AN INHERENT PART OF HILL LIFE
Seasonality is an inherent part of hill life: water flows and availability, tourist presence and demand; natural resource extraction patterns and land use have always all been tied to the seasons.
Water shortages and scarcity are typically at their peak in the pre-monsoon summer period, during which times many springs also slow or disappear. In response, local families must make use of alternate sources further away, as well as water storage methods and bottled water; hotels pay 10, 000 Litre tankers to deliver water to their doors directly so that guests may access running water through the day.
The floating populations of many hill station towns more than double permanent residents’ numbers during summer months; this burgeoning includes many service providers that cater to tourists and their families. In recent years the domestic markets have also picked up apace, with growing Indian and Nepali middle classes able to afford and access new destinations.
The seasonal strain and changes in demand place the urban development trajectory of Himalayan small towns on an interesting trajectory, as much investment is undertaken with temporary visitors in mind rather than the habits and preferences of long-term residents.
Thus we frequently encountered laments around the changes tourism was bringing to settlements in the form of unregulated hotels and guesthouses, waste and sewerage problems, and rapid and poor construction for housing and vending, where the benefits and opportunities from tourism accrue to only a few.
Nainital town and its growing economy depend on the health and presence of its beautiful central tal, or lake. In recent years, a combination of factors – including less rain, the building over of gutters that used to feed the lake, the laying of concrete over previously porous areas that previously filtered water into the basin, the active pumping of water out of the lake during the monsoon to prevent flooding, as well as the growing demands for water from burgeoning tourist visitors – have all resulted in the decline of Naini’s lake levels. These processes seriously jeopardise not only Nainital’s tourist-based economy, but the environmental integrity of the lake system and resident’s dependence on the lake for their drinking water.
Despite Nainital being less visited during the wet season, the lake has the opportunity to refill during the quieter tourist months. Seasonal shortages in water availability are a shared problem across the Himalayas, as peak scarcity coincides with periods of highest demand as tourists seek refuge from the summer heat on the Indian plains during the driest seasons.
For the second year in a row, during the 2017 summer Nainital’s water levels declined to record low levels.