By Bhawna Dehariya
British mountaineer George Mallory, once asked why he’d climbed Everest, had famously replied: “Because it’s there.”
For many ordinary Indians like me the peak is there and can change lives. After my successful venture scaling the highest peak in the world – Mount Everest – I have seen a total change in my life. It is a different feeling to earn a name for my small village and the large state, not to mention breaking barriers as a pregnant mountaineer and inspiring other women and girls around India. It was a wanderlust spirit that kept me motivated, and an inherent love for adventure and nature.
Indeed for a girl like me, who comes from a small village Tamia in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh, the trigger is the fame that envelopes not just me but my small village where my small house is tucked away in myriad trees and mountains. Unlike cities where youth have a variety of amusement options like late night parties, video games and pubs, we only have mountains and nature.
On December 11 we celebrated International Mountain Day. It is a day that was conceptualized in 1992 when the United Nation’s document “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development” (called Chapter 13), was adopted as part of the action plan Agenda 21 of the Conference on Environment and Development.
The UN General Assembly declared 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains, and on this occasion, it designated 11 December, from 2003 onwards, as International Mountain Day. In fact, it was declared an annual celebration of the Day to foster greater awareness of mountain issues.
This year the UN has declared “Sustainable mountain tourism” as suggested theme for 2021. However, communities and organizations celebrate this Day through a theme that is more suitable and relevant to them.
Madhya Pradesh is enriched with lush green forests and the Chhindwara district is like a verdant jewel in the state. Mountains are home to most of our population and equally host many biodiversity hotspots. They provide fresh water for everyday life to many economically weaker sections of humanity. Their conservation is a key factor for sustainable development and is part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Unfortunately, overexploitation poses a threat to our mountains and it has aggravated climate change even further. As the global climate continues to warm, mountain people — some of the world’s poorest — face even greater struggles to survive. Madhya Pradesh is no exception. The warmer our planet, the more we see mountain glaciers start melting, affecting freshwater supplies downstream for millions of people. Global warming is happening because we have bad farming practices, commercial mining, poaching and above all plastic pollution which has made our ecosystem more fragile.
Remember, the world’s poorest people live in the vicinity of mountains and it becomes more and more difficult for them to struggle for survival.
To celebrate International Mountains Day in 2021, I am here to issue a call-to-action that all of us can partake in. Together with your community and friends, prepare an event, start a conversation on social media, pass on some of the key messages and photos of your favorite mountain, or share about the biodiversity in the mountains near you, or any place of interest that you have ever visited. The more we talk about the important role nature, and especially mountains, plays in our lives, the more likely we are to take action to protect it for future generations.
International Mountain Day is celebrated annually only to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, but it is an opportunity for us to build alliances that will bring positive change to mountain peoples and environments around the world. I do this for my daughter, and for all the youth in India. Together we can change it.
Bhawna Dehariya is a professional mountaineer who has climbed the summits of several peaks around the world including the summit of Mount Everest on May 22, 2019. She broke barriers in the male-dominated sport by continuing to climb and train while pregnant, inspiring other women in India to pursue their ambitions. Bhawna also holds the Guinness World record for promoting the Himalayan Mountain Range worldwide during an online event, organized by Coimbatore based Transcend Adventures and Snow Leopard Adventures, on August 15, 2020.