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COMMUNITY-BASED

ECOTOURISM IN THE NANDA


DEVI BIOSPHERE RESERVE By Keith Bosak
Nanda Devi (7817 meters) and many of the sur- Mountaineering continued in the region until
rounding peaks have been closed to all visitors for 1962, when the Indo-China war closed the border
more than 20 years. The area may be reopened for between India and Tibet. Between 1965 and
tourism, and local people are demanding they be 1968, a series of joint expeditions between India
given a voice in how the area is managed. Nanda and the United States was launched to plant a
Devi is significant as a mountaineering destination nuclear-powered listening device on Nanda Devi.
and as a holy mountain (the embodiment of the This device was lost somewhere on the mountain.
goddess Parvati). As such, Nanda Devi has a long The area was reopened in 1974, and thus began
and storied history. the golden era of mountaineering around Nanda
The Nanda Devi region was first explored by west- Devi. Perhaps the most famous and tragic expe-
ern mountaineers in the 1880s. However, attempts dition of this era was the 1976 expedition led by
to access the core of the region were unsuccessful. Willi Unsoeld. His daughter, Nanda Devi
Finally, in 1934, British mountaineers Eric Shipton Unsoeld, died high on the mountain for which she
and Bill Tilman negotiated the precipitous Rishi was named.
Ganga gorge and gained access to the inner sanctu- During this time, the local Bhotiya population
ary at the foot of Nanda Devi. Having found a route played a key role as porters and guides for expe-
to access the peak, Tilman returned with fellow ditions. The Bhotiya also used the area for graz-
mountaineer Noel Odell (and AAC notables includ- ing herds of sheep and collecting medicinal
ing Ad Carter and Charlie Houston), and made the herbs. By 1977, the environmental impact of so
first ascent. many expeditions was being noticed. In 1982,

Nanda Devi (left) and Nanda Devi East from Lamchir Col. Photo by Keith Bosak.
16 T HE AMERICAN ALPINE NEWS , W INTER 2004
Map of the Nanda Devi Biosphere
Reserve and adjacent areas. Map
created by Rajiv Rawat.

Bhotiya led a march into the


closed area in protest of these
policies and thus began a
heightened campaign to regain
their rights to the resources of
the biosphere reserve.
Realizing that they never could
go back to being
shepherds, villagers decided
that the best and most sustain-
able livelihood path was
ecotourism. In 2001, a com-
munity-based ecotourism
conference was held in the
villages of Lata and Reni.
From this conference came an
ecotourism declaration, which
outlines how the communities
wish to promote ecotourism
in a sustainable and equitable
manner within the bio-
sphere reserve.
Nanda Devi was named a national park and In the two years since this document was drafted,
subsequently closed due to the environmental many things have happened. The people of the
degradation suffered from the onslaught of biosphere reserve were given explicit rights to con-
tourists. The Bhotiya also suffered from the trol a single trekking route into the closed area.
closure, since their traditional grazing areas and Permission has been given on a trial basis, and only
community forests became off limits. The area 500 visitors per year are allowed on the trekking
was named a United Nations World Heritage Site route. The Bhotiya also have developed trekking,
in 1988 for its unique biodiversity and renamed mountain biking and cultural holidays for areas
the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. This was within the buffer zone. These unique itineraries
all done without consulting the people living in include the chance for visitors to live with a
the villages located within the boundaries of Bhotiya family and experience their culture first
the reserve. hand. Recently however, there has been more
Unfortunately, the conservation policies set forth unease. The forestry department which controls the
by the designation of the area as a biosphere biosphere reserve is eager to exploit the incredible
reserve were just as restrictive as those governing it ecotourism resources of the area.
as a national park. Both sets of policies ignored the The Indian Mountaineering Foundation also has
link between the Bhotiya villages and the high-alti- been trying to gain control over access to the
tude meadows and forests. These policies took biosphere reserve in order to reopen the area
away the traditional livelihood of the Bhotiya. Most for mountaineering.
of the sheep and goats owned by villagers were The Bhotiya are in a perilous position; they have
either slaughtered or sold. Many people no longer been given limited rights to a lucrative and highly
had a means to support their families and, as such, sought after set of resources. If their ecotourism
became angry with the oppressive conservation project succeeds, they likely will add value to the
policies of the biosphere reserve. In 1998, the region, and it may be taken from them. If the proj-

K NOWLEDGE . C ONSERVATION . C OMMUNITY . SINCE 1902. 17


ect does not succeed, the forestry department and For more information, go to http://
the Indian Mountaineering Foundation have a justi- bostonglobalaction.net/UK/nandadevi/index.html
fication for taking over control of tourism within or you may contact me directly by email at
the biosphere reserve. The Bhotiya realize that they kbosak@uga.edu.
must gain international support for their communi-
ty-based ecotourism project in order to show both Acknowledgements
the forestry department and the Indian I would like to thank the American Alpine Club for
Mountaineering Foundation that local control of their support of this research project. Thanks also
tourism in the biosphere reserve is the only to Dr. Sunil Kainthola, Dhan Singh Rana, Rajiv
sustainable and equitable path for development as Rawat and the people of Lata for their kindness and
well as conservation. generosity.

18 T HE AMERICAN ALPINE NEWS , W INTER 2004