LEH: The trans-Himalayan village of Hanle – a cluster of six hamlets on the roof of the world in Ladakh, India – has been declared a Dark Sky Reserve, a designated area protected from light pollution.
Located in the rain shadow region of the barren Karakoram mountains, this plateau has a remarkably huge window of more than 270 clear sky nights a year, which makes it ideal for unravelling the secrets of the universe.
In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the Department of Science & Technology (DST) last year had announced the setting up of India’s first Dark Sky Reserve in Hanle, Ladakh.
Hanle, which is about 4,500 metres above sea level, hosts telescopes and is regarded as one of the world’s most optimal sites for astronomical observations. However, ensuring that the site remains well-suited for astronomy implies keeping the night-sky pristine, or ensuring minimal interference to the telescopes from artificial light sources such as electric lights and vehicular lights from the ground.
Earlier, Hanle only had the Indian Astronomical Observatory. Now, a total area of 1,073 km around Hanle is a dark sky reserve, and if you are an astronomy enthusiast, this is the best place for you.
What is a Dark Sky Reserve?
A dark sky reserve is an area where light pollution is monitored. Basically, there are several restrictions around the reserve where humans are not allowed to have any loud source of light. So what you have there is a total darkness which makes sky observation easier and more fun.
Even if there are habitations around the reserve, they will be required to follow a set of rules in order to maintain the idea of minimal to zero light pollution. So for those visiting Hanle, please bear in mind, no artificial illumination of any kind (vehicle lights too) will be allowed inside the reserve area. The Hanle Dark Sky Reserve will now be accessible to the general public throughout the year. The dark sky reserve became a possibility because of the cold and dry weather of Hanle! So cool. Most of the local villagers are trained to show the astro-tourists the wonder of Hanle’s dark skies.
The administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh had also officially identified a 1,073 sqkm area in Ladakh’s Hanle as India’s first dark sky reserve and will be known as the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve (HDSR).
In its gazette notification issued by the UT’s Wildlife Department and published on December 5, the UT has earmarked this area covering a cluster of six hamlets of Hanle revenue range. These hamlets include Bhok, Khuldo, Shado, Punguk, Naga and the Tibetan Refugee habitations located within the Changthan Wildlife Sanctuary, situated around the Indian Astronomical Observatory owned by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA).
The formal decision to set up this Dark Sky Reserve came following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was signed between officials of the Department of Science and Technology-run IIA, Bengaluru, the Ladakh UT and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council in June this year. In September, Union Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Jitendra Singh, announced that the reserve will be established by the end of 2022.
Now that the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve, located 4,500 metres above sea level, has been officially notified, the HDSR will bring to effect and take steps to enforce reduction in the effect of artificial light pollution emanating from homes, streetlights, vehicles and other sources. However, the notification mentioned that the efforts towards reducing artificial light pollution should be voluntarily taken up by the villagers and local government agencies. Alongside conserving wildlife, the reserve also aims to promote astronomy-tourism, spread awareness and education about astronomy and overall scientific temper among youngsters and the tourists. (Agencies)
- December 7, 2023