban on Bugyals in Uttarakhand

The judgment seems to be really harsh, both for the locals as well as us travelers. For locals, tourism is their major source of income and if camping is going to be banned in the bugyals or if the entry of visitors is going to be restricted, there’s definitely going to be a financial loss.

While we agree that such financial gains should not be at the cost of environment, the Hon’ble High Court could surely have found a mid-way. For trekkers also this is harsh because bugyals are the most convenient camping grounds. Even if trekkers were to ensure that they cause no harm to the environment or dirty the surroundings, there’s no way they’re going to be able to camp here after this order.

There sure could have been a via media between the extreme step of complete ban and the current state of free for all entry !!

Thanks to livelaw.in for posting the order of the Uttarakhand HC (link here)

Recently, we also understand that the Uttarakhand government has decided to file an appeal against this order. More news on that here

We hope the government (and us tourists, indirectly) would get some respite from the appeal !!

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About Author

Vinod is a key member, moderator and the stalwart of Devil On Wheels team. He is a passionate traveler, and if it is to the Himalayas, his passion increases multifold. An okay-ish photographer, Vinod likes to pen down his travel tales to reminiscence his trips. By qualification, Vinod is a company secretary and a lawyer.

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