Field Note – Environment
India is one of the most diverse places in the world in terms of biodiversity and landscape. The environment varies dramatically depending on which region you are in. It has everything from beaches to mountains, from deserts to farmland, and everything in between. In my travels I’ve seen many changes in geography, climate and environment, as well as the people, plants and animals who call them home. I’ve seen the warm beaches of Goa, incredible rock fields in Hampi, beautiful cliffside views near Mysore, the magnificent Ganges in Varanasi and breathtaking mountain foliage and fog in Darjeeling. (To demonstrate, I’ve attached photos from different places I’ve been.) This exciting range of experience is one of the beauties of India.
My home base, Hyderabad, is interesting in its environment and the way its residents exist in it. The area around campus is pretty flat with lots of trees and low plants, but there are quite a few large rocks scattered throughout. They’re remarkable in their size and arrangement: huge stones often stacked in clusters. These are really fun to climb and interesting to consider as part of the local environment. There is a temple down the road from my apartment that is made entirely of these huge stones, many painted in white or with red stripes. They seem far too large to have been moved by humans and are arranged in a way that caters to the type of natural and cyclical thought that comes with prayer.
The rest of Hyderabad is similar, with a few exceptions. The eponymous hills of Banjara and Jubilee Hills (the ritzy parts of the city) rise and fall suddenly, but never too high. From what I can tell, the rest of Hyderabad is relatively flat. Much of the city that is uncovered by trees is open to the sun and quite dry. This hot, dusty and flat land can get oppressive in the summer. Dealing with the heat is rough for foreigners, especially ones like me who had come from a New England winter. It makes you want to sit indoors all day, preferably in AC or near a fan. I worried that it was just my pampered body unable to handle a few extra degrees, but my host family was just as bothered with it (although they complained a lot less than I did).
The way people interact with the environment is difficult to categorize, especially since it varies so much. Places where people directly take products from the earth for food or otherwise tend to be cleaner and kept better than others. For instance, the part of Hampi in which I stayed contained several rice paddies, so there was very little garbage on the ground or smog in the air. The same is true of Darjeeling and the surrounding tea plantations. On the other hand, Hyderabad tends to be smoggy and there is trash on the ground in many places. Agriculture is not big here and there is less direct effect of pollution onto the citizens.
It’s disheartening to see people treat the environment as if they don’t see that it is their home. It’s obvious that they are affected by it. I know I am, from the many times I’ve had to bike through the smoke of a trash fire on the side of the road. Hopefully you won’t have to see much of the pollution that I’m writing about (I’ve noticed it less in the north than in the south). India is such a naturally beautiful country that I wonder how anyone ever got the idea that tossing garbage around would be acceptable. Some places are more conscientious about their cleanliness than others (often it is the tourist destinations that are the cleanest). These are a literal breath of fresh air when compared to others.
People who live in the more polluted places often adjust their lives to deal with it. There are many people on the streets, both drivers and pedestrians, who use scarves to protect their noses and mouths from the smog. Water buffalo, goats or dogs do their best to find what food they can, which can be a struggle when they have to dig through plastic bottles and bags. Everyone (human and animal) has to deal with the polluted, heavy air and the land strewn with debris. It has become such a normal part of life that people cease to be concerned by it anymore. Some cities take action against this negligent behavior by installing garbage and recycling bins in public places, but these don’t do much to prevent the larger issue of local pollution. I hope that some new wave of social change will sweep through India soon and inspire people from the smallest village to the largest city to care more for their home.
From my experience in Hyderabad, I haven’t seen much pertaining to natural resources or energy sources. Scheduled power cuts and spontaneous outages are the only reminders that something larger than us is powering our daily lives. I know that bigger cities have more advanced power systems, as well as interests in alternative sources like solar, but these are not often visible to the general public. On the other hand, it’s easier to live a life less dependent on constant electricity here. For instance, many people hand wash their clothing and cook small meals that are perfectly portioned for their family, reducing the need for refrigeration. In this way, the effect people in India have on their environment is less than those in the U.S.
Environmental care is important in any country, but especially so in a burgeoning world power like India. It is home to so many beautiful and breathtaking sights, and to even more plants, animals, and people. I saw quite a few examples of India’s diverse treasures, but there are so many that I haven’t yet experienced. It is a continuously developing country, and by my next visit I’m sure that it will have changed drastically. India has more than its fair share of environmental issues (as do most countries), but I am hopeful that it will incorporate awareness of and treatment for these issues into its progress in the coming years. The environment is such a universal yet fragile thing that marks its country’s identity. India’s is definitely one to be experienced.