She might be known as the ‘garbage girl’ of the mountains but her intentions are unquestionably clean. British national Jodie Underhill, 35, is pledged to “leave nothing but footprints” as she leads a team of volunteers to set up waste disposal pits in the heights of Chamba district ahead of a fortnight-long Manimahesh pilgrimage beginning Aug 22. Tens of thousands will undertake an arduous 14-km trek from the Hadsar base camp to the oval-shaped Manimahesh Lake, from where they can see Mount Kailash, believed to be Lord Shiva’s abode. Volunteers of mountain cleaners and anti-waste campaigners can be seen wearing green T-shirts bearing the legend: “Leave nothing but footprints“.

“We have returned to Bharmour town for the second year to run a clean-up campaign at the Manimahesh yatra,” Underhill said. “This time we have collaborated with WWF India as part of its Green Hiker campaign.” The Mountain Cleaners, comprising many foreigners, aim to provide a daily waste collection service at all community kitchens and eateries between Hadsar and Manimahesh during the pilgrimage.

Underhill expressed delight with the improved cleanliness of Bharmour, 65 km from here. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said. “Dump sites have been cleared, an area has been allocated for waste disposal and the Sulabh International staff responsible for cleaning is doing a great job. Recycling has increased and there are a number of waste containers.”

The local administration signed a three-year cleaning contract with Sulabh International last year. The Mountain Cleaners, looking for more volunteers, have set up waste disposal and drop off points along at Bharmour, Hadsar, Dhancho, Gauri Kund and Manimahesh. It has also dug pits for composting biodegradable waste, including paper and food.

The Manimahesh journey on foot starts from Hadsar, at a height of 6,000 feet, and concludes at the lake at 13,500 feet. The pilgrimage concludes Sep 5.

Underhill and her group have also collected non-biodegradable waste dumped carelessly in the mountains surrounding McLeodganj, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, in Dharamsala. Arriving in Dharamsala in 2009 to learn about the Tibetan cause, Underhill was horrified to see the amount of garbage destroying the beauty of the local area and started organising mass clean-ups in the area.

This post has been adapted from a similar post in IANS.

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