COMMUNITY-BASED ECOTOURISM IN THE NANDA DEVI BIOSPHERE RESERVE

Nanda Devi (7817 meters) and many of the surrounding peaks have been closed to all visitors for more than 20 years. The area may be reopened for tourism, and local people are demanding they be given a voice in how the area is managed. Nanda Devi is significant as a mountaineering destination and as a holy mountain (the embodiment of the goddess Parvati). As such, Nanda Devi has a long and storied history.

By Keith Bosak

Mountaineering continued in the region until 1962, when the Indo-China war closed the border between India and Tibet. Between 1965 and 1968, a series of joint expeditions between India and the United States was launched to plant a nuclear-powered listening device on Nanda Devi. This device was lost somewhere on the mountain. The area was reopened in 1974, and thus began the golden era of mountaineering around Nanda The Nanda Devi region was first explored by west- Devi. Perhaps the most famous and tragic expeern 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 expeto access the peak, Tilman returned with fellow ditions. The Bhotiya also used the area for grazmountaineer 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 many expeditions was being noticed. In 1982, first ascent.

Nanda Devi (left) and Nanda Devi East from Lamchir Col. Photo by Keith Bosak.
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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 sustainable livelihood path was ecotourism. In 2001, a community-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 biosphere reserve. Nanda Devi was named a national park and subsequently closed due to the environmental degradation suffered from the onslaught of tourists. The Bhotiya also suffered from the closure, since their traditional grazing areas and community forests became off limits. The area was named a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1988 for its unique biodiversity and renamed the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. This was all done without consulting the people living in the villages located within the boundaries of the reserve. Unfortunately, the conservation policies set forth by the designation of the area as a biosphere reserve were just as restrictive as those governing it as a national park. Both sets of policies ignored the link between the Bhotiya villages and the high-altitude meadows and forests. These policies took away the traditional livelihood of the Bhotiya. Most of the sheep and goats owned by villagers were either slaughtered or sold. Many people no longer had a means to support their families and, as such, became angry with the oppressive conservation policies of the biosphere reserve. In 1998, the In the two years since this document was drafted, many things have happened. The people of the biosphere reserve were given explicit rights to control a single trekking route into the closed area. Permission has been given on a trial basis, and only 500 visitors per year are allowed on the trekking route. The Bhotiya also have developed trekking, mountain biking and cultural holidays for areas within the buffer zone. These unique itineraries include the chance for visitors to live with a Bhotiya family and experience their culture first hand. Recently however, there has been more unease. The forestry department which controls the biosphere reserve is eager to exploit the incredible ecotourism resources of the area. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation also has been trying to gain control over access to the biosphere reserve in order to reopen the area for mountaineering. The Bhotiya are in a perilous position; they have been given limited rights to a lucrative and highly sought after set of resources. If their ecotourism project succeeds, they likely will add value to the region, and it may be taken from them. If the proj17

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ect does not succeed, the forestry department and the Indian Mountaineering Foundation have a justification for taking over control of tourism within the biosphere reserve. The Bhotiya realize that they must gain international support for their community-based ecotourism project in order to show both the forestry department and the Indian Mountaineering Foundation that local control of tourism in the biosphere reserve is the only sustainable and equitable path for development as well as conservation.

For more information, go to http:// bostonglobalaction.net/UK/nandadevi/index.html or you may contact me directly by email at kbosak@uga.edu. Acknowledgements I would like to thank the American Alpine Club for their support of this research project. Thanks also to Dr. Sunil Kainthola, Dhan Singh Rana, Rajiv Rawat and the people of Lata for their kindness and generosity.

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