While the number of visitors to the Gokyo Valley is small compared to those visiting the Everest Base Camp their impact is nevertheless significant, and growing. Tourism in the Gokyo Valley has, without a doubt, provided a range of positive opportunities to the local people in the form of employment and income.
Gokyo Lake now faces the impact of livestock and pilgrims. These can be locally resolved and mitigated, but the increased volume of tourism and the higher material demands and consumption of tourists and adventurers is a threat to Gokyo’s fragile ecosystem.
The following quote from a local yak herder interviewed in 2013 explains the dilemma:
“My family has been coming to Gokyo for over four to five decades. In my father’s time, one goth had as many as 100 yaks and naks, but now no one has more than 1 or 2. People can’t keep up as many as they used to. There isn’t enough grass. The main reason is that the area has become a tourists hub. The goth has turned into teashops and lodges thereby increasing the number of teashops and lodges significantly within last two to three decades.”
Despite obvious problems caused by human activity, there continues to be a steady increase of herders, pilgrims and tourists in these areas. The delicate environment is struggling to cope, and the once productive pastures of the Gokyo Valley are degrading into scrubland.
As a result of this degradation of the ecosystem, the area is further compromised by deforestation and overgrazing. At these high altitudes, the loss of the delicate flora results in landslides and erosion, which adds to the rapid deterioration of the fragile mountain ecology.
Human waste is the other issue in Gokyo, as the number of tourists expands so does the support staff needed to take care of them. The tourists all expect western style bathrooms with flush toilets, showers and other facilities. The traditional pit latrines that used to provide manure for the fields have now been replaced with septic tanks, where the overflow feeds directly into the sacred lakes.
The traditional pit compost toilet is environmentally friendly and is a reasonable local solution. We have abandoned sustainable ancestral methods to modern sanitation facilities under the assumption that they are more modern and guests prefer them.