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Why a record number of visitors to the Valley of Flowers this year is bad news?
It was in 1931 that British mountaineers Frank S Smythe, Eric Shipton and RL Holdsworth had accidentally discovered the Valley of Flowers while returning from an expedition to Mount Kamet.

In 1988, the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mountaineers who discovered the Valley are credited for giving it the name "Valley of Flowers".

The Valley which falls in the Nanda Devi biosphere of the state of Uttarakhand in India, is closed for general public on October 31 each year. The government of India releases a controlled number of visitors to the Valley between June 1 to the closing date of October 31. This year the Valley saw an unprecedented 10,000 visitors.

After the cloudburst tragedy in Uttarakhand in 2013 which had resulted in flash floods in various areas of the state, killing thousands of people, the Valley of Flowers remained closed, only opening in 2014.

The Valley was visited by 4,066 tourists in 2014, a figure which grew to 6,510 people visiting the Valley in 2015. However, this year a record number of 10,000 visitors to the Valley has alarmed frequent travellers and wildlife activists from across the world. What has left them worried is the ecological impact more and more tourists will leave on the fragile ecosystem of the Valley of Flowers.

With multi-colored flowers dotting the Valley, making it look like someone has spread a Persian rug within the mountains, the Valley of Flowers is nothing short of a piece of heaven on Earth. Famous Indian botanist Prakash Kala has undertaken the daunting task of cataloging and identifying the flora and fauna of the Valley. According to his study, 520 species of alpine plants are found here, out of which several species are not found anywhere else in the world.

Chandresh Joshi, divisional forest officer of Joshimath, while speaking to TOI said, "The 15-km route is dotted with glaciers, gorges and rivers. The ideal time to trek here is from July to October during which nature lovers can spot a variety of flora and fauna. In particular, the exquisite Brahm Kamal flower, which is found at an elevation of over 4,500 meter above sea level, can be seen flowering on this trail."

Priya Tripathi, a solo traveller says, "I have seen a lot of people plucking flowers along the route. It's like they don't understand that these flowers need to be protected, not destroyed."

She further says, "The trek is one-of-a-kind in the world. We are lucky to have such a beautiful share of nature's beauty and we need to protect it. This mad rush for selfies at a scenic locale is best left for metropolitan cities and shopping malls,"

The trek has changed a lot since I first visited. A lot more shops are opening up and there is a trail of plastic along the route and that is going to impact the Valley," she added.

Despite travellers being repeatedly told not to carry plastic material with them, traces of plastic have been found on the more common route through Ghangharia village.

Mridula Dwivedi, a travel writer says, "People usually start early in the morning for the Valley and come back late in the evening. They usually carry packed lunch inside the park as there is absolutely no place within the park where you can get food! Do remember to bring back every scrape of plastic you took with you. Do not litter. And, if you find one that was thrown by someone else, bring it back with you."

Here's hoping that better sense prevails amongst the people of our country in 2017 and they start valuing their natural bounties more and more. Let's hope that the pristine beauty of the Valley of Flowers remains unblemished till eternity.

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