Some of the sacred natural sites in the region include the birth place of Lord Buddha in Lumbini, Nepal, Taktsang in Bhutan, majestic lakes blessed by holy men in India and a mountain revered as the centre of the universe – Mount Kailash in Tibet
The Eastern Himalayas including Bhutan have thousands of sacred natural sites with the Himalayan mountain range itself a giant sacred natural feature. A recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report shows these areas are under imminent threats from climate change.
The report, ‘The High Ground: Sacred natural sites, bio-cultural diversity and climate change in the Eastern Himalayas,’ looks at how scared places, beliefs and practices in the Himalayas can link to efforts made by all the countries in the region to conserve irreplaceable natural values in the face of growing threats, including climate change.
It highlights Bhutan’s Punakha Dzong and its surrounding landscapes and Taktsang known as the Tiger’s nest, as an example of landscape hit hard by climate change.
The report says that many of the sacred sites are now under threat both physically and spiritually.
“Climate change has been identified as a major threat,” states the report.
Punakha valley has seen flash floods in 1957, 1960 and 1994 which left many dead and caused damage worth millions.
This historical site has been hit by three disastrous glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in the past 60 years.
“Theses deadly flash floods are occurring with increasing frequency as temperature rise across the eastern Himalayas due to global warming,” states the report.
The report says the Dzong itself was very much damaged in the last glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) and the GLOF phenomenon is a worrying one brought on by the rapidly changing climatic conditions.
“Though the valley boasts of its captivating beauty due to its strategic location, the very confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers in the Punakha valley has witnessed threats of flash floods not just to the Dzong but settlements and forests,” states the report.
Another scared site in Bhutan is Taktsang in Paro. It has been found that the most pervasive threat of all to Taktsang is climate change.
The report states that villagers in Paro valley are noticing significant changes in weather and precipitation patterns and migration of animals which affects their daily lives. “And up at Taktsang the flow of the waterfall which casts rainbows around the hermitage, has had reduced amounts in recent years,” states the report.
Khenpo Phuntso Tashi, Director of the Bhutanese National Museum was quoted as saying in the report: “The sushumna waterfall (referring to the thousand foot waterfall next to Taktsang) contains the life-force of Taktsang and has flowed since time immemorial.”
“For downstream users there will be no water and this is terrible. But even more so, we are dealing with the notion that our blessed Buddhist sites and their blessing could be drying up,” he added.
During a workshop organized by WWF and Bhutan on the sacred natural sites, bio-cultural diversity and climate change in the Eastern Himalayas in May 2010 in Thimphu, participants identified a number of threats to scared natural sites in the region.
Some of them include climate change and associated impacts like GLOFs, increasing industrialization around scared sites, increased visitation by pilgrims and tourists and associated commercialization and build up of garbage and pollution.
“Scared natural sites are sometimes destroyed or degraded as a result of changing land use, with threats from activities such as clearance for agriculture, logging, mineral extraction and pollution,” states the report.