As Hanle in Ladakh is poised to have India’s first Dark Sky Reserve, prospects for stargazing and astro tourism shine brilliant

As Hanle in Ladakh is poised to have India’s first Dark Sky Reserve, prospects for stargazing and astro tourism shine brilliant

For vacationers visiting Ladakh, the itinerary is most probably to incorporate the Pangong Lake in the State’s capital Leh, and for the extra adventurous lot, an expedition to the Khardung La go. What many don’t know is that the area’s arid panorama, sparse inhabitants and subsequently minimal synthetic mild additionally makes it a vacation spot for stargazing. And quickly, India may have its first Dark Sky Reserve in Hanle, situated about 250 kilometres from Leh. The initiative mooted by the Department of Science and Technology, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, is anticipated to provide astro tourism in India a enhance.

Globally, designated darkish sky areas developed by tourism boards of various international locations, in collaboration with astronomers and native communities, are outfitted with services to help astro tourism. Since stargazing requires driving to distant areas at evening, vacationers look for lodging services and this, in flip, can spell income for native tourism. 

Some of the guests to Leh would possibly be conscious of observatories and homestays that facilitate stargazing experiences. Astro tourism is courted by a area of interest part of vacationers, propelled by astronomy golf equipment in completely different cities. A couple of teams enterprise into distant areas in Ladakh, Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, and the deserts of Gujarat and Rajasthan to gaze at the clear evening skies and spot the stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and different far off galaxies, guided by astronomers. 

Dark sky zones

A delegated darkish sky area has the potential to deliver in home and worldwide vacationers. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA), in the USA, has up to now licensed 200 darkish sky locations as a part of its International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) program. Following a rigorous utility process, locations are licensed as International Dark Sky Sanctuaries, Reserves, Communities or Parks. 

Ashley Wilson, IDA’s director of conservation and lead for IDSP, says on a mean, IDA certifies round 20 nominations a yr. 2021 was an exception with the certification of 37 new locations. The two hundredth place to be licensed, in September 2022, was Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area in Nebraska, USA.

In an e mail interview, Ashley states that “the IDSP certification brings consideration to mild air pollution and the have to protect the evening sky as a pure useful resource. Applying for the certification helps administration businesses in reaching long-term conservation targets and connecting individuals to nature. Additionally, it serves as an financial driver by fostering elevated tourism and native financial exercise.” 

He cites examples, as reported by the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative: In 2019, a examine by Missouri State University examined the financial affect of darkish sky tourism on the Colorado Plateau financial system. According to the examine, astro tourism may result in $5.8 billion in customer spending and assist the creation of over 11,000 new jobs yearly, over the subsequent decade. A report additionally states that since darkish sky remark largely happens at evening, vacationers are more likely to want in a single day stays. On a mean, in a single day guests have been discovered to spend thrice the quantity of day-only guests. 

The Himalayan Chandra Telescope, a meteor and a satellite in Ladakh

The Himalayan Chandra Telescope, a meteor and a satellite tv for pc in Ladakh
| Photo Credit: Obuli Chandran

Another report that assesses the financial affect of actions associated to Mont-Megantic, the world’s first International Dark Sky Reserve in Canada places the annual financial affect of darkish sky safety efforts and astro tourism in the area at $13.8 million. Astro tourism actions in the reserve are thought of to be a main driver of tourism in the area.

Dark sky locations

In India: Ladakh, Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, deserts of Gujarat and Rajasthan, distant areas in Assam and Meghalaya are fashionable picks.

 International: Look for designated darkish sky parks, reserves and sanctuaries in North America, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. A couple of fashionable areas embrace The Atacama Desert in Chile, Kruger National Park in South Africa, New Mexico True Dark Skies path in USA, Aoraki Mackenzie In New Zealand and The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park in western Australia. 

Certification woes

There are darkish sky areas throughout North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, developed in coordination with native tourism and authorities our bodies, with an understanding of astronomy and the have to have lighting circumstances that don’t hinder the views of the evening skies. 

Not all of those areas are licensed by worldwide our bodies similar to the IDA or the Starlight Foundation in Spain. Reports counsel that amongst the 63 nationwide parks in North America, solely 12 have been licensed by the IDA.

The darkish sky reserve developing at Hanle will not be but licensed by the IDA. Ashley says the IDA has contacted native officers and is working with this staff to arrange their IDSP utility, “If they full the utility course of and are awarded a certification, it could be the first internationally recognised and licensed Dark Sky Place in India. A certification may assist elevate consciousness and encourage a name to motion in order that the individuals may help shield this (darkish sky) useful resource.” 

Tourism boosters

Regions nearer to the Himalayas provide unhindered views of the evening skies for avid astro vacationers and a nomenclature similar to a darkish sky reserve or a sanctuary can additional assist enhance tourism, says Sonal Asgotraa, founding father of Astrostays, which works carefully with the area people in Maan village in Ladakh, on the banks of Pangong Tso in Leh. “The darkish sky as a useful resource has at all times been there in Ladakh; the announcement of a darkish sky reserve in Hanle is a welcome transfer for these in the astro tourism trade and for vacationers eager to discover the darkish skies. It has helped create a buzz.” 

Stargazers travel in small groups, at times accompanied by astronomers, to view the starry skies

Stargazers journey in small teams, at occasions accompanied by astronomers, to view the starry skies
| Photo Credit: Ok R Deepak

While a few vacationers have explored astro tourism actions in Leh, she says driving additional away to Hanle and Zanskar can provide unhindered views of the evening sky. “For individuals travelling all the approach, growing lodging services in the hamlets will be key,” provides Sonal.

Astrostays has been enabling vacationers to stargaze, with assist from the area people that has been educated in astronomy, and likewise incorporates parts of Tibetan cosmology, given its proximity to the Phyang monastery. In summer season 2022, the organisation mooted an initiative referred to as Cosmohub, which incorporates a go to to the 700-year-old Phyang monastery, stargazing expertise and interactions with the area people.

Hanle, on the different hand, is provided with the Indian Astronomical Observatory. Located 4,500 metres above sea stage, Hanle is a chilly desert area and homes the Hanle Monastery. The Himalayan Chandra Telescope, High Energy Gamma Ray telescope, the Major Atmospheric Cherenkov Experiment Telescope and GROWTH-India are amongst the outstanding telescopes situated at the Hanle observatory.

Away from the metropolis

“There is a lot of astronomical consciousness immediately and star events are a rising development,” says Lenin Tamilkovan, scientific officer at Birla Planetarium, Chennai. “Those who need to stargaze drive to the outskirts in small teams or to areas in far-flung areas the place the synthetic metropolis mild air pollution is low. If you look by means of a telescope in an city setup, you would possibly spot solely a few planets.” 

He welcomes the announcement of the Dark Sky Reserve in Hanle, Ladakh, and says chilly, greater altitude areas are conducive to cloud-free, clear skies. “Years of survey and analysis go into finding out the area earlier than organising observatories. Nearly 15 years of labor went into organising the Vainu Bappu Observatory at Kavalur in Javadi Hills, Tamil Nadu. Scientifically and culturally, Ladakh is a excellent spot to look at the darkish skies in a pollution-free setting.”

The pandemic surge

During the pandemic, with worldwide journey out of bounds, Ashley factors out to reviews that counsel a surge in visits to parks and different close-to-nature locations. A report printed by the National Parks Conservation Association, USA, states that when nationwide parks reopened after lockdown in 2020, they skilled a rise in guests. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore had a 41% improve in visits from July to October 2020; Yellowstone and Zion National Parks additionally witnessed a vital surge.

Ashley provides, “Naturally darkish and quiet environments can enhance this sense of tranquility, which makes International Dark Sky Places extra interesting.”

Hyderabad-based administration skilled Arpita Bhaskar, recounts her pre-pandemic journey to New Zealand that was full of visits to pristine seashores and volcanic mountains. However, what stood out was the stargazing expertise at the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve at Mount Cook. “We got a presentation about house inside a 360-degree-domed planetarium, after which the employees drove us in a bus, a 100 meters away, to the darkest spot in the universe. We may barely make out the define of the telescopes and the guides in that darkness. When our flip got here to view by means of the telescope, the feeling was nothing lower than euphoric. As the information’s laser beam saved pointing, we watched the planets, star clusters, galaxies, the Milky Way and the Southern Cross.”

The expertise made her conscious of how lights can hinder our viewing of the sky. “The reserve had a no-light coverage. When we turned again to go away, I couldn’t resist trying up at the sky and I used to be greeted with skies as darkish as darkness may be, however lit with the brightest stars.”

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