All About India’s First “Dark Sky Reserve”. Will It Help Ladakh Promote Astronomy Tourism?

Ladakh is all set to welcome the country's first ever Dark Sky Reserve. The Reserve is expected to give a boom to UT's tourism. Read on to know more.
India's First Dark Sky Reserve In Ladakh
India's First Dark Sky Reserve In Ladakh

As per the Minister of State, Dr. Jitendra Singh, the country will have the very first Dark Sky Reserve in Ladakh. According to him, the facility will promote astronomy tourism.


What Is Meant By A Dark Sky Reserve?

A Dark Sky Reserve is a private or public land having a beautiful nocturnal environment, developed responsibly in order to prevent light pollution.


As per the International Dark Sky Association’s website, the reserves “consist of a core area meeting minimum criteria for quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky prevention in the core.”


The website said that these reserves are formed via a “partnership of multiple land managers who have recognized the value of the natural nightmare environment through regulations and long-term planning”.


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What Makes A Site Become A “Dark Sky Reserve”?


The process that makes a site a Dark Sky Reserve is pretty simple. Groups or individuals can nominate a place for the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) certificate. There are five designated categories in all, viz, the International Dark Sky parks, reserves, communities, sanctuaries, and the Urban Night Sky Places.

The process of this certification is pretty straightforward and is quite similar to the process of a site being given the UNESCO World Heritage Site tag or getting recognized as a Biosphere Reserve.


Between the year 2001 and the January of the ongoing year, that is in the time frame of the last 21 years, a total of 195 sites have been recognized as the International Dark Sky Places globally, as per the IDSA.


In the view of the IDSA, a piece of land becomes suitable for dark sky places in specific conditions including if it is either privately or publicly owned; the site is legally safeguarded for cultural, scientific, educational, natural, heritage, or public leisure purposes; the site is accessible to the public entirely or partially during the year; the site offers an outstanding dark sky resource as compared to the cities and communities that surround it, and the land provides prescribed night sky brightness either for a park, reserve, or sanctuary.


India is still in the process of filing its nomination to IDSA.


The Ladakh Union Territory Administration And India’s First Dark Sky Reserve

The Ladakh Union Territory Administration is making efforts to establish India’s first-ever Dark Sky Reserve.


The Hanle Dark Sky Reserve (HDSR) will be situated at an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level. The Reserve will come up within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary.


Experts from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, and the Department of Science and Technology are jointly putting forward technological and scientific support in establishing this first-of-its-kind facility. The Indian Institute of Astrophysics already oversees the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) complex at Hanle, Ladakh.


Expert scientists have been continuously carrying out astronomical observations with the help of existing gamma rays, an optical and infrared telescope to know about the exoplanets, stars, and galaxies via the pristine and beautiful skies of Hanle.


The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Ladakh UT, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development, and officials from the IIA, Bengaluru, in the June of the ongoing year, led to the formal decision to establish the Dark Sky Reserve. 


How Is Ladakh Special For The Project?

Ladakh is not only a beautiful vacation destination for many, but it also has some essential features that make the place a fit to establish a Dark Sky Reserve. The place is a unique cold desert situated around 3,000 meters above sea level, having high mountainous terrains. 


Large parts of the UT are inhabitable due to the chilling winters having minimum temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.

What else makes the place a match made in heaven for the upcoming Dark Sky Reserve is the place’s sparse population, high elevation, limited vegetation, and aridity.


Objective Of The Dark Sky Reserve

The key objective of setting up the Dark Sky Reserve is to promote astronomy tourism in an environment-friendly and sustainable manner. To protect the reserve from light pollution, scientific methods will be made to use.


Is A Boost In Ladakh Tourism Expected After The Dark Sky Reserve?

After Ladakh became a UT, the place’s tourism has seen a slight increase during favorable months of the year. Yet, its fragile environment is prone to a rise in coming vehicles and carbon footprints. 

The Ladakh Tourism Vision Document 2022 stresses the need to boost the use of green fuels and increase carbon-neutral activities.

Prof Annapurni Subramaniam, Director, IIA, expressed, “The locals in Ladakh are sensitive towards the conservation of the ecosystem. They are keen to protect the environment from getting deteriorated.”


A myriad of initiatives is about to blossom after the opening of the HDSR to the public.


“Our teams traveled to remote villages to give hand-outs to villagers sharing details about the training programs,” the IIA Director stated.


The Indian Institute of Astrophysics has obtained ten easy-to-use small telescopes and light-reflecting shields.  The scientists of the Institute will train the locals to use these devices.


The training will incorporate sky gazing, constellation identification, and more. 

The installation of these telescopes will be done at homestays, which will boom tourist accommodation in the place.


The Hanle observatory's 22-km radius will have restrictions on outdoor lighting.  All vehicles will be prohibited from using high-beam headlights. Moreover, households will be encouraged to make use of curtains of darker shades.

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