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By Paul Watzlaff                                                                                                               April and May 2013

“I feel very lucky to have found and been a part of Clean Himalaya.  Like many people who come to India I was in awe of the beauty but conversely horrified by the pollution and obvious stress on the environment.  Even though I was in Rishikesh for other reasons I enjoyed the public pick ups that are offered twice a week and soon found myself volunteering to help with other Clean Himalaya’s other activties, namely the collecting and recycling of garbage from households, and businesses. Over the next month not only did I learn about the collections but I also made friends with the Clean Himalaya workers and saw many parts of the Indian culture that I would have otherwise never seen. Unexpectedly this all seemed to compliment the purpose that I had come to Rishikesh for, and so made my time in Rishikesh richer and more complete. So regardless of how much time you have or the skills that you can offer anyone can make the Ganges and the Himalayas a cleaner place.”

Paul Watzlaff, Sidney Australia

My experience of volunteering with Clean Himalaya                                                            April 2013

I had an opportunity to serve as a weekend volunteer with Clean Himalaya during my stay at the YVFA, Sivananda Ashram. As a person who has always lived in city with very little experience of participating in cleaning drives (even my mother would never let us do that at home!), the stint of volunteering with Clean Himalaya was a great learning experience as well as an eye opener.

Never before did I think what havoc we are creating to the environment by our unbridled use of plastic. Picking-up all sorts of plastics (candy/chocolate wrappers, plastic carry bags, and numerous other forms of plastic covering used for packaging) from drainages and other places which eventually flow or end-up into river Ganges, gave me a feeling of disgust towards plastic and its prevalent use in our day to day life. Must I think at least twice before buying a candy or a chocolate – how the plastic wrapper is going to be disposed-off? Is it going to be eaten by a cow along with other food waste and make her sick, or is going to form part of the landfill disturbing the surrounding thereof, or is it going to pollute some water body like Ganges? This would help me curb and reduce my carbon foot prints at least.

If we were to analyze the use of plastic in our lives, it would be way more than what we could imagine. I feel helpless as plastic, just like God, is so pervasive in our daily life that perhaps we can’t do without it completely. However, we must be sensitive towards environment and minimize our usage of plastic. And, more importantly, we must properly segregate the house waste before dumping it at its designated place.

Reducing the use of plastic and thus minimizing our carbon foot prints is one of the lessons I have learnt. We must leave a healthier and a cleaner environment for our future generations to live in. Another important lesson is getting over our likes and dislikes. No work is menial or dirty, it is the spirit in which the work is carried out, matters. The experience helped me grow both spiritually and personally. Kudos and sincere thanks to the Clean Himalaya team for their selfless service, commitment to the cause and great enthusiasm!
Best regards,
Manoj (YVFA - 73rd Batch)


Nilla's feedback on volunteering with Clean Himalaya                                            November, 2012
(Nilla is originally from Sweden , but now lives in South India)

After nine years away from Rishikesh I returned a few weeks ago for a short visit. It was really a nice surprise to see that it was cleaner now in many places than before. I heard that it was thanks to Swamini Amritarupananda and Clean Himalaya. I had two opportunities to join their volunteer-cum-worker cleaning groups. One was at the banks of Ganga and the other on the Badrinath Road in Tapovan.

It was very nice. It felt like you were helping Mother Earth to breathe more free. It looks so much more beautiful everywhere after. It was a blessing, and it was almost effortless. You can really feel the big Grace in it. You do this dirty work and you feel happy. Some Christian seminarians, who were part of the Tapovan group,  agreed when I said that if Jesus would have been around now I am sure He would have done this work.
Swamini and the people from Clean Himalaya only work picking garbage  for about one hour each time and that is too short time. Imagine if all, or at least many of the visitors in Rishikesh, would spend an hour helping Clean Himalaya. Then they would be able to cover a bigger area and more of the banks of the river and the nature would be plastic and garbage free. There is a lot to do.
Isn't that our duty? To give a little of our time back to Nature who gives us Everything without asking for anything in return - all the time.

Love from Nilla.


By Itsuroh Abe                                                                                           September to November 2012

“Clean Himalaya has done so many things and I heard a lot of good reputation about the Clean Himalaya during the survey. Some of my friends told me that they stayed longer or decided to live in Rishikesh because they felt Rishikesh was cleaner and quieter than the other place of India. I believe your work has been contributing this significantly.

 “I hope, someday, all kids in Rishikesh see the workers of Clean Himalaya Society as heroes of India, somebody who is helping India from environmental disaster and pave the way for the better future for kids. I truly respect Swami Susan, Jitendra and all of their workers. I am glad to be one of them during my stay in Rishikesh.”

Itsuroh Abe, Japan


This is our testimonial for our experience with the Clean Himalaya Program:              May 2012

"Volunteering with the Clean Himalaya Program was very rewarding, and opened our eyes to the need for further efforts in waste management along the Ganga river. It was encouraging to work alongside local community members who have already started to fulfill the goals of this project. This is a very holy place, and we hope that over time it will be restored to its former beauty through more volunteer support and community participation."

Thank you very much for the experience,

Victor, Chetna, and Kara
Student International Health Initiative SIHI
McMaster University


Volunteering with Clean Himalaya                                                                September/October 2011

     Volunteering with the Clean Himalaya clan was one of the best phases during the 69th Basic Yoga Vedanta Course, Sivananda Ashram at Rishikesh, though the duration was very brief, ie one hour every Sunday.
    The feeling and outcome of the experience after the service was simply beyond words, a wonderful sense of peace inside. It was a cleaning of impurities from one’s own system. At the physical level the service makes one more nimble and agile through a total back workout vertebrae by vertebrae. It also improved one’s patience and tolerance levels. One and all who visit the ashram should come forward for a piece of action and volunteer with the Clean Himalaya clan.
    Hail the heart, brain and effort of those who have given birth to The Clean Himalaya Society.        

M.L. Ravishankar     



Reflections from working with Clean Himalaya                                                        Jan/Feb 2010

Clean Himalaya (or picking up garbage as a spiritual practice) Discoveries.

1.  All work can be done in the spirit of service.  Performed with an empty mind - being a tool and just doing what needs to be done. 

2.  Connecting with workers and the local community.  In losing my sense of self as a foreigner and a westerner there is a sense of merging and being unseen.

3.  Entering another level/layer of the place and the land, a dropping-into, a deep belonging.

4.  Everything is relevant.  Garbage is not 'bad'.

5.  More is gained than is given.  There is a magical return on one's input. 
     By my not wanting anything the Earth is expressing gratitude by opening herself to me.

6.  Just as I can observe thoughts arising and passing and a joy bubble up from within, with the picking up of garbage a joy is bubbling up from the earth.

7.  Awareness - ever viewing presence of all.  There is no 'picking & choosing', liking and disliking.

Reflections from working with Clean Himalaya November                                   2010 to Feb 2011

There is a great power in moving towards that which we resist.

When Swami Amrita asked if I would like to write any more about Clean Himalaya I felt a resistance to that, but stronger than this feeling was one of a Command.  A feeling from deep within to give beyond what I personally want, and in that giving a disappearing of that personal into Being.

One Team:

I had spoken with a friend in Scotland (where I live) about Clean Himalaya and the expression that I had used with the Clean Himalaya workers 'One Team', it touched us both as I explained it.

When I first began to collect garbage with Clean Himalaya I collected along a forest road with 2 young Indian men, I would return home exhausted and relieved that it was over until the next week.  I often struggled with a heavy bag as I was very earnest and picked up every item I saw, I also noticed that quite often I was alone on the 'difficult side' and the guys moved ahead on the 'easy side'.  It never occurred to me that I could change that.
I was motivated by doing the best job I could, collecting as much as I could and 'policing' the other workers a bit, it was a serious matter.
One day I was given another area to collect in - I didn't like the idea at all, it was a busy road with pedestrians and traffic and I would be seen by a lot of people.
We began again with the same challenges but for some reason - maybe because I already was opening up to being where I didn't want to be - I was prompted to try a different approach.  I was inspired to create the 'Golden Rules' - 1. that my fellow workers emptied my bag for me when it was full, and 2. that we all helped each other when a stretch was more challenging not just staying on our allotted side.- that we would work as 'One Team'.

The guys learned and understood the expression 'One Team' and we would use it as a code for coming together and working together.  Those afternoons were transformed.
A care and attentiveness was shown towards emptying my bag for me and sharing the more difficult spots brought a great joyfulness in our work. We really worked together in such a way that there was 'no-one' doing it, it was just done.
I really started to enjoy collecting garbage rather than just doing it until it was over, even looking forward to the next time.
Not only that - but rather than being 'the best garbage collector ever' working to the last minute of my 'shift'- I decided I'd take the guys out for chai and biscuits each time before we parted, a tremendous treat for them and a pleasure for me to be with them as they have a simple and appreciative nature that I could learn from.

The feeling of 'One Team' has stayed with me.

In this experience I saw that what was truly good for me was good for all.

In the giving of this writing it has taken away that which gets in the way of 'just Being'.


The Presence of God in Everything:   My Service with Clean Himalaya         September 2010 to February 2011
- by Brother Jose


“In the Western tradition, there is an old metaphor called the two books of God, that expresses different ways to access the mystery of God. God has given us the Bible as well as the book of nature to know Him.”  If somebody desecrates the holy scriptures of any religion, there would be a thousand protests, but the desecration of the second holy book, nature, goes unnoticed. If anybody helps to clean a holy place, it is considered a noble work, and they believe that they will get a reward from God. The pity is that nobody worries about dirtying nature, which also has God’s presence in it. No one worries about making our surroundings unclean by throwing waste, plastic and garbage. Very few people understand God’s presence in everything, as it was understood in ancient times.

We are very careful to keep our places of worship clean and beautiful, because we want to feel the presence of God there, as beauty is always associated with God. It is said, “Satyam shivam sundaram” (Truth is eternal and beautiful). Are we not fools to limit the omnipresence of God to within the four walls of our places of worship? If we are able to find the presence of God in everything, we will naturally keep our environment clean and will beautify it as a place of worship. But the people who actually clean our surroundings and restore its beauty are often disrespected.

Jesus took incarnation to clean humankind of its sins and restore its old beauty, and in a similar way the municipality cleaners, road sweepers and rag pickers are restoring the lost beauty of nature. They carry the burden in their sacks of the sins, of the present day atrocities, done to nature by humankind. Will a day come when these people are accepted as the saviours of nature?


I would like to share my experience with Clean Himalaya, a NGO (Non-Government Organization) guided by Ma Amritarupanandaji from the Sivananda Ashram. This NGO works to make people aware of global warming, the ecological system and the duty to protect our environment and surroundings. With this purpose in mind, there is a group of dedicated workers, under the manager Jitendra Kumarji, who go from house to house to collect waste and recycle it so that it is not thrown onto the roads, into the gutters or even into the Ganges. This NGO also has a group of volunteers who regularly go along the Ganges banks, ravines and roads near Rishikesh to collect plastic and waste materials. Through this work they are making people aware of the need to keep our surroundings clean and tidy.

I am one of those volunteers with Clean Himalaya who goes every Saturday to clean the streets and gutters, and my team includes the other brothers of Samanvaya community. I joined the group of volunteers out of curiosity, and I was happy when I got a shirt with Clean Himalaya’s logo, a badge on which “Volunteer” is written and a pair of red gloves. But my heart sank when Amritarupananda Mataji opened a packet and gave each of us a garbage-collection bag. We went out to the roads and gutters, and after one hour of this tedious work I was really exhausted. Collecting plastics and garbage from the gutters was really disgusting, but yet, the first plastic packet I collected did not go into the sack but into my pocket, since I wanted to keep it as a souvenir!
Often we had to go into extremely filthy places. They were wet, foul-smelling and contained all the possible waste materials that one could imagine. I had to go to the very places I would have otherwise avoided during my walks. People who put these waste materials there want the waste to be very far from them, so very often they throw it from a distance to these places. I was supposed to go and collect the waste with my own hands from a place where I was not even willing to walk. As I was collecting garbage, I saw the local people—from whom I used to walk away, as they seldom took bath and had a foul smell—and they were covering their noses and walking away from me! I was surprised, but I smelled myself and found that I really smelled foul. More than that, the collection bag with all the waste materials was wet and dirty and had a very bad smell which I had never experienced before.

Thereafter, I chose to collect from the roadside places that were cleaner and had less waste. I was careful to avoid the gutters and the wet places because there would be plenty of garbage. So, I used to change from one side of the road to the other to avoid coming face to face with the heap of waste and wet plastic materials which I was supposed to collect. When I was coming back after the first day as a rag picker, I was thinking, “How can I avoid this volunteer work next Saturday?” I had already decided that I wouldn’t come next Saturday for this disgusting work.


The following week we had classes on Luke and Acts by Fr. Babu Chirayath. He was speaking about eco-spirituality and the importance of preserving our environment, since our lives are interdependent. He drew our attention to certain points about the environment. For example, ten thousand Tulsi plants are being planted around the Taj Mahal to protect it from becoming black because of the carbon monoxide and dioxide produced from the vehicles and industries in the area. Even shifting all the industries from its vicinity did not help much, so this solution—the natural curative method for the Taj Mahal—was proposed: to plant the highest oxygen-producing plants around it. This had a huge positive impact on the monument. And I really understood these words, “Every creature co-operates with God, shares in the act which God is, participates in divine creativity and has its own activity.”

When I reflected upon it, I understood that all these plants and trees also have lives and that my own life is dependent on them. More than that, if somebody comes to cut a tree, it is not able to protect itself, nor does it have a voice to cry for help, and it does not have hands and feet to defend itself or run away. If somebody were to throw some waste on it, it would not be able to clean itself. God created human beings as the crown of his creation and blessed them with the faculty of reason to take care of the environment and to protect and uphold the dignity of the lesser creations. With this in mind I decided to continue with the cleaning of the streets.

The next Saturday when I went out for cleaning, I chose the best dress I had, and instead of sandals I wore covered shoes. I made it a point to speak in English and that too loud enough to be audible to the passersby, so that the people would not think that I was an ordinary rag picker. I also made it a point not to collect the wet and smelling waste materials so that people would not avoid me. I observed myself: I was handsome, dressed in my best attire; I did not smell foul because I was collecting only the dry plastic. What is more, I was speaking in English. But to my surprise, I had the same experience—people just walked away from me! I was thoroughly disappointed.

Add to it, one of the local women in the shanties—whom I could easily identify from her dress as a daily labourer from another state—asked me to collect the plastic which was piled up behind her temporary house. I was surprised and humiliated. An English-speaking, handsome young man is asked by an ordinary poor woman to clean the backyard of her house. I lost my temper, but I did not say anything. I just left the place unclean. Even an English-speaking rag picker is just like any other rag picker; a person cleaning the streets will be seen by others only as a rag picker. He is certainly never considered as a better human being, as a social worker who does this unpleasant work of carrying in his collection bag the burden of the sins of others done to nature.

In addition to this humiliating experience, there was a foreign woman working that day as a volunteer and she said, “We are not doing anything good by picking up the garbage by the roads. We are just inspiring people to put more waste on the roads and in the gutters, because they know that we will clean it every week.” She then quit right in the middle of the work. I had every reason to stop the cleaning with that Saturday.


That Saturday night and the following day it rained incessantly. After the morning Mass I went to have a look at the Ganges. The people call her Ma Ganga (Mother Ganges) comparing her with the love of a mother. She was in flood—breaching her banks and gushing with destructive power. Some people said that she was very angry and that she was going to destroy us all. Indeed, it was the biggest flood seen by the present generation; nothing so furious had been seen in the past fifty years. I was surprised to see her so violent, because from my past few months experience I had seen her calm, quiet and soothing. More than that whenever I saw her, she created in me a feeling of calmness, and I would go as close to her as possible. But that day her sight brought shivers to my body, and I just wanted to be away from her.
As I came back to the seminary, I was in a dilemma. The Ganges which had been so calm and used to give me so much joy now created restlessness and fear in me. I pondered the reasons behind her fury. I came to the conclusion that God has created the earth just like a sponge. As soon as the rainwater falls on the surface of the earth, the earth sucks up that water and releases it slowly and continuously to the adjoining rivers. This system provides enough ground water as well as keeping the amount of water the same in the rivers throughout the year. It also prevents immediate flooding after heavy rain.

But all the roads and houses we have constructed, and the plastics that we throw into our surroundings act like a polythene layer over the surface of the earth, preventing the rainwater from being absorbed. As a result, as soon as there is an extreme amount of rainfall, the water gushes through the gutters to the Ganges, suffocating her with garbage and run-off. Mother Ganges is not angry, but she is struggling to save her children as she bears the burden of her children’s mistakes. Adding to her agony, human beings have encroached the surrounding mountains. They have eradicated the vegetation, cut down the trees and caused havoc in the environment by creating conditions for landslides. When the heavy rain comes, so much surface soil is washed into the Ganges, and she is being suffocated by this soil. I was inspired to do something to reduce her pain. Since I knew “the ecclesial community must feel part of the human community, and the human community has to feel it is part of the cosmic community,”  I decided to be more active in my cleaning.


On the following Saturday I was very happy to go with the Clean Himalaya volunteers, because I knew that I was helping the Ganges that I loved so much. That day, for the first time, I thought about the Clean Himalaya programme from another perspective. Till that time I had been looking at it from my own point of view and the profit that I would receive from it. But from that day onwards, I was looking at things from the Ganges’ point of view. This perspective made me happy, and I spoke about it with my fellow volunteers. To my surprise for the first time I noticed that Amritarupananda Mataji was very happy doing this disgusting work. She had the smiling face of a mother carrying her child as she was carrying the waste. I could see that I too was growing more altruistic, and this personal growth made me happier. Now I know that if anybody wants to be happy, one should not be selfish, but should find real happiness in serving.

We often limit our understanding of service to helping our fellow brethren. But that day I understood the broader meaning of brotherhood and sisterhood as St. Francis of Assisi understood it. “St. Francis used the loving terms brother and sister to address the moon, fire and water and even weeds, as we all have  God as our father.”  Service is not a term to be limited to helping just human beings, but it also includes service to nature. Being a sannyasin for more than 30 years must have helped Mataji to understand the wider meaning of service. I have uncovered the secret of her smile even when she carries the waste.

That week we had classes on Christology by Fr. Kuriakkose Mananthil, in which he explained that it was the love of God that was the reason for His manifestation. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son for our salvation. He was also speaking about recapitulation (the evolving back of everything to Godhead). I understood that not only humankind, but the whole of creation is growing back to God. I was convinced that the establishment of the Kingdom of God is not fully made possible on this earth just by making the salvation of human beings possible. We need to consider the salvation of this whole world because they too are my brothers and sisters, whose care and salvation is also my responsibility.

With these thoughts, I continued the Clean Himalaya sanitation work. I felt so happy, and I never felt the need to speak in English in order to be recognized as someone other than an ordinary rag picker. I intentionally chose the dirtiest places by the side of the road, and I was very particular to collect even the smallest piece of waste. The work was tiresome and smelling, but I felt so much joy in doing it.


The following week we had classes on Grace by Fr. Davis Varayilan, where he spoke about the Christian understanding of Communitarian salvation. We  do not have individual salvation but our salvation is communitarian, which means salvation of the universe. We need to consider the world as one family. My global family includes not only human beings but also birds, animals, trees and everything that I see around me. As a human being—the crown of God’s creation—I have a duty to lead and guide the entire creation back to God. I became convinced that when I remove the waste from any place, I am helping to restore that place’s natural beauty. This beautification will bring everything closer to God because beauty is always associated with God. This process will lead to the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

The next Saturday the Clean Himalaya volunteers were led by Mataji to a new place where we had not previously gone. I was shocked to see the piles of plastic and heaps of waste there. I was disappointed, and I knew that even if I cleaned for an entire week, that place was not going to be fully cleaned because of the amount of waste. I didn’t know what to do; I was totally confused. I thought if I want to be saved it is possible only if all of God’s creation is restored back to its original beauty. As our salvation is communitarian, as long as there is a single part of creation which is not fully ready to welcome the second coming of Jesus, there will not be the establishment of the Kingdom of God on this earth. I found no solution to this.

Then on Sunday, Fr. Davis gave us a reflection. We should not be so selfish and so particular that this work must be completed in and through me in my lifetime. Who knows the plan of God? Everything on this earth has a particular reason, which we may not be able to grasp. God has got a particular plan which will be fulfilled in due time. It is not for me to say that this work should be completed by me alone. I also reflected that I need not feel so bad thinking that I am the only one facing an insurmountable work. For as I do my work, even apparently alone, I am supported by the power of God that brings all His creations back to Himself. Not only that, I am supported by all others who have the aptitude to join the same cause anywhere else in the world as they are also supported by the same power of God. These reflections gave me the much needed peace of mind.


 Isa vasam idam sarvam. (The entire manifest universe is enveloped by the Lord.) The ordering of the universe in Chapter One of Genesis reflects the construction of a temple. The firmament is made like a dome or a vault with luminary bodies. Constructing of this cosmic temple is completed by creating human beings in the image and likeness of God and placing them at the centre, to be the stewards of the entire creation. Moreover, God blessed the human beings with reason so that they could lead the entire creation back to God. Forgetting these responsibilities, human beings destroy the natural order, and limit God’s presence to within the walls of their places of worship—leaving their surroundings, which is the cosmic temple of God, unclean. They have the responsibility to protect it, at least not to destroy it, and if it is destroyed to restore back its old beauty. As Jesus came to restore the broken relationship of human beings with God, the need of the hour is another saviour who restores back the broken relationship of human beings with nature. The moment we understand the meaning of these words: Isa vasam idam sarvam, we will surely respect nature as the cosmic temple created by God Himself and placed under the protection of human beings.


1.    Shukla, A.C and Vandana A. Ganga: A Water Marvel. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House. 1995.
2.    Florio Lucio. A Second Naivety in the Contemplation of Nature. Third Millennium XIII, 4(October – December 2010), 6 – 19.
3.    Subramaniyam TS. “Monsoon Misery” Front Line, December 31 2010, 29- 32.
4.    Poruttur, Anto. “Dreaming of Eco-friendly India”. Indian Currents, December 27, 2010, 36.
“Ecological Concerns in Priestly Formation”. New Leader, December 1 2010, 31.

5.    Nehring, Andreas. Ecology a theological response. Madras: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College.1993
6.    Boff, Leonardo. Ecology and Liberation. New York: Orbis Books.1995
7.    Husain,Majid. Ecology and Environment. New Delhi: Anmol Publication. 1994
8.    Vidyarthi LP and Jha Makhan. Ecology, Economy and Religion of Himalayas. Delhi: Orient Publications.1986
9.    Gadgil Madhav and Guha Ramachandra. Ecology and Equity. Delhi:Penguin Books. 1995


Dear Swami Susan,

I´m Johannes from Austria, I was volunteering for some time in April for CH.

There is also an interesting link, you can put it on your website! It is from the blog I wrote.

Have fun, all the best,

Johannes                                                                                 April 2010


Hi Swami Susan

Danny and I met you sometime in October last year and were the first backpackers to answer your ad at the Tulsi Restaurant in Rishekesh.

Anyway, we have been going through our photos and posting some on flickr but it just has bought this flood of memories to the forefront. I have attached 2 pics of us, because I just wanted you to feel, through these photos, how happy we were that day to be doing something for your community. It's hard work and mostly thankless but you gave us something that we could never buy yet we still felt like we took so much from that one afternoon with the Clean Himalaya program.

Thanks for the opportunity....I have posted this on my flickr with a link to your webpage, you never know who might just click in the right direction and hopefully make a difference to the beautiful Himalaya region through environmental acts of goodness.


very best wishes from us in wintry Melbourne.

Nat and Danny                                                                    October 2009




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