Handling Waste in Rural Himachal Pradesh

A tiny homestay in rural Himachal Pradesh is handling waste in a unique way and creating resources out of the waste.
In Kalga, a tiny village of Himachal Pradesh, a unique shelter of Gypsy welcomes you with unique offerings.  Chirag, the caretaker of the Gypsy House shares more about the shelter home and what makes it stand apart.

Soft-spoken Chirag has a smile that never erases from his bright skin and a head that always nods in affirmation.

He has recently completed his Bachelors in Arts and dreams of completing his Masters in Tourism Development. Currently, he is a trekking guide and one needs to meet him to see the little child inside him juggling with euphoria every time he goes up to Pin Parvati.

The Gypsy house

“I will help you when I am around, not because you make sense to me, but because you came that far to do something for my area,” Chirag said when I shared my desire to clean the hill.

Chirag poses for a picture

The thing about Gypsy is that you are given the freedom to make this your home. The kitchen is yours, with the basic ingredients and the whole forest section is also yours to wander about. My first encounter with Ismail, founder of the shelter home, was after a week for he was down at the nearest town bringing merchandise for sustenance. Ismail hails from Kerela and has been staying in Kalga for the past five years. His love of mountains captured him in Kalga and that is how Gypsy came into being.

Ismail, the homemaker

For the past four years, Ismail has been collecting all his waste. This sounds like hyperbole, but when I saw the room he used to capture all the waste, I was startled. Being the owner of the homestay he could have given the whole room for accommodation. But for him burning or dumping waste is a far bigger crime than we think of it in the normal discourse.

The waste shop

Storing the waste in a unique style

Over the next two months, many small successes met both Ismail and myself. We started off with cleaning the whole area and stuffing all the plastic waste inside bottles. There were about 100 bottle bricks sleeping under shade, a few half-filled and few tightly packed. Ismail picked this concept up in Rishikesh.
After cleaning the compound, next week was dedicated to clearing out the room that had accumulated the waste from the last four years.

Clearing out 4 years of collected waste

This was a tough job because the waste was all non-segregated, a mixture of wet, dry, solid, liquid you can name it all. One by one I and few other young hands cleared the sacks and segregated the waste into different clean and dry sacks.
Next was the challenge of packing the broken glasses. Because Kalga has no road, it is the mules that carry down the recyclable waste. The broken glasses are most often rejected by the scrap dealers because of the risk of injury.

Helping hands.

Handling the waste

Ismail and I were standing in awe and mourning when we had to burn some of the waste because they were completely contaminated. This is what happens on a much larger scale in a landfill. It stays there forever emitting harmful gasses or spoiling the soil and groundwater.
Because there is no municipality system in Kalga the plastic waste had to be given a different form. Soon we decided to use the bottle bricks to make a small centre table and create a workshop out of the very shed where the bricks were kept.

We had to burn that could not be saved.

All the tetra packs of milk were joined together to create a “Wall of Waste”. The space was used by the youngsters of the area to learn the art of creating the waste into a resource.

The “Wall of Waste” in making.

It has been four months now and the work is still under progress. This journey around Himachal Pradesh started on a very hazy note but Ismail and his Gypsy house certainly made the way for me and people like me easier.

He still fights with the local authorities to not burn their plastic waste. The result is most often not a bright one, but as he says,

“We cannot force anyone to do anything, but we can always try to make a difference.”

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Photos: Moumita Bhattacharjee

Originally published here, this story is part of the Milaap Fellowship Program.  

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About the author

Moumita Bhattacharjee