“Just follow the garbage, and you will reach the destination.” Sadly, that was the typical adage about our trek routes in the Himalayas, says Pradeep Sangwan, an avid adventurer, a trekker from northern India, and founder of the Healing Himalayas Foundation.
Eco-Warrior Profile: Pradeep Sangwan Follows the Garbage to Clean Up the Himalayan Foothills
“If you don’t see plastic, it means you are lost.” That’s what other trekkers would say. Pradeep decided to take on the challenge to change the narrative.
Pradeep fell in love with trekking during his college years. He recently told The Oxygen Project, “every nook and corner had a small dump yard,” so he decided to become the first official volunteer of a foundation to walk the walk of appreciation and respect for his beloved Himalayas. He would clean up while trekking, and get others to join his efforts. The Healing Himalayas Foundation he created in 2015 now works with large groups of volunteers on multiple cleaning projects, primarily in the foothills.
The foundation’s projects focus on activities to clean up what he describes as “the mess that has been accumulated over decades.” They organize special community and school events and mass clean-up activities, all to create awareness of the need to restore the environment.
During the snowfall season, when trekking and cleaning aren’t possible, Pradeep returns to his hometown, the small district of Charkhi Dadri, in the northern India state of Haryana. Located about 90 km from Delhi, he says December, January, and February are times to spend there with his parents and a niece and nephew he calls “my energy bars.”
While visiting his family in 2019, he added his hometown to the foundation’s clean up initiatives. “I saw an ever-growing problem of solid waste there.” So he decided to organize cleaning campaigns there and other areas he had identified as in need of attention, encouraging individual and community actions for change.
“The sense of trekking and enjoying nature wasn’t there anymore amongst wannabe Instagrammers and nature lovers,” says Pradeep about what prompted him to create the foundation. Beyond increasing awareness and action, the goal is to develop comprehensive and holistic waste management programs that help to protect people, roaming animals, and the environment from toxic materials generated by plastic and general waste.
“I hardly get time to do anything outside the sphere of climate change now,” he tells TOP. For each initiative, he says he is “preparing for the ground action – physically, mentally and spiritually – by practicing yoga and meditation, and connecting with various colleges, schools, government bodies, etc.”
“My perfect day is being in the moment, whether it’s a cleaning drive with 25-30 volunteers and trekking 15kms in a day (Karma Yoga) or lazing around at the house reading a book, or Netflix at times.”
He vividly describes his second campaign in Shrikhand Mahadev in 2017 (altitude 5100m). “It was raining crazy. We have been walking for three days, and it was just rain and rain. It was difficult even to walk, and cleaning seemed impossible. Finally, after three days, the sky was clear. I just woke up in the morning and started walking. I trekked 14 hours, and we did our best in terms of cleaning.”
One of Pradeep’s biggest concerns about our environment: “that everyone is waiting for a miracle and (thinking) someone else will do our dirty work.”
For him, it’s more than personal. “The Himalayas are my home, a place which gave me respect, love, and vice versa. So many lives depend on the Himalayas, yet its fragile ecosystem is totally ignored. Himalayas and soil contamination are not talked enough about.”
Pradeep believes that when it comes to climate action solutions, we need to start trusting that small steps matter. “It’s a continuous process as long we live on the planet (taking care of it), and we need to understand that.”
India only recently addressed climate change as a threat, according to Pradeep. “Although our cultural values always taught us to follow a circular economy, the cultural exploitation over the centuries showcased its negative effects eventually. But now we are regaining consciousness and aligning our contemporary situation of climate with teachings in our Puranas.”
He points to this excerpt (translated) in the Matsya Purana, among the oldest Sanskrit literature in Hinduism: “There is a stepwell equal to ten wells, a pond equal to ten wells, a son equal to ten ponds and a tree equal to ten sons.” It sounds like it is all about perspective. Scope. Recognizing life is indeed larger than ourselves.
When Pradeep founded the Healing Himalayas Foundation, he was determined to clean up the magnificent mountains where he was raised. His motto today: “to return these beautiful treks to their original self and to give the trekkers a clean and healthy path to trek on.”